Self-Serving Ecoists, Mostly


Jeesh. Yesterday I was flooded with friends’ and colleagues’ emails begging me to write a rebuttal to what they thought were one or two writers slamming the eco-fashion industry.

It had already gone pretty viral by the time the emails came in and only this morning did I really take note. Sometimes knee-jerk reactions can prove disastrous, even if you want to be the first to herald the crappy news and the news is simply: nobody knows what eco-fashion is. Big deal.

For those of you who care what I have to think about eco-fashion, here it is:

Eco-fashion is a veritable hell mess defined sadly and mostly by archaic industry professionals who like the game to work for them.

It’s also called self-serving eco-branding.

Greenwashing? No.
Survival? Yes.
You know who you are.

Note that I wrote “mostly.”
The people interviewed in the first article, which debuted in Financial Times, were fantastic representatives of the “mostly.”

Here’s how FT’s writer Vanessa Friedman quoted them as defining eco-fashion:

Frida Giannini, Gucci creative director: “Quality items that stand the test of time – it is this concept of sustainability, symbolised by a timeless handbag that you wear again and again, and can pass on, that I am always thinking of when I design.”

Oscar de la Renta, designer, brand founder: “Sustainable fashion implies a commitment to the traditional techniques, and not just the art, of making clothes. I work today in the same way that I first learnt in the ateliers of Balenciaga and Lanvin 50 years ago. We need to ensure that the next generation of seamstresses and tailors have the skills necessary to develop clothes that are not only beautiful but extremely well made.”

Anya Hindmarch, designer, brand founder, and initiator of the “I am not a plastic bag” initiative: “I would define the ideal as locally sourced materials that don’t pollute in their creation or demise (preferably recycled) and with limited transportation to achieve the completed product.”

And, lastly, designer and brand founder Dries van Noten: “Most of what we may currently refer to as sustainable fashion is a contradiction in terms. It refers to how the fabric used for a new garment has been produced … Yet, I believe, we need to consider this issue from a more macro and profound perspective. Though a cotton may be unbleached, we need to examine how it arrives to the manufacturer or to us the wearer. What was the “˜carbon imprint’ of its delivery, for example?”
Not all the same, then.”

I agree with all of these responses.

But, please understand that these designers are so far removed from their lines. They do not design their lines, their designers design the lines and their marketing professionals decide which campaign could benefit them. And the flavor of the year, for them, is light green.

They are too big to care what the hell eco-fashion is, so they invent off-the-cuff definitions to support the little they do to contribute to this new, darker green world.

(Next time, Vanessa, call me and I’ll give you a different list for interviews.)

These fashion giants – minus Ms. Hindmarch – have a lot of money and could be doing a lot more, by the way, than using “traditional” techniques. As for the others, the not “mostly’s” who live and breathe what it takes to be sustainably designing, there aren’t enough sermons in the world to dedicate to you.

They are smaller design houses, independents, creating from small studios all over the world.

They are supported by indie boutiques all over the world.

They are broke.

They are struggling to be artists, to make really beautiful clothing from organic materials. They are juggling their lines by being coffee baristas and part-time brokers.

They are not necessarily committed to, as Maria Moyer, one of my favorite new people recently said, “Picking a lane.”

What this means is that these same designers, first and foremost, need to design. If they can then use an organic fabric, cut down their carbon footprint, give percentages to the homeless, work with water-based dyes, incorporate alternative energy at their facilities, manufacture locally and make it in the U.S. well, all the better. But designers must first design.

When they focus on that, they are able to create objects of worth that transcend trends and can be used not only to satisfy our urge to adorn but to outlast so we don’t need more.
We, the consumers, also need to be more conscious of what we buy. We play a big part in this, too.

When writers proclaim prematurely that “nobody knows what eco-fashion is,” they fail to realize it’s just more fuel on our fire.

That it only makes our community stronger and more willing to design sustainably because it does matter so much for our health and for the environment.

Because this isn’t just about defining eco-fashion. This is about conscious consumption, and we Americans know nothing of it.

Therein lies our eco-fashion paradox.

Our own fashion burden to bear.

Image: CoCreatr’s

Amy DuFault

Amy DuFault is a conscious lifestyle writer, consultant and fashion instigator. She resides in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.