By  on April 10, 2007

Forget the heady days of hedonism: Having a conscience is cool again.

But today's wearers of ethical fashions are not into macramé and peace signs or reminiscing about Woodstock, and are instead seeking sharp suits, sexy dresses and covetable handbags. That's why hip boutiques, celebrities and online retailers are all targeting keen-to-be-green consumers.

"We love products that marry good design with a good cause. They're appealing more and more to consumer conscience," said Sarah Lerfel, a buyer at Colette in Paris. The boutique stocks a handful of ethical brands like Peruvian line Misericordia, and in June will add an eco-themed collection of T-shirts designed by Kate Moss and Gwyneth Paltrow to raise funds for Al Gore's Climate Project.

"I support eco-fashion because I think there are a million issues regarding the way the world operates right now that need to — and are slowly — being addressed," said model Lily Cole, who has posed for free for eco-designers like Katharine Hamnett. The 18-year-old Cole is one of many ubercool youngsters who are now checking out not only the cut but also the origin and ecological and social impact of the clothes they buy.

"Ethical fashion was considered for so long to be tents and camping equipment," said Orsola de Castro, co-curator of London Fashion Week's Esthetica ethical trade show and founder of From Somewhere, a line that turns fabric cuts rescued from factory floors into chic dresses. "The minute it was no longer just vegans and hippies buying it, designers were quick to jump on to it."

Many retailers, from H&M to Wal-Mart, have added organic or fair trade lines over the last year, while freestanding stores with an eco-fashion focus are springing up, such as Alter Mundi Mode in Paris, From Somewhere, which opens in London next month, and Linda Loudermilk's Los Angeles boutique, slated to open in July. They're hoping to tap an increasingly broad consumer base for eco-fashion.

"Many of us now work in offices where we don't observe people wearing logos, but clothes that say something about individuality rather than status or designer," said Chris Sanderson, a trend forecaster at The Future Laboratory, a London-based brands and consumer insight network. "You feel emotionally better as a person by wearing a brand that's good for you, for the environment and for other people."

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