The fashion label WildlifeWorks made themselves conspicuous during London Fashion Week as the only ethical brand that took to the catwalk to show off their AW08 collection. It must be said that this coup was not so much down to luck as to money, it is just not possible to get onto the main schedule of LFW shows without substantial financial backing; as the Junky Styling crew can confirm, they had to get Kiehls as a sponsor in order to put on their independent show. The founder of WildlifeWorks Mike Korchinsky and his partner Andrew Smith bring in funding from previous successful IT businesses, but their money doesn't just produce fashion, the motivation behind the label is African wildlife conservation and development.WildlifeWorks exists to support an 80 000 acre wildlife reserve in Kenya, which Korchinsky bought in the late nineties. All local communities are employed to either work in conservation on the reserve, or in the purpose built clothing factory. They started being trained in simple sewing and originally made organic t-shirts, but now as their skills develop they are producing some pretty sophisticated fashion design. Mike and Andrew direct two collections, one in the US and one in the UK, both by different designers. 3% of sales from the brand go back into the sanctuary and the eco-factory.
The premise behind the label is admirable and we like the fashion forward direction they are taking. They are aiming high, presenting themselves as a different animal compared to those brands that we regularly see at the Estethica show. No, Wildlife Works was moving amongst the fashion lions at The Royal Academy of Arts this week. Their aim is to be a serious fashion brand, the words ethical or eco were nowhere in sight, only an RSPCA logo projected onto the backdrop of the catwalk. One of their dresses from this collection is called the RSPCA dress and £40 of the £350 retail price will go to the charity.
WildlifeWorks, for good or for bad, do not want to be associated with the rest of the ethical fashion movement, of which many of us are so proud. Their argument, we can presume, is that fashion should be judged on its design merit alone, whether an ethical business model lies behind the clothes is irrelevant. But is it irrelevant or is just not fashionable? Do Wildlife Works not believe that ethical fashion sells? Or is it that ethical fashion doesn't sell while it's being annexed in the Estethica section, which many people can by pass if they so choose.
This is a serious area of contention among many ethical brands and the question being posed here is a valid one. Should ethical fashion shows exist or is ethical fashion ready to be thrown in the mix? Can our favourite eco-brands stand up to the design competition and not rest on their ethical laurels? I am sure many would claim that they can, but a lot of people I spoke to during Fashion Week are still not sure.
I would argue that while great eco and ethical in roads are being made into the fashion industry, especially with recent books such as Tamsin Blanchard's Green is The New Black, Mathilda Lee's Eco Chic and Kate Fletcher's Sustainable Fashion and Textiles, we are nowhere close to creating the fundamental changes that are needed on a mainstream level. I think that ethical fashion is stronger as a movement and many voices are more powerful than one voice. There's still a lot of work to be done and surely we can do it faster if we do it together?