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Future of Fashion or Dying Fad? Emma Bigg delves deep into the world of ethical fashion to get the lowdown from one very special designer
It was like another world: a grotto full of fairy lights, candles and gorgeous models with never-ending limbs floating around the basement of Candid Arts Galleries in London.
A far cry from the busy and bustling streets above us, it was an Eden of calm as photographers and fashionistas weaved their way through the tables and chairs to congratulate a select group of fashion designers on a job well done. These are no ordinary fashion designers however. They are members of the Conscious Designers Collective, a support network for ethical designers and an organisation committed to pushing the cause of ethical fashion into the public eye. Following a whirlwind of a night, I eventually manage to catch Lucy Tammam, one of the founders of the Collective. A 30-something (like a true lady she will not disclose her exact age), petite woman with her dark, curly hair roughly tied
up on the top of her head, she has just organised two successful underground catwalks consisting of no less than 10 models and five designers. All with a three-monthold baby in tow. Still bounding about the place with an intense energy, I can’t help but become exhausted myself just watching. Originally from Poole, Dorset, she is undoubtedly the firecracker of the Collective, her passion is clear for everyone to see.
We find a quiet spot to sit down and, asked how the catwalks went, Lucy replies with a beam, “what a fantastic show! Now in its 3rd year the CDC has definitely proved ethical fashion is as sexy, classy and wonderful as can be.” Lucy is somewhat of a veteran at these events. Classically trained in tailoring at the prestigious Central St Martins College of Art and Design and graduating in 2005, her ethical label House of Tammam is sold all over the world, from the UK Australia. First and foremost a wedding dress designer, Tammam
has recently moved on to creating her own ready to wear collection. A few years ago just the mention of ethical fashion could make even the most caring fashionista shudder. But following the huge successes of the Collective and most recently the announcement that fashion icon Emma Watson will release a clothing collection with ethical retailer People Tree; it seems that ethical fashion is here for the long run. Acting as a ‘Creative Advisor’ for the line aimed at 16-24 year olds, Watson is the latest in a lengthening line of celebrity collaborations putting the message out there to young people that ethical fashion can be fabulous.
However, despite the attention that celebrity collaboration brings, as a whole it has the capacity to attract negative attention and even some resentment from trained designers as Tammam explains. “I personally really hate celebrities ‘designing’ fashion collections because there’s more to it than just drawing a picture or saying you like a certain design. But,” she concedes, “If it means getting the younger generation knowing about ethical fashion then that’s a great thing.” It is this understanding that compromises have to be made that seems to set ethical designers apart from the rest of the industry. It has
I personally really hate celebrities ‘designing’ fashion collections - there’s more to it than drawing a picture
We have definitely proved ethical fashion is as sexy, classy and wonderful as can be
been a tough few years for them; especially as the fast fashion world of Primark launched at the same time as the serious eco-couture labels. In the current economic downturn, only 49% of 15-24 year olds think it is important that a company acts ethically. The ethical fashion world believes that the key to making ethical fashion the next big thing is a national, if not global, platform, “I think putting ethical designers in the same place as other designers would help,” Lucy refers to the segregation of ethical and mainstream designers at London Fashion Week with an air of frustration, “I like being part of Estethica but it’s a big mishmash. This season I was next to Ethical Justice Foundation who does t-shirts and Globe Hope who do really hippie things. And there’s me, a couture designer in the middle!” Estethica is the British Fashion Council’s ecosustainable initiative held alongside the main London Fashion Week. Her visible annoyance continues when she begins to discuss how ethical fashion cannot move forward or become successful because some designers still follow the natural and organic aesthetic that was so prevalent in eco-style in the early 1990s. “There are still a lot of designers who mar it unfortunately, who are still very much with this
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hippie image. The big labels like People Tree have some great designs but they do have this very hippie side to them and that is what people know as ethical fashion.” While ethical fashion is struggling to brush off its frumpy reputation, Tammam emphasises the importance of independent ethical designers working together to promote their work, “with CDC we can join together to put the message out there, we can get a lot more people in one place and make it a bigger thing.” Ever rebellious, Tammam and the Collective ruffled a few feathers at London Fashion Week in February
where they staged a Roving Renegade Catwalk show on the streets outside the main event. “With Estethica there’s no big show with it, there’s no catwalk. I wanted to do a catwalk show during fashion week, I wanted to do something different so I literally took it to the streets.” A huge group of models showcased ethical collections to the general public, travelling in electric cars, “it was part of fashion week without the cost and the waste of doing a show,” explains Tammam.
her popularity, and how much ethical fashion is able to influence the fast fashion mindset of society today. “I definitely get more commissions now for ethical wedding dresses. A few years ago people didn’t care if it was ethical or not but now I get more people enquiring about ethical dresses,” she nods.
It is the public, not the press that these ethical designers are targeting. Tammam is increasingly conscious of how a mass awareness and following can make the biggest difference in
What does the future hold for this new, chic, ethical fashion? Will it flop like its predecessor or will the determination of Lucy Tammam and the rest of the Conscious Designers Collective keep pushing its message forward? “I think I will become the mainstream, it’s going to happen definitely,” smiles a satisfied but tired Tammam.