MIND & BODY: ETHICAL FASHION: You Are What You Wear ; A Handful of Fashion Designers Are Giving Us All the Chance to Look Fabulous and Do Our Bit for the World
Moore, Jessica, The Independent (London, England)
'The reputation I really don't want is 'woolly". So speaks Ali Hewson, the wife of rock-and-roll legend Bono, and the co-founder of socially conscious clothing company Edun (www.edun.ie). She has nothing to fear: 'woolly' is hardly an image she has garnered. Although Hewson has preferred to stay out of the limelight throughout her 23-year relationship with U2 frontman Bono, her image is sleek. It hardly fits the stereotypical 'eco' mould.
Hewson, Bono and designer Rogan Gregory launched Edun eight weeks ago with the goal of providing sustainable employment for factory workers throughout the developing world. For its customers - who include Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Helena Christensen - it's about beautiful, edgy, Art Nouveau-inspired fashion for men and women.
'We know that no matter how much people want to dress ethically, nobody's going to wear a hair shirt,' says Hewson. 'They want to look good and feel good. That's the point of Edun: you buy the design first. The good story behind the clothes is secondary.'
Today's clothing industry relies on 'fast-fashion', where designs are manufactured quickly, at cheap-and-cheerful prices. Cheerful, that is, for the consumers at the end of the chain. 'One thing the fashion industry doesn't have is loyalty', says Hewson. 'It will keep moving for lower labour costs, from continent to continent and from season to season. Producers in Africa can't keep up, which means they can't offer regular employment to their employees. So everyone's living on a knife-edge economy.'
Edun is different. Hewson and Bono source factories in developing countries that pay their employees a decent wage. Rogan designs with those factories' facilities in mind. And, crucially, Edun stays loyal. But it is not a charity: it hopes to succeed in commercial terms, thereby providing a business model for other fashion companies and proving that it is possible to produce beautiful clothes beautifully, and at a profit.
If Edun achieves this, Hewson admits that there is a further stigma to overthrow. Ethical fashion has a reputation of being overly worthy. This doesn't sit comfortably in the chichi world of fashion. But impressive new technology means that more versatile, ethically made fabrics will soon be available. We're talking gossamer silk blended with hemp; lush taffeta made from corn; soft, supple organic cotton which has been farmed without using pesticides and fertilisers, without polluting the environment. According to a survey by the Organic Trade Association, sales of organic fibre products jumped 22.7 per cent in 2003, with women's clothing the fastest-growing category. For the ethical fashionista, a consumer heaven awaits.
PeTA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; www.peta.org) have had an eye - and, as often as not, a paint-bomb - on the fashion scene for 25 years. Although they support all aspects of vegetarian dressing, their most prolific campaign rallies against fur. PeTA have been let down by both former spokeswoman Cindy Crawford, who later signed a contract with a fur company, and by Naomi Campbell, who contradicted her pledge that she'd 'rather go naked' by wearing fur on a 1997 catwalk. But PeTA's campaign remains defiant. Supported by the likes of Kate Moss, Sarah Jessica Parker and Charlize Theron, PeTA forces fashion giants to choose between celebrity endorsement and fur.
Stella McCartney (www.stella mccartney.com) is a dedicated supporter of vegetarian fashion: refusing to use fur or leather has done her no harm in sales or image, either at her own label, or when she reigned supreme at Chlo. In 2000, McCartney hit the headlines by turning down what anyone might well assume would be her dream job: because of their widespread use of leather, McCartney snubbed Gucci. …