Trade fairs tend to result in an overflow of sensory impressions. Too much of everything: people, smells, visuals.
Going to trade fairs of the size of Paris’ Porte de Versaille halls, adds information overflow: too many brands, colours, small and large differences. At the end of such days, it’s difficult to even remember one’s own dress style preferences. And while the world of ethical fashion is nothing but a niche in today’s fashion market, the demand on patience and determination is no smaller – after all many an ‘ethical’ fashion brand has decided to swim in the mainstream as far as commercial exposure and marketing is concerned. Finding them among the thousands of exhibiting brands is a tough task.
In fact, while Paris Ethical Fashion Show and Prêt-à-Porter’s ‘So Ethic’ section make it easy to find ethical brands that had their ‘coming out’, the image problems that continue to haunt ethical fashion causes a fair few of their peers to keep their conviction and good practise under cover.
And sadly, this latter statement in essence summarises my principle insights and lessons from 5 days caught up in the buzz of Paris fashion trade fairs.
There are many that claim that in the cliché is a reality rather, and that ethical fashion continues to be equivalent with amateur’s fashion design. The actual reality however is, that bad, boring and unimaginative design is omnipresent in all the shows I’ve been to. My guess would be that a good 60% of brands present collections that essentially are flat and without personality or signature style. That would be, 60% of all brands, with absolutely no relation to their ethical credentials, or even price tag for that matter.
The question then obviously remains:
Why do we tend to single out the good examples among the non-ethical brands - i.e. the >40% of brands that actually have achieved to differentiate themselves design-wise from the bland mass -, whereas the opposite is true for ethical brands: suddenly everyone finger points the 60% design rubbish instead of applauding and taking off the hat for the 40% with outstanding, or even brilliant results?
It is not that ethical designer are rubbish from the outset – there are plenty of highly talented designers with highly fascinating designs, and compelling story. BUT: we have brought up to oversee them because we subconsciously have been instilled with what is more than just an inaccuracy, but rather a lie: Ethics and design is an oxymoron, a paradox.
Or is it? Empirical research as proven (Against Ambiguity, p.10), and by now it is widely accepted certainly among engineers, that constraints foster innovative design. Why? Because they require novel solutions to a to-date encountered problem.
Of course there will be many prototypes and solutions that initially did not comply with the requirements. But ultimately the solution solves a problem to which there was previously none.
And in that sense, the constraints that ethical fashion brands inflict on themselves are what makes them ‘the inventors’ of their generation, and bounds to come up with solutions that previously had been thought of. Example: Only a decade ago, the designs of Christopher Raeburn would have been unimaginable. Their uniqueness however, precisely comes from the fact that he limits himself to use army surplus (constraints of materials, sources, and as a consequence also of styles due to the material at hand). Is it bad design? Quite to the contrary … Why is that? Because the constraints imposed matched the designer’s creativity, the result of which is something new, attractive and with a personality to it.
But enough the heavy reflections, and on to my (reduced) personal BestOf selections among the brands present at Paris’ fairs, split into apparel and accessories: