Book Review: Eco-Chic, The Fashion Paradox by Sandy Black

eco-chic: fashion paradox book cover photo
On one hand fashion can be accused of being superficial and frivolous, an industry of style and excess without substance, on the other there is a much deeper, more profound engagement with clothing that is seen across all eras and all cultures. As Sandy Black said, at the recent launch event for her new book, "adornment has always been part of the human condition." We also must not forget the enormity of the industry which incorporates millions of workers all over the world, from textile crop farmers, textile producers, dyers, garment designers and producers, and retailers. According to Sandy there are 2.7 million people working in clothing and textiles in the E.U alone. The paradox between the inherent lack of sustainability in fashion and the fundamental need we all have to clothe ourselves is the topic explored in this substantial book.

Sandy Black, Professor of Fashion + Textile Design at the prestigious London College of Fashion, is conscious of her book being the fourth published in the UK in the last year on the subject of Ethical Fashion, but as we mentioned in our recent review of Kate Fletcher's Book Sustainable Fashion and Textiles, each of the books has its own purpose and character and all are valid and informative in different ways. Eco-Chic, The Fashion Paradox is certainly the weightiest of the volumes, published with the appearance of a beautiful coffee table book, featuring plenty of full page colour photographs interspersed throughout the text, making it easily accessible on a number of levels.Sandy Black has divided the book into four chapters: The Greening of the Fashion Industry, Re-Designing Fashion, Fibre to Fabric and Fabric to Fashion. In the first chapter she has profiled six of the most influential players in the UK ethical fashion industry: the inimitable Lynda Grose, the pioneering Fair Trade label People Tree, the mainstream advocates Marks and Spencer, the long-term campaigner Katharine Hamnett and the style leader Sarah Ratty of Ciel.

By choosing these six profiles to feature at the beginning of the book Sandy Black has very quickly laid out the complex territory on which the battle for ethical fashion must be fought. The problem has to be addressed from multiple angles: on the textile front, in Lynda Grose and Katharine Hamnett's cases working to promote organic cotton; on the ethical production side that People Tree work on, making fashion fair for everyone; on the high street where Marks + Spencers appeal to the masses; and in cutting edge design, where we find Ciel, because if ethical fashion isn't stylish and beautiful who will want to wear it?

Through out the rest of the book you will find short informative essays about various aspects of sustainable textiles and ethical fashion alternating with further profiles of pioneering labels. Many TreeHugger favourites are featured, such as Stewart+Brown, Gossypium, From Somewhere, Junky Styling, Terra Plana and Stella McCartney. There is an enormous amount of information in this book, but the structure allows the reader to dip in and out at leisure to slowly build up their knowledge of all aspects of the fashion industry.

In her conclusion Sandy Black says, "If Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox has helped to deconstruct some of the complexity, helped identify areas where individuals can make a difference, and to present different aspects of fashion all together, then it will have succeeded in its aims." Black's book certainly achieves these criteria and more by being visually stimulating and using plenty of illustrative examples of designers who are working hard, not just in theory but in practice, to improve the sustainable outlook of their industry.

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