German Fashion Topics

No More Woolly Sock Image: Eco-fashion And Design Are No Longer A Contradiction

Vilde Svaner collection; Copyright: Vilde Svaner

Magdalena Schaffrin mens‘ collection; Copyright: Magdalena Schaffrin

Organic cotton instead of contaminants: so-called eco-fashion is becoming increasingly popular and increasingly fashionable. New labels in particular combine cool design with the philosophy of sustainability.

Magdalena Schaffrin chose the Adlon, Berlin’s best-known luxury hotel, as the location for her Green Showroom exhibition. That’s not a coincidence, it’s a statement. The thing is, the labels that the young fashion designer is showing at this exhibition all belong in a category that she calls “eco luxury”. “The showroom represents a new concept in luxury”, she explains. “It’s not about spending a lot of money, it’s about spending it on outstandingly good quality.”
Design and ecological requirements
She has been running the Green Showroom since Spring 2009, together with Swiss designer Jana Keller. With her label Royal Blush, Keller produces exquisite handbags made from leather that is tanned using purely plant-based ingredients without chemicals, Schaffrin makes garments from high-quality eco-fabrics that look classic but are extravagant in detail with her eponymous label. And because they both realised four years ago that there was no suitable platform for small, high-quality eco-labels such as theirs, they brought the Green Showroom into being themselves.

“Before, there were exhibitions for natural textiles, but they were nothing to do with fashion”, says Schaffrin, who studied fashion design in Halle and Berlin. “And at the big international exhibitions the customers didn’t have time to find out about the subject of sustainability.” But Schaffrin has requirements that are both design-related and ecological. When she started researching for the Green Showroom, there were only a few brands in Germany that combined both of these. “However in the past eighteen months an amazing number of labels have joined the ranks. At the moment there are barely any new designers who are not concerned with the theme of sustainability”, she says.
Fashion market of the future
Frans Prins had similar experiences. The Dutchman, who lives in Berlin, organised the first fashion show for eco-fashion in Germany. That was in October 2008, and the “Fair Fashion Affair” was just about able to present ten labels, which included clothing made from recycled aeroplane blankets by Ketchup&Majo and T-Shirts by armedangels, a Cologne-based label which now runs an online store selling green fashion from international labels alongside its own shirts.

Green Showroom; Copyright: Magdalena Schaffrin

Magdalena Schaffrin womens‘ collection; Photo: Mischa Heintze für *magdalena schaffrin.

„Butt on“ collection by Ketchup&Majo; Copyright: Ketchup&Majo

“Back then the movement was just starting”, says Prins. “Now there are 200 labels in Germany alone, maybe even more, because an incredible amount has happened over the past year in particular.”, an exhibition organised by Prins and two comrades-in-arms, also contributed towards this. It started in July 2009 and since then it has been held concurrently with the Berlin Fashion Week, just like the Green Showroom. Around 50 international brands took part in the last event in July 2010, showed the whole spectrum of green fashion: from baby shoes to streetwear and classic ladies’ outerwear, for instance by Kaethe Maerz, right through to high-tech companies such as Pyua. The Kiel-based designers make outdoor clothing for snowboarders and skiers based on recycled polyester and received the “Eco Responsibility Award” at the ISPO sports fashion exhibition in Munich for their work.
The style must be convincing
“We set up because we believe that eco-fashion is the fashion market of the future. And we want to accelerate this development”, explains Prins. Over 3 000 visitors came to the exhibition at the start of July, including buyers from India, the USA and Japan. One of the young designers they discovered was Isabell de Hillerin, who creates beguilingly beautiful items of clothing using the finest textiles and traditional Rumanian fabrics. Her collection will soon be available in the fashion department store “Open Ceremony” in Tokyo. The thing is, the “new” eco-fashion, which doesn’t just focus on “organic” but also on its own signature style, has for a long time not only been sold in eco-fashion shops but also in concept stores and boutiques that claim to be avant-garde. Even buyers from the big department stores come and look. “It’s only the style that convinces people, even with eco-fashion”, says Magdalena Schaffrin. “If a garment doesn’t look good, then it doesn’t sell.”

That’s why it is primarily the fashion designers who are in a position of responsibility if green fashion is to continue to win through. Although according to expert estimates Germany has about 18 per cent LOHAS – the abbreviation stands for “Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability” – and these people could be the target group for eco-fashion as well, they only spend a tiny fraction of their money on eco-fashion, though the sales figures are rising sharply in this sector.
Isabell de Hillerin collection; Copyright: Isabell de Hillerin

Kaethe Maerz autumn/winter 2010/2011; Copyright: Kaethe Maerz

Nevertheless: LOHAS are more likely to want organic vegetables than clothing that is certified free of harmful substances. That’s likely to be because the image of sack dresses and woolly socks is still unfairly associated with eco-fashion.
Committed to sustainability
Yet the new fashion designers seem to be increasingly committed to sustainability. “What’s happening is incredible”, says Bernd Hausmann. He established the first Glore Store in Nuremberg three and a half years ago, which is a fashion shop just for eco-clothing, which now has branches in Munich and Hamburg. Each garment must fulfil three criteria – eco-friendly, fair trade and on top of that he must like it – and then Hausmann incorporates it into the collection. He differentiates between natural textiles and Green Fashion, eco-fashion with a high design standard. Shops such as Glore have a pioneering function, because without them it would be difficult for customers to find the little eco-labels. However many cities have Green Fashion stores now: Suburbia in Düsseldorf, Fairtragen in Bremen, Grüne Wiese in Münster, organic c in Frankfurt and Wiesbaden, maygreen in Hamburg.
Slowmo mens‘ collection; Copyright: Slowmo

PUYA collection; Copyright: PUYA

Armedangels current collection; Copyright: armedangels

Most of these shops operate an online store and provide information about labels and news, as does the Grüne Mode platform. “It’s more informal here than it is in a classic textile store. There are networks, and we offer each other support because we believe in something together”, says Bernd Hausmann, who in addition to the Glore Store runs the online shop of the same name.
Opposing short-lived fashion
One collection available from there is the one by Vilde Svaner. Anne Gorke and Antje Wolter work in Weimar, despite the Scandinavian name of their label, and that’s where most of the items are manufactured. “We want to create fashion, that’s our vision, that’s where our passion is”, says Anne Gorke. “But it was also clear to us that we should only use eco-friendly materials. We thought that went without saying.” They rapidly attracted attention with their clear yet feminine cuts and the way they play with fitted and loose styling. Vilde Svaner does not replace the collection every six months, but has garments that build on one another, to which new items are added from season to season so that you can wear them for ten years, as Anne Gorke says.

Vilde Svaner is right on trend with this approach. Many of the eco-fashion designers reject things that are short-lived, which in recent years has increasingly become one of the fundaments of fashion, with seasonal “it pieces” and disposing of them accordingly at half-yearly intervals. Since it is primarily the young designers who subscribe to sustainability, they create clothing for their generation. The streetwear sector is well represented. Labels such as Slowmo and Ken Panda, Monkee Clothing and Toodot produce basics, such as T-shirts, hoodies and sweaters, which you can wear significantly longer than one season. The fact is that a long life is a key factor in sustainability.

Stefanie Dörre
is the acting chief editor of the Berlin city magazine “tip”.

Translation: Jo Beckett
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
August 2010

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