When Stars Embrace Green Luxury

Green dreams by well-meaning celebrities or movie stars making a difference?

What is actually certain is that the public image of eco-fashion and ethical clothing has moved from penny-pinching hippies in hessian to the world`s most glamorous. Ethics and luxury, eco and attractiveness are no longer exclusive.

green fashion, celebrities embracing ethical fashion, ethical fashion australia

Vivienne Westwood,                      George Clooney                                 Paloma Faith

It’s also interesting how Hollywood’s leading men are participating in the conversation.

What do DiCaprio, Pitt, Clooney and Timberlake all have in common? They’re committed to eco-friendly ventures designed to reduce the size of our environmental footprint. 

 ‘Fashioning a Greener Future’ by Muriel Reddy in the Melbourne Age Executive Style section. Click here to read this entire (extensive) article on numerous celebrity ethical fashion ventures.

From my perspective, what is more important than their individual endeavours might be their ability to influence mass consumers to purchase quality, slower made items rather than fast, disposable one. What do you think?

Meanwhile enjoy a moment from New York Fashion Week (Fall/Summer 2015) and celebrity backed brand built EDUN (founded by Bono from US and his wife Ali Hewson).

Andean Alpacas vs the Rest of the World

andean alpaca wool

andean alpaca wool

Living in the Andes last year I did some research on Alpacas and discovered many unique characteristics to this ancient creature and its wool. It really belongs in the Andes at high atlitude where it thrives in a herd on dry steep mountainsides with intellectual and physical stimulation, and the right nutrients.

When they are bought by farmers to North America, Europe or Australia, they survive but they aren’t at all organic and their wool is not high quality. To avoid lack of nutrients and exotic disease they are feed pellots and medicines.

Alpaca wool that doesn’t come from the Andes isn’t ethical but simply replacing sheep’s wool for fashion. It’s complete greenwash and it also hurts the brand of high quality Alpaca that countries like Peru worked hard to build. It takes business away from the countries of origin that badly want the buisness.

Here are four reason why it’s better source alpaca from its original source.

Andean Sunlight

High in the Andes the weather is cool but it is also blanketed in rich sunlight each day given its proximity to the equator and a long dry season. In places like Britain or even Tasmania the temperature may be appropriate but the lack of sunlight and Vitamin D compromises the alpaca health.  According to research in the UK in the worst case scenario the animals suffer rickets and many baby alpacas between the ages of 4 to 7 months are lame. Farmers aware of the problem feed the animals pellets rather than grass which contain Vitamin D. All this will effect quality of the wool just like a poor diet and lack of sunlight effects our hair and skin.

Pesticides & Chemicals

In the Andes alpacas are raised at very high levels, mixing only with llamas and require no pesticides or chemicals to thrive. In the UK, USA and Australia they are often farmed with other animals carrying disease or bugs that they have not evolved immunity to. They commonly contract skin diseases which do not exist in the Andes such as ‘chorioptes` that causes itchiness, scaly thickened skin and hair loss. They can be treated- with chemicals and hence the wool no longer organic.

Diet & Lifestyle

While the alpaca can survive on the green grasses of England or warm climate of Florida on fenced in farms they have evolved to roam mountainsides and keep very fit.  They are used to walking long distances as they forage for food which is often dry grass. Alpacas are also intelligent and social, and while they are friendly to people, they suffer emotionally when they don`t have herd life, which may mean shorter life spans and poorer overall health. It might not be obvious to the farmer who has never seen the majesty of the alpaca roaming the Andes, but the alpaca is not in optimum conditions and neither is its wool.

The Breed

Outside of the Andes almost all alpacas on farms are the more easy-going Huacaya alpaca breed. But the finest wool comes from the Suri which is temperamental and almost impossible to farm outside its native Andes.

alpaca wool ethical fashion

wool sorter Arequipa, Peru

While after processing you will probably never notice the difference in the woven wools unless you’re an expert, my main hesitation with alpaca from Australia, the USA and Europe is that it is a fad that will damage the timeless textile as produced in the Andes. In Australia it’s almost a joke textile worn by hippies but in ancient Inca times it was the textile of the gods worn by royality and woven by the elitist of weavers.

It’s also taking an industry away from the farmers of Peru and Bolivia. Instead of farming their animals in other countries, I believe we should be buying their higher quality wool and helping them work their way out of poverty through a tradition that belongs to them.

Fast Fashion Explained in 90 Seconds

Here is a great video that succinctly explains what exactly fast fashion is, how and why it has occurred and what we can do about it. The video was produced by MBA Minute so doesn’t have any ethical fashion sympathies but states an outline of the facts.

The stand out quote ironically comes from the CEO of British fast fashion chain TopShop, Sir Philip Green ‘Designers and consumers should pause for a breath now and then so that fashion can become more timeless again.’

Fast fashion hurts style and creativity as well as the environment.


So if every trip to the mall feels like deja-vu, it’s not just you, it’s fast fashion coming around again. Buy better, buy too last and buy only what you love.

Fashion & Water

Here is another informative article from the UK Guardian following up on the one last months on plastic from fabrics in the ocean.

Fashion and water are just not connected in the waste which we allow to flow into the sea, but by rivers diverted  and landscapes dried up for cotton or for the manufacturing of synthetics (and some natural fibre like wool).

Don’t be wasteful in what you wear, don’t buy to throw away and understand the balance of nature hang in a thread.

How can we stop water from becoming a fashion victim?

As water scarcity becomes ever more prevalent, the industry must re-evaluate how it impacts on our most precious resource

Fashion & Water

In direct terms, apparel production does not only heavily depend on water availability. However, the industry’s usage patterns directly impact the global water profile through the use of pesticides for growing fibre crops, the discharge of waste water from dyeing and – importantly – laundry habits at home.

A mere 2.5% of Earth’s water is freshwater and only 0.3% of it is readily accessible to humans. This is equivalent to 0.01% of all water on Earth. Of this fraction, 8% goes towards domestic use, 22% is used by industry, and 70% for irrigation. If the research is correct, humanity’s water footprint will reach a level 40% above reliable, accessible water supplies by 2030.

Click here to through to the rest of the article.

An Ethical Fashion Thought

I’d rather scrimp and save for something that I really loved, that was handmade with skill and that I will wear again and again… rather than buy something cheap that everyone else is wearing this week that I wear once or twice and throw away, forgotten.

Or perhaps the great lady of style puts it better.

ethical fashion quote coco chanel

ethical fashion quote coco chanel

Clothing fibre is one of the biggest problems polluting our oceans.

Here is a fascinating article from the Guardian newspaper confirming that textiles and fashion are not minors player in the environment.

 Inside the lonely fight against the biggest environmental problem you’ve never heard of

In 2011, an ecologist released an alarming study showing that tiny clothing fibers could be the biggest source of plastic in our oceans. The bigger problem? No one wanted to hear it.

ethical fashion

Ecologist Mark Browne takes samples from the shoreline. His pioneering work on microfiber waste has received little support from clothing brands. Photo: Mark Browne

Ecologist Mark Browne knew he’d found something big when, after months of tediously examining sediment along shorelines around the world, he noticed something no one had predicted: fibers. Everywhere. They were tiny and synthetic and he was finding them in the greatest concentration near sewage outflows. In other words, they were coming from us.

In fact, 85% of the human-made material found on the shoreline were microfibers, and matched the types of material, such as nylon and acrylic, used in clothing.

For the rest of the article click here.

fashion is not frivolous

Fashion is not frivolous and there are some good arguments for designer fashion or any well thought out outfits on any budget.

Fashion can be politics, power and protest, or it can be art and expression. Georgina Spencer the 19th century Dutches of York is reputed to have told her husband, “You have your speeches, all I have are my clothes.”


She was the ancestor and precursor to Princess Diana, who used clothes throughout her marriage to cover her submissive thin frame and after her marriage to display her athleticism and power to the world. We have no quote from Diana, but we remember her work and her clothes.

Fashion affects the economy, the environment and the lives of millions of workers. Typically a single item of clothes from crop to closet circumnavigates the Earth top reach us. India was colonised for textiles like cotton and silk, slaves were sent to America to pick cotton and the industrial revolution and its unemployed and raging weavers prompted the colonisation of Australia. Australia then grew off the sheeps back through its wool industry.

Fashion does not creates tribes, teams, cliques and enemies but uniforms, the antithesis of fashion, defines them.

Fashion tells the world of our beliefs, how we see ourselves and how we want the world to see us. The burka reveals as much about the person with as the bikini.

There is effort and energy in every thread and stitch. Each design and choice has a history.

The Ancient Cottons of Peru

I’ve done tons of research on cotton and learning how this thirsty plant drains rivers, creates deserts, is fed dangerous toxic fertilizers to grow in damaged or unsuitable soils and then is often hand-sprayed by women and children with dangerous pesticides. The cotton industry has been a magnet for exploitation for hundreds of years from the days when African slaves were taken to America, right up until today where kids are taken out of schools and forced to work in cotton fields.

However, travelling through Peru I was surprised to see small picturesque mixed food and cotton farms along the River Nazca, growing cotton in the same way they have for 1000 years.

The Nazca culture is best known for the giant and mysterious etchings drawn in the desert that are visible from the air. But they were also master engineers and farmers, creating aqueducts to irrigate their plots from underground water sources when the river dried up.   Cotton drove development and the economies of pre-Colombian and pre-Inka Peru, as the desert Nazcas made their cotton into clothes and nets which were traded with fishing villages (the Norte Chico or Moche peoples) along the coast in return for fish.

The native Peruvian cotton has four natural colours (white, yellow, brown and black) which the Nazcas wove into intricate tapestry and clothing. Pieces of these original cloth are still being found in tombs where they buried their mummified died (well dressed and ready for the next life).

Although there are bigger specialized cotton farms in Peru and the gin process is mechanized in large plants, for the most part the Peruvian cotton industry is relatively slow and idyllic.

organic cotton, Peruvian cotton, ethical cotton

Alternative Apparel uses Peruvian cotton

Some cotton from Peru is organic and some is not, but even the non-organic cotton measures well  from an ethical point of view.

I hope that cotton continues in Peru and a limited number of other areas, and that it is wiped off the earth from places where it is killing people and the planet for a cheap t-shirt.

Should you stop washing your jeans, really?

Many news agencies have picked up on the denim story of the decade- Levi Strauss`s CEO says ‘never machine wash your jeans’ and he practices what he preaches. I picked the CNN version of the story below and linked it-  for those who haven`t heard the revelation,  click on the picture.

CNN story Don't machine wash your denim, says Levi's CEO

CNN story Don’t machine wash your denim, says Levi’s CEO

However, this no wash or less wash jean theory is not new.  Tommy Hilfiger declared last year that he never, ever washed his jeans.

So, how serious and sensible are the millionaire ‘jeanistas’ and is it practical for the average Joe?

Chip Bergh, Levi`s CEO says he spot washes with a sponge or a toothbrush and hand washes after long periods (not sure if he does it himself).  But if he was completely true to Levi`s workman history he would be out wrangling cows in the dust and building up an all over sweat. Even for those of us who wear our jeans out dancing, this is not going to be enough.

If you are wrangling cattle or wearing your jeans in an unhygienic environment, you`d better wash them and live with the fact that they will fade and thin, and look vintage sooner. To reduce damage to the environment and the denim hand wash them in cold water inside-out with a natural wool wash such eucalyptus or lavender and hang them in shape to dry preferably out of direct sunlight.

For a white collar worker we can probably follow Bergh or even Hilfiger`s lead going many, many months without a machine wash or even hand wash.

As Chip Bergh points out to CNN and in other articles it is environmentally friendly too, using less detergent, electricity and with less dye running into waterways.

If you aren`t washing for months and they are visually clean but getting loose as cotton/denim does, or if you just want that straight-from-the-shop crispness the trick is to put them in a plastic bag in the freezer overnight (don`t expect to wear them the next morning).

It`s also important to note all of this advice is for 100% cotton denim. If you have a blend of cotton and synthetic stretch they will wash better and last longer after washing. The advantage of synthetic is also the disadvantage-  they last longer but put more chemical into the environment during the manufacturing and wearing life, and don`t biodegrade like 100% cotton denim so keep putting out chemicals in landfills.

H&M Awarded the World`s Most Ethical Company as Organic Pig Flies Over the Moon

“When I read headline,  I thought it must have been a repost from The Onion: “H&M Named World’s Most Ethical Company”. I sat at my computer for a few minutes in a hazy fog of confusion and disbelief while a running list of H&M’s fashion malpractices ran through my mind, ” writes Green Peace`s Shannon Whitehead. Click here to read Shannon’s article on medium.com which got my attention.

the world`s most ethical company, ethical fashion, conscientious fashion

Is H&M really the world`s most ethical company? Yeah, right.

I have personally blogged on  H&Ms sweatshop ‘mishap’ such as the mass faintings in Cambodia which have never been explained to this day. I’ve also questioned their organic credentials which turned out to be technically okay, for at least the parts they promised to be organic.

The problem with green wash is that you can call it organic if just one step in the process is organic, anything can be called ethical if someone else is doing worse and in any case the companies outsource the unethical bits and wipe their hands of responsiblity such as in the Bangledash factory collapse where several Western country called them ‘suppliers’ doing ‘samples’.

Cambodian Workers Camp Out, Hunger Strike Against Walmart and H&M

Bangledesh and Cambodia continue to have the lowest paid textile workers in the world and H&M continue making there for that reason.

Who is Ethisphere who awarded H&M ‘the world`s most ethical company’ ?

I had never heard of them until recently, this is probably because I tend not to look at multi-nationals, but rather focus positively on the middle and small brands who put ethics and profits in more of a balance.

According to the Ethisphere website, ‘The Business Ethics Leadership Alliance (BELA) is a membership organization of leading companies created to foster the sharing of best practices in governance, risk management, compliance and ethics allowing members to leverage the collective experience and expertise of their peers.’ Membership costs just under $10,000 (which might go in handy towards paying workers above living wages).

In Ethisphere’s defense, they do seem to concentrate on anti-corruption and corporate responsibility (ie. donations to charities) and that is their definition of ethical. Their membership includes a large chunk of mining and oil companies, and they encourage transparency and safety.  They are CEOs from another world, who talking about business sustainability and not environmental sustainablity.  A world without expanding profit is inconceivable to them.

The Ethisphere 2015 Honour List

The 2014 Honoree list of ethical companies include the Gap and Levi Strauss, as well as H&M. As you would expect there are  no organic company, nor companies that pride themselves on balancing profit and ethical treatment of workers. These awards are about transparency and lack of corruption from an sustainable business perspective. The companies nominated produce off-shore by ever changing suppliers which means they disassociate themselves with any ‘mishaps’.

Why H&M? Zara vs H&M

Zara vs H&M

Zara`s 2014 Lookbook

Even if they were to reword it to ‘the most ethical multinational‘ or ‘the most ethical fast fashion chain‘, I don`t see how H&M could beat Zara, who still make in their home country Spain and whose quality and the life of the garments is so much better then disposable H&M gear. (Of course  Zara couldn`t compete with several medium to large size brands like Tree People or the numerous niche brands producing organic and local made clothes in their home countries).

So, I`m confused but after research less so than Shannon Whitehead. Cleary these awards have no relevance to people interested in ethical fashion because they are about multinational issues and perhaps green wash marketing.


PS. In March H&M also had to pull a graphically anti-semitic  singlet from their lines after complaints. For more click here.

Justine R Kelly

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justine kelly@RogerWhitehorse

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