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Eco-friendly footwear slowly makes ground

According to last year’s WWF UK report Deeper Luxury: quality and style when the world matters, consumers’ increasing concerns with environmental and social problems are the greatest cultural shift of the 21st century.

What was a fringe trend is now seen as key by the fashion industry. This is reflected in the number of British Footwear Association members who are leading the way in ecological and ethical footwear.

When I asked eco-footwear brand Bourgeois Boheme why it had invested in this sector, founder Alicia Lai told me that sales of ethical fashion have grown by 71% year on year from 2007-08 to £89 million.

There is undoubtedly a feeling that the fashion industry is being held more accountable for its actions. Forward-thinking brands such as Po-Zu and Beyond Skin are anticipating this new demographic and have already taken action. And it is not just brands that are affected - suppliers are key too.

Tim Cotton, managing director of consultancy Ethical Sourcing Solutions, has observed the conflict between retailers’ requirements - low prices and seasonal deliveries - and improving factories’ ethical standards. He told me there was no such thing as a “good” factory despite the audits, and that all factories require the continued support of brands and retailers.

Terra Plana has created an eco-matrix, which measures the environmental impact of every product component. According to managing director Galahad Clark, sustainable design is good design, and is any product that people wear for a long time and can be responsibly disposed of.

Many consumers are not yet willing to sacrifice style and price for eco-friendliness - but for how long?

  • Richard Kottler is chief executive of the British Footwear Associaton

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