Magazine article International Trade Forum

The International Value Chain of Ethical Fashion

Magazine article International Trade Forum

The International Value Chain of Ethical Fashion

Article excerpt

"Ethical" and "sustainable" have made it onto the agenda of the luxury fashion industry. This growing awareness among high-profile designers and the media in developed countries is setting trends that will reverberate from the catwalks to workers in emerging markets. While there is still progress to be made, increasing consumer awareness and demand are making the long-term gains for sustainable fashion optimistic.

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Fashion designer Tom Ford has heralded it. Julie Gilhart, senior vice president of Barneys department stores, is buying it. And from fashion critic Suzy Menkes to the editor of Vogue Italia, Franca Sozzani, the powerbrokers of the international fashion media are endorsing it. Ethical and sustainable fashion is style. The challenge now is to bring it into the mainstream and onto the streets.

Textile exports are worth 132 billion [pounds sterling] (US$ 222 billion) annually to developing and transition countries, most of which are dependent on these exports for their economy. For example, textile exports represent 53 per cent of Sri Lanka's economy, 80 per cent of Cambodia's and 73 per cent of Bangladesh's. But an understanding of the social and environmental conditions under which these garments are produced is still far from transparent. This will inevitably change as consumers begin to demand more knowledge about who made their garments and how.

Ms Sozzani says, "I think that in the future, approaching fashion in an ethically responsible manner will be the way to behave. The problem is not only for the designers but also for consumers because it will take time to teach them how to recognize and choose sustainable items."

The media are already taking a role. This increased sensitivity towards ethical practices within the fashion industry is in large part due to media reportage and the expose of child labour issues and unfair working practices within supply chains, such as those revealed in the BBC's Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts documentary series.

"Sustainable luxury" has made it onto to the agenda of several high-profile events including the International Herald Tribune's Luxury Conference and Ms Gilhart's Future Fashion Project which featured sustainable designs from over 30 well-known luxury brands including YSL, Proenza Schouler and Donna Karan.

Engaging high fashion in the debate for the ethical fashion movement is crucial to its impact. According to the curators of the current Cittadellarte Fashion. Bio Ethical Sustainable Trend exhibition, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Franca Sozzani, the impact of the luxury market's influence on mainstream brands, the media and consumer behaviour is all too evident. Put simply, the high end of the fashion market sets the agenda for the trends that subsequently distil into mainstream fashion.

"If a big name in the fashion world launches eco-friendly as the way to be in fashion today, then success in sustainability will be much quicker," says Ms Sozzani. …

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