Last Sunday, clothes were swapped along with opinions and eco-style tips during the Victoria & Albert Museum‘s Ethical Fashion Day. From thought-provoking presentations to a fashion show, it promised to be “a day dedicated to your fashion choices and the principles and practicalities of ethical fashion.” Inhabitat was on the scene to partake in the fashion fun and soak up the discussion on current issues facing the fashion industry today. The full day’s program can be found online.
A queue outside the London museum was in large part due to the event’s participation in The Swish, a term coined by green communications company Futerra for bringing a bag of unwanted, high quality garments and handing it over in exchange for a raffle ticket that will eventually let you into a room full of other people’s rejected wardrobe items. Recycling in its simplest form, Swishing aims to tackle the hundreds of thousands of tons of clothing thrown away each year by making swapping trendy.
The only rules were “no scratching, spitting or biting”, but it was difficult to move in any direction once the Swishing had officially begun. The general method seemed to be to simply grab everything in sight, with stylists on hand to give advice on the best way to wear the newly acquired clothes. While the environmental aim of the event seemed to be lost in the chaos, many left the Swishing room with wide smiles and bags heavier than those they came in with. Not an item was left on the racks.
MO TOMANEY: SLOW FASHION, FAST FASHION
Slow Fashion Fast Fashion was one of the day’s ticketed presentations and was delivered by Mo Tomaney, a Research Fellow for Central Saint Martins. He discussed major changes in our consumption of fashion, with particular focus on the shift from slow to fast fashion over the past fifty years. The shift can is parallel to the fading out of skilled trades, such as darning and cobbling, and a contemporary desire for a disposable wardrobe as we constantly seek new innovative design.
In the 1950s, a coat would be expected to last for about ten years and cost 800% of the average weekly income, but now the consumer expects a much shorter life cycle. Tomaney commented that “as consumers, we don’t love our clothes as much anymore” and wonders whether we believe blindly in the innovation and creativity of the fashion industry in both style and material use.
THE ETHICAL HIGH STREET DEBATE
The Hochhauser Auditorium was packed for The Ethical High Street Debate, in which Mo Tomaney, designer Katharine Hamnett, journalist Lucy Siegle and Sofia Minney of Fair Trade fashion label, People Tree, discussed the issues facing the ethically-minded shopper. Questions were posed to the panel by broadcaster and fashion writer, Caryn Franklin.
By far the most convincing panelists were Siegle and Minney; Siegle formed a comparison between clothing and free-range chickens saying that “[the consumer] can’t let high streets cloud their agendas with their so-called eco-ranges.” She admitted to being worried that consumers could become “jaded” by the amount of supposedly ethically produced clothing lines on the high street.
A topic under heavy discussion was the role of the media in promoting ethically sourced and produced fashion. There was a general consensus reached that the role of media was significant and Minney noted that the method would “continue to educate the public on how to consume.” She also voiced concern about aggressive laws about environmentally friendly cotton production: “you don’t want to create a barrier where someone beginning to grow cotton who can’t afford to go organic yet is penalized.”
Drop-in rooms were open throughout the day to provide more interactive and in-depth information. Ethical Fashion on the Net was one such room, and featured information about buying a range of ethically sourced fashion online. Products from many of the “conscious fashion” brands were in fact showcased in the afternoon’s highly anticipated fashion show.
Angela Ing of the V&A hypothesized that the transition from going out to shops to shopping online seemed to be “a matter of convenience” but there is still nothing that truly rivals having a product physically in front of you. The trend of online shopping, she continued, could only help ethical fashion, as it is now as accessible as other high-street brands making it welcome in fast-paced lifestyles.
The queue for tickets to the fashion show lined the corridor of the Sackler Centre, but the show itself was somewhat anticlimactic, especially considering the museum’s status as a highly respected museum of art and design. Staged in the same auditorium as a debate, the models walked a thin runway to barely audible music. The items showcased included t-shirts by Zandra Rhodes, Sarah Ratty’s new label Ciel and shoes by Beyond Skin. The show was narrated by Peter Ingwersen, founder of Noir, and fashion designer Orsola de Castro, curator of sustainable fashion exhibition Estethica at London Fashion Week.
All in all, Ethical Fashion Day demonstrated that there is still a long way to go until sustainable sytle is at the top of the agenda, both on our high streets and our personal priorities. Attendees were mostly composed of fashion students sent along to the museum with worksheets and lacking significant interest in the environmental concerns. The organizer commented that the V&A “didn’t want to push anyone or tell them that they must shop in an environmentally friendly way.” Instead, Ethical Fashion Day was a reflection of public interest and a showcase of new ideas and approaches to fashion. Perhaps, however, the public need to be pushed.
Photos by Rosianna Halse