Saubere Sachen – Wie man grüne Mode findet und sich vor Öko-Etikettenschwindel schützt.
[English: Clean clothes - how to find 'green' fashion, and protect yourself from eco labelling scams]
By: Kirsten Brodde
The ethical fashion world is divided. This is old news. Only: I’m talking of geographical and linguistic divisions rather than those of opinions. Even on a European level, the consequence for instance is that English books are hardly ever translated into any of the other languages and vice versa.
In this post hence, I would like to take a first step to remedy this by reviewing a book that to-date is only available in German.
The book’s author, Kirsten Brodde, is Germany’s ‘Mrs. Eco Fashion’. A freelance writer who for years closely collaborated with the Greenpeace magazine, notably for fashion industry related research and reports. She has a reputation of delivering quality work, and a (very) critical voice in all things fashion consumption. She is also the driving force behind the rather radical, yet very constructive ethical fashion blog ‘Grüne Mode‘ [English: Green fashion].
Germany boasts a considerable awareness about organic production, human-rights infringements, and ecological impacts, hence ‘Clean Clothes’ ['Saubere Sachen' in the original German title] was already published in 2009 [2 years before its English equivalent by Lucy Siegle], and currently still remains the only book published in German solely dedicated to the topic of eco fashion. While the industry has been gaining ‘eco’ ground for possibly about a decade, the focus of this book is firmly and clearly set onto the fashion consumer: Every argument and example is initially developed from a consumers perspective, backing the findings ups with hard data and facts from the supply chain.
The book is divided into 5 sections, covering the following areas:
- Consumer Climate [Zeitgeist]: This sections arches over 3 chapters that each look at different areas related to fashion consumption. Right from the start, the author akins the change in our apparel buying habits with the shift in shopping customs that conquered our fridges over 20 years ago when organic food started its success story. It is made clear that, as consumers notably, we do have the power to change the market not only with each individual purchase, by also by speaking out aloud against the lack of quality (including design), availability and transparency of ‘eco’ clothing. It goes without saying that this applies to both: certainly the non-eco, mean: mainstream, section of the market, but also does without a doubt to those that call themselves ‘eco’ brands.
- Apocalypse: Over the course of 5 chapters the reader is introduced to 4 widely known problematic areas related sustainability in fashion: human-rights infringements, miserable labour conditions and slave labour; the use of carcinogenic pesticides in agriculture; the threats and problems that chemical dyes cause, in the supply chain but also when we absorb them into our bodies via the skin; the carbon footprint of clothing.
The 5th chapter in this section also introduces in a case study of a widely known German retail, and translates all the previously presented issues in one concrete context. The company chosen by the author is called ‘Tchibo’, and is a German cheap-yet-exclusive chain coffee retailer – with some outlets also in the UK – , and a strategy to seduce customers into their stores attracted by knock-bottom priced basic clothing and home wear ‘merchandise’ items such as trainers, T-shirts, jackets, sofa covers etc.
- Alternatives: Again consisting of 5 chapters, the section address the practicalities of shopping for sustainably made clothing. The topics arch from designs examples, to concrete strategies to where and how to buy, offering an introduction to different eco labels, and culminates in a discussion of the pros and cons of organic cotton, and the tricky bits hidden in dyes and finishings.
It is probably this section that is the book’s strongest. The various issues to be considered when buying clothing are broken down to what in the end matters most to consumers (in that order): design, materials, and labels. The balance is well chosen: enough to sound critical without being boring, and the tips with concrete help for when going to town next time ’round.
- The future: Looking into the future, the 3 chapters in this section call for more variety in (natural) fibres currently used; it is however made clear that man-made fibres are not necessarily only evil, and that the next generation of these fibres may well be revolutionary with respect to their eco credentials; and finally, that even the ‘fast fashion’ revolution is so outdated by now, that ‘cooler’ alternatives have popped up and are becoming popular: swishing (a still very new phenomenon to Germany), second hand and vintage clothing (i.e. fashion that went out of fashion in the 80s altogether, and never came back), or DIY fashion.
- Resources [Services]: This is for most readers the one section they will repeatedly fall back on to after having read the book. In meticulous order the author listed 15 tips on how to improve one’s very personal ‘clothing footprint’; followed by a rather detailed list of eco fashion labels across Europe – including website and short characterisation; and finally it all is rounded up with additional resources such as a German and English book list, internet communities, relevant NGOs, and online retail outlets.
This book was by far and distant the best consumer oriented book I’ve read about the topic – right up until last May when Lucy Siegle’s ‘To Die For’ hit the shelves – but then again this latter one is written in English … so much about international perspectives.
‘Clean Clothes’ is concrete, illustrative, gives plenty of examples, tips and tricks on how to approach the topic. Each example thereby repeats its fundamental lemma: Unless we consumers question the products we find for sale, and really only buy what is worth it’s money – in all aspects: quality, sustainability, design – changes won’t happen. Ultimately it’s upon us – individual by individual – to change how the industry works by turning each purchase into a vote.
The resource section of the book is absolutely unique, useful and in exactly the right quantities. I have yet to see something as practical in any other eco fashion book.
This book is available from your nearest book store as well as online from Amazon.