Ethical Fashion Show: What Next?

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Reporting on an event you're involved with (even if tangentially) is just awkward. I'll tell you how we were involved and what worked, but also do the obligatory dishing -- the type of constructive, future-thinking harping that we at TreeHugger have to do so you know we're not just eco-hypsters.

Regular readers know that Paris's Ethical Fashion Show (EFS) featured Rainer Wolter's winning Umbrella Inside Out (UIO) garment at last Friday night's couture show. The dress showed beautifully -- we can't wait to give you a sneak peak in anticipation of I.D. Magazine's December feature! It remained on display for the three days following, at our little UIO booth in the pavilion. Basically, UIO traded exposure at the EFS for exposure on the UIO site, and the press related to the competitions. A great arrangement!

Those who had taken part in previous years were pleased that the event had outgrown its beginnings in warehouses, with various seminars and shows spread out across the city. The Tapis Rouge's three floors were packed with couture, ready-to-wear, accessories and jewelry. Overall, designers from all over were happy to meet one another, talk shop, and feel less isolated trying to make a living in eco and fair trade. Over the coming weeks, we'll tell you about incredible fair trade projects and also stuff you'll want.

But, once you know about the products, will you be able to find them? While designers appreciated the comradery, many were confused about the event's purpose, and seemed especially disappointed in not meeting more buyers (many of whom would have bought for spring at Paris Fashion Week the week before anyhow). Also, they were pretty much shackled to their display areas, so couldn't attend the round tables on fabrics, marketing, and defining ethical fashion. Other designers had better experiences (notably those who treated it as a consumer show and a trade show and so had goods to sell). Established labels like Linda Loudermilk and Edun were on the runway but didn't participate in other aspects, likely because they didn't need to.

The problems of penetrating foreign markets really came to the fore in a variety of conversations. For example, those importing garments made from re-purposed fabric into the U.S. pay a customs premium because they can't name the origin of the fabric, making an already expensive process even more costly to the consumer. Many making a go at organic and fair trade production have their share of complications simply from making that happen, and are intimidated by the complexity and size of the US market.

On the one hand, I feel encouraged by all of the recent eco-fashion chatter, the number of up and coming designers, and the ability to shop guilt-free from New York to Montana (yes, you can get Twice Shy and Mohop in Missoula!). On the other hand, if we want to sustain the momentum (profitability) and avoid looking back at the first years of the century with nostalgia for a brief period when it was easy to buy organic denim, designers need information, resources, and money to show that this can work. They need it soon. If we don't share a common language around "eco" and "ethical," it would be easy for the retail giants (whose investment helps pave the way for smaller designers) to dillute their meaning.

There's that quote about seeing further by standing on the shoulders of giants. Without the enormous effort that went into the Ethical Fashion Show, many of us would not have been able to see what we need to do next. I would like designers to comment and also write to me about joining designers from the show in creating an event and online resource to address some of these issues. More later this week on TreeHugger Radio. ::Ethical Fashion Show