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Fashion industry gets ethical

Clothes produced under fair labour conditions and eco-friendly garments are taking over runways and boutiques.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2007 11:04 IST

The fashion industry has discovered that it too has a social and ecological consciousness. Coming on the heels of organic carrots and eyeliner developed free of animal testing, clothes produced under fair labour conditions and environmentally friendly garments are taking over runways and boutiques.

The trend has nothing to do with sloppy style or things like batik blouses and scratchy woollens.

It is more the ethical, moral and sustainable approach to business taken by hip labels like the Dutch jeans brand Kuyichi and the T-shirt maker American Apparel as well as fashion houses like H & M and Peek and Cloppenburg.

Singer Bono of the rock band U2 along with his wife Ali Hewson founded the label Edun, which produces clothes exclusively in developing countries under fair labour conditions.

Their prominence has helped increased the promotional factor of the clothes, however, thus far Edun styles are available only in particular stores. Other ecologically produced clothing are found mostly only in stores in large cities or by mail order.

Ecologically conscious and economically fair clothing is the logical continuation of the organic food trend, said researcher Anja Kirig, who works at an organisation that studies trends based in Kelkheim, Germany.

Customers want to know where the clothing or food products they buy are produced and whether fair practices were followed in their production, as more responsible consumption filters into all aspects of life.

There has been cause for plenty of critical questions in the past. Some of the better-known criticisms of the fashion industry involve inhumane labour conditions, child labour and the use of harmful pesticides in raising cotton.

Christoph Dahn has been running the internet-based shop True Fashion (www.true-fashion.com) based in Freiburg, Germany, for the past few months.

"We sell clothes produced only in factories or small facilities in which labour regulations are followed," said Dahn.

Brands like Kuyichi, La Victoria, Misericordia, Livity and Stewart & Brown will show that this can be trendy, affordable and correct.

Dahn said correct means ensuring that workers receive a minimum wage, child labour is not involved, the work does not endanger the employees' lives, production does not take place in sweatshops and that ecologically grown cotton is used. Awareness of such production standards of production is growing.

"An entirely new consumer group is developing that in good consciousness is willing to spend a little more money," said Jana Kern of a Frankfurt-based textile trade journal.

Kirig describes these consumers as people who consciously or unconsciously follow a lifestyle of health and sustainability, and says they come from different levels of society.

Kern added the trend has two aspects. One is the production of organic cotton, which already is widely used in infant clothing and which large multinational clothing retailers like H & M for years have described on their labels.

The other aspect is social standards in the production of clothing, which companies increasingly are required to maintain.

"Many large operations have been severely criticised because of dubious production conditions in developing countries," said Kern. Not all companies are on board, but as consumers' sensibilities grow, many are showing greater social engagement.