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Fab Four at London Fashion Week


Ethical Trade – By ensuring that farmers and producers get a guaranteed fair price for their labour, investment is returned

Slow Clothes
 Fashion that is not time based, but is about producing, designing and consuming better

Eco Fabrics
– Consideration of the environmental footprint of fabrics

Organic – Man made, natural and sustainable fibres

Recycling– Using only pre-existing materials

Some of the labels which seem to have slipped through the endless vetting process, perhaps to increase the glamour and publicity factor are pretty iffy choices but there were some outstanding creative talents on display at this years's event. 

My four favourite designers who managed to fall under the Estethica stringent (and sometimes flexible) rules are Mark Liu, Samant Chauhan, Makepiece and Eloise Grey.

Fabulous and frilly from MAKEPIECE

Mark Liu graduated from Central St Martins and since then he has literally cut the cloth of his own success. He identified that almost 15% of wasted cloth is generated by traditional pattern cutting methods, so Mark's latest collection, called Zero Waste echoes his no tolerance policy towards profligacy. It's a beautiful collection of floaty organic shapes, short dresses made of 100% superfine wool. Many of the pieces were made without even using a sewing machine.  For the first time, Liu experiments with water based pigments for prints, he has so far been known for sculptural tailoring and solid colour blocks. The inspiration behind the Zero Waste Collection is a contemporary science book called The Singularity is Near    by Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil is a futurist and the astounding statement on the book cover from  Bill Gates, no less, states that "this book envisions a future in which information technologies have advanced so far and fast that they enable humanity to transcend its biological limitations- transforming our lives in which we can't yet imagine." This all sounds like hi-fallutin' geek speak but bear with me.  The Singularity Point itself is the moment when a system becomes so self aware of its own limitations that it redefines its rules in order to rewrite its destiny. That is the essence of the ethical fashion movement, we have realised that we can't go on being "human doings" we have to actively participate in the welfare and preservation of our planet as evolved "human beings."

Mark Liu losing me with contemporary science

THAT BOOK by Ray Kurzweil

Makepiece is a West Yorkshire based ethical knitwear company whose AW 09 collection brings out the romantic in any woman. The figure flattering dresses are made of organic wool from British sheep. There was this one, with roses sprouting at the neckline, forming a trail to the hem but intriguingly made of the same yarn, not attached on later as embellishment.  Dramatic ruching and deep fuchsia and sorrel colours are perfect for dark Autumn nights. The pieces are yarn dyed with azo free dye colours dyed to European environmental controls.  If you want ethical sheep to chic, from flock to frock, the garments aren't cheap (the dress pictured retails for £1000) you'll find them at Stella Stella in Camden Lock. There's a low carbon footprint attached to each piece as they are manufactured locally to the design studio, not thousands of air miles away at factories in the Far East and because of the local connection, there's a level of transparency which ensures that workers' Human Rights are protected whilst factories can be relied upon to produce yarn to a high standard.

Makepiece with that £1000 dress

Silk is the story of beauty and pain. In order to get the fine, blemish free silk we are used to swaddling ourselves in today, the commercial silk-worm is not allowed to emerge from its cocoon but it is boiled to speed the process   so the silk yarn spun inside the cocoon retains its whiteness. Tussah or Peace silk is also known as "vegetarian silk" as the moth is allowed to emerge and fly free. Silk worms eat tannin from all kinds of trees and this will dictate the tonality of the final silk product: it could be light gold to deep brown. Delhi-based Samant Chahuan has a mission to bring this beautiful feather weight fabric onto fashion's front line. His whole collection shimmered, a pale biscuit gold pool of sunlight and sanctuary in a crowded and noisy fashion spectacular.  The pieces are not statements in shape or contour, most took their key design elements from the classic Indian Kurta but the simplicity and monotone of the men's and womenswear garments was set off with elegant appliqué and embellishment in pastel coloured silk flowers and subtle embroidery. I am not sure if the collection is crossover "enough" the same swinging style as Slumdog Millionaire, to get hoards of hungry buyers beating a path to his tent but  Samant Chauhan is one to watch, just for the passion and commitment his designs embody.

Glamorous Delhi boy, Samant Chauhan

Chauhan silk Tussah dress

Do mainstream designers read as much as the ethical entrepreneurs? Does Herve Leger study the texts of the Marquis de Sade as he rustles up his next bandaged -body conscious collection?  Eloise Grey takes her inspiration from the mid 20th Century writers so her luxury organic Ardalanish isle of Mull Tweed coats has names such as de Beauvoir and newer Virago modern classic writers such as Antonia White.  A slightly less expensive alternative is to have the garment made in organic wool. Whether you buy the hype doesn't really matter, the clothes are well tailored and because of the attention to linings, and the way in which they are sewn, when you wear a coat or a jacket by Eloise Brown, you feel as if you really "sit " in it, in the same way a bespoke or couture piece might fit, but at a fraction of the price.  However, the linings are made of synthetic Bemberg acetate and therefore not organic, but Eloise says she is looking into other options: organic silk is too expensive, her coats retail for just under £1000 in the tweed, jackets at about £700. They take 28 days from the point of order, on the website or through various events. The coats and suits are made in classic thirties and forties vintage styles, with pinched in waists and there's a Britishness about their quality, the buttonholes and pockets are double stitched to ensure that these openings do not come apart from the main garment. Tweed is naturally water and dirt resistant and these are heirloom pieces to hand down to daughters as they are high on fashion detail but also retain the classical lines and qualities of traditional tweed outer-clothing.


So whether it's forward predicting futurists and artificial intelligence or empowering the endangered silk worm-warrior, you can see that ethical fashion has something  to offer just about everyone.

Farah Damji


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