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Fashion as an expressive form of social life

Abiti moda eticaEthical fashion”: a brand new, symbolical yet concrete value to design, a new production style still focused on esthetics, but with a new-found quality. The approach for manufacturers and buyers is to select clothes and accessories that represent the manual skills, the creativity and self-production spirit of the manufacturers, with the use of eco-friendly or reclaimed materials, traditional workmanship and in respect of the rights and work conditions of the laborers.

Less than a year ago the innovative and revolutionary documentary film “The True Cost” by Andrew Morgan was presented at the first Fair and Ethical Fashion Show of Milan, sparking reflexions and debates on the fashion industry’s impact on populations and the environment, therefore on who “truly pays the price for our clothes”.

CangiariMarina Spadafora, creative director of Auteurs du Monde, ethical fashion brand of Altromercato, was involved in the Italian premiere of the film and at the event highlighted how the documentary would be “the chance for consumers to once again ask themselves who made their clothes, to get to know the alternatives and realize that what we purchase can make the difference in the world”.

A film shot across various Countries, from the glimmering catwalks, to the underprivileged suburbs, “The True Cost” tells the stories of the very people who make clothes, along with the interviews of some of the highest exponents of the field – Stella MacCartney, Livia Firth, Vandana Shiva – describing how the mind boggling increase of clothes production in the past twenty years and the “fast fashion” tendency of the global brands, have led to the current situation, all the while providing solutions for the future.

The companies that take part to the Fair and Ethical Fashion Show, some thirty brand names of “green” design, fabrics and accessories from 12 Countries worldwide, provide a clear explanation of the daily choices in their production line, focusing on transparency and bearing witness on how long-term, small commitments can affect the whole fashion system and the world’s clothes manufacturing sector.

Quoting some examples, the Bergamo firm Par.Co Denim presented their biodegradable jeans, the German company Lebenskleidung displayed their bio-fabric clothing line, while Womsh brought from Padua their zero impact sneakers.

Fair and Ethical - fermo immagine you tubeWhen the manufacture is in third world Countries, the main goal of ethical fashion companies is to promote the development of the local communities, investing in long term projects such as for the French brand Antik Batik, designed by Gabriella Cortese, and the project founded in 2005 by Gabriella Ghidoni, Royah, that aims to emancipate Afghan women through work. In Italy clothes and accessories produced following ethical guidelines come mainly from penitentiaries, with the  objective of rehabilitating inmates through the production of high-quality clothes.

The list of the fashion design companies involved in these projects is long: in the United States the leader is American Apparel who, with their commitment against third world Countries exploitation, have developed a system to reclaim fabric scraps. Dosa, the brand founded by South-Korean Christina Kim, cooperates with groups of local artisans in Latin America, India and the Far East, recycling natural fabric scraps. Vivienne Westwood is at the head of the Ethical Fashion Africa Programme organization, and Stella McCartney designed shoes with biodegradable heels and platforms; the Swiss firm Freitag recycles truck tarps, bicycles tires and seatbelts to make their bags and accessories. Among the European pioneers is the Dutch brand Kuyichi, founded in 2001, that produces street wear and denim made out of soy, organic cotton, linen, hemp and bamboo.

H & M locandinaEven the big, international brand names of fast fashion have recently launched their organic lines, such as the Conscious Collection by H&M and the Eco Warning by Zara. In Italy LifeGate has become successful with their GMO free jeans; Katharine Hamnett has produced an exclusive line of clothes in organic cotton for Coop and Carmina Campus, the brand created in 2006 by Ilaria Venturini Fendi, creates bags and accessories in exclusive pieces with reclaimed materials.

The first event dedicated to ethical fashion was held in Portland in 2003; since then there have been the Ethical Fashion Show in Paris, the Estethica in London, the Vancouver Eco Fashion Week, the Critical So Fashion in Milan, the Green Shows in New York, giving life to the growing “critical consumption sector”.

With the increase of buyers’ attention, many new courses have been created for fashion design students. The Parsons The New School For Design of New York has created the first zero-waste fashion course; the London College of Fashion founded a center for sustainable fashion; the Chelsea College of Arts focuses on the use of eco-friendly fabrics; the first Out of Fahion was organized at the Gianfranco Ferrè foundation last year: 6 master classes with international professors, designers, economists and experts in communication.

by Laura Mancini

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