Fashion forward: the green designers whose clothes are making a real difference

| 5th July 2011
eco fashion
As Valentina Jovanovski discovered, today’s young designers have more on their mind than just making a quick buck
From eco luxury to the high street, the market for green fashion is expanding rapidly. Considering the high profile controversies - accusations of poor labour conditions and environmentally degrading practices – that have surrounded the industry, that public appetite should now tend towards the ethical isn’t entirely surprising. The real value of the trend for things green has shown itself in the increasing evidence that the industry has been trying to clean up its act and is placing greater emphasis on corporate social responsibility. From the British Fashion Council’s Esthetica to New York’s GreenShows programme, the platform for green design is steadily increasing, as consumers demand genuinely ethical alternatives. Director of Young British Designers, Debra Hepburn, says this evolution is reflective of a broader social change. ‘The world is changing, the world is gaining a new ethical heart,’ she says. ‘The way in which a brand conducts itself, the way in which a brand cares about people and planet really matters now. People are switching off the grossly self indulgent, manically commercialised, massively anonymous money making concerns and are moving towards the genuine, the honest, the ethically led brands that share and are utterly transparent.’
The trade in ethical fashion is itself evolving. The myth that sustainable clothes can’t be fashionable is being quickly eroded and sustainable production methods are progressing. As Hepburn says: ‘Where once using recycled materials was a start, young labels are now sharing ideas and practice in sustainable production. The entire supply chain is being considered with care and intent and throughout it all people are being treated with respect and fairness. It seems to us that ethical is going to become the only way in which any brand can be acceptable and desirable.’ So who are these young designers?
Elena Garcia
Spanish born Elena Garcia studied Surface Textiles for Fashion at the London College of Fashion. She designed her first collection for Fisher-Garcia - a collaboration with friend Ilya Fisher who continues to work with Elena as a specialist dyer. As co-director of EcoLuxe London, Elena is a familiar face on the ethical fashion scene. ‘I’m thrilled about the emergence of new eco fashion brands,’ she comments. ‘We specialise in the promotion of eco luxury brands, so for us, having more choice is an absolute bonus.’ High end less the high environmental price, the company uses eco couriers for deliveries and offsets the travel emissions from its employees. It also uses wool made from organically reared sheep and dyes free of metal, amine, and AZO compounds. Garcia also reinvests profits in the community by having some of her pieces made by small local manufacturers and social enterprise units. Women’s issues are also important to the brand, as it works with HEBA Women’s Project in Brick Lane, London and the Working Chance Community Project, a local charity that attempts to rehabilitate formerly imprisoned women.
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Henrietta Ludgate
Winner of the Ethical Fashion Forum’s ‘Fashion Innovation Award’ during last September’s London Fashion Week, Henrietta Ludgate specialises in minimalist tailoring. Inspired by the landscape of her homeland, her pieces always include a Celtic component. She sources her fabrics locally and upcycles wherever possible. This season, she used recycled baseball caps and horse blankets, and for A/W11, she has used upcycled Scottish yarn to create her first knitwear range. Ludgate says her label helps reduce waste because her pieces are high quality and will last. ‘We try to create pieces that are timeless and that hopefully give spectacular joy over and over again. Our aim is that they get handed down through generations. Our ethos is in a way anti consumer establishment, pieces that integrate beautifully into your wardrobe no matter the season or trend.’
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Sarah Ratty
The brains behind eco label Ciel, Sarah Ratty started her career as a designer in Bristol and set up her first label Conscious Earthwear in the 90s. Since then, she has become one of the most celebrated eco designers, with her pieces gracing the wardrobes of Cate Blanchett, Livia Firth and Peaches Geldof, among others. Ciel made its debut on the high street with a collection at the American emporium, Anthropologie, and a collaboration with Kate Middleton favourite, Whistles. The collection of cosy knits and retro prints is made from sustainable fibres and 100 per cent AZO-free dyes. A veteran of the design world, Ratty is now an advisor to the Soil Association Textile Advisory Committee and an eco design consultant to other fashion companies. Her passion, though, remains creating equally sustainable and beautiful clothing.
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Ada Zanditon
London based Ada Zanditon was one of the standout designers at February’s London Fashion Week. With organic fabrics, AZO-free dyes and waste-reducing production methods, Zanditon proves that it’s possible to make fashionable clothing that’s green to boot. A member of the Esthetica collective, the Zanditon benefited from the British Fashion Council’s eco fashion mentoring programme and in 2011 designed a piece for the Fairtrade Collective, which was sold by online retail giant, ASOS. ‘I incorporate a sustainable strategy in my work as intrinsically as possible,’ she says. ‘It begins with how the everyday processes in the daily life of my design studio have been considered and are managed, to operate as efficiently as we can in all aspects of the design process.’ She adds, ‘In the future, I hope to gain more opportunities to use new technology within my work to optimise the design and production process further to bring customers exciting innovative and desirable fashion that is as eco-friendly and luxurious as possible.’
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Carrie Parry
Although her brand only launched in 2011, designer Carrie Parry is no fashion industry novice. The California native, who studied fashion design at the University of the Arts in London, previously worked at Jonathan Saunders, Zandra Rhodes and Marc by Marc Jacobs.  Carrie’s interest in green fashion was sparked when she moved to New York. She now works with Earth Pledge, an NGO committed to raising awareness of sustainable materials and processes within the fashion industry. ‘I think about the entire lifecycle of the garment from the fabrics, to the manufacturing, to the time a woman wears the clothes and design and source with that in mind,’ she says. ‘I hope to design garments that fit into every aspect of a woman's lifestyle while addressing our environmental and social impact. To me, it’s really about being transparent and understanding that social responsibility is really a process that can continuously be improved and that we all can play an important part in it.’ With ever-growing interest in the brand, Carrie is an up-and-coming talent who’s certain turn some heads. Pieces from Carrie’s A/W11 collection will be available in the UK through online retailer Dia Boutique.
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Minna Hepburn
Despite being launched just three years ago by a designer with no formal fashion training, Minna has garnered widespread recognition for its ability to combine high fashion and a strongly ethical ethos. Known for her whimsical vintage-inspired pieces, designer Minna Hepburn has won plaudits for her unique brand of ultra-wearable, feminine fashion. Minna also introduced a children’s line inspired by her daughter Kristiina, made entirely from leftover and end of roll fabric. The Finnish designer incorporates her environmental ethics into every element of the production of her clothing. ‘We use organic, fairtrade and recycled UK-made fabrics to create our sustainable clothes, which are handmade locally,’ she says. ‘This gives the clothes a longer life so they don't end up being dumped after their “it-season,”’ she explains.
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