Wear next?

November 2008

There are plenty of the sharp new ideas from the cutting edge of ethical fashion

Fashion has developed into a frenzy of cheap and cheerful instant gratification, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. But change is afoot. Ethical fashion is becoming a force to be reckoned with, changing the face of the garment trade and inspiring other industries to up the ante on sustainability.

An ethical education
Ethical issues are now built into most UK fashion courses, so the emerging generation of fashion professionals are keen to do things differently.

A growing number of dedicated initiatives are providing extra help and inspiration:

In Chelsea College of Art & Design's Textile Environment Design (TED) project, designers and educators are investigating how to create textiles with a reduced environmental impact. Its toolbox of designer-centred solutions includes a resource facility for every stage of a textile designer's career.

London College of Fashion's Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) launched this year. It's an internationally recognised catalyst for change, integrated with industry to help create better lives through a sustainable fashion economy.

Labour Behind the Label's Fashioning an Ethical Industry project works with students and tutors on fashion-related courses to raise their awareness of the global garment industry and inspire students to raise standards for workers in the fashion industry of the future.

The Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) is a network of designers, businesses and organisations focusing on social and environmental sustainability in the fashion industry.

Its Fashion+ project aims to include sustainability in all UK fashion business training. The New Entrepreneurs programme provides young people who are interested in setting up a fashion business with opportunities to learn about sustainable business practices and business planning through workshops, one-to-one advice and internships. Regular events showcase best practice – such as the RE:Fashion Awards: the first dedicated national awards for ethical fashion. Check out the Ethical Fashion Forum website.

New frontiers in ethical technologies
Beyond education and inspiration, innovative organizations and brands are using new technologies to help make ethical fashion a reality.

Avoiding some of the ecological impact of conventional fabric production, and often making use of waste or by-products, new sustainable fabrics are starting to make their mark. German company Lenzing researches and develops Tencel and Modal (pictured left, made from eucalyptus and beech, respectively). These are produced in an environmentally sustainable way to ensure minimal impact (although not all environmental groups are comfortable with the nanotechnology used). You can even clad yourself in a shellfish by wearing Crabyon - an innovative fibre made from combining crab meat with natural fibre or cellulose.

The RITE (Reducing the Impact of Textiles on the Environment) Group is a great source of further information on ethical textiles.

And finally, thanks to new software, it's now possible to trace garments from their source right through to manufacture via initiatives such as MADE-BY's Track & Trace system (currently only 20 brands carry this 'Track & Trace' label, but there are plans to expand the initiative in the UK). Then there's Icebreaker's new Baacode software, which traces a garment back to its merino wool farm in New Zealand. Read our interview with Icebreaker

While there's a long way to go before the industry is transformed and 'ethical fashion' becomes an unnecessary label, there are plenty of signs that things are changing. So get tooled up and make some changes happen!

Joanna Yarrow is a broadcaster, writer and consultant specialising in green living. She's GMTV's eco expert and presented BBC Three's Outrageous Wasters

Model draped in modal fabric by Lenzing

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