Friday, 27 January 2017

Highlights from the Ethical Fashion Show, Berlin


Berlin Fashion Week is over, and what a week it was - with an estimated 200,000 visitors, 3,500 and over 70 designer shows including the launch of Kate Moss's new clothing collection, the city is fast building a reputation as an incubator of new and innovative talent. All this is great news for the Ethical Fashion Show, which has seen attendance soar in recent years. This month's edition played host to 178 international labels - a 15% increase on last season - including both established brands and some exciting new sustainable designers to watch for 2017. 




FASHION AT THE FOREFRONT

Slow, sustainable or ethical fashion has historically had a tough time trying to shake off its "eco" image - to most people, the term conjures up a vision of hemp-cald hippies of the 60s and 70s, with style coming in second place to environmental and social concerns. In recent years, however, traditional "eco" brands have started to wise up to the changing fashion industry and appeal to a digitally-savvy, younger generation, spurred on by the emergence of new and innovative labels such as Reformation in the US and Jan n' June in Germany, which are winning over millennials by putting style first and layering on their ethical and sustainable credentials as an extra bonus. In 2016, the clearest sign of this sea-change was German retailer Hess Natur's reinvention from a 40-year old stuffy "eco" brand into a credible fashion player; a change in mindset which was also reflected in many of the lectures I attended over the course of the show and was great to witness. Rather than simply complaining about the lack of consumer awareness or willingness to pay extra for sustainably and ethically produced garments, as has been the case in previous editions, it seemed that many of the speakers had come to the realisation that in order to present a credible alternative, the products need to be able to compete with the best that the fast fashion players have to offer - winning over the customer through timeless, contemporary design and excellent quality.

A CHANGE IS COMING

I first attended the Ethical Fashion Show in the summer of 2015, and in the space of only eighteen months it's clear that the fair itself has also undergone somewhat of a transformation, smartening up the image of sustainable fashion through effective marketing, cool new labels and a focus on bloggers, with a special Blogger Lounge sponsored by Weleda and various press events. Of course, there are still some traditional "eco" brands showing the same styles from twenty years ago, but these are now very much in the minority with younger, fresher brands leading the way with original branding, innovative fabrics and zero waste design. Of the 40 designer brands showing in the higher-priced, "Green Showroom" section of the fair, 95% could also have been found in contemporary boutiques around the world, and indeed, many of the labels I saw for the first time at the show had already been trading for a while, with stockists based across Europe, Australia, and even South Korea.

HAVE WE REACHED CERTIFICATION OVERLOAD?

At the same time as sustainable labels are realising the need to effectively promote their brand, the people in charge of certifying ethical and sustainable credentials are also taking advantage of the business opportunity that this growing market brings with it. Three of the lectures I attended during the fair were presentations from different certification bodies - "Made in Green", a new standard from Oeko-Tex combining environmental and social standards, GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard, which also fulfils some social criteria), and Fairtrade, which has now added the Fairtrade Textile Standard to its list of labels for clothing. Getting confused? I was too, and that's only three labels - no wonder it's difficult for sustainable brands and retailers to market their products properly when there's so many to choose from. As much as such organisations are trying to make the world a better place, I couldn't help feeling that this was information overload, and that just as we need an internationally applicable, legally binding standard for workers' rights to ensure consistency across supply chains, I would argue that fewer but more effective certifications are needed in order to reduce the amount of red tape and extra costs for both brands and suppliers doing the right thing. Let's see what happens over the next few years as this topic grows even more in importance. 

LABELS TO WATCH

Lanius | @lanius_cologne
First established in 1999, Lanius has been pushing the frontier of sustainable fashion for almost two decades, and this season was no exception. The brand was fully in focus at the Ethical Fashion Show, as a result of a new collaboration with hosiery brand Kunert using waste materials. The block colour coats from the upcoming Autumn/Winter collection formed a striking parade down Wednesday's catwalk show, but my favourite items were the more commercial knit pieces on display at during the trade fair, made in luxurious fabrics and beautiful neutrals, retailing for a reasonable €80-120.




Elsien Gringhuis | @elsiengringhuis
Winner of the Green Fashion Competition in 2011 and the Fair Luxury Award in 2012, the latest collection from sustainable designer Elsien Gringhuis was a real stand out, with uniquely beautiful prints of the Dutch island Schiermonnikoog elevating the brand's signature minimalistic cuts and luxurious fabrics to a new level. All the clothing is designed and produced in the Netherlands with a special focus on zero waste techniques and sustainable fabrics, with styles from the latest collection retailing between €259-659.


Cossack | @cossacfashion
It was the first time I'd seen Cossack at the Ethical Fashion Show, but founder Agatka Kozak been already been trading for a while, with features in Eluxe Magazine, Nylon and German Glamour amongst others, and 13 stockists across the globe. The London-based brand offers "a curated selection of contemporary threads and redefined basics with a sass edge", made in sustainable fabrics and produced ethically in Europe, with very accessible price points of £63 for an on-trend bodysuit and £84 for a more sophisticated jumpsuit.



Johanna Kiplinger | @Johanna Riplinger 
Another luxury brand focused on both sustainable fabrics and ethical labour practices, Johanna Riplinger creates "clothing with a distinctively feminine note", and this was clear to see both in the beautiful flowing gowns of the catwalk show as well as the silk prints and pink tones of the main collection. Based in Paris, the brand is stocked in boutiques across Europe, China and Taiwan as well as online.



P.i.C. Style | @p.i.c._style_
P.i.C. stands for Partners in Crime, founded in London by two passionate designers determined to "do fashion the right way" by creating a capsule wardrobe of eight pieces which can be put together in multiple combinations to form over fifty different outfits. Although the London boutique also stocks other labels including Matt & Nat, MUD Jeans, Cossac and Lanius (see above), the eponymous collection is the core philosophy of the brand and is produced locally in fabrics that are either stock (excess), sustainable or organic. Keep an eye out for the reversible De Beau Cami (£60), made of super soft bamboo, and the sleek Hoxton shirt (£85).



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