Ethical fashion hits big time with German takeover

Green fair-trade fashion looks set to slip out of the closet as one of the world's top trade fair organisers, Germany's Messe Frankfurt, takes over the Paris-based "Ethical Fashion Show."

The absorption of the six-year-old event, one of the highlights of busy Paris Fashion Week, was announced Friday by Messe Frankfurt, the world's third biggest trade fair firm with annual turnover of almost half a billion euros (671 million dollars).

"This demonstrates our commitment to a highly current issue - sustainable development," said Detlef Braun, a director of the firm running almost 100 fairs yearly worldwide, a third of them involving textiles and the textile industry - including some of the biggest in Asia.

"This is also our first venture into fashion," said Braun.

While the market for ethical fashion is far more dynamic in Britain, where there is a fiercer emphasis on dressing different, Paris's Ethical Fashion Show is currently the world's largest event spotlighting eco and fair-trade fashion.

Held once a year, the burgeoning show has grown from 20 designers at its inaugural 2004 edition to 90 last year, from all of the world's continents.

Every one of the designs displayed at the four-day event is made with either environmental or social concerns at heart, the makers committing to a charter to respect working conditions, protect the environment, and preserve traditional skills.

At its origins, said founder Isabelle Quehe, was her encounter with Bangladesh designer Bibi Russel and Senegalese fashion supremo Oumou Sy.

"They made me share their vision that fashion could spur development in poor countries, that there was an elegance spawned by local crafts that must be protected for future generations," she said Friday.

In the world's fashion capital, the growing success of the Ethical show has acted as a catalyst, spurring a bevy of mainstream trade fairs to host eco and fair-trade corners of their own.

Likewise, Messe Frankfurt's own twice-yearly textile shows in Paris now feature eco-labelling - giving the tens of thousands of buyers who pour into the city an instant look at who is offering organic cottons, or fabrics certified under fairtrade practices.

"Sustainable development is a mega social trend," said the company's French director Michael Scherpe. "There is an increasing demand for fashion that respects the environment and fair working practices."

This year's event will take place September 25 to 28 at Paris' new Fashion and Design City at the Docks en Seine.

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