Haute Couture Going Green
As Orsola de Castro puts her collection on display at the "White" exhibition opening Thursday at this week's Milan fashion shows, she will be carrying back to her native country the message she has spread in London: "Green is good."
"But we have created the idea of reclaimed to wear without the ethical stigma of only making hemp sacks," says de Castro of her "From Somewhere" brand. She was the curator last week of a pioneering section of "Estethica" at the London Fashion trade fair, where 12 designers came together to show ethical fashion with an aesthetic sense.
Consumerism with a conscience is a hot topic. After Giorgio Armani's support in London of the "Red" brand, founded by Bono, to help fight AIDS in Africa, helping the planet is another aspect of the new morality.
"From Somewhere" has its roots in Italy in that its simple clothes in beautiful fabrics such as silk and jersey are all off-cuts from the mighty Italian fashion industry whose bosses, as well as workers, were happy to sell rather than throw out fabric as land-fill garbage.
"We started recycling in 1997," says de Castro, explaining how she approached the Italian companies for ends of rolls - but ones that could be used for production, rather than scraps. "We are not that political - the primary thing is not to save the planet, it is to make a business. I am working in a way that I can reconcile with my conscience."
Of the other exhibitors in London, from the dramatic designs of "Trash Couture" through the hand-painted, nonleather shoes of Natalie Dean for Beyond Skin and the stylish designs of Noir and Enamore, the stand- out figure in fashion's moral maze is Katharine Hamnett.
When the designer started her crusade to improve the lamentable conditions of clothing industry workers across the world, she was a lone voice crying out for fair trade for African cotton growers, where 20,000 people annually die from pesticide poisoning and related diseases, according to the World Health Organization.
Katharine E. Hamnett ("E'" for ethical and environmental) is a new line of appealing modern clothes such as jumper dresses, pleated skirts, polo tops and T-shirts for Hamnett's signature slogans. One reads: "Clean Up or Die."
Hamnett's passionate intervention, for which she deserves the highest respect in the industry, has already encouraged major stores such as Marks & Spencer and Tesco (where Hamnett has a new project) to promote Fair Trade Cottton.
The ultimate endorsement will come when high-end stores react to growing consumer pressure and open areas in their stores, under an Estethica banner, offering from Barneys to Harrods to Italy's renovated Rinascente, clothes that are as appealing as they are honorable.
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