Monday, 20 July 2015

Review: The Ethical Fashion Show, Berlin


Last Friday, along with a whole host of designers, buyers, bloggers and other fashion professionals, I attended the final day of the Ethical Fashion Show in Berlin, part of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. With "a clear focus on design and sustainability", the Ethical Fashion Show is a fantastic platform for over 150 eco-conscious brands to present their ranges to the international buying community, and also acts as a space for open discussion on some of the hot topics in the fashion industry right now. As well as getting to know lots of exciting new brands, I also managed to catch the final few talks, which included a debate about 'vegan' fashion, as well as presentations by WellMade on improving working conditions (part of the FairWear Foundation) and Fairtrade's new Fairtrade Cotton Standard initiative.  Read on for my analysis of the day's discussions, as well as my top picks of emerging ethical fashion brands.

The day started with a lecture by Dr Bernhard Felmberg from the Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development, which works with other government bodies and retailers from around the world to improve both working conditions and environmental issues in developing countries, as well as in its native Germany. The lecture was entitled "Partnership for Sustainable Textiles - Together We Can Accomplish More", and this sense of co-operation and communication was a continuing theme throughout the rest of the day, whether in the context of working with other organisations, retailers and factories, or in educating and converting customers. Although Dr. Felmberg did acknowledge the "substantial change in mindset" since the events of Rana Plaza, he also highlighted just how much work there is still left to be done before all retailers are effectively engaged in the struggle to ensure safe working conditions and minimal environmental impact. Yet, crucially, he spoke at length about the importance of viewing this journey as a continuing process, appreciating and building on the steps that individual companies and governments have made without solely focusing on the negatives, which seemed to me to be a more productive way of moving the discourse surrounding "ethical" fashion forward without alienating those brands yet to make steps towards transparent supply chains.

"It's not about pointing the finger and ordering people what to do. It's about creating a shared spirit that everyone feels a part of, so that we can improve the situation together."
Dr. Bernhard Felmberg, Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development

Of course, the customer also plays an enormous role in fostering this sense of partnership, through engaging in open dialogue with brands, governments and other like-minded people and actively questioning the current consumer mindset of "cheap, cheap, cheap". User-friendly technology such as sourcing apps will become a key part of this, enabling those with little or no knowledge of ethical practices and processes to start asking the right questions and receive clear answers about the origin and journey of the products they buy.

"Sustainable textiles are the next big thing after organic food - we think about what we put in our bodies,  but we will start to think about what we put on them, too"
Dr. Bernhard Felmberg, Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development

The following debate about vegan fashion directly linked to this statement, and attempted to address key issues such as 'Can we really continue textile production without any animal products?', 'Is protecting animals through the use of synthetic fibres more important than protecting the environment?', and perhaps what ended up being the most controversial question of all - 'What is vegan fashion?'. Suffice to say that everyone on the panel had their own ideas about what 'vegan' means, including Julia Akra-Laurien, editor of Nouveaux Magazine (a vegan lifestyle guide), and Hendrik Haase, self-styled 'food activist' and blogger. There was also some interesting insights from industry professionals in the audience, many of whom use leather and wool in their collections and openly challenged the 'sustainability' of using petroleum-based products rather than those naturally derived from animals, if produced under humane conditions, or as a by-product of the agricultural industry. In fact, my biggest learning was not related to 'vegan' fashion at all, but rather a growing realisation of just how interlinked the fashion machine is with all other global industries, as has already been expertly illustrated by The True Cost movie (read my review here). The key issue, linked to Dr. Felmberg's criticism of the "cheap, cheap, cheap" mentality, is that we are consuming too much - both food and fashion. If fewer cattle were killed for beef, for example, we would reduce the amount of Amazon rainforest being cut down for ranches as well as the amount of leather available for countless unnecessary handbags.

The many problems arising from the production of raw materials such as cotton (including pesticides, indebted farmers and appalling working conditions) were addressed in a presentation by Fairtrade, who have recently introduced their new 'Fairtrade Textile Standard' after years of pilot schemes and tests. The organisation exists to empower over 1200 Fairtrade-certified producers across 74 countries by paying them a minimum price for their goods, and in the case of the Fairtrade Textile Standard, to guarantee transparency throughout the entire cotton supply chain through their indepedently-audited certification process, which will also ensure safe working conditions for all the workers involved. Although the scheme is in its early stages, the organisation is looking to work with other sustainable cotton producers that are not yet Fairtrade-certified, and in the future expand its scope to include synthetic fibres. Amazingly, already 60% of all Fairtrade cotton is certified organic, so if you see the Fairtrade logo, you know that you are helping the environment by reducing the use of pesticides as well as paying the producer a fair price for their goods.

Overall, I left the final talk feeling inspired to make changes to my own lifestyle as well as much more knowledgable about topics I had little or no idea about before, from the various challenges of  legislating in an international arena to leather alternatives made from pineapples and mushrooms! There were definitely some conflicting ideas throughout the day, and I don't think that anyone had the answer to what 'true ethical fashion' looks like, but surely that's the point - there is no one 'fix-all' solution, and in our own ways, we are all searching for the many small solutions that will eventually come together to form something bigger.

My Top 3 Emerging Ethical Fashion Brands

Muka Va"Pure not Boring"
I fell in love with Muka Va's gorgeous prints and minimal, Scandi styling - these are staples that will have pride of place in your wardrobe for years to come, and are all manufactured locally in Finland from the fabric to the finished product. My favourite item is definitely the multicoloured printed top - perfect for adding a pop of colour to plain jeans or a skirt. Check out their website for a list of stockists, or hop over to their Pinterest for more inspiration.
www.mukava.net


Lanius - "Love Fashion, Think Organic, Be Responsible"
More classic than Muka Va, but no less beautiful, what drew me to Lainus was the watercolour prints, soft scalloped skirts and stylish jumpsuits from their forthcoming SS16 collection that would be just as perfect for day out as in the office. The line is produced in Cologne, Germany, with a specific focus on organic materials and fair working conditions, and they're currently having a summer sale.
www.lanius-koeln.de


M of Copenhagen - "Premium Sustainability"
I had a lovely chat with Marie Sj√∂lund from M of Copenhagen, who told me all about her journey as an emerging designer who has independently sourced everything in her collections, from sustainable materials right down to biodegradable hang tags and packaging. She is in the process of putting her first clothing range into production, but you can find her beautiful jewellery made from 100% eco-silver on her website.
mofcopenhagen.com

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