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December 13, 2009

Profits are nice, but so are people and planet.

(L-R; Peder Michael Pruzan-Jorgensen, Manuel Baigorri, Julie Gilhart, Laurent Claquin, Ros Harvey, Christian Kemp-Griffin, Vanessa Friedman.)

Does fashion ever think ‘green’? You know, the other green, not the ‘Spring 2009 daiquiri green with a touch of gray asparagus’ kind of green. The kind of green we all like to talk about – organic fibres, fair-trade cotton, sweatshop-free, vegan-wear, eco fashion. But is that really green? Or rather, what is green?

The Nordic fashion industry has come up with NICE (Nordic Initiative Clean and Ethical), a work plan to ‘lead the Nordic fashion industry towards a stronger focus on responsible, ethical, and sustainable production’. This places emphasis on water, carbon emissions, waste, chemicals and dyes, labour and ethics. NICE was introduced to a crowd of over 650 CEOs and designers of Nordic and International fashion companies, academics, celebrities, and politicians, at Fashion Summit 2009.

If that isn’t admirable enough, I was pleasantly surprised by how eco-friendly the summit was; with effort taken to ensure that items used, such as eating utensils, the green carpet (as opposed to red), the goodie bag and contents, were made of sustainable materials. I hope it doesn’t stop there, but becomes what Laurent Claquin of PPR Group coined as ‘eco gestures’.

With speakers like Vanessa Friedman of the Financial Times, to Julie Gilhart of Barneys New York, and Manuel Baigorri of Levi Strauss & Co, I was a captive member of the audience in the green discussion. Even the Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, gave an endorsing speech to the industry on their initiative to work with corporate social responsibility (CSR).

So, hoity-toity as how fashion always is, it seems that sustainable practices have been in use in the industry since its inception. Or rather, what each individual deems to be ‘green’. Tiffany has stopped its coral jewelry line in 2003, due to the environmental risk. EDUN (founded by Bono) has its roots in Africa, helping villagers move into the market economy. This sounds like new news formulated out of the old – the first time fashion attempts to backdate itself. Am I being too cynical?

Fashion has the ‘power to set trends and create change’, according to Danish model Helena Christensen. But ultimately, both Claquin and Friedman agree that it is customers who make the choice, in accordance with their own values and perceptions of ‘green’. Cognitive dissonance has never been so sweet.

Dorianne Chiang from Filippa K, insists that the public places double-standards on the fashion industry, as it is more susceptible to being ‘scandalized’, as opposed to others. She defends the industry, citing conscious attempts at being environmentally-aware, and feels that the public ‘can’t expect things to be done overnight’.

Claquin too agrees, maintaining that fashion has always been understatedly green by its definitions. Yet, greater efforts are now carried out to ensure that there is public engagement in its actions. Neon lights at certain luxury boutiques are switched off after 11pm for energy-conservation, and energy-saving lights are used. Tiny steps on the catwalk towards environmental sustainability, coming from the industry that justifies the killing of animals for fur. Not bad, if that’s even a start.

Then again, with NGOs and critics in the picture, it does make the industry freeze in the spotlight. Good is never good enough, just like how skinny is never skinny enough. For once, the fashion industry decides to stop being its harshest critic.

Similarly, perhaps we should just play NICE.


Below are some photographs from the design competition held at Fashion Summit 2009. The winner was Saara Lepokorpi from Finland – who received the prize of 50.000 DKK, sponsored by H&M judges. Judges for the design competition included: Laird Borelli – Senior Features editor of, Ann-Sofie Johansson – Head of Design for H&M, Fern Mallis – VP of IMG Fashion/New York Fashion Week, Margareta von den Bosch – Creative Advisor for H&M, Erin Mullaney – Buying Director, Browns.

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