I have been working in the fashion industry now for over 18 years and have worked for fashion suppliers, high street brands, start up fashion companies and luxury brands in design or design related roles overseeing product from early development stages, through production, buying and merchandising and brand development.
Having recently moved from the UK to NZ I have had time to reflect on my work over the years as I look for work in a new country. I know now what I love about fashion and what feels important to me as a fashion designer and also as a consumer of fashion. My love for creating a beautiful product still runs through my veins as strongly as it did when I was in fashion school (all those years ago). However, I have come to a stage in my career where working for companies that churn out ‘fashion’ for prices that in turn compromise quality and mostly human rights is not where I want to be.
It has been made very clear to all of us that fashion is a polluting industry. In fact, it is the second most polluting industry next to oil. The fast fashion industry is fuelled by a crazy demand for cheap clothing and accessories which has a devastating impact from sweatshops and child labour to pollution and global warming. Just watch The True Cost and it is bound to make you think differently about this industry and make you more mindful when you do shop.
It is not OK anymore to produce product for the fashion industry (or any industry) without placing more consideration to the processes and the choices made for each stage of the product life.
I am developing a new brand range this year and I am so passionate to really do this ethically. In my opinion this is the only way to go and I am so determined to love fashion again doing it in a more considered way for humanity and for the planet.
Along my journey I have come across 5 ethical fashion brands that excite and inspire me and I want to share them with you.
1. People Tree
People Tree is a fair trade apparel company which was founded in 1991 by Safia Minney in Tokyo. A pioneer in ethical and environmental sustainable fashion People Tree is an alternative to fast fashion and have partnered with fair trade producers, garment workers, artisans and farmers to develop their ethical eco ranges. They use organic and sustainable materials and support rural communities and artisans by using their traditional skills to create the People Tree product.
They are a brand that need to be commended to really making a stand against human exploitation and pollution they always strive to pioneer sustainable methods of production to minimise environmental impact. Choosing to use recycled and natural products, to ship by sea as much as possible and to weave fabrics by hand People Tree always consider ways to reduce our impact on global warming and pollution.
Collaborating with leading designers the ranges are thoughtful, unique and design lead for a new approach to fashion. I think this is a great way for People Tree to really encourage other designers and brands to fall in step with their ethical choices.
When buying from People Tree you can be assured that your unique garment was made considering respect for people and the planet.
Veja is an ecological and fair trade footwear and accessories brand produced out of Brazil and France. Veja works with cooperatives of small producers. One which they have found sources rubber from the Amazon used for the soles of the trainers and helping the survival for natural sustainable resources. They support and buy from organic farmers for their cotton used for the canvas for the sneakers and accessories. They also strive to use leathers from producers who nurture the cow and living conditions right through to the tanning and natural dying processes for the leather.
I was impressed by the confidence Veja have in their No Advertising Policy. The advertising costs saved goes towards paying their farmers and producers fairly. As their fabrications cost 3-4 times higher than other footwear brands because the trainers and bags are produced with dignity the No Advertising Policy also makes it possible for Veja to sell their products at a price competitive to their competition.
Veja have beautiful modern designs and over the years have worked with many established brands for example Agnes B, Comptoir des Cotonniers and Bonpoint to name a few. These collaborations are a clever way of creating brand awareness and creating their following.
I loved their zero stock policy too. Their products must have orders placed on them 6 months in advance to enable their production and the quantities needed ensuring they dont over order and avoiding having dead stock that has not sold by the end of the season.
Veja also like to reduce their carbon footprint, alike People Tree, by transporting all their trainers and accessories by boat from Brazil to France by where they then get transferred to barges to take them along the canals to Paris. They have also ensured that all their packaging is made from recycled and recyclable cardboard.
Veja is constantly evolving. They have established such an amazing ethical brand concept which should be recognised and commended.
3. Polly Wales
As a true admirer of jewellery when I came across Polly Wales I was buzzing with excitement for this beautifully distinct ‘rough luxe’ brand.
With a background and training in the UK Polly Wales took her business idea to Los Angeles and created a beautiful creative space. Working with a team of artisans and highly skilled jewellers Polly Wales creates ethical hand crafted fine jewellery ranges. Each piece of jewellery is handcrafted in-house using only sustainable materials and every piece of material is used without any waste. Polly Wales uses ethical gemstones and, the part I love most, 18 carat recycled gold. I just love this recycled element!!
Jewellery doesn’t have to be brand new to be loved. Recycled 18 carat jewellery can have a new life and be re-molded into something ‘new’ for you to love all over again.
I don’t think I need to say much more about this brand. Check out the website and I hope you are as captivated as I was!!
4. Matt & Nat
Inspired my MATerial and NATure the brand Matt & Nat explore the synergy between the two with a passion for this and consideration to the world surrounding us all. Matt & Nat have values of social responsibility, excellence, inclusiveness, integrity, leaning, authenticity and love which are all considered when designing the eco friendly and vegan accessories ranges including bags and wallets.
The brand has committed to not using any leather or any other animal based materials in their designs and as a result have created inspiring ranges from cork, rubber, recycled nylons and cardboard. I thought the fact that they use linings only made out of 100% recycled plastic bottles totally admirable and I love the new addition of recycled bicycle tires to their collection of recycled fabrics.
You really do set your own limits when you design. This brand really show this in the fabrications they have been able to and have chosen to use for their collections.
A lot of you will know the brand G-Star. Over the years I had heard of some of their new fabric developments, however when delving further and understanding how this brand really wants to make a contribution to reducing plastic pollution I knew I would be totally inspired.
G-star has vowed to work towards banning single use/ non durable and unnecessary plastics in all their operations. Statistics showed that in 2014 they made a reduction of more than 1.5 million plastic bags. Wow. Not only that they have created a range called RAW which uses bionic yarn created out of plastic waist reclaimed for the sea. How awesome is this. The RAW collections aim to contribute to cleaning the seas of the plastic debris that kill sea life every year and that now enters the food chain as animals eat it.
Along with this major plastics mission that G-Star are on, they also have a responsible supply chain, use sustainable product, have sustainable operations and community involvement. G-Star are also very serious about the fabrics they use and this spans from organic to raw to recycled. Using cotton, linen, hemp, tencel, recycled wool and mechanically and chemically recycled polyester and polyamind just to name a few. I particularly love their RAW recycled fabric which is a blend of post-consumer denim with organic cotton!!
Ultimately G-Star strive for a cleaner production, fair wage, zero discharge of hazardous chemicals and restricted substance list. They are so proactive in their approach to their eco fashion ranges and contributing cleaning up this word of unwanted waste. Very inspiring huh!
When I see the way these fashion brands are conducting their businesses it makes me feel really excited, and proud, that it is possible to make a start on cleaning up this industry that we love. We all need to be more mindful of the world around us for the future of all of us.