Global Observer

In Paris, ethical fashion heads down the runway

In Paris, ethical fashion heads down the runway

Posting in Design

PARIS -- Fashion show highlights innovative designs and ethical practices as the new chic for the fashion industry.

PARIS – The Ethical Fashion Show hit Paris again last week showcasing some of the world’s most innovative couture.  While Christian Dior and Gucci grace the much-mediatized catwalks twice a year in Paris, a fresh batch of designers is applying a more ethical approach to clothing and accessories.

Founded in 2004 by Isabelle Quéhé, the Ethical Fashion Show looks to raise awareness of designs that are both innovative and made with ethical practices that serve both the environment and human beings.  With a background in publicity, Quéhé still runs the show as the art director in tandem with Messe Frankfurt.  This year’s edition took place a stone’s throw from the Mona Lisa in the historic Carrousel du Louvre.

The show is based on three main points dictated in the official Charter of Good Conduct.  First, designers are asked to respect all human relations from workers’ rights to long-term business relationships.  Secondly, designers must be environmentally conscious from where they obtain materials all the way to the finished product.  Finally, participants are asked to respect specific skills among artisans and to help highlight the savoir-faire of individuals.

It might sound easy, but it’s no simple cake walk.  With child labor laws, and even model abuse constantly making headlines, the ethical treatment of human workers is something that even the Kardashians are taking seriously.  And human relations are just one point of the charter.

The show, according to spokesperson Mickael Cotte, helps challenge the fashion industry to address these issues.  “Our motto this year is ‘Ethical Fashion is Chic!’ We try to raise awareness regarding the protection of human beings and of the creativity of ethical and green designers,” he said.

Last year the show attracted over 2700 visitors including representatives from Diane von Furstenberg, H&M, Dior, and Calvin Klein, demonstrating that the show attracts major players in the fashion industry.

Some of the brands making waves this year included the Kenya-based Flip Flop Recycling Company that turns lost flip flops into bracelets and other jewelry.  Maïna Khalifé takes a similar approach to jewelry with her French brand i.de.m. by using old silverware and cutlery to design her accessories.

Certain up-and-coming designers were honored this year for their contributions to ethical fashion.  One such designer, Canadian-born Tanya Heath, a former diplomat, segued into fashion, focusing on footwear.  Launched in 2011, her line of shoes with detachable heels has allowed wearers to change the height of the heel with just a quick click.  Sourcing decorations from the Sruti Foundation in India where a fair trade organization trains women to enter the work force, Heath has a deep, albeit relatively new commitment to ethical production.

“I was thrilled because when I created this company I really did try to do everything in a fair and ethical way as much as possible but I would have never thought I could be included in such a show,” she said, calling the recognition a huge honor.  “I believed that to be recognized as ethical the company had to be located in a developing country or be recognized as a fair trade organization,” she said

Heath highlighted her shoes in her first catwalk at this year’s show with welcomed results.  “For us the event was incredible, a massive positive response that we have never seen,” she said, adding that some buyers didn’t even realize at first that the shoes were innovative, admiring them primarily for their design.

This year’s show featured the best of ethical fashion, Cotte said.  He explained that although ethical practices are far removed from mainstream fashion, luxury brands are paying more and more attention to what’s going on at the Ethical Fashion Show.  And Paris, as a global fashion capital, is no small stage for designers like Tanya Heath.  “We are a Paris based company and Paris stands for fashion, design and savoir vivre throughout the world,” Heath said.

The next Paris show is in January 2013, just after a run in Berlin.

Photo: Ethical Fashion Show

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Bryan Pirolli

Correspondent (Paris)

Bryan Pirolli has worked for Conde Nast and Travel+Leisure and has written for EuroCheapo.com and Concierge.com. He holds a degree from New York University and is currently studying at the Sorbonne. He is based in Paris, France. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure