By  on April 10, 2007

Gone are the days when hemp was regarded as suitable for making only rope and paper. Today's fashion students are just as likely to weave fibers from the plant into an elegant organic ensemble.

"I want to prove that clothes can be sexy and sleek and beautiful and still be ethical," said Lorna Tallowin, a student at Nottingham Trent University and one of a new generation of budding designers looking to merge style with social conscience. "I use hemp silk charmeuse a lot, which is smooth, silky and clings to the body."

Responding to student demand, a growing number of fashion design courses are offering classes in sustainable development, ecology and ethical production, including the New Academy of Art in Milan and Fashioning an Ethical Industry, a project by U.K. fashion schools and the Labour Behind the Label organization.

"There's a huge awakening among fashion colleges," said Safia Minney, founder of ethical fashion brand People Tree, who has teamed with Nottingham Trent to produce three of its students' designs using fair trade fabric.

The next generation of designers doesn't see profits and principles as being mutually exclusive. A number of students are taking social and environmental issues into their own hands and launching ethically sound lines.

For example, Tallowin, who had previously aspired to work for luxury ethical brand Noir after graduation, is planning to set up her own similarly positioned label when she graduates this summer.

"I wanted to wear clothes made in an ethical and responsible way, but like many people my age, I wasn't fully prepared to sacrifice my style," said Rachel Plant, who created her Annie Greenabelle label after writing her dissertation on ethical fashion at Nottingham Trent.

Erin Tabrar co-founded Amana, which means "delivered in trust" in Arabic, after studying fashion industry fair trade practices at the London College of Fashion. The brand, which made its debut in March, uses organic cotton, hemp and silk, and offsets the environmental impact of transporting goods from Morocco by donating to projects that reduce carbon emissions.

And Sarah Lucy Smith created the hemp-and-silk lingerie line Green Knickers after graduating with a degree in eco design from Goldsmith University.

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