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By Angela Wallace
Berlin welcomed the world to explore fashion over three hot and humid days last week. On July 3, I was grateful to hop into an air-conditioned Mercedes Benz Fashion Week shuttle to be whisked from the Ewerk Centre presenting The Ethical Fashion Show to the inspiring Green Showroom across town.
The eighth edition of the Green Showroom presented 29 exhibitors of premium avant-garde fashion collections with a focus on trends for the SS14 season. The Green Showroom champions high fashion produced under fair trade and eco-conscious conditions, with the participation of 19 international labels from abroad representing new and established brands, all hosted in the elegant Hotel Adlon Kempinski.
Collections from designers including Aleks Kurkowski, Issie Collection, Theo + Mo and Tatjana Prijmak, incorporate emerging production methods and processing innovations, but refuse to compromise on style by maintaining a high level of quality in design. “Beyond its clear focus on fashion,” stated Olaf Schmidt, Vice President Textiles & Textile Technologies at Messe Frankfurt, “the Green Showroom concept also explores our exhibitors’ production methods and choice of materials. Most of the products on display have a special story just waiting to be told.” A compelling part of that story is the group of next-generation labels bringing their designs to market.
After hydrating myself with a glass of lemon water from the welcoming refreshments table, I was pleased to start circling the first designer suite. I met the founder of one of my favourite French labels, Johanna Riplinger, who joined the Green Showroom for the first time this season. I discovered Johanna was as hospitable and friendly as I had hoped. “Please join us at our show on Thursday evening, “ she insisted while shaking my hand. I can see now how her soft-spoken demeanour and understated Parisian glamour are reflected in the feminine designs of her current collection that blend accessibility and aspiration. I wanted nothing more than to take her up on the offer, but I had a scheduled flight back to London. “Next time,” I promised. I’ve since watched the video presentation half a dozen times and cursed my travel plans for missing out.
Later that day, I was pleased to hear the familiar voice of Prakash, the founder of Coccon, an ethical and sustainable silk label out of India. I first heard Prakash speak about his award-winning silk through the Ethical Fashion Forum last year. “I was dialling in from Berlin that day and the connection was so bad I’m surprised you could hear anything I was saying!”, he joked with me. It is one thing to hear an innovator share their story in a webinar, but quite another to feel the textures and nuances in their gorgeous textiles. His silk is spectacular to the touch and his ventures into couture show a promising high-end design future for Prakash. His label supports local workers with fair wages in an impoverished and rebel-controlled region of India. They breed their own silkworms and maintain traditional, manual silk production, moving fashion forward while respectfully looking back.
Riplinger and Prakash were among many of their prestigious peers last week. Every Green Showroom brand upholds environmental responsibility in their manufacturing processes and adheres to high social standards, including compliance with International Labour Organisation conventions, payment of living wages, and a deep understanding of suppliers involved throughout their supply chain. With these measures in place there shouldn’t be any tragedies like the horrific building collapse in Bangladesh related to these designer brands. They are committed to acting responsibly and incurring positive social and environmental dividends.
While the continued success of sustainable and ethical fashion will bring fresh design talent like Riplinger to the runway, there remain significant barriers to bringing this niche market to the mainstream. Designers and brands in both middle and high-end markets will need to offer more than a moral high ground and environmental stewardship to compel a shift in consumer preferences, but several designers demonstrated these possibilities at the Green Showroom. They can seize the opportunity to share in an irresistible lifestyle story by expressing not only who we are, but also who we hope to be.
Main image: Phil Dera