FAIR goes to Pure London 2012

Lucy Dunne of the FAIR shop

FAIR goes to Pure London 2012

Olympia, London, 19 – 21 August 2012

Pure London, one of the key events in any fashion buyer’s calendar worth their salt, has just finished a magnificent three days at the Olympia Exhibition Centre in London’s West Kensington. Playing host to more than 1000 tantalisingly gorgeous brands, ethical brands were well represented by the likes of People TreeNancy DeeBibicoPants to Poverty, and Komodo, to name but a few. Between the attractions of cupcakes and the delights of the catwalk shows displaying the new designs for 2013, it was heartening to see so many new brands coming through who are driving forward sustainable fashion. One of the ways many younger brands are doing this is through their use of sustainable materials, including organic cotton, bamboo and the increasingly popular material modal, often produced from beech trees.

Aside from the exhibitors, one of the key draws this year was a talk focussing on Ethical Fashion and addressing its key challenges – for producers, consumers, designers and brands alike. Led by Tamsin Lejeune, managing director of the Ethical Fashion Forum, the panel included manager of the FAIR shop Siobhan Wilson, Merryn Leslie of 69b, Emma McCutcheon of Tellusfashion, Victoria McQuillan of Think Boutique and David Thomas of Danaqa. Sharing their particular industry knowledge and expertise, the speakers underlined how sustainable fashion is increasingly influencing the mainstream fashion world and its ethical agenda, when only ten years ago sustainability was regarded as something entirely anathema to the business.

What did I learn? Firstly, perhaps to the relief of many, ethical brands are increasingly holding their own in the fashion world thanks to the sheer beauty of their designs and the quality of their products. Indeed, it was widely agreed that the ethics of an ethical brand should be the “icing on the cake” of a wonderful product, rather than the other way around, as the survival of any fashion business depends on this. In the cutthroat world of fashion, this is hardly disputable, yet I think that as public awareness of issues surrounding sweatshops and global warming increases, there will be more people actively seeking out brands that do good rather than harm. That is my hope at least.

A plethora of ethical fashion dilemmas were equally highlighted by the panel: do we opt for vegetan leather or real leather if we are working in an “ethical” fashion context? How should we regard the ethical credentials of an organic T-shirt made in a sweatshop? How important are producers’ stories to a customer buying fair trade? Given the impossibility of being 100% ethical, some on the panel emphasised that “engagement” with ethics in the industry is the most important factor, which I personally found rather wanting. What if this engagement consists of nothing more than “greenwash”, which some larger high street brands might be accused of, simply selling a few environmentally sound T-shirts to look as if they are doing their bit? For my two cents, ethical fashion should be less about the fleeting world of fashion and more about style, and as such proposes quite a different approach to the throw away fashion brands of this world.

What is particularly wonderful about fair trade fashion in particular is that it has strict ethical criteria on which it is judged, as the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) will only accept members who actively commit and apply their principles of fair trade. Safia Minney, founder of fair trade fashion brand People Tree, was in attendance at the talk, and People Tree is a clear example of a brand that have been consistent not only in their ethics but in the strength and beauty of their designs. Their collection for autumn and winter 2012 has just been launched and accompanying video can be viewed here: http://www.peopletree.co.uk/content/151/aw12-collection

With many questions and issues left to ponder and discuss, I left the talk at Pure London encouraged that the fashion industry is finally starting to listen to its conscience, refreshed by the surprisingly candid nature of the conversation.

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