Note: This post is rather critical of EstEthica and some aspects of the ethical fashion world, and are entirely my own personal views and observations. It goes without saying that I am entirely committed to the aims of sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry, advocating collaboration, sharing of resources and knowledge in order to create impact. I do not believe, however, that ethical fashion has matured to the point yet where favouritism and non-disclosure are an option and acceptable ‘code of practise’ – certainly not at this point in time.
Leafing through this season’s EstEthica booklet, a pair of sentences keeps resonating in my mind (p.1):
As curators of this British Fashion Council initiative, we rarely take time to reflect on successes of the past as we keep a keen eye on the developments for the future. However, in writing this we must note that EstEthica has already achieved our main aim.
The sentence unfortunately keeps resonating with me for all the wrong reasons, and the very apparent paradox between what the curators claim in the above quote, and what EstEthica has turned out to be in reality.
For the third season following, the core of the brands present at EstEthica has not changed much, and new brands have arrived as fast as they have disappeared again from its orbits. The thing about London Fashion Week really is that young brands exhibit, and then bit by bit move on to do presentations and shows either within the LFW’s own organisation, or else with ‘off location’ organisers such as Vauxhall Fashion Scouts, On/Off and many others. In short, a brand ideally graduates from exhibiting at the Somerset House, and moves on to a more direct relationship with potential buyers.
This said, at EstEthica the same range of long-running, ‘classic’ and widely publicised ethical brands keep showing their collections, and they simply do not seem to move up the food chain and more into the mainstream.
At times, it feels like a group of ‘elected’ friends enjoying their private event and anyone else being more of a decorative additive to what they consider ‘their show’.
I think it also rather interesting that some more widely known brands have consciously decided go ‘mainstream’, leaving the world of EstEthica at least partially, although not quite entirely, behind. Examples are: Christopher Reaburn, Ada Zanditon, Prophetic, Stamo, Elena Garcia and others.
On a different account, what I do miss at how EstEthica is being curated, is the clear ‘sign posting’ of the brands’ ethical credentials. The credentials are stated in the EstEthica booklet, but to me a rather expressionless descriptions such as
"Ethically produced; local community production - Italy; organic where possible; recycled; up-cycled" (example taken from ‘From Somewhere”s credential listing, p.22 EstEthica booklet) are not useful, and not good enough a job done.
Naturally, there is a vetting process that is followed, as well as forms and process step explanations are readily available online. Yet, it is not entirely clear what is happening behind the scenes. It would be highly interesting to know how many brands have applied in total for each edition, what percentage among them made the cut, and what the principle reasons for rejection/s were. Of course, as a ‘very interested person’ I’d ideally like to see even the brand names that remain after each screening process stage to be published. This ain’t gonna happen though, I know.
Finally, it is rather sad to find that the ethical fashion scene has evolved – let’s see it positively and take it as a sign of maturity – to the degree that private games of and for favouritism are amply played. The widely preached transparency, so much called for when it comes to discussions about apparel supply chains of large retailers, is now more frequently taking a back seat. Personally, I don’t think that the issues around ethics and sustainability in fashion has progressed to the degree that getting this comfortable is really an option.
Proof needed? Abi Rushton, until recently ‘head of ethical sourcing’ in Tesco’s textile department, has left the company. She was the one who had brought brands like ‘From Somewhere’ and ‘The Goodone’ aboard to create collections for and with Tesco. Importantly in this context though: there is no plan at Tesco to have her replaced. Quite to the contrary. Tesco’s new, relatively recently appointed CEO Philip Clarke isn’t a great fan of all issues CSR and sustainability, and has a logical consequence, Abi’s position in fact, has disappeared altogether, leaving us guessing what this means for the bigger picture.