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Living With Style
Having A Clear Conscience. When the keyword eco-fashion is mentioned, you might think of Batik shirts and dungarees, but if you do, you could be dead wrong. Clothes made from bio-wool have finally become chic. It was about time!
Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin
Christoph Koch
August 12, 2005

Make the world a better place while shopping — and that on a Saturday morning, no less. How practical is that! Until now, ethical principles were based on one virtue: namely sacrifice. The new "green fashion", however, makes it possible to come home from a stroll through the city with full shopping bags and a clear conscience, too. For many it has been an accepted and natural custom to pay attention to a product's origin in the food and cosmetics industries and under which conditions it was produced.

Now this trend has been adapted for the fashion industry. The most amazing aspect? Fashion, which is manufactured under ecological principles (= eco-fashion) finally looks attractive — the days of batik shirts and baggy linen dresses are over.

The designer Rogan Gregory of the jeans manufacturer Loomstate, for instance, uses organically grown cotton and makes sure that all dye and bleach agents are bio-degradable. The Welsh fashion house Howies uses exclusively fabrics made without the addition of any pesticides of other chemical components. The T-shirt manufacturer American Apparel from Los Angeles became known for its slogan "sweatshop-free", to point to the fair wages its sewers earn and the exceptionally good working conditions. American Apparel is using bio-cotton, as well, at least in one of its production lines. The huge factory in Los Angeles also makes sweat bands and other small accessories from leftover fabric of its normal production and saves the environ-ment from five hundred tons of scraps each year as a result of that.

The American actress Sienna Miller, darling of the popular press, has been raving lately about a pair of shoes and is not missing an opportunity to talk about them. That goes with the territory, after all, she is presently the ikon in styles, millions of women copy her looks. She is not recommending high heels by Manolo Blahnik, though, but sandals for Euro 15.- made from jute by People Tree, a mail-order company which offers fair traded products on the Internet.

But no matter how idealistic people are — if ecology is to be successful, it must please their eyes, not just their intellect. "We don't sell our T-shirts just because of our business principles, but because of their good fit," Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel, points out. And the owner of Howies, David Hieatt, adds: "The greatest environmental sin is to make clothes that don't look good, because nobody wants to wear them." Nevertheless, the garments are still affordable: a T-shirt from American Apparel, for instance, costs between twenty and thirty five Euros.

Last fall, in Paris, the Ethical Fashion Show featured exclusively eco-fashion — and we are not talking about jute-esthetics from a Third World store; rather, about colors and articles free of ethno-insignia. Life style magazine "Flaunt" has recognized the potential of eco-fashions and dedicated an entire issue to them. In London, the recently founded "Project", a sophisticated and good looking magazine, deals exclusively with ethical consumption at large — from fashion to furniture.

With their new labels, the companies most certainly don't want to end up in a health food store. Mainstream is what they are aiming at. They want to share shelf space with labels like Levi's and Lacoste, not with Rapunzel and Demeter. Out of these considerations the Dutch firm Kuyichi refused to have their jeans sold by one of the eco-stores.

How can you prove that raw materials are really grown organically and that the working conditions on site are indeed fair? The general term "ethical fashion" is as vague as the eco-seals are numerous. These seals are meant to bring clarity, but often result in confusion, among customers as well as manufacturers: "SLO, SA8000, Fair Trade, EMAS — the certificates are all so different from one another. If you obtain one in one country there is no guarantee that they are accepted in all the other countries," explains Francois Morillion, 26, one of the founders of the French company Veja, maker of sneakers. Therefore, he spends close to half a year in that part of the world, where his shoes are manufactured, in the Amazonas region of Brazil. The shoe, an updated version of a volley ball shoe from the seventies, is made from bio-cotton, the sole from organic rubber. Veja was a big hit on the Paris fashion fair and Morillion is convinced that there is a revolution in the making right now: "So far, the majority of companies producing ecologically correct articles are the small designers. But the big companies are realizing that the smaller ones are successful and that there is a market for eco-fashion. So, hopefully they will follow the example.

The pressure on the big labels is growing: "People are less and less willing to support with their purchases companies that act without morals. That is true everywhere. People avoid investing in funds with companies that have arms production firms in their portfolio. Those same people are also not willing to buy jeans full of chemicals, sewn together in a sweatshop," says David Boyle, an economic journalist from Britain and an expert on the topic of consumption.

In many stores, a small revolution has already taken place. At the fashionable department store Selfridges, in London, only a handful of articles from the Edun-collection are left . Together with a designer, Ali Hewson, wife of U2 singer Bono, has put this collection on the market and followed with their production ecological guide lines. However, the most important victory for the eco-fashion supporters was gained at Topshop, the British version of H & M. This store which usually only cares how cheap a garment can be produced, is offering now T-shirts with colorful prints. Made from bio-cotton.

Translation: Eva Sokolow

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