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Spring greens

Drapers quizzes the founders of four eco-friendly clothing labels about the environment, the industry and the future of fashion's green landscape

BABOU OLENGHA, FOUNDER OF ETHICAL BRAND BUTCHER COUTURE

- Green companies are often grouped together. What are the effects of this categorisation?

It's good for raising awareness. It's still in the early days - when people stop referring to it as "eco-fashion", I think it will become more popular, then in the long term people will be more and more willing to buy.

- How far is price an obstacle to "green" fashion sales?

Price is key, but it has to be about quality. People still ask why they should spend £90 on eco-friendly jeans when they can buy a pair from Diesel for the same price. But there's a feel-good factor too: you can't put a price on that.

- Is it possible for a fashion brand to be completely green at the moment?

The goal should be to be as organic as possible. You have to have natural dyes, threads and trims: every bit of the garment is a hurdle. I think as more supply becomes available it will become easier to be 100% organic.

- What is the best way to market eco-friendly fashion?

You market it like regular fashion - branding is key. You almost need to trick consumers into buying, and eventually they'll do it without a second thought. If the product is desirable, people will realise it's not alternative and hippie-ish.

- What will be the major developments in green fashion in the next five years?

The industry will use more organic materials, such as wool, silk and leather, in products from suits to dresses. My hope is that bigger brands will give small brands the impetus to continue.

KATHARINE HAMNETT, DESIGNER AND CREATOR OF TESCO'S CHOOSE LOVE RANGE

- Green companies are often grouped together. What are the effects of this categorisation?

We've had issues with eco-fairs in the past - grouping everyone together is a big disadvantage. There's the eco crowd that's really unwearable, then there's companies like ours, which makes beautiful clothing that's also organic.

- How far is price an obstacle to "green" fashion sales?

It shouldn't be an obstacle, but although people want ethical clothing, they want to pay the same as they pay elsewhere. We do T-shirts at Tesco that retail for £12 and jeans for about £18. That's amazing when compared to £200 jeans.

- Is it possible for a fashion brand to be completely green at the moment?

We're completely green, so it is possible. It means examining the entire supply chain. If you look at the Jane Austen period, everything was organic - they had no pesticides. If they could do it then, we can do it now.

- What is the best way to market eco-friendly fashion?

It's just general consumer marketing. You need to make the fashion sexy and gorgeous. Obviously we'll grab onto the concerns about global warming. But no one's going to buy things out of pity - they must be beautiful clothes.

- What will be the major developments in green fashion in the next five years?

I hope the catwalk brands change their processes, particularly the leather tanning. We're telling people to petition their favourite brands to persuade them to become environmentally safe.

SAFIA MINNEY, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF FAIR TRADE BRAND PEOPLE TREE

- Green companies are often grouped together. What are the effects of this categorisation?

We are delighted that the media is supporting fair trade and ethical fashion. It has undoubtedly helped to highlight the issues. But it is crucial that the product stands out on its own. Fashion is a business of aesthetics, after all.

- How far is price an obstacle to "green" fashion sales?

Most eco-brands are still affordable - the problem is more about availability and distribution. Fast fashion is cheaper and more readily available. We make a far smaller margin on our products than conventional brands.

- Is it possible for a fashion brand to be completely green at the moment?

Buying patterns and lead times will have to change to ensure genuine eco-friendliness. After all, you can't air freight organic cotton to the UK and call it eco-friendly. Eco brands need financial support to help train the industry.

- What is the best way to market eco-friendly fashion?

We don't have huge ad budgets, so strategic collaborations are key. Our relationship with Topshop has raised consumer awareness of fair trade and our brand on a scale we could never have achieved on our own.

- What will be the major developments in green fashion in the next five years?

All retailers will be forced to meet certain standards. The Companies Bill will be reworked and is likely to criminalise the abuse of labour and green laws, forcing retailers to use proper supply chains.

THOMAS PETIT, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF ETHICAL LABEL GOSSYPIUM

- Green companies are often grouped together. What are the effects of this categorisation?

I don't think that grouping eco-fashion companies together is going to last. There is nothing negative about acting as a group, especially when you are small, but with the arrival of larger brands we have to find new ideas.

- How far is price an obstacle to "green" fashion sales?

It's a shame, but people have been educated to pay very little for their clothing. All of us have to understand the true costs. How can a T-shirt cost £2 in one shop and £200 in the next with no difference except a label?

- Is it possible for a fashion brand to be completely green at the moment?

It's very hard, but it's not impossible. It's about how much progress you are willing to accept. There are definitely a lot of people grabbing onto the movement and trying to join in while doing the least amount possible.

- What is the best way to market eco-friendly fashion?

You can just put fair-trade labels on the product, but transparency is necessary. Consumers want to know the story behind what they're buying - where it was made, who made it, what type of houses they live in, everything.

- What will be the major developments in green fashion in the next five years?

Fair trade will become the standard. There is no turning back in being ethical or green, just more ways of doing it. Thus there is likely to be a lot of confusion about what ethical really means.

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