April 8, 2009

Ethical Fashion (Part III)

We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Ethical Fashion (Part III) there.

Ethical Fashion article published in www.newconsumer.org (following Part II of the article: http://gisforghana.blogspot.com/2009/04/ethical-fashion-part-ii.html)

Marks & Spencer is adding organic cotton to its garments. And in a key development, clothes made of Fairtrade certified cotton from West Africa – Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Cameroon – and Pakistan are now in shops in France, Belgium and Switzerland. Certified cotton is already a hit: within one month, Mali’s Fairtrade suppliers sold out, said Harriet Lamb. Certifiers are also currently working with farmers in India and Peru. In the UK, clothes made from Fairtrade Mark cotton will appear in shops within a year.

Ethical fashion has clearly been tough going for both Hewson and Hamnett. Finding enough organic cotton has been impossible. EDUN had to compromise, for example, by only using about one-third in its garments, though that proportion should jump to about 60 per cent in spring 2006. “We’ve also had to recognise the capabilities of the factories and use more local products,” she says. “But it’s two-way.” Apart from the obvious social benefit, she says they are using materials uncommon in haut couture – such as alpaca because one of their factories is in Peru. “It’s give and take,” she says.

For Hamnett, getting enough organic cotton has also been a nightmare. But, she says proudly, she is now the proud owner of 140,000 metres of organic tape for zippers. “Has that been done before? God, no.” She has been frustrated to find that the Fairtrade Foundation, in working to get certified clothes, favours small producers who cannot handle the volume she needs. “It’s really well-intentioned, but we do need people with capacity. They’re shooting themselves in the foot,” she says.

The foundation’s Harriet Lamb insists that they must exclusively work with small producers, as they did with Fairtrade coffee and tea. The smallest are most vulnerable, she says. The Foundation also targets small producers – coops, weavers, and sewers – who have already worked with established fair trade companies in the UK such as Bishopston Trading Co, because they have experience with fair trade procedures. But eventually, she says, the Foundation will start the process of certifying larger “hired labour” producers.

Despite the challenges, Hamnett is infectiously enthusiastic about consumers’ ability to change the world, from the grassroots, when governments are too timid. She says that ethical clothing is now her sole livelihood.

“I’m not going to be doing anything else. It’s reassuring in a darkening world. You feel as if there’s a chink.” That’s quite something from the woman who made headlines in 1984 when she shocked Margaret Thatcher with a political fashion statement. When the prime minister shook hands with Hamnett, at an official reception, the designer suddenly opened her jacket to reveal a t-shirt emblazoned with the anti-missile slogan: “58% Don’t Want Pershing.”

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