Sustainable designers were showcased alongside mainstream counterparts, but ‘green’ terminology remains off-putting…
With 58 catwalk shows and 24 presentations over five days, London Fashion Week 2014 reasserted the capital’s status as a leader in the global fashion industry last week, while its sustainable fashion initiative Estethica, entered its 17th season.
The initiative is co-curated by Orsola de Castro and Filippo Ricci, founders of green label From Somewhere, together with the British Fashion Council. Since it was founded in 2006, it has supported more than 100 designers from over 20 countries. This year Estethica exhibited a selection of designers – four emerging and eight established – chosen for their ethical credentials and design acumen.
“When we started I was the only one speaking the language,” De Castro explains. “We were the first to look at the design first and give sustainability equal importance, offering designers like Christopher Raeburn (2008 winner of the Ethical Fashion Forum’s Innovation competition, whose most famous collection uses redeployed military fabrics) genuine incubation.”
Estethica’s more established designers – including Auria, Pachacuti and Eden Diodati – were showcased in the Designer Showrooms at Somerset House, while emerging sustainable designers – Flavia La Rocca, Katie Jones, Louise De Testa, and Wool and the Gang – were shown nearby.
Commenting on the rise of Estethica’s reputation, De Castro says: “Initially I had to sit here, to sell and pull in press. Now they come to see us.” The duo have carved out a space for Estethica as a front-runner in the sustainable fashion movement.
For Diana Verde Nieto, founder and CEO of Positive Luxury, whose directory of brands taking steps toward sustainability includes Burberry, Moshi Moshi and Nicholas Kirkwood, the word sustainability can be limiting. Terminology is often a sticking point in dialogue throughout London Fashion Week with “eco” and “green” assumed to imply judgmental or worthy attitudes. Through Positive Luxury, Vieto aims to use language as a bridge instead of a barrier, associating sustainability with aspirational qualities such as high quality craftsmanship and superior materials.
Despite initiatives such as Estethica, fashion week is often accused of being frivolous and unsustainable: feeding the machine of consumerism, constantly introducing trends and encouraging unalloyed spending.
Defending fashion, De Castro believes that as with any industry trends drive sales. The direct value of the British fashion industry to the UK economy is £26bn a year according to figures published by the British Fashion Council, with fashion’s total contribution to the economy estimated to have risen to over £46bn a year, an increase of 23% since 2009. “The fashion industry is important and it gives work to millions of people around the world,” says De Castro. London fashion week’s international guest programme alone generates over £65m worth of orders.
As London Fashion Week began, a 30 metre banner reading “Don’t mention the garment workers” was hung across Waterloo Bridge in a protest organised by War on Want.
While activists did not impede fashion week activities, their presence and the resulting social media campaign steered conversation towards garment workers’ rights around the world, the Bangladesh Safety Accord and debts owed to the families of the victims at Rana Plaza, where a clothing factory collapsed last year, killing 1,129 people.
— CraftivistCollective (@Craftivists) September 12, 2014
“The campaign is important and should be rammed down peoples’ throats at every possible opportunity, including London fashion week,” says De Castro, citing the disparity between a Bangladeshi garment worker’s monthly wage of £42 and the cost of a jumper on the high street.
These are sentiments shared by Harold Tillman CBE, a former chairman of the British Fashion Council. Attending Sunday’s Estethica reception, Tillman announced his involvement in the management of a fund with Tau Investment, which is to refurbish outdated infrastructure (archaic equipment, inadequate lighting, poorly trained management and machines churning out pollutants) in factories across Asia and Latin America to promote a safer working environment.
“We all wear clothes every single day, indeed fashion manufacturing underpins London Fashion Week and impacts upon millions of lives,” said Tillman. “We must improve conditions, this is part of the ethos of manufacturing.”
But what about the waste generated during London fashion week? There is certainly room for improvement. Where other fashion weeks, such as Portland, are claiming green fashion show production – eco friendly materials for the models, a bamboo runway and recycled material used for drapery – London fashion week lags behind with no recycling initiatives despite the large volume of plastic on the grounds. “A few years ago I got Tesco to sponsor the recycling bins but since then, I can tell you for me it has been a problem and something we are working on,” says De Castro.
Read full article on The Guardian here.