Can students really be ethical and fashionable?
‘Ethical fashion’ can often conjure up the vision of a tree-hugging hippy dressed in a
waistcoat of dried leaves, a wooden pendant swinging from his neck. Recently, however,
the fashion industry has been updating the image associated with ethically-produced
Danish designer Peter Ingwersen has stripped off the hippy image in favour of something
much more sophisticated and striking. The new line for his label, ‘Noir’, features sharply
tailored suits and slick, sculpted leather garments that have been produced under ethical
guidelines. Ingwersen commented that ethical fashion has to be ‘darn sexy to get people
to play the game’. Sexy the clothes may be, but that doesn’t necessarily make them
appealing to students. Strutting around in a pair of leather trousers doesn’t really meet the
ugg-boot/ slouchy trend at Exeter University.
Meanwhile, Bono’s RED organisation uses a percentage of its profits to buy medicines
for HIV and AIDS sufferers in Africa. RED products can be found in Gap and Emporio
Armani amongst other fashion chains. But can students really afford these clothes? A
shopping trip probably consists of Primarni, not Armani. We all know that we lead
consumer-rich lives that require new updates to our wardrobes more often than our
student budget really allows. Purchasing fewer, more expensive items of better quality
and from companies with a strong ethical backbone doesn’t really fit into the whirlwind
of fancy dress parties and frequent nights out in which our heads are spinning.
As I pause to think, something makes a clanking sound. Two hand-painted wooden
Primark bangles, a bargain at £1.50 each adorn my arm. Sheepishly, I pull them off. A
familiar feeling of guilt starts spreading over me. If I didn’t spend much on the jewellery,
whose quality of life is actually paying for it? This is a pattern that I have slipped into. I
am confronted by a large issue, be it unethical fashion, global warming, famine or some
other ridiculously urgent and overwhelming problem. Yet after a few seconds of guilt and
worry about the part I play in the topic as a consumer, I return to my normal routine.
When I’m told that I can purchase ethical fashion, but for the price of £300 per garment, I
trot off back to the cheaper shops. In fact, I probably drive back to them, damaging the
environment on my way.
Now, having researched what ethical fashion is really available, I have found a few other
options. One of these is recycleyourjeans.com. You send off your old jeans to the factory,
and for forty-five quid they return a week or so later in the form of new sandals or shoes.
By recycling textiles, the company saves on pesticides, fertilizers, energy and water.
Fantastic. It seems that this original idea ticks loads of the ‘ethical fashion’ boxes. But
before we all rush to our wardrobes and grab that pair of jeans that are never worn
because they squeeze the hips out just too much, we have to stop and ask ourselves: ‘do I
really want a patchwork of denim on my feet?’ Ethical, maybe. But fashionable?
Certainly not. In the quest to find fairer, environmentally- friendly methods of producing
fashion, it seems that the importance of aesthetics has been forgotten.
Thankfully, there are other options. New Look has launched a new ‘Go Organic with
Cotton’ festival range fronted by, funnily enough, Fearne Cotton. Some of the pieces at
People Tree aren’t toooo expensive either, plus they look great in the photos. Mind you,
Sienna Miller could make a bin liner look fantastic…
However, one option that rarely fails is to follow in the footsteps ex-Topshop director
Jane Sheperdson and walk right into Oxfam. Luckily, the 80s are back in so there should
be loads of ammunition in charity shops for outfits, whether the 80s to you means
fabulous, powerful day-wear or fancy-dress. Hopefully the latter.
It is probably impossible to be entirely ethical when buying fashion, but by recycling a
bit, purchasing a few second-hand items and choosing to support companies that are
fairer to their workers and the environment when you can, at least an effort is being
made. It is impossible to avoid the lure of cheaply-produced clothes, so a few Primark
bangles here and there is inevitable. It might be as contradictory as Sienna Miller
addressing climate change and then jetting off on holiday to Ibiza, but at least it’s a step
in the right direction.
The Sanctuary Paper
University of Exeter