Eco-Businesses Talk Shop

The kick-off lecture at the "Is Green the New Black?" programme at the London College of Fashion was a discussion about doing green business, with Galahad Clark, the founder of Terra Plana shoes, Adam Smith, from Adili, a luxury on-line retailer and Petra Kjell, from the Environmental Justice Foundation. Kjell, in her Katharine Hamnett tee-shirt (Save the Future) started with an explanation of cotton. It is the world's thirstiest (one tee-shirt uses 2,000 litres of water) and dirtiest (uses insecticides and pesticides) crop. And there is massive use of child labour (one million child-workers in Egypt alone) in order to keep prices down. A very disturbing film about the cotton industry in Uzbekistan was shown. One third of the population works in the "white gold" industry, which is completely controlled by a corrupt government. Schools are ordered closed so that thousands of children can help pick it to meet quotas. The Aral Sea has dried up due to irrigation needs, and the associated fishing industry has accordingly disappeared. Her message: refuse to buy Uzbekistan cotton: pick your cotton carefully. Next up was Galahad Clark (pictured right), of Terra Plana shoes. He said that nature and its life cycle and the eco-system were his inspiration. He noted that no cows are raised purely for the foot wear industry--leather is a by-product. In his view Nike is the most forward in fashion and sustainable design. He insists that one can make ethical shoes in Chinese factories and says that they have the highest industrial standards. He regrets the closure of 50 shoe factories here because of the move to China but says that they are trying to get the industry back to Britain. It is the cost of labour that is the problem. However as factory lines become more mechanised, they can reduce the number of people needed and thus decrease labour costs and become more competitive.

Adili is a new on-line retailer of branded ethical fashion. They sell regularly priced and designer "boutique" green brands and started up because of their perception of a gap in the market. They are offering choice and transparency for the sources of all their produces. The biggest issues for them are the sources of silk and leather. Child labour is most prevalent with Indian silk so Adili sells clothing made with Cambodian silk, which is better. Not all brands are instantly environmentally correct, but many are interested in moving towards that goal. To that end, Adili is working with some new designers to help them develop more ethical standards but this is a longer term project. They are also working with a group in Ruanda to help them develop commercially. Adam Smith, the founder, believes that people will pay a premium for ethical fashion so he is beginning to move out from the green magazines and is starting to advertise in mainstream newspapers. He has upgraded the quality of his fashion photography and made it sexier and more enticing. On his site he will show different poses and detail shots so that people can understand how the clothing fits. He is trying to get manufacturers to use UK factories as sources so that they can be saved.

Tags: London

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