Estethica: London Fashion Week’s eco hub
Matilda Lee | 19.09.11
Before heading to a champagne brunch for ethical fashion exhibition Estethica yesterday, I tried to catch up on what ‘tweeple’ were saying about London Fashion Week. On Twitter’s #LFW, the big news at that minute was Kate Moss giggling next to Kristen Stewart on the front row of the Mulberry pooch-inspired show. On #Estethica, on the other hand, the tone was much more, shall we say, serious. This from @Pachacuti ‘Before #Estethica brunch we’re calculating CO2 emissions on all travel, freight, electric, etc for #fairtrade, #sustainability report.’
Herein lies the problem with ‘sustainable fashion’ in a nutshell. I find it entirely relevant that fashion accessories brand Pachacuti (pictured here in their fairtrade Panamas) is clocking their CO2 emissions for a sustainability report. But how much does it have to do with fashion? ‘Sustainability’ and ‘fashion’ are caught between two cultures, speaking two totally different languages.
Thankfully, there are more and more people trying to iron out these differences.
‘It is vital to expand the definition of ethical fashion.’ says Jessie Brinton, a style writer for the Sunday Times and Harper’s Bazaar who edited the latest Estethica Review. ‘London Fashion Week entices the non-ethically minded. While the fashion world needs to start to engage in sustainability, there is not much more the environmental side can do. Now it is a question of getting people to pay attention to it’. In order to so this, she says, sustainable fashion, ‘needs to be promoted in a sophisticated way.’
It is an inconvenient truth that people do not buy clothes because they are ethical. Before we ask them to be specific about what they buy, we have to ask them to care about their clothes.
The 18 designers exhibiting at Estethica are helping to shape the new dialogue about sustainable fashion.
I caught up with Orsola de Castro, From Somewhere designer and co-founder of Estethica. From Somewhere was exhibiting its Speedo collection using lycra offcuts in body hugging dresses with a sporty chic look. She hinted at their future plans: gearing up for a new ‘reclaimed to wear’ collection launching in November and ‘something very exciting with Topshop’.
Emesha (pictured here) added 3-D to her signature pleats in a collection with hand painted block prints inspired by 'analog versus digital'. The colour pallet is in simple black and white, with some green and splashes of pink. Why is she considered ethical? ‘I use no man made fibres. Today it is hard to find any big brands that don’t use any man made fibres. But after all, they will biodegrade, ' she says.
On to Rajkumar’s trenches made from natural rubber and organic cotton. Unusually, John Pratt, former director of the University of Lancaster’s Institute for Philosophy and Environment, is promoting the company in the UK. Why the career change, I asked while trying on a white organic cotton trench. ‘I retired, but also with oil running out we will have to go back to renewable resources. Rubber is a fantastic resource.’ All the rubber and organic cotton comes from India.
Michelle Lowe-Holder upcycles vintage ribbons into beautiful cuffs, collars and necklaces. Textiles are a combination of vintage end of line floral ribbons and leather cut-offs. This season she also experimented with innovative fabrics from Italy including hemp and coconut (pictured below).
Charini Suriyage’s eco-lingerie collection is glamourous and timeless – using the lost heritage crafts of her native Sri Lanka. In terms of sustainability practice she refrains from using elastics, plastics, harmful dying and metal.
Good One continues its signature body con figure flattering silhouettes using reclaimed textiles. The Soil Association had a presence for the first time, with a small collection curated by the Telegraph’s Tamsin Blanchard including Monkee Jeans, Continental Clothing and People Tree.
Finally, a new star is in the making in Eva Zingoni – from Paris by way of Argentina. After 7 years as a stylist at Balenciaga, she decided to branch out with her own sustainable couture collection made from surplus materials from Parisian fashion houses, which she refused to name. There are 4 designer fabrics in the current collection. She got into upcycling fabrics after visiting a warehouse where there were stacks of unused, high quality fabrics. She says, ‘This guy said to me, “you’ve got to take them, they’ve been here for three years. Sometimes they even throw them away.”’
The collection is beautiful, 25 pieces - mainly dresses (including one modelled below) but including shorts, trousers, tops and jackets in a mix of fabrics from wool to silk. Currently stocked in Japan, Spain and Belgium it would be great to be able to buy her designs here in London!
'Greenest government ever'?
Two or three champagne glasses later, when Gregory Barker MP, Minister for Energy and Climate Change (pictured below), finally got to the microphone for his speech the floor was teeming with sustainable fashionistas.
He said: ‘With the Eurozone crisis, and a difficult economy and jobs situation, it is difficult to keep climate change on top of the agenda. It is a challenge for the “greenest government ever”.
He went on to outline how fashion could help. ‘We need to find sustainable paths in an age of recession but it needn’t be difficult to grow and be sustainable. It takes effort and passion.’
The challenge is to communicate sustainability to the public. ‘While only government can run green projects and create a low carbon economy, you [the fashion industry] have much more traction in the public imagination. We need to make what we don’t want to do appealing. ‘Upcycling’ as I’ve learned today demonstrates through actions the ‘greenest government ever’s message.’
He then looked utterly perplexed as a gaggle of women surrounded him to talk about their sustainable fashion initiatives and give him their business cards.
On my way out, I bumped in to Antony Waller, formerly People Tree PR, who helped set up their high-profile collaborations with Bora Aksu, Richard Nicoll, and Emma Watson, and who is now doing four days a week at Bora Aksu. I asked his opinion on why Christopher Raeburn, formerly of Estethica, and now of the prestigious NewGen programme, has become a darling of the fashion world. Is there a particular look that just fits the fashion bill – or what? ‘Outerwear is easy to sell. His price point is not too high, he has always marketed himself as recycled – but that is not the first thing that you learn about Christopher Raeburn. He is young, hip and cool. His clothes photograph well.’
I think back to Gregory Barker’s comments on repackaging the green paradigm.
The fashion industry of today is a massive marketing machine, with a power to influence people’s lives in a way that the government will never have. Think what could be achieved by bending it to market green ideas.
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