More and more women and men no longer want to buy and wear whatever suits them. They want to use their clothes to make ecological statements. They do not want others to suffer for their consumption. By making a deliberate choice when buying clothes, we, too, can influence their means of production. Fashion victims are not victims anymore.
Dr Kirsten Diekamp is a sociologist with a passion for fashion. For years she had been wondering what we can do to introduce more responsibility and ecological awareness into our relationship with fashion. In her book “World of Eco Fashion” she casts a light on them and provides critical consumers with a wealth of information on the subject and ways to introduce ecological fashion into their lives.
Interview by Cerstin Henning
What is “Green Fashion”?
Kirsten Diekamp: This question goes right into the heart of the matter. What is it? Neither consumer nor producers can really answer this question. The term itself covers a huge range of notions: green fashion, sustainable fashion, ecological fashion, organic fashion, ethical fashion, etc. Consumers wonder what it is exactly they are getting when they buy green fashion, in how far it differs from conventional fashion. Producers and designers define Green Fashion from their subjective point-of-view which shows in the different criteria and parameters – organic cotton, environmentally friendly, fair trade, animal free, carbon footprint, handmade, slow design, recycling, refashion – to name but a few.
It is really difficult to answer this question conclusively. And on top of that it keeps changing. Whereas textile ecological criteria were prevailing in the 1990s, nowadays it’s all about fair trade. This ambiguity makes it rather difficult for consumers to chop their ways through the undergrowth of ecological fashion. Labels and certificates more often than not confuse rather then help. Quite a few producers meet ecological criteria but don’t advertise it. So, what is Green Fashion? It’s a rather complicated attempt to counter the giant of conventional fashion.
What is that interests you personally about Green Fashion?
Idealism! I want to find a way for Green Fashion to reach and convert not only a small niche but a large audience. To me it’s extremely exciting to lift something as “mundane” and omnipresent of fashion into the realm of academia and questions the structures behind it. I want to understand why things work the way they work. I want to find out which elements can hinder and which can promote the spread and wearing – or not wearing – of Green Fashion. What do I, and the many other consumers, expect from fashion as regards its design, the production, the quality, the image, and the lifestyle.
What do I want to communicate with my clothes and how can I use Green Fashion to express it? On the other hand, there are some rather practical aspects I’m interested in like where to find and buy it. Finding answers to these questions – the philosophical as well as the practical ones, to name them and to come up with solutions is what interests me most when it comes to Green Fashion.
How important is Green Fashion at the moment? Which developments can you see?
One can definitely say that the significance of Green Fashion is increasing. New designers with all sorts of concepts set up their business almost every day, which can also be seen in the list of designers on our website www.worldofecofashion.de. Consumers become more and more sensitive about the question of sustainability, with fashion slowly following in the footsteps of food and cosmetics. When it comes to globalisation, something the textile chain is most affect by or – more provocatively said – most profiting from, consumers, too, have only recently started to realise their power and refuse bad, unfair working conditions and textile ecologically not acceptable products. The time is ripe for Green Fashion and as different as the criteria may be – fair trade, carbon footprint, “no chemistry on my skin” – they are meeting a rather good breeding ground. The chance of it being not just a momentary trend or even hype but here to stay is rather big. Whether Green Fashion can make the leap out of its niche into the mass market is questionable, though. Until then it will remain hard for all those small scale businesses. Whether big businesses like H&M, Zara, which have started to include sustainable fashion in their range, keep up with that trend and especially which of the criteria they are willing to meet, remains to be seen. But since both small and big businesses are targeting the subject and consumers more and more refuse to accept unfair, unecological pieces in their wardrobes, the development to me seems rather positive. I do hope that Green Fashion will manage to not just stir up the conventional mass market but to actually establish itself in the long run.
Ecological Fashion is often more expensive. What do you think about its image as a “luxury product” that only a small (and rather well-off) minority can actually afford?
I do agree that ecological fashion is offered – and has to be offered – at more expensive prices because of the higher production costs involved in comparison to a mass market product. Eventually, we all have to look who’s talking. Clothes have become a lot cheaper over the last years, quantitatively we have been able to afford a lot more then generations before us. And yet, what suffered was usually the quality. We consume a lot more and at the same time the quality becomes poorer, so that we have to buy something new even more often. Cultural skills like mending, darning, refitting let alone sewing have become forgotten. Each and everyone of us can choose between a cheap, poorly made (mass) product and a more expensive garment of higher quality. A choice that might lead to a permanent change in our consumption of clothes.
How important is fashion to you? How do you choose your clothes?
Fashion has always been very important to me. I like playing with shapes and colours. My relationship with fashion has definitely changed over the years. Whereas as a student I was more than willing to buy clothes that were the height of fashion, even if they didn’t fit so well or were uncomfortable. Nowadays I find myself laying importance on the cut, the comfort and the feeling I get when wearing it all day long. I need clothes I can combine easily and that go with the clothes I already have in my wardrobe. Also, I force myself to not buy something that looks amazing but I know I will eventually not wear, like blouses in light, transparent fabrics or garments with extravagant, low necklines. And I just know from experience that they will hardly be worn, mainly because I’m often cold. Every time I find something that really suits me and my type, something I have been searching for for a long time, that matches others in my wardrobe and is of a high quality and easy to take care of, I just know I’ll cherish it and be happy with it for years. Two weeks ago I found such a gem, a black, tailored blazer in a felt-like woollen fabric that can be worn casually and elegantly depending on what I combine it with.
My clothes are somewhat ecological in that I take really good care of them, wear them for a long time, choose a good quality and often mend them, too. That said, unfortunately I own only a few pieces that are actually certified ecologically produced. Like many other consumers I, too, am facing the dilemma that the range of Green Fashion on offer in my city is pretty small, sold in two shops – not even in the city centre – only and mostly consisting of t-shirts, hoodies and jeans, which seldom meet my business lifestyle and style expectations. I don’t like buying online because it’s so much of a hassle. But I do notice that I feel differently when I wear explicitly ecological pieces and that I wear a bit of a morally sound, good conscience together with them
What is your advice for women who would like to shop more consciously?
It is generally still quite difficult to by Green Fashion in conventional shops or large malls. Most information can be found on the internet. When my husband and I founded World of Eco Fashion we realised that information on Green Fashion, producers and shops are still very hard to find. We have a list of designers and the different criteria of sustainable fashion they meet. But Green Fashion means more than that.
It’s about asking ourselves fundamental questions again and again: Do I really need this? Can I combine it with what I have already got? Can I see myself still wearing it in months and years to come? What do I do with clothes I no longer wear? Can I give them away, sell them or could I maybe alter them and make something new out of them?
It’s about buying and using fashion consciously.