Interview with Elizabeth Laskar, founder and director of the Ethical Fashion forum
Who are you and what do you do?
I am Elizabeth Laskar, founder and Director of the Ethical Fashion Forum and one of the few Ethical Fashion Image & Life style consultants in the UK
Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) provides support, training, access to information and tools for designers and business in the fashion industry, to allow them to bring social and environmental responsibility into their day to day practices. In doing so, EFF aims to reduce poverty, create sustainable livelihoods for garment workers and reduce the impact of the industry on the environment.
Pamela Daniels (founder and Director), Tamsin Lejeune (founder and Director), Allanna McAspurn (founder and Director), Alex McIntosh (project manager), Joanna Maiden (project manager) and Josie Nicholson (founder and project manager) are the back bone to the running and success of EFF.
What do you think are the most important issue when considering ethical fashion?
There are many important issues involved in ethical fashion. In the industry we tend to put them under two main headings to simplify the topics.
When we talk about ethical fashion we are taking into consideration fashion which is socially and environmentally conscious. Social issues may include topics of gender, transparency, fair pay, trade unions and good governance. Environmental issues may include carbon miles, pesticides used in farming, natural and synthetic dying methods, how we dispose of clothing and its effect on the environment, water usage during production and post production of a garment (for example the questions we tend to ask in the sector is ‘is water being managed well during the irrigation of crops?’ another is ‘do we as consumers need to wash our clothes as much as we do?’). The issues are vast and there is lots of work yet to be done.
The most important issue in ethical fashion concerning the modern day consumer is how to manage change in our consumption of fashion. Can we look good, be stylish and be environmentally and socially conscious?
Why is ethical fashion important?
Fashion plays a huge roll in the world arena. In 2000 the world's consumers spent aroundonetrillion US dollars (US$1, 000, 000, 000, 000) worldwide buying clothes – it has some power on the political, environmental and social front. Also, in 2000, over 26.5 million people (globally) were working in the industry and its growing.
Ethical fashion is important because if we start to better manage production, manufacturing, management of workers and consumer behaviour with respect for people, planet and profit, the sector can provide social, environmental and economic change for the better.
With environmental change on the political agenda and poverty issues at our door steps ethical fashion is just one of the many ways in which we, as consumers, can do our bit to help the world become a safer and healthier place to live in.
Remember ethical fashion is not about charity. It’s all about taking into consideration the triple bottom line – People, Profit and Planet.
Do you think it is ever OK to buy clothes from high street stores?
In fashion, ‘design’ is paramount and we tend to buy things because we feel and look good in it. Boycotting your high street is not always the answer – in some circumstances it has been the only way forward for example the Environmental Justice Foundation campaigned against the boycott of Uzbekistani cotton because of the horrific regime for their people in growing and manufacturing cotton – very recently this campaign was successful.
The idea is to find a way to manage a lifestyle change without loosing what you enjoy about design. If you enjoy shopping on the high street and they are not already stocking ethical fashion we suggest writing to the CEO and asking what they are doing about their current sourcing policy and when they are going to stock ethical fashion.
A few high street shops are already making changes – Top Shop's main store in London have around six ethical fashion labels and a vintage section. H&M and M&S are carrying a few organic lines and many more are starting to introduce lines. It is time for consumers to start asking questions.
Another idea would be for every two items of clothing that you buy that aren’t ethical how about buying one that is. How about browsing through your local vintage and charity shops on a regular basis - you can find some great buys.
Overall it’s ok to buy from the high street if you can’t source ethical clothing easily – as the caring consumer it’s up to us to start to ask questions and get them to start making a change.
Who do you admire in the world of ethical fashion?
The world of ethical fashion has some of the most cutting edge and inspirational topics that are being worked on by passionate individuals. If you meet someone in ethical fashion you will certainly cross paths with passion and determination.
What I admire most about the world of ethical fashion is that it is moving towards making the world a better and safer place through inspiring others through fashion.
Because the industry is so vast and inspirational it is a challenge to pick out one person I admire within the sector. I admire Safia Minney, the founder of the Fair Trade Fashion Company – People Tree, for her dedication to building a successful label and business strategy – she spent years in the industry before she became profitable. I admire Junky Styling for pioneering high-end re-design into the main stream – if there is anyone that is dedicated to recycling and making it wearable and individual it’s Junky. I admire IFAT and the soil association for helping implement and promote fair trade businesses throughout the world. Lastly if London Fashion Week and the British Council have played a big part in the ethical fashion sector and I admire them for sticking their neck out as the first fashion week to devote a section to ethical fashion – it’s given the industry big boost in the world’s media.
There seem so many issues around ethical fashion, what can I do to make a difference?
With the industry being so vast and complicated I categorisesix key areas of ethical fashion and engaging in one of them is a good start. It’s worth keeping them in mind when you are out shopping:
- Organic – is mainly about the environment and the conditions the textile crop is grown
- Fair trade – is mainly about social issues and this include child labour policies, fair wage, gender issues, transparency
- Recycling – the main aim is to reduce the amount of clothes that get put into landfill and promote sharing or swapping clothes to get a new refreshed look.
- Re-design – to create a new look re-design is all about turning an old garment into a new inspirational outfit. For example – taking an old shirt and re-designing it into a skirt.
- Vintage – celebrating past design and wearing it with confidence and style.
- Technologies – this area is when science meets fashion. Science is investing in producing materials that are kinder to the environment.
Getting into ethical fashion and making that lifestyle change can be done in same manageable steps. For starters, how about doing a wardrobe detox and then having a cocktail or tea party to swap clothes with your friends? It’s a fun way to make a difference.
Where can I go to find out more?
Goggle ethical fashion and you will come up with over 2,000 links about ethical fashion. If you are interested in doing a course in fashion which involves ethical fashion the London College of Fashion will give you some good guidance. If you are a designer wanting to learn how to become ethical the links below will provide you information on workshops you can attend.