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Essay

Essay: Fashion's Ecopolitical Dilemma

by Roger Tredre on 23 July 2008

Writer Roger Tredre explores the industry’s superficial flirtation with eco fashion.

Writer Roger Tredre explores the industry’s superficial flirtation with eco fashion.

Still from Robin Derrick's film 'By Any Other Name' (2008)

Crunch time is nearing. Fashion’s uneasy flirtation with eco issues, a flirtation that is riddled with inconsistencies and paradoxes, cannot continue much longer. For eco is no longer an environmental issue that preoccupies a minority of earnest activists. It’s a mainstream political hot potato affecting us all, from politicians to designers to consumers.

For fashion, in particular, fence-sitting is not an option. The hard truth behind the rapid depletion of the world’s resources is that we must learn to consume less. But fashion is intrinsically linked to consumption. From clothes to mobile phones and cars, fashion is the driving force of modern consumer culture. Indeed, the recent retail industry emphasis on “fast fashion”, based on a faster turnover of trends - coupled with ultra-low prices - has encouraged us to buy more, not less.

Fashion is good at that kind of thing - a playful and transient reflection of contemporary concerns. But the time for playing is well past now.

But we must buy less. This requires a fundamental shift in attitude in the fashion world. Could it be good news? Perhaps so. A return to quality rather than quantity. An emphasis on recycling and reinvention. A rebirth of DIY and craft skills. A focus on the regeneration of local production rather than the exploitation of cheap labour in the developing world.

None of this strikes me as a bleak vision for the future of fashion.

During my career as a fashion journalist, I’ve seen at least three green waves sweep through the industry. A season or two when organic cotton has been hip, when the potential of hemp and other apparently groovy fibres has been explored, when (in the most literal interpretation of eco-chic) the colour green has been hot.

Fashion is good at that kind of thing - a playful and transient reflection of contemporary concerns. But the time for playing is well past now. Fashion in the 21st century has to grow up.

For further reading, check out: Eco Chic: The Fashion Paradox by Sandy Black, Black Dog, 2007 and Green is the New Black by Tamsin Blanchard, Hodder & Stoughton, 2007.

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