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Designers in Ethical Fashion – beyond the boundaries

Designers in Ethical Fashion – beyond the boundaries


by Alex Bell

Whilst the principles behind it may have been universally respected (in theory, at least) since it first began, eco-fashion has not always had a very good reputation when it comes to being stylish, chic and elegant. For some, eco-fashion is still synonymous with unflattering hemp skirts and ugly sandals. What better way to dispel any lingering traces of this outdated prejudice than with the beautiful results of some of the best and brightest minds in the world of elite fashion design?

In June 2011, Vivienne Westwood launched a new range of bags in her latest Ethical Fashion Africa collection. Everything is made from recyclable materials by marginalized communities of women (including widows, single mothers and HIV/AIDS victims) living in Nairobi. They are supported by the International Trade Centre’s Ethical Fashion Programme of the United Nations but Vivienne Westwood is quick to point out that this is work, not charity. The women are able to earn a living to improve their own lifestyles and, in the process, they benefit their communities and learn a valuable trade they can pass on to their children.

Fashion label, Armani, developed a process to recycle denim back in 1995. Later on they developed new materials using recycled wool and cotton, and have since worked with fair-trade cotton projects in Peru and Bolivia. Unfortunately, despite a statement in 2007 to Time Magazine by Giorgio Armani that they had decided to no longer use animal fur in their collections, it continues to feature to this day. Considering some of the laudable work Armani has done elsewhere in the realms of eco-fashion, it would be a very welcome development to see them follow in the footsteps of designers such as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Stella McCartney and commit to going fur-free and staying that way.


Eco-designer Jeff Garner was named ‘2010 Eco Men’s Designer of the Year’ with his sustainable, organic label, Prophetik. His clothes are stocked in high end boutiques in the US, UK, Japan and Switzerland. Garner has designed for, amongst others, Miley Cyrus, Kings of Leon, Barry Manilow and Donna Summer.

The Komodo fashion label creates clothes using organic and eco-friendly fabrics and dyes. They use traditional manufacturing skills were possible, and their factory in Kathmundu is currently the only factory in Nepal to have achieved certification that it conforms to the recognised international standard of human rights within the workplace. Champion of ethical fashion, Stella McCartney counts Gwyneth Paltrow, Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johnasson amongst her patrons, and is the only top-tier designer who refuses to use any animal fur or leather whatsoever in her designs. The label’s headquarters is powered by wind, and their bags are made from recycled paper.


People Tree creates ecological and fairtrade clothing and recently joined forces with Emma Watson to design a teenage clothing range. In preparation for this, Emma Watson paid a visit to Bangladesh to see how the clothes are made and to meet the people who make them. She was moved by the stark contrast between the slums of Dhaka, where the factory workers live, and Swallows where the People Tree workers make clothes by hand, are paid decent wages and have a safe working environment.

Livia Firth, wife of Colin Firth and so-called Queen of the green carpet is working on a clothing line for Yoox’s eco-brand Yooxygen, in partnership with Reclaim To Wear, who help designers utilise recycled waste from the fashion industry. Livia Firth is a big fan of ‘upcycling’ – rather than simply reusing old clothes (or recycling them) she prefers to reinvent and recreate them for the better. She is also a champion of the ‘green carpet challenge’ – wearing only clothes produced by ethical companies and – best of all – she has started persuading others to join her. She is in the process of giving ten top designers (including Guccii, Alberta Ferretti and Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen) the challenge of making ten celebrities green dresses for the red carpet.

It seems that ethical fashion is no longer a case of eco-warriors trying to produce sustainable clothing, but rather designers of the highest calibre looking to produce beautiful clothing more ethically. The high street often aims to emulate the red carpet and so the fact that so many A-list designers and celebrities are now embracing eco-fashion means good news for high-street shoppers as well as the environment, exploited animals and vulnerable workers all over the world.

Jeff Garner of Prophetik believes that having a social conscience will never go out of style and, indeed, the eco-fashion movement has now gathered such momentum from the combined forces of so many individuals and organisations, that it is difficult to see it slowing down any time soon.

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