Eco fashion designer

Eco fashion designer

By Zing Tsjeng 21/09/10

Orsola de Castro has been called the most influential woman in British eco fashion. As co-founder of Estethica, she promotes up-and-coming ethical designers, and also heads her own label, From Somewhere (pictured above). We caught up with her during London Fashion Week…

Every Fashion Week is exciting, but this time has been eventful: I’m one of the founders and curators of Estethica, the first ethical fashion showcase of its kind, and it gets bigger every season! We’ve had the first LFW sustainable fashion show, which has been an amazing opportunity: 95 per cent of the show was Estethica designers.

Estethica began with my brand, From Somewhere, which started in 1997 and exhibited at LFW. In 2006, Anna Orsini from the British Fashion Council approached me with the idea of having a high-end eco area within LFW. We created Estethica – ethics and aesthetics – to challenge the set of rules at the time, which was that eco-fashion just wasn’t good enough.

There are three ethical principles eco designers adhere to: fairtrade or ethical trading, organic or sustainable materials, and upcycling or recycling. There isn’t an ethical “look” any longer. There was the famous hemp sack – which I’m sure will be revived very soon – but values are a strong enough bond. Ethical designers don’t need to share aesthetics.

In my case, From Somewhere recycles what’s left over from other designers. We work with the finest cashmere, the most amazing silks. For me, it’s about finding something on a cutting room floor that has more significance in its detail than as part of a whole. To be able to salvage that detail and make it prominent as the unique piece of a new outfit... To me, that’s poetry: saving something and taking it into the future.

I got into the industry by accident. I wasn’t fashion-trained, I’m a fine artist and a child of the ’80s – we used to butcher our own clothes back then, and I was just particularly apt with a sewing machine! My textiles sold at a boutique in the UK. When they saw what I was doing with crochet and knitwear, they said, “My God, we want to sell those!” Within three weeks From Somewhere was on a waiting list and went international.

As a designer, you should follow your own moral code. You shouldn’t be pressurised into going ethical if you don’t want to. A young designer already is ethical: you produce locally and you buy whatever scraps of fabric you can afford. Every single fashion college right now provides some kind of sustainable training. Estethica takes about 15 interns every year. There are plenty of organisations online that can give you ideas about ethical fashion.

I actually think it’s easier to succeed as an ethical designer, though. There’s less competition and there’ll be lots more demand. You just need to look at food and beauty: the demand for organic food over the last 20 years will be duplicated in fashion. The power of fashion is that the young generation will instantly recognise a recycled label, and that will speak to their principles. You can eat organic broccoli, but who knows? You wear a distinctly ethical label, such as Christopher Raeburn, and that speaks to everyone.

The fashion industry will take a long time to adapt, but it knows it needs to change. The overspending and overproduction of the last 25 years doesn’t ring right with the younger generation. I’m passionate about changing the industry from within. It’s a movement, and I’ve been privileged enough to be the face and voice of it. So while I’ve got a voice, I’ll make sure that I’ll shout very loudly!

Orsola was talking to Zing Tsjeng.

Image courtesy of From Somewhere on Flickr.

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