The birth of sustainable fashion really was quite a long while ago. It started once upon a time, with the tree-hugging hippie-influenced dedication to locally grown, pesticide free, and handmade products but has now grown into one of the most sophisticated and highly influential markets in the world, bleeding its value-based philosophies into every nook and cranny possible, in hopes of making the world better through fashion.
In the 50s the social elite wore couture and those who could not afford couture, tried to follow fashion by making their own clothes. The 60s and 70s marked the birth of mass production as fashion houses started to manufacture clothes overseas to lower production costs in order to make apparel and accessories more ‘financially attainable’ to the masses. In response, the environmental movement began in the 70s with the subject of ‘hippie’ values having a noticeable effect on fashion. Shops started to pop up all over, selling ethnically infused clothing to support communities in various ways. People began to purchase an item for what it represented and not solely because they liked the way something looked. Even with this new focus on social and ethics-based values in the fashion industry, the 80s and 90s represented an era when mass production grew in an overwhelming way and news of sweatshops caught worldwide attention alongside understandable criticism. The battle between values-based production and purely financially driven production continued and still continues to this day, with ethical fashion provoking what some people refer to as a revolution.
Many things have changed. Over the years, sustainable fashion lost its look of sewn together patches of burlap and tie-dyed fabrics that looked like canvas which were never going to make it down a ‘fashion week’ runway. Ethical consumerism in the fashion industry now involves every aspect from farming through to manufacture and development, constantly evolving and keeping those of us who are following the movement on our toes, but most of all, incessantly focused on the look and feel of the products.
Large companies like Esprit, Patagonia, Speedo, Gap, H&M, and Nike have made progress toward ethical standards. Industry pioneers, such as Katharine Hamnett and Linda Loudermilk carved the way and continue to set standards for new fashion leaders to look to. Popular design houses such as Stella McCartney and Kuyichi, are relentless in continuing to raise the bar with new designs and higher standards each season. Fair trade certifications have been developed and continue to be revised and improved, to fight the deplorable existence of sweat shops. Shows such as Estethica at London Fashion Week and The GreenShows at New York Fashion Week have been developed to facilitate and present the ever-impressive works of sustainable fashion innovators worldwide. Ethical fashion is now ‘mainstream’.
There are several elements contributing to the growing strength of eco fashion, to include education, perseverance, innovation, an open heart and an open mind. I personally believe the open mind and educational aspects fuel everything else because once you know and understand what you are working and fighting towards, everything else just makes sense. There are many different components that can represent sustainability in a fashion product. Check out our eco criteria classifications or for a more in depth look at these concepts, check out our eco glossary.
Stay tuned for Part II of the Eco-Criteria Series, an overview of fair trade practices, certifications and governing bodies. For a full outline of what is to come within the series, read our 'Intro To Eco Criteria' article.