Sustainable fashion is in many ways synonymous with virtuous self-denial. The term is certainly laced with notions of stylistic compromise making it a tough pill to swallow in place of the consumerist banquet of fast fashion. In the UK our fashion is the fastest - and arguably the most delightful - in the world. Our rich history of sartorial eccentricity sits well with a fashion industry geared up to fuel our every whim, and we're quick on the uptake; from geometric printed jumpsuits to beetle-crushers or dhoti pants we're absolute gluttons for fashion trends.
But this deluge of trends comes at a price and after a nasty brush with several journalistic exposés on the uglier impact of the business, the hand of multi-national retailers was forced into changing procedures to stave off bad press. Over recent years this gesture has shifted from one of damage limitation to something altogether more meaningful as retailers unveil new collaborations and initiatives with truly philanthropic credentials (only tonight Michelle Williams wore Eco H&M to the BAFTAs). Fair trade and environmentally friendly manufacture is now cemented on the CSR agenda as both the consumer and the designer increasingly develop a conscience around these topics.
As trend forecasters, at WGSN our job is to recognise this change in the consumer mindset and to build it into the design process at the very earliest stage. It is with this premise in mind that the autumn/winter 12/13 Eco Hedonism trend was conceived. Here we cast aside the stigma of sustainable fashion by indulging in a hedonistic glamour.
Our early trend information on Eco Hedonism began over a year ago (see my previous blog post on the details of how this works). Points of reference included the concept of foraging; from foraged sea urchin tongues and edible soil in restaurants, to urban foraging as a new approach to product placement, and foraged furs from culled muskrats. A levitating ball of mud by Brazilian artist Rosa Chancho may seem irrelevant when talking about a hedonistic fashion trend but actually referred to the concept of elevating humble materials - or upcycling if you will. Icelandic indigenous hunters provide designer Sruli Recht with animal biproduct which he uses to create beautiful designs from feathered and fleeced carcases which infuse the concept of sustainability with a macabre element. Layer these inspiration points with a sense of neo-shamanism and mysticism and you've got yourself a trend to drive sustainable fashion to the next level.
This use of unexpected sustainable materials is central to Eco Hedonism which sees a new focus on decadent tactility. WGSN's head of materials, Helen Palmer believes this is a reaction to our digital lifestyles as she talks about "fabrics with character and touch, softening the edges of our digital world". The idea of soft handle fabrics providing an antidote to the over-use of facebook and twitter is quite appealing but after years of buying fabrics which lagged in the pecking order behind silhouette and colour, has the consumer lost touch with real quality?
Helen predicts a renewed appreciation of "the experience of wearing things", a rather lovely turn of phrase I'm sure you'll agree. We all know that amazing feeling of wearing a super soft fabric which may not exactly be a mind-altering high but within the context of getting dressed on a winter's morning can really feel quite hedonistic. But with the undeniable rise in e-commerce does fabric tactility have any bearing on the purchase decision?
Buying online can actually offer brands and retailers a real opportunity to sell the advantageous properties of fabrics from easy garment care, to sustainable sourcing, to thermal or durable qualities. This is the moment to re-educate the consumer on the importance of buying the right fabric with value added messaging.
This weekend I'm at a the Pure London womenswear trade show where boutique buyers are selecting their stock for autumn/winter. The show really focuses on the importance of ethical fashion as a growing market in the UK and offers a good selection of brands bolstered by the Ethical Fashion Forum who are running consultancy sessions for brands. Next week London Fashion Week's Estethica initiative will showcase the stylish front runners in ethical fashion, further demonstrating the importance of sustainability to the industry and ultimately the consumer. So while floating balls of mud, foraged soil and feathered carcasses may not feature high on the wish list of the average shopper, come September the influence of these reference points will undoubtedly filter right the way through the fashion food chain.
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