Magazine Features

Ethical Fashion

From big brands to emerging designers, fashion offers such a wide range of styles to choose from that it just doesn’t make sense to shut our eyes when we can make a difference. We can become an ethical consumer! By Lina Vaz

The way we dress reflects our character and we spend quite some time wandering around shops looking for clothes we identify with. But we shouldn’t ignore each garment has its own history and we’re participating in its global network even if we’re not aware of it.

 

Are we contributing to child’s labour, to global warming or to the exploitation of people or animals in Third World countries? Or, on the contrary, are we making the world a better place?

In China, people can work up to 15 hours a day without any protection from unions, without being able to enjoy any holiday throughout the year and without a proper pension scheme, often under a regime which uses repression as a ‘motivation’ strategy.

 

But the cruel reality is we end up being oblivious to all this under the strong influence of ingenious marketing strategies. Big fashion companies spend vast amounts of money to create an often illusory image of trustworthiness and our only defence is information.

However, interesting ethical fashion projects are starting to emerge and this is a valuable opportunity for us to make a difference.
In 2006, Bono and Bobby Shriver launched (RED) project, a joint collaboration between several brands including Armani and Gap.

 

The profit of (RED) products is donated to the Global Fund, the biggest financial supporter of the fight against HIV Aids, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa. Bobby Shriver said it was necessary to create a mechanism for a sustainable financial support to the Global Fund.

 

“A smart friend told us we had to sell the idea like Nike, so we thought about creating a brand which could enthusiasm consumers and be a business model good enough to make companies wanting to invest in us. We thought carefully about the name, red is the colour of emergency and the parenthesis on the logo means an embrace.” 

 

(RED) products are sold in more than a hundred countries all over the world. “Today, consumers are much more aware of the impact of their decisions, (RED) gives them power because they know they’re helping people with HIV in Africa”, adds Shriver.

Africa’s support is also the main concern of Danish designer Peter Ingwersen, founder of Noir. “It’s a socially responsible brand, supports an organic and environmentally safe fashion, which is also sexy”, says Ingwersen.

 

Noir Foundation helps cotton farms in Uganda and Tanzania and a percentage of its sales finances medical supplies and loans to businesses in developing countries. Ingwersen believes in sustainable business models and thinks “Europe and the United States can help building businesses that promote the development of poorer nations.”

Beyond Skin shoes are also a successful fusion between fashion and a responsible lifestyle. Natalie Dean was not happy about the lack of good and stylish shoes that were not abusive to animals or the environment.

 

All Beyond Skin shoes are made in the United Kingdom and its promotional materials are printed on recycled paper with soya-based ink. The luxury line Sui Generis has already captivated celebrities such as Natalie Portman and Alison Goldfrap.

 

“People are starting to acknowledge their individual responsibility instead of relying on governments. The more educated we are about our own environmental impact, the more it will become part of our culture and lifestyle,” says Natalie Dean.

 

Another shoe brand with an ethical conscience is Terra Plana: shoes are made with used coffee bags, army jackets and damaged vehicle leather.

 

The concept of Terra Plana, founded by Charles Bergmans in 1989, is based in the architecture of northern Spain and Africa, where buildings look for harmony between interior spaces and their surroundings.


For someone who aspires to be an ethical consumer, the first challenge is to discover the brand’s politics on resources and production, usually stated on its webpage.

 

When you go shopping explore all available options, if you can be stylish and simultaneously contribute to a better world why on earth should you settle for just being stylish?

Published by Vogue Portugal in June 2007. All rights reserved.

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© 2018 Lina Vaz, London.