Eco chic makes its mark in the fashion world | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 17.09.2009
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Eco chic makes its mark in the fashion world

While Britain goes on trend alert as London Fashion Week gets underway, green fashion is strutting into the style spotlight as designers and companies increasingly support the growing demand for organic clothing.

Organic clothing by Danish label NOIR

It's eco fashion's time to step into the spotlight

From tie-dyed shirts to skinny jeans, fashion is a slave to trends with no single fad lasting more than a few years. The rise of green fashion in recent years, however, is challenging the industry image of fleeting styles, and socially conscious consumers are increasingly looking for sustainable clothing.

Discerning between truly environmentally-friendly fashion labels and brands that simply use the term "organic" to cash in on the current hype surrounding eco fashion, however, can seem impossible.

Conventionally grown cotton is a major pollutant, using more insecticides than any other single crop. Cotton producers around the world use nearly $2.6 billion (1.8 billion euros) worth of pesticides every year. According to the Pesticide Action Network, an international organization dedicated to eliminating hazardous pesticides, this amounts to more than 10 percent of the world's pesticides, and nearly 25 percent of the world's insecticides.

Statistics like these are what inspired Marco Homberg, a Duesseldorf-based entrepreneur and outdoor sports enthusiast, to launch Operation Green, an online store specializing in organic street, surf and skate wear.

"With organic cotton none of these chemicals are used," Homberg said. "That's a huge difference and you won't find any of the chemicals in an organic t-shirt and also you won't find any chemical in the area where the cotton is actually grown and this is by far the biggest problem."

Organic street wear by Operation Green

Operation Green: organic clothing with street credit

When choosing brands to sell, Homberg said Operation Green puts its trust in green and fair trade certificates that associations like the Fair Wear Foundation in Amsterdam issue to attest that a company's products are organic and socially conscious following inspections of the companies' manufacturing sites.

Separating truth from trend

As the market for green fashion becomes increasingly competitive however, more certificates, all with varying standards and focal points, are cropping up and consumers may end up thinking that the product they are buying is greener than it really is. Tracing the production steps of large companies which manufacture and market their clothes in several countries can be especially challenging.

One of Germany's biggest names in eco fashion is Hessnatur, a company that produces organic clothes for men, women and children, using fabrics like cotton, hemp, linen and wool. Located in Butzbach, a small town 35 kilometers (22 miles) north of Frankfurt, the company is also enjoying success abroad. American fashion magazine Vogue featured Hessnatur's clothes in a recent issue and the company currently sells its products in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the United States. Expansion plans to the UK are already in the works.

Hessnatur proudly advertises the eco-friendly steps it takes at its production sites and also practices the green values it preaches at home, according to CEO Wolf Luedge.

Hessnatur dress (left) and company headquarters in Butzbach

Hessnatur's clothes and headquarters are eco-friendly

"We take care for every step," Luedge said, pointing out that the company's building makes use of natural light and limestone insulation to reduce heating. "We don't have plastic bags in the house for logistics, we have eco electricity, and nearly everything that's possible, we do. We are really related to our product, we are really related to nature."

Hessnatur also keeps a close eye on environmental and labor practices at its production sites in countries like India and Peru. Much like Operation Green, Luedge also relies on third parties to be his eyes and ears abroad.

"We teach our suppliers what we want and set our standards and the suppliers are certified by the Fair Wear Foundation in Amsterdam," he said. "We have a complaint system in every country where the workers can go - something that's a mix of a church and a kind of labor union - and say, 'Ok, I have problems with my labor, the factory I work in' and these complaints will be sent directly to Hessnatur and the Fair Wear Foundation."

Green fashion gets style savvy

But knowing how green its products are isn't the only issue eco clothing producers have to contend with. Organic clothing doesn't typically have the same sexy appeal as non-organic collections, and eco-friendly style often seems relegated to organic cotton t-shirts and reusable shopping bags bearing slogans like "save the planet."

This, however, is changing as eco fashion companies are becoming more style savvy, according to Claudia Ebert-Hesse, a teacher at the Akademie Mode Design fashion school in Duesseldorf,

"There are quite really cool companies in this area, for example Noir, it's based in Denmark and it's really black fashion, cool sexy black fashion and everything is green," she said.

Ebert-Hesse said she also believes eco-fashion will explode even more onto the style scene thanks to ongoing research to develop other 100-percent organic fabrics like silk and various wools. The fashion journalism and design management instructor informs her students about green fashion, and she has already seen some of them trying to integrate the eco-friendly concept into their collections for school.

Organic clothing label NOIR

Sustainability has never been so stylish: The new look of eco chic is black and sleek

A new international trade fair for green fashion called The Key celebrated its launch in Berlin in July and other industry events in the country like the Premium Fashion Week now have a green area.

But while industry support provides a much-needed boost, many like Ebert-Hesse think eco fashion's staying power is ultimately in the hands of environmentally conscious consumers for whom being eco-friendly never goes out of style.

"It's not only a trend," Ebert-Hesse said. "It's really like a mentality, like a lifestyle at the moment and a trend means that it only lasts for one season, but eco or green fashion is more than a trend. It's like an attitude."

Author: Laura Schweiger

Editor: Sean Sinico

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