Monday, 18 March 2013

Ethical Endeavours

The sustainable sector of the fashion industry has been steadily shaking off its crocheted burlap and saggy hemp robes over the years – replacing them with rather more innovative attire. From Henrietta Ludgate’s futuristic dresses to the dreamy aesthetic of Beautiful Soul, designers who value their ethics are ensuring that their clothes are just as, if not more, desirable than mainstream counterparts.
The continuing presence of the Estethica exhibition at LFW (which I covered for Oxfam), alongside the success of Livia Firth’s Green Carpet Challenge signify the importance of making ethical fashion visible. Continuing in this thread of thought is the new ‘Well Dressed’ category in this year’s Observer Ethical Awards. Taking place in collaboration with Eco-Age’s Fru-Gal Challenge (which I did here), the competition aims to unearth a spectacular outfit entirely composed from sustainable sources – whether from a charity shop, vintage market, ethical label or your own sewing machine. All you need to do is submit a photo of yourself in your ensemble. It’s being judged by Livia Firth, with the closing date on the 22nd of March, so (second hand) skates must be got on if you’re thinking of entering.

I’ve submitted the outfit featured above, which is a Katharine Hepburn inspired re-styling of my favourite Goodone jumpsuit (previously featured here and here). It was a well-timed investment which has now graced not only the cobbles at LFW, but also the pages of British Vogue - I was wearing it in the photo that accompanied my article on scoliosis. 
To enhance the masculine feel of this look I added one of my great-grandma’s silk shirts and some vintage men's Bally brogues. The second hand organza silk jacket is tied with a cummerbund - both from a charity shop, while all the jewellery is vintage: the rings once belonged to my late maternal grandma (she had them made by a local silversmith/designer from melted down former pieces of jewelry) and the silver buckle bracelet was found at a flea market.

To mark the Observer Ethical Awards, Lucy Siegle, who is a Guardian journalist, presenter, sustainable advocate and author of ‘To Die For’ (you can read my review here), very kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions... 

How do you see the ethical fashion industry evolving in the next few years?

It's evolving at pace on different fronts. It is noticeably mainstreaming - ie 'ethical' concepts are being taken up by bigger brands to reduce risk in their supply chain or to overcome problems such as a shortage in production of cotton. At the moment this mainly takes the form of brands/retailers investing in recycling schemes or producing eco/conscious collections experimenting with lower impact materials. The extent to which they put real money in to feed innovation is debatable of course but there is a definite step change among most credible large brands. If you don't do anything I think that really marks you out as a dinosaur. 
One of the things that really excites me is the scientific and practical underpinning of ethics in fashion. Broadly speaking most of us knew it was a good idea to make fashion greener/ more sustainable and we were then able to highlight its environmental and social footprint. What heartens me is the gain in technical reasoning and technical solutions to some of fashion's problems. Evidence of this is increasingly found with the way that organisations work with NGOs on the ground of producer countries, ecologists, agronomists, textile scientists etc - fashion is finally waking up to the fact that it is dependent on the natural world and needs to work with environmental professionals. We need more of this energy to work through the social problems in its supply chain. Imagine what could be achieved on labour rights and standards with some input from a wide range of professionals. 
Ultimately what I would love to see is total reform of the Buyer role, which I think is key. In common with other industries (food being the first example given the mess of the beef/horse supply chain fiasco) the relationship between some fashion brands and the producers is no longer a business relationship. It is a corrosive imbalance of power structured towards short-term profit for big brands/retailers. 

 Do you think that ethics should take precedence above aesthetics for designers, or are they of equal importance to you?

No because when ethics takes precedence nobody wants to buy the finished article because people buy fashion because they fall in love with the aesthetic. There's nothing wrong with that. To be clear that is different to buying because you are swept up by a micro trend or because you feel under pressure to conform to a particular look or style idea. 
I co-founded the Green Carpet Challenge with Livia Firth four years ago and we have always been clear that part of our goal is to match  'ethics and aesthetics'. That's our slogan/mantra. With the brands that we work with we aim for excellence in both. 

What would you suggest to those interested in sustainability who do not necessarily have the funds to buy high end ethical designers?

You're in a good position to make better choices and you're in good company. Most of us don't have funds to buy many high end pieces (of any type of designer). Focus on your style and what sort of wardrobe you want to develop. Are you interested in building a wardrobe that will last for a decade or are you looking for more transient style hits? In my book (shameless plug!) To Die For: is fast fashion wearing out the world? I talk a lot about budgets, how we use them for other consumer purchases but not fashion and how they're useful for getting more ethical bang for your fashion buck. I'm a big fan of beginning with your private wardrobe. It'll (likely) show you the devastation wreaked by fast fashion and how much you've bought in haste, and give you some clues - through a thorough audit - of where your real style lies. Once you've got this self knowledge you can experiment with different ways of owning fashion: swapping, loaning, altering, upcycling, making (by far the best way of getting to grips with the essential arguments of ethical fashion is to make something. You'll never treat fashion as disposable again).
Then enter this year's Observer Ethical Awards fashion category, which is one massive celebration of ethical personal style and its profound influence over the industry at large. 

Has the Estethica exhibition at LFW had a discernable impact on the fashion industry's perception of sustainable style?

Yes. Definitely. I think it began by sticking two fingers up to the mainstream fashion industry, then it became a safe place for designers who prioritised ethics with aesthetic and needed support to make their case and now it's become a total force in its own right. At LFW just gone Estethica looked amazing. A few of the brands - Ada Zanditon, Bottletop and Pachacuti just to pick out very few - startled me with how far their range has developed and how slick their products are. That sort of investment of ingenuity, creativity, time, skill etc stands out for me. I thought Estethica was the best bit of LFW this season, but then I didn't see much of the rest as it doesn't massively interest me!

What has been your favourite thing about the Fru-Gal challenge?

I love the basic concept. We tend to over think in the sustainable style movement (it's part of the attraction that there's a cerebral dimension to this type of fashion) so I like Fru-Gal's directive 'just take a picture of what you're wearing and send it to us'. As I've said before the sustainable style movement is not a rarified concept - it lives or dies by what people are doing in their own wardrobes. If they are taking that decision to make their aesthetic match their ethics and can send us a picture, that's kind of life affirming to a longstanding ethical fashion fan like me! I also think it's quite brave. I've been asked to do the Fru-Gal challenge a few times and put it off out of fear of being judged. But I think the time is almost here... I need to lead by example!

Huge thanks to Lucy Siegle for taking the time to offer such full responses to my questions.

You can also nominate someone else for the Observer Ethical Awards in a variety of categories, including the 'Well Dressed.' 


Willow said...

It was wonderful to read what both you and Lucy Siegle wrote (I must search for her book.) I also love the very smart simplicity of the Frugal Challenge. I'd love to have a go at entering (must try to figure out how to do that though, can't see any kind submission thing.) And the ensemble you submitted is absolutely gorgeous, nice to see another appearance from that brilliant jumpsuit. Beautiful buckle bracelet too. I'm off to go read your "To Die For" post (gorgeous photos, love the shoes and the housecoat is gorgeous.)

Emalina said...

Bravo, you look fantastic in your inspired outfit, Roz! Very Katherine Hepburn, but very you too! I love the way you've put the pieces together to create a look that's classical and graceful, but with a beautiful androgyne quality. The colour of that jumpsuit mirrors your red lipstick, and I adore that black jacket with the cummerbund. You deserve to win an Ethical Award!

Thanks also for the interview with Lucy Siegle, a woman I admire very much for her ethical principles.

Peacock's Hat said...

This is so strange, I've only just written about this myself for the Oxfam blog! However, you have managed to describe it so much better than me, and even got an interview with Lucy Siegle in! I will suggest to Helen that we include a link to this post in my article.

Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

Great interview! Thanks for sharing it! And I looove your Hepburn inspired outfit. You really look gorgeous in every style!

Closet Fashionista said...

LOVE this look!
And its so true! I've been thrifting a lot more these past few months. I like that I'm giving a new life to these old pieces.

Jean at said...

As always, much to digest and comment on!! This is a topic close to my heart, although I tend to "preach" by example. I'll be back to enjoy all the various links you've provided, but in the meantime let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed the interview!! I agree that aesthetics need not be compromised by ethics or vice versa. In fact, I think ultimately they elevate each other.

The notion of "consciousness" is interesting. My observation is that once you "know", you can't pretend you don't, i.e. the ecological and cultural devastation that fast fashion promotes. It makes it difficult to go into an H&M or other retailer with trendy, inexpensive items that seem on-target and thus desirable on some level.

Consequently, as I touch the fabrics (yuck!) and look at the workmanship, I feel the machine that churned out these clothes to satisfy an insatiable international appetite for "style", and it scares me.

I embrace style as a statement of individuality and creativity. I like it to be as inexpensive as possible, because value doesn't have to be equated with the amount of money spent. I also realize that not everyone who wants to look good has the urge. or talent, to create a personal style with vintage or used clothing.

It's imperative to educate as many people as possible about sustainable fashion. It's also imperative to support the companies and designers who are conscious. That way we can add our voice and dollars to a movement that benefits us all.


Well, it's a lovely inspired outfit submission, and a fine article to read. The silk shirt was a smart addition. I've seen quite a lot of wonderful sustainable pieces as of late. :)

Melanie said...

What's not to love about these photos? The outfit, the attitude (equally important). I especially love it when you jump.
This is a wonderful competition. I'd like to say "start packing," the prize is a trip, right?
I enjoyed the interview. I agree that bringing high regard down to the home-front is such an important part of sustainability change.

Vix said...

A gorgeous outfit, Roz, you should win if there's any justice in the world. xxx

Christine Crowther said...

Hello all, If you are unsure about entering the Well Dressed category you can find out more about the requirements here:

Best wishes,

OrigamiGirl said...

It's really interesting to hear about your involvement with ethical fashion. A lot of what I think of as ethical fashion falls in the same category as most catwalk items for me - it is just too expensive and isn't available anywhere nearby. The things I own in that line were all got from charity shops! And then I feel ethical in another way! Which you do say counts for the challenge.

I definitely agree that in high/designer fashion it should be ethical - if you are going to pay the price and fork out the money it should always be ethically made and not involve exploitation of any workers rights.

Also - wanted to say thanks for your nice comment on my Playmobil post. I don't think my other blog readers enjoy my toy love so it makes me happy if just one person enjoys seeing my creations. :)

Eco Chic said...

Such a beautiful blog and a beautiful girl! I have blogged about you here:

Thank you for sharing your style Roz!

adrielleroyale said...

I love this outfit on you - You are turning into such a lovely woman :) Many blessings to you my blogging friend! :)

ABCD said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Not Just A Pretty Dress said...

Rosalind, I really admire the passion of your writing and the way you promote the causes you truly believe in. I personally think that nowadays certain 'ethical' standards, in whatever business, should be a given, but alas it is not the case and it is great to see initiatives and committed journalist like Lucy Siegle talking about (and 'denouncing') these issues. Your Katharine Hepburn inspired ensemble and pictures are - as always - beautiful. take care, Caterina

Lauren said...

Yes, I definitely agree with ethical fashion as a priority. I think it will take time to become mainstream but the fact you and others are creating awareness makes me hope that it will take hold eventually!

Lauren at adorn la femme

livlovelaugh said...

what an interesting look you have. Nice writing too.


The Foolish Aesthete said...

Wonderfully softened Katharine Hepburn here. But your quill is ever sharp when discussing ethics and fashion. Terrific interview!

I loved your question on ethics over aesthetics, and Lucy Siegle's response. It was similar to a little argument I was having with my husband, when he said that I preferred form over content in design and other things. I disagreed immediately and said that content is of utmost importance, but that form is equally so.

And your posts, dear Rosalind, always exhibit both - strong substance and exquisite form! -- J xxx

Damla Kalayc─▒k said...

Lovely post :)
Would you like to follow each other?
Let me know

Fashionistable said...

Oh I wish you success in the Fru Gal challenge. You are for me always the best dressed in this category. Xxxx

shipshapeandbristolfashion said...

A fantastic and exciting interview! Every step we take to a more ethical and eco-conscious fashion industry counts, and your passion for that is one of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog. Good luck with your competition entry!