The madness of London Fashion Week has come to an end and the jury is still out as to how the change of location from Somerset House to Brewer Street Car Park has gone down. It was great to see some of our favourite brands at the Show Rooms including Danielle Foster, whose SS16 collection we cannot wait for and the wonderful Finlay&Co.
The shows themselves were colourful and energetic. Though trends these days are hard to pick, we came across a lot of yellow and more embellished and intricate fabrics. Lace doesn’t appear to be going anywhere and jolly summer stripes also featured strongly. At Gather&See we were especially taken with Roksanda Illinic, Jonathan Saunders and the lovely Erdem who also launched his beautiful Green Carpet Collection with Livia Firth’s eco age. The launch, attended by industry heavy hitters including Anna Wintour, Nathalie Massenet and Stella McCartney as well as a good sprinkling of celebrities and socialites was the biggest nod to the ethical fashion movement of the week.
Beyond the change of location, another shift for that this season’s fashion week saw was the lack of the ethical and sustainable section of LFW, known as Estethica. Since its launch in 2006 Estethica has supported more than 100 designers from over 20 countries and introduced many international buyers and press to ethical names.
The disappearance of such an initiative is alarming to those who have been working to highlight and develop the sustainable fashion movement. Sustainability has become a marketing buzz word in the past couple of years. The big luxury groups are all committing themselves to CSR programmes, fast fashion monoliths have launched million dollar eco and recycling campaigns and The Business of Fashion has asked “How can the fashion industry become more sustainable?”. It is clearly an area that the industry wants to be seen to take an interest in but the decision of the BFC to drop Estethica and the limitations that are applied to the vast majority of CSR efforts indicate that the support will only go so far. And that is not enough.
These are difficult times for any designer. Retail is a tough game, money is tight and backing hard to come across. Undoubtedly this hurts those trying to produce their garments in an sustainable and ethical manner the most as initial costs are more. In this climate, if the industry is as on board with the promotion of more sustainable and ethical practices as it claims to be, then we should be supporting those young designers more than ever. The question has to be asked, how genuine is the belief that there should be a better way forward and how much is just lip service being paid to what is deemed to be the right thing to do. When it comes down to cold hard cash and money making, sustainability and ethics still seem to be right at the bottom of the pecking order.
Ethics and fashion have never been the easiest of bedfellows. There is still a sad misconception that sustainable fashion is a niche category primarily made up of uninteresting and over priced clothing, an image that isn’t conducive the mainstream fashion industry’s gloss. But just take a look at some of the up and coming sustainable talent including Osei Duro, Lalesso, Stella Jean and Christopher Raeburn to name but a few and it is soon clear that argument won’t hold. Stella McCartney’s ongoing commitment to sustainability has proven luxury and ethics can co-exist so why shouldn’t we expect to see more investment in the next generation? If the wider industry including buyers and press don’t get behind these designers in their infancy how can they expect to grow? They need to be easily identifiable and given a space to showcase themselves.
On the flip side the ‘ethical fashion movement’ can in someways been seen as its own worst enemy. Whilst buying into collections for SS16 we have come across numerous brands who comply with many sustainable principles - including providing a Living Wage, adhering to Oekotex Standards, using eco-friendly fabrics and yet they were hesitant to class themselves as sustainably produced labels. The fear of being criticised for ‘green-washing’ puts them off and certification processes are often too much for small brands to take on or afford. They should be celebrating their efforts rather than being afraid to talk about it. If anything this just reinforces the need for investment and education in this area and in these brands.
A few big name high street brands launching ‘Conscious’ fashion campaigns is not enough to rebalance the injustices taking place in this industry. It just papers up the giant cracks caused by the much larger and more lucrative parts of their businesses. Initiatives such as Estethica provided a valuable platform for smaller sustainable and ethical brands who together really could make a difference to get noticed. Without them we miss a vital connection between emerging labels, retailers, press and consumers. Their stories won’t be told and yet more opportunities to create genuine positive change in the fashion industry will be missed. More can and must be done. Lets hope next LFW we see more of a platform for ethical young designers.