Last week I attended an ethical fashion fabric event in central London with a view to introducing ethical fabrics into my eveningwear pieces.
This is not really a review of the actual event, but an insight into the progress that some fabric manufacturers have made in producing fabrics which have less of a harmful impact on our planet and to make you aware of new types of ethical fabrics which are being introduced into the supply chain.
Over the last few years I have been observing the emergence of many new ethical young fashion brands and from my point of view, many of these brands seem to be using ethical cotton fabrics, bamboo fabrics or even vegan leather, as these fabrics seems to have been the more accessible eco fabrics available. I always had the idea that there would be no real luxury fabrics suitable for making my evening or occasion wear pieces, so when I saw there was an eco fabric event I had to go to and see for myself how much progress had been made, if at all in this niche area of interest to me.
The event, The Future Fabrics Expo, was organised into fabric categories rather than suppliers, which would usually be the case, for example, woolens, denim and jerseys. Although this looks like a very small event, comparatively, this was a huge event for the niche market it appears to be in the UK. I think we maybe behind the rest of the world in terms of the production and development of ethical fabrics and clothing? Having said that, a few years back I am probably right in saying, there probably was only a handful of ethical fabric suppliers selling in the UK and so the organisers have now managed to source an enormous array of exciting fabrics from all round the world, which was not only great from a designers perspective, but very interesting from a technical point of view!
I find it interesting that eco friendly fabrics are not only born of the most simple, least environmentally harmful and traditional fabric making techniques, but also the exact polar opposite, of the latest advancements in recycling and regeneration technology, which is quite amazing. Examples of this is peace silk which is made in a traditional, non harmful way to the silkworm as opposed to the new technologies of recycling plastics to make fleece fabrics, just two examples of many.
I am definitely no expert on the subject, although I could still probably go into much more detail about how fabrics are ethical... as it's not just about the fabric itself, but also about the artisans from far flung places of the world, just as much as artisans local to us, how things are made, who is making our clothes and fabrics, how those people are treated, recycling, the treatment of the environment, it's carbon footprint and so on, it is a very complex and ever evolving subject.
The fact that the fast fashion industry is the world's second most polluter has forced industry leaders to rethink the supply chain, although there is much change needed, there has been a huge shift in attitudes in recent years. Basically our throw away culture regarding clothing, for one thing, has become bad for the planet! Although I do have a keen interest in ethical fashion and fabrics, being ethical and living up to my brand values is more than just sourcing eco friendly fabrics. I think we can all be more aware of how we treat each other and our surroundings, therefore, to me, that is the essence of being ethical. My list of aspirations as a business are below.
ETHICAL BRAND VALUES
Made in England
Respecting people and the environment
Aspiring to use ethical / sustainable fabrics where possible
Reducing fabric wastage by producing garments in limited runs / made to order
Making use of fabric remnants by using them to make smaller items / recycling
Aspiring to create local employment / provide training
Going back to the fabric, which is my passion, this event was not only a work and educational event for me to attend, but loads of fun too! Who can say ethical fabrics are only practical and comfortable? I went along to this event to be proven wrong and to be inspired and I was! With a view to actually make an ethical luxury evening gown and possibly other items this year, I was hoping to find something I could work with that would fit in with my occasion and evening wear brand. I was surprised to find a whole rail of luxury fabrics and ethical skins! So what is the fabric above? This gorgeous fabric is fish skin, made from a fish called Pirarucu, which lives in the Amazon river and is a byproduct of the food chain. Yes, it is lovely and soft, plus it was shown in other colours too!
Among the fabrics I discovered on the rails were fabrics made of tree bark, mushrooms, salmon skin, cork, and wolfish, all of which I do not envisage myself using for my designs, not this year anyway! They did, however, have several beautiful silks available, all organic or sustainable which I was interested in using, plus there is a fabric called Tencel, which has been around for some years now, which is a sustainable fabric, made from wood and produced in an eco friendly way, among other things I was admiring.
I feel fairly satisfied that luxury eco friendly fabrics will become more widely available as time goes on, however, although there were many interesting and beautiful fabrics available to see at the event, plus a few gorgeous prints, I am not sure how readily available these fabrics are to someone like myself and of course the cost implications I would have to evaluate to start with.
I am hoping to source at least one fabric I can use for a 'green' dress this year, which is not in a cream or a neutral colour. One of the other issues with manufacturing is the dying process of the fabrics, which can be a massive pollutant for our rivers, therefore natural dyes or environmentally dyes are a factor involved when sourcing eco fabrics as there may be certain limitations on colour choices. I did, however, notice a wide variety of colour in woolen, recycled plastic and cotton fabrics, but I am hoping that there will be more choice of prints and colours within the silks and satins that I am hoping to use!
I am so pleased that I took the time to attend this fabulous event, as now I am more aware of just some of the new products being developed. Hopefully these fabrics will be made more widely available to fashion houses and emerging creatives like myself, for example, so that we have the tools available to create more sustainable businesses. As a creative I would like the opportunity to work with ethical fabrics as a norm rather than a rarity, but it is something I will be considering for at least one item in 2018. Watch this space!
Designer, maker and creative director of Caroline Bruce
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