Could it be that we’re getting smarter about how we buy fashion? When we ask ‘who made our clothes’ we are looking for deeper meaning in our lifestyles, we want our style to be part of this as we become increasingly conscious of who made our clothes. With so much news today about the darker side of fashion production, it’s ethically responsible to ask this question and demand greater transparency from fashion brands. A shift in the way we shop, and the questions we ask – from the high street to high-end luxury fashion – can be a major driver in getting more fashion brands to embrace ethical fashion.
WHAT IS ETHICAL FASHION?
What is ethical fashion? Broadly speaking, ‘ethical’ fashion is about being conscious of the footprint created in the making of a garment. Ethical fashion brands raise their hands to say they give a fair deal to the factory workers who make for them through fair pay and fair labour conditions. But for a growing number of ethical fashion brands, the environmental impact of production is deemed as important as the social impact. This means meticulous attention across the entire supply chain – from where the materials come from, to spinning a sustainable yarn and the longevity of the design. The list is long!
This approach is the antithesis of the fast fashion model driven by profit, speed of turnaround and cost efficiencies, with issues such as thorough environmental sustainability sitting low on the agenda. This is a case of fast fashion vs. slow fashion.
Zara, for example, offers 24 new collections per year, H &M offers up to 16 and changes the offering weekly and their cheap materials are heavy in non-recyclable, oil hungry acrylics. The entrenched fast fashion model of make, consume, dispose, repeat, is increasingly unpalatable for so many of us. Ethical fashion seeks to confront what is wrong with the current fashion model and looks for a cleaner, fairer way of enjoying style and luxury without it being at someone expense or costing the Earth.
And this matters. The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world. It accounts for around 10% of global carbon emissions, and uses a quarter of the chemicals produced worldwide each year. This level of consumption is not infinitely sustainable.
FAST FASHION VS. SLOW FASHION
Unlike most fast fashion brands, slow fashion looks beyond the seasonal trend. Slow fashion brands design collections with style, quality and longevity of wear in mind. A major driver of slow fashion brands is the reduction of the carbon footprint in fashion. By prioritising the quality of materials, skilled craftsmanship and careful making designed to last, overconsumption is discouraged as the wearer can appreciate their keepsake sweater or luxury hand-knit cardigan for many years of wear.
Fast Fashion turns over collections in seasonal styles, colours and shape in cheap materials at low cost of production. Designing for obsolescence keeps customers coming back for more – and it is not just the cheapest outlets and brands who ride this business model.
Ethical fashion brands – this includes some of the bigger fashion brands such as Eileen Fisher and Patagonia – are voluntarily shifting to less polluting production. Organic cotton with a GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification is on the increase in the fashion industry – this is a strictly monitored process of pesticide-free cotton production with less water consumption.
And an increasing number of consumers are asking about the animal welfare and land management associated with natural fibre production, such as Mongolian cashmere, Australian Merino wool and alpaca. Transparency in the sourcing of materials in the fashion industry- and this includes animal-friendly fibre production such as mules free merino – is trickling up the convoluted supply chain as we ask more and more how our clothes are made. Perhaps the next step is to ask, ‘How can our clothes do good?’
WHAT IS ‘CRADLE TO CRADLE?
The Cradle to Cradle ® – or C2C – design concept views waste as a design failure. C2C is about designing with the end of life of the product of vital importance – to be returned to the cradle of the earth as a nutrient or to an ongoing useful life to nurture another product in a circular fashion. ‘Cradle to Cradle’ was first coined by architect Bill McDonough and chemist Michale Brangurt in 2002 in their seminal work Beyond Sustainability – Designing for Abundance.
McDonough and Brangurt proclaimed it is not enough for companies to do less harm, but to focus on doing good. The Cradle to Cradle Institute is dedicated to achieving a new approach to design across industry, including fashion.
In fashion, embracing the C2C design philosophy means looking closely at materials – to know the origin, the pesticides, chemicals, water, resources and land used in production and end of life of the garment. This is a progressive system of sustainability in fashion, embracing a philosophy of environmental responsibility across all the processes in the making and wearing of a garment and how it will be taken back as a nutrient to feed the earth or supply another form of production.
The C2C concept resonates loud and clear with Ally Bee’s mission to design sustainable knitwear with gentle threads. And so, on discovering the first Cradle to Cradle ® certified natural fibre batch of yarn on the market, there was no question that this was going to become a major material in forthcoming Ally Bee collections. ‘FAIRWOOL’ – a blend of pure white cashmere with merino, is the product of clean production and fair sourcing.
Autumn Winter 2017 introduces ‘Fairwool’ – a Cradle to Cradle ® certified yarn made from Italian-spun Mongolian cashmere and Australian Merino wool. Pure cashmere yarn is spun to a Cradle to Cradle ® certification from the fibre of Mongolian cashmere goats reared by traditional herders for fair payment, who care for their grass-fed goats to high standards of animal welfare and strict land management. Cradle to Cradle ® certified superfine Merino wool from Australia is blended with the cashmere, with complete assurance the fleece comes from non-mulesed sheep grazed on a carefully managed farm. The exacting standards of a C2C certification for this ‘cashmerino’ yarn demand the cleanest processing and dying, and this has been met by a long-established Italian mill, fully powered on green hydroelectric and solar energy with the cleanest dying process in the industry.
Ally Bee supports the Fashion Revolution movement. This is a burgeoning ethical fashion movement giving consumers a cleaner choice, and clearer conscience, when they buy clothing – from basic apparel to luxury knitwear. When a customer asks, ‘Who made my clothes?’
Ally Bee can answer this question and also offer a transparent supply chain traced from the factory, back through to the raw source of the materials and how they were processed. Ally Bee collections are crafted in natural fibre yarns derived from low impact farming and processing methods, which provide high standards of animal welfare. Branching out from purely British Alpaca and British wool, the Ally Bee Autumn Winter 2017 introduces C2C Cashmere and Merino wool yarns grown and spun with tight environmental and animal welfare controls.
At Ally Bee, ethical fashion means more than a fair deal for the makers. It means tracing back to the raw source, through to processing, making, and ongoing wear. No overherding, no animal cruelty, no polyester, no toxic dyeing process and a full return to the earth at the end of a long life of wear.
In 2017, we introduce exquisite hand-knits from India made with love, crafted in beautiful non-mulesed Superfine Merino yarns sourced from a well-managed farm in South-East Australia called Gostwyck. Each piece in the hand-knit collection is produced by women in knitting hubs in the south of India trained in the art of knitting to exacting specifications, and given an education, with respectable pay and work conditions, as part of their employment. The knitting studios are B-Corporation registered, meaning they comply with fair pay and labour standards. Ally Bee knits are now part of this knitting project, empowering women in an otherwise marginalised part of Indian society. Ally Bee is Slow Fashion knitwear that’s hard not to love.
Ally Bee has followed a path that proves spinning a sustainable yarn is possible, producing luxury Slow Fashion that meets the strict environmental and social standards. And as an Ally Bee customer you can enjoy the Ally Bee collection in the knowledge that the styles you choose are spun with gentle threads, support clean and fair fashion and gives you the satisfaction of knowing who made your clothes.