Star names try to beat slump in eco-clothing

Can Chrissie Hynde buck the downward trend?

A A A

The dream of eco-friendly, fashion is not wearing well. While high-profile new eco-clothing lines from the designer Katharine Hamnett and Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde may give the appearance that it is boom time for environmentally friendly fashion, stagnant sales figures are leading analysts to question whether there really is a market for sustainable style.

Hamnett will launch her long-awaited organic jeans line – seven years in development – at Paris fashion week in October, while Hynde is collaborating with her Welsh producer-boyfriend J P Jones to create a rock-inspired eco-fashion line of handbags, skinny jeans and cowboy boots.

The ventures are brave. Earlier this month, Edun – the organic, fair-trade label launched by Ali Hewson, the wife of U2 frontman Bono – posted yearly losses of a whopping £5.8m. While global sales of organic cotton are rising, a recent report from the Soil Association estimated that sales of organic textiles in the UK flatlined in 2009, remaining at 2008 levels of £100m – a tiny fraction of the country's £30bn clothing and textile industry. Experts have cited the recession, a lack of fashion-led eco-designs and even growing consumer indifference as possible reasons for this lack of growth.

"Many companies slowed their programmes in 2008 and 2009 because of the economic climate and the lack of finance," said Simon Ferrigno, an organic cotton consultant. Cotton makes up about 90 per cent of the UK's organic textile market. "There remain problems with consumer awareness and education. Celebrities in this sense are a big help in bringing consumers on board."

The power of celebrity endorsement was demonstrated with the much-trumpeted launch of Emma Watson's new collection for the Fair Trade, environmentally friendly brand People Tree. While the firm claims the Harry Potter actress has given sales a lift, it was unable to back this up with figures.

Industry watchers believe that environmentally friendly fashion needs to be more design-led if it is to compete. "As much as I admire eco-shops, it has got to be in mainstream fashion shops," said Hamnett. Her 30-piece denim collection is going to be sold in major upmarket retailers, and will cost between £100 and £150.

"The eco look for me is the kiss of death; it has got to be just the same as other clothes," she continued. "A lot of people who weren't from a fashion background went into organic clothing, and fashion is a highly competitive industry. The fact that it is ethical or environmentally friendly isn't enough."

Other brands have shrugged off disappointing sales growth, saying they are motivated not by demand from their customers but by a belief in the long-term advantages of environmentally friendly practices.

"This is not just consumer focused; it is also producer-led," said Mark Sumner, sustainable raw materials specialist for Marks & Spencer. "We think in the short term that many of our customers don't know where fabrics come from, but that our customers are going to become more interested in the eco-message."

The company aims to get 25 per cent of its materials from sustainable sources – which include both Fair Trade and organics – by 2015.

The autumn will see environmentally friendly fashion thrust further into the spotlight with London fashion week event Estethica. The event, which promotes cutting-edge sustainable designers and is funded by the British Fashion Council, has expanded over its nine seasons from showcasing 13 designers to 37.

While sales of organic clothing in the UK may have slowed, the latest Organic Exchange market report highlighted that the worldwide market for organic cotton grew 35 per cent from 2008 to 2009, from $3.2bn to $4.3bn.

However, reports by Ecotextile magazine found that over-optimistic growth forecasts have resulted in an oversupply of organic cotton, pushing the price down by 15 per cent, which has had a negative effect on farmers. It also points to the need for environmental costs to be included in market prices, arguing for a guideline base price for organic materials.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Support Engineer

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Support Engi...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence