Have you ever wondered what goes into producing the tee shirt, jeans or dress that you wear for one short season and then discard? There are people all over the world that toil, very often in terrible conditions, to put those clothes on the store shelf.
An increasing number of people are becoming exceedingly particular about what happens to people and the environment as a result of the production of the clothes and fashion accessories that they wear. The eco-fashion trend is a result of this consciousness.
What is Eco Fashion?
Eco Fashion is the production of smart, high-fashion clothes that are sensitively produced without the use of pesticides, unfair labor, sustainable fabric and practices. It sees green design and clothing as a means of effective social and environmental change. The Eco-fashion trend is about being super-stylish and conscious, responsible and earth-aware.
Any garment that is labelled eco-fashionable must fulfil two basic criteria
- Usage of ecologically sensitive fabrics
- Usage of responsible production techniques
Ecologically sensitive fabrics
- Unbleached fabric
- Handloom fabrics
Responsible Production Techniques
- Sweatshop free fabric and garment production
- Fair Trade fabric and production
- Fair wage payment to labour
- Healthy working conditions for labour
- Responsible usage of resources like water, heat, light and power
- Production as a means of increasing the earning capacity of rural and marginalised communities
- Product design and production technique that sustains traditional craft traditions
Eco Fashion philosophy
This philosophy believes that it is the combined responsibility of designers, producers and consumers to ensure that what we wear is safe, fair, caring, sustainable and also beautiful and aesthetically pleasing.
The designers are responsible because they decide which materials will be used and how they will be produced. Since people want to wear smart clothes, they can choose to design clothes that people prefer and which are also earth-friendly.
The producer’s responsibility lies in ensuring that the processes, materials and certifications are in line with this philosophy. The last and most important decision maker is the consumer, because it is he who decides where and how to spend his money.
Fulfilling just one or two criteria listed above doesn’t make a garment environmentally friendly. A skirt made with un-dyed, unbleached cotton cannot be considered environmentally friendly unless each stage of its production, right from the growing of the cotton, to the spinning, weaving, tailoring, packaging, transportation and retailing are all environmentally sensitive.
One of the most important fundamentals of eco fashion philosophy is the absence of waste. Just buying eco-clothing is not the answer. It is important to reduce consumption, buy fewer, more responsible, possibly more expensive clothes and use them over a longer period of time rather than large numbers of less expensive, less responsible products.
Why should we support Eco Fashion?
Eco fashion is an easy way to make a difference to the environment. High-end fashion is an aspirational product. Trends set in high end fashion impact the buying decisions of millions of consumers.
Our buying decisions do determine the future of the Earth.
The fashion industry makes an enormous environmental impact. Many of the clothes that we buy and wear are made of synthetic fibres which are petrochemical derivatives like Nylon and Polyester. Petrochemicals are pollutants that cause global warming. Specifically, the manufacture of nylon releases nitrous oxide which is 310 times stronger than carbon dioxide. Both these gases cause global warming. These fibres are also non-biodegradable.
Viscose, another man-made fibre is produced by treating wood pulp with sulphuric acid and caustic soda, both extremely toxic.
Natural fibres like cotton and wool, when not manufactured responsibly are also damaging. Most people percieve cotton as ecologically acceptable. Few realise that cotton growing uses 25% of the total annual worldwide pesticide utilized. This not only endangers cotton farmers that produce it and the environment, but also remains in the fabric and endangers consumers who eventually wear the finished garment.
Wool is also treated with chemicals. The methodology is to dip the sheep in troughs of chemicals before the wool is sheered.This is a means to keep the animals disease free. These disinfecting baths are colloquially known as "sheep dips". The chemicals in them adversely affect the sheep, the sheep farmer and are very toxic to the surrounding aquatic life
Chemical dyes are often extremely toxic and harm the groundwater into which they leach via drains and sewers. Power looms have a larger carbon footprint than handlooms, deprive artisanal communities of livelihood and also eventually threaten craft traditions.
The question of fur is a hotly debated one. Most people would argue that the killing of animals for their pelts to cater to high-end fashion is neither green nor conscious. The Fur Council of Canada has recently contested this claim in a bid to be part of the eco-fashion brigade with what PETA calls “ridiculous” claim .
General perceptions of Eco textiles
- Pale coloured and limp
- Unattractive and unfashionable
Fashionable coloured clothing isn’t ecological because of its dyes and production techniques
This however is changing and a new breed of designers are bringing style and colour to high-end fashion
Who makes Eco Fashionable clothing?
Many fashion designers are turning to environmentally sensitive fabrics and production techniques. Linda Loudermilk is known for her high-end, sustainable and visionary fashion. Other names include
- Stella McCartney
- Phillip Lim’s “Go Green Go” line
- Anna Cohen
- Gary Harvey
- Shreela Debi in India works with traditional silk weaving techniques in Bengal
- Bai lou from their Kolkata studio have revived traditional weaving techniques.
-  Government approved list of organic certified fabric suppliers
- SEWA Self Employed Women’s Association in India, works for both the protection of endangered craft, hand spun and hand-woven fabrics and sustainable livelihoods.
- Barneys- the high-end department store stocks many “green designers”
- Bahar Shahpar and her enterprise “The Four Hundred” represent conscious designer lines
- Brass Tacks, run by designer Anaka Narayanan in Madras, India, is committed to using natural fabrics and traditional textile crafts for an urban and contemporary consumer.
Online information and availability
- Bamboo based fabric
-  Fashionable home furnishing fabrics in organic cotton, wool and soy
- Amana’s production is based in the Moroccan Atlas mountains. Organic silk shirts and ethically produced hemp and Tencel coats are amongst several things that she produces.
- High-end organic denim jeans
-  Focus on fabrics like soy jersey, hemp, recycled poly denim and elegant styles
'Sites like thegreenloop even offer carbon neutral shipping'
Ecologically fashionable products are often more expensive than their mass produced counterparts. The answer to the dilemma of the more expensive clothing purchase lies in buying fewer, better quality, longer lasting clothes.
Eco Fashion weeks
Designers exhibit their collections at international fashion weeks in cities all over the world. Many of these exhibitions now feature green niches or are in some instances completely green. 2007 had many such exhibitions.
- Oslo Fashion Week: August 13 to 19, 2007 Highlighting NICE -The Norwegian Initiative for Clean and Sustainable fashion
- San Francisco Fashion Week: August 22 to 26, 2007 featured green elements including a workshop on Trends in Eco-fashion.
- London Fashion Week: Estethica Exhibition, September 15 to 20, 2007 . This is a fashion arena only for designers who are involved with Eco Fashion. People Tree, Veja, Noir. Designers that work in recycled and organic fabrics like Ciel, Enamore, and From Somewhere.
- Seattle Green Fashion Week: October 2 to 6, 2007.
- Paris Ethical Fashion Show : October 11 to14, 2007. The Ethical Fashion Show in Paris is the only fashion show that is a meeting point for designers from all over the world. 2007 was the fourth year that this show was held.
- LA Fashion Week: which began on October 12, 2007 was inaugurated by an EcoNouveau Fest. This inaugural event focussed on environmentalism.
- New York Design Week: Future Fashion Show , October 17, 2007 had a section that focussed on Eco Fashion. The main exhibition also featured some green designs.
- The Portland All Green Fashion Week : October 19 to 24, 2007 was held at the John Ross Tower, a LEED-certified green building.
Mainstream fashion and ecological consciousness
High-end fashion doesn’t often have ecological sensitivity. This may be borne out by Karl Lagerfeld’s statement when he said “if you want social justice, be a social worker”.
This standpoint is not unusual and many Indian designers also have workers who operate in poor working conditions at low wages and with dangerous chemicals and toxic dyes.
The International Herald Tribune has also questioned the contention of many designers who claim to produce green and ecologically conscious products as “green washing”. The article here is an interesting read in this regard.
- Why is Eco-Fashion So Hot?
- Eco-Fashion Archives
- Eco Fashion - Denmark
- Organic and Eco Fashion
- Be a green fashion week groupie