Fashion with a heart

Sebastian StobbsThe words ‘ethical’ and ‘fashion’ might not seem like natural bedfellows. But if you associate the former with hemp, hippies and hefty price tags, then it’s time to think again, writes Natasha Lunn…

“If a dog is for life, then so are your clothes,” says Streatham-based Zoe Robinson, ethical journalist and founder of http://www.thegoodwardrobe.com, an online directory of where to hire, share, swap or spruce up clothes.

“Ethical fashion is about clothing that’s produced with a respect for the environment and the people making it,” she explains. “It’s also about the way we consume: how we buy our clothes, launder them, dispose of them. It’s about encouraging people to buy things more thoughtfully.”

Given the economic doom and gloom, fewer people can afford to fritter away their pay cheques on the high street. So it’s not surprising that ethical fashion trends – like clothes “shwopping” events, up-cycling and charity shopping – are garnering appeal.

“I bought a second hand jumper, wore it for a few years until it shrunk to half the size, and then turned it into a hat and gloves!” says Zoe. “I even bought my wedding dress from Oxfam on Streatham High Road. It wouldn’t make sense to me, to buy something new and never wear it again.”

Thinking Twice

An ethical retailer driving change is Sebastian Stobbs, New Cross resident and founder of Conquer Gear. At his Spitalfields stall, and recently a pop-up shop in Sydenham, Sebastian champions the sustainable story behind his brand’s clothes.

“At the moment, when people buy a product, they’re not connecting their decision to the reality of the production. Just like with battery chickens, we can educate people so that they can make an informed choice,” he says.

To Sebastian, the problem doesn’t lie in branding or style, but in education.

“You don’t go into a supermarket and buy a chicken because it’s cool. You choose it based on your health and principles; you don’t want growth hormones inside you. With a little bit of education, people will begin making that connection with fashion, too.”

Supply and demand

But how can pricey eco-fashion compete with Primark culture? Consumers hold the key, says Sebastian.

“With Primark, people aren’t joining the dots at the moment. When there’s a t-shirt on sale for £3, it means someone somewhere is being done over. If you think about the raw materials needed, the manufacturing process, the labour, the delivery; something doesn’t make sense economically,” he says.

He believes the key to lowering ethical price points rests in the hands of the consumer. Because as demand for sustainable products increases, suppliers will sit up and take notice.

“Knowledge will give people the power to chose, and ultimately, the power of the consumer will enable manufacturers to improve their product and drive down prices.”

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