Some wear cotton, some wear wool, some say silk’s okay. Could this be the new theme song for Eco Fashion? Madonna had a specific 1980’s clientel in mind when she was singing about her Material World, however the current consumer culture’s interaction with Eco-Fashion can be summed up in just the same amount of notes. One of the major tenants that this movement was based on is the ability to select a wider variety of materials, in order to create options that were in line with consumer’s ethical beliefs systems. In this 3 part series we’ll discuss the materials, trends and consumption practices of the world of Eco Fashion.
Part One- Materials
Eco Fashion has many different origin stories, depending on what country, time period or aspect of the production cycle you’re looking to date. Suffice it to say that the Eco Fashion movement as we know it came about largely due to the late 1960’s early 1970’s Ecological Movement as Lucy Siegle notes in her article for the BBC. In this time period consumers decided they wanted to see more options open to them on the racks as well as simply in the fabric stores, that were more in line with their newly forming ethical belief systems. As Siegle points out all the modernization that was at the roots what she calls quick fashion, somehow led consumers to want an alternative choice to select from.
First came organic cotton, (in the 1990’s) which enabled fair trade activists to experience what it was like to let their views do the shopping. Currently a fairly standard fiber, organic cotton was a minor coup when it was first offered. In 1997 the formation of the Apparel Industry Partnership (AIP) was developed to standardize the production of ethically made materials. In addition, the 1999 World Trade Organization protest in Seattle, Washington, ignited a major fuse for those who were unaware of the ramifications of global trade, an issue we’ll delve into more in part three of this series when we discuss consumption.
However, getting back to materials, following its “arrival” as a key contender for sustainable fiber production, organic cotton has now been joined by a full spectrum of offerings, from bamboo, hemp, silk, linen (flax), wool, and even a subsection of recycled materials that are used for fiber production such as Patagonia’s ever famous re-used plastic bottle fleece. Of special relevance to HVC readers, there has been a recent upswing in designers who are using what we may not have ever though of as material suitable for clothing, shoes, or accessories. This experimenting with newspaper, Weleda Skin Food wrappers, and even plastic bags was brought into the Haute Couture spotlight by none other than genius Gary Harvey, whose work at the Green Fashion Show in New York can be seen in this video.
While it’s a sign of the times that we’re able to experiment with such ease and creativity with a limitless pallet of materials, it also breeds the question, what next? While there have been huge strides in the past 10 years within the advancement of Eco-Friendly materials, there are still huge hurdles to champion. There is not currently a single widely used, and globally agreed upon standard to measure both the quality and production levels of materials we’re terming sustainable. In addition, while quick fashion shops such as H&M and Top Shop are making it easy to buy Eco-Fashion on the cheap, most Eco-Fashion comes with a hefty price tag.
Tomorrow we’ll explore current trends in Eco Fashion, but for today, reflect upon your opinions and knowledge of sustainable materials. Have you ever practiced the quick reflex to “put it back on the rack” once you discovered that gorgeous item you had to have was not sustainably produced? What type of changes has your own wardrobe experienced during this time of heightened availability to a wide range of materials? Finally, what do you see the future of the bone structure, the materials and production methods, of Eco Fashion to be?
As always we at HVC love to hear from you, so feel free to share your comments below!