Fashion and Ethics – A timely discussion

Victoria and Albert Museum, Tuesday 27th October

Written by Becky Cope

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Ciel (photography by Ben@bengold.co.uk)

The V&A have a knack for putting on stylish events for the stylishly minded and the “Fashion and…” lecture series was no exception. Taking off in conjunction with London College of Fashion, one that attracted Amelia’s Magazine’s was the “Fashion and Ethics” forum.  The forum brought to our attention the extreme passion many people have for making a difference within the third world for garment workers. The guest speakers; designer Sarah Ratty of CielChristian Kemp-Griffin from clothing range Edun and Matilda Lee from the Ecologist represented different areas of the industry. Posing the question “is green still the new black?” the talk raised awareness of what is being done and what still needs to be done for a fairer trading world.

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Ciel (photography by Ben@bengold.co.uk)

Essentially the forum broached the difficult subject of responsibility. Now that we as a shopping public know about the ‘behind the scenes’ of clothing retail, should we change our shopping habits? The popularity of the talk highlights the extent to which we are aware of these issues. With ‘cheap-fashion-fix’ culture taking over, consumers are buying more and more cheap clothing, instead of investing in more expensive pieces as our grandparents’ generation did. However, the human price is far from cheap, poorly paid labour, stark working conditions and unfair treatment are all linked in order for the shops to turn out cheaper and cheaper clothing yet still make a profit. The profit is coming from the worker.

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Ciel Wool (photography by Ben@bengold.co.uk)

Two of the in-house speakers, Sarah Ratty and Christian Kemp-Griffin, were there to represent design houses that refuse to compromise on worker rights. Sarah Ratty of Ciel designs clothing alongside Peruvian farmers whose lifestyle would otherwise have died out. Creating luxurious pieces from alpaca wool, Ratty’s designs help keep the coloured alpaca stock alive as they are suffering from the popularity of their white alpaca brothers. The farmers who raise the stock are also ‘kept alive’ by Ratty’s industry as she provides them with working conditions which can allow them to continue with a way of life that has lasted for years. Ratty is a business woman and a designer, but one who wants to make a difference.

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Sarah Ratty of Ciel (photography by Ben@bengold.co.uk)

Similarly, Edun, represented by Christian Kemp-Griffen, are another company whose main purpose is to aid garment workers and promote fair trade. Famously fathered by Bono and his wife Ali Hewson, the label seeks to aid sub-Saharan African countries through trade. Believing that promoting trade will put an end to the need for world aid, Edun encourages garment manufacture in countries such as Uganda. The old maxim, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat forever” certainly seems to be of utmost relevance here.

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Edun

With rousing forum interchanges following the initial “speeches”, the passion of the audience for ethical fashion was evident. Debating the relative benefits of organic cotton over its abundant water usage, the speakers had to admit that they could not do everything; for success within this field, it is necessary to pick and choose a path to follow. These designers are following the path of creating admirable working conditions and promoting trade to poor countries.

The talk centred around the future of the industry, pondering the invention of intelligent and GM fabrics. While GM fabrics had a distinct “no” from both Sarah Ratty and Matilda Lee, the use of intelligent fabrics was deemed interesting for the future of fashion. Inevitably, the debate overran the allotted time slot, and our London College of Fashion host had to silence those still attempting to pose questions.

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Edun

Following the success of the night, I will leave you with my main thoughts on the proceedings. In a world in which fair trade food is widely appreciated and endorsed, isn’t it time for fair trade fashion to follow suit?

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One Response to “Fashion and Ethics – A timely discussion”

  1. Couldn’t agree more with the last line.
    I really do think that we need to change our shopping habits, be more aware of what we are buying.
    Great article and pictures
    PD x

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