Berlin — Partner trade fairs the Greenshowroom and Ethical Fashion Show Berlin have solidly established themselves as the go-to platform for environmentally and socially conscious clothing and accessories in the German capital. Growing steadily each season, this season’s edition, which closed its three-day run here Jan. 19, featured a record 179 brands from more than 30 countries showing their fall 2017 collections.
However, despite the burgeoning selection of “contemporary fashion” labels, the brands on show are mostly small, have limited production, and are not motivated by global trends or the pressure to keep up with the cycles of fast fashion. This is the place to find raincoats made out of recycled water bottles or learn about the benefits of using Mongolian yak hair over cashmere. Innovation is rife.
Verena Bellutti brought her eponymous bag label to the Ethical trade show from Austria for the second time. She designs a range of bags from clutches and iPad cases to bucket bags from repurposed plastic and upcycled PVC. “There is good foot traffic here at the trade show,” Bellutti said, “and you meet the right kind of buyers. People here don’t ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ They take ethical production as a given.” As a small brand, Bellutti doesn’t believe in competing with the big names in fast fashion: “We produce bags in simple classic styles, and in a range of colors, adjusting our production when we notice something sells well. We don’t follow trends.”
When it comes to leather goods, sustainability comes at a cost. Ethically produced leather that is not chemically tanned and is produced within the European Union is not cheap to source, and usually doesn’t enjoy the economies of scale of large-scale tanneries. Magnus Palmer, chief marketing officer of his 33-year-old family-run shoe business Ten Points, also travels to trade shows in Copenhagen and Las Vegas, but was impressed by his meetings with retailers during his premiere visit at Greenshowroom.
“Our products are made with high-quality, chrome-free leathers and therefore our initial pricing point is higher. The retailers I met here are not put off by this. They also understand that the use of natural dyes means that the colors might fade — these aspects are sometimes off-putting to more ‘conventional’ buyers,” he noted.
Matching eco-conscious buyers with their target brands is the Green-Ethical trade shows’ strength. That said, some of the 26 green brands showing in Berlin at the Premium fair and its sister trade show SEEK this season believe that sustainable and ethical brands need to be part of conventional fashion trade shows if they are to have any hope of permeating the larger market.
Milo Moisio, designer of sustainable Finnish contemporary women’s wear label Tauko, was at Premium for the first time this season after several seasons at Greenshowroom. “We found we were getting repeat customers at the Greenshowroom,” she explained. “At Premium, people come to the stall because they are attracted by the clothes first, and then were pleasantly surprised to find out we were green. The only way that green brands will integrate into the mainstream is if fashion comes first, sustainability second.”
“We need to be here with our elbows out, to push out the other ‘toxic’ brands” Tim Brückman, one of the founders of German brand Wunderwerk, said of the decision to show at Premium. The brand’s ethical and environmental ethos was marked out in bold bullet points on signs placed around their stand. Wunderwerk produces four annual collections of men’s and women’s clothing from relaxed daywear to more work-appropriate attire and a growing denim section.
The jeans — including skinny fit, and prewashed, dark denim are in keeping with trends in the market, and are available at a competitive price point. They are also produced ethically and sustainably, with no plastic or chemicals and using a lot less water than almost all other denim brands. The style element is key if they want to compete with conventional denim names, suggested cofounder Heiko Wunder. “We don’t want to just be known as ‘the ecos,’” he said. “It’s too niche. What we are calling for is for our kind of production to be the new normal.”
Germany still has the biggest appetite for sustainable fashion, with more independent retailers specializing in green fashion than any other country. It is therefore not surprising that the Berlin Fashion Week has a growing presence of green brands. Aside from the trade shows, sustainability can also be seen on the runway. Philomena Zanetti is an eco-conscious label that is now in its third season on the Berlin Fashion Week schedule.
“It’s very important that trade shows like Greenshowroom and Ethical Fashion exist,” asserted Dr. Jürgen Janssen, Director of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles. His organization is supported by the German government and the EU, and has more than 180 members, including companies and ministries, that work together to try to improve the supply chain in the textile industry on a social and environmental level.
The organization had a stall at the Ethical Fashion showroom for the second time. Here, they liaise with brand representatives and offer consultation on how they can improve their production standards. The growing number of eco-conscious labels is a positive trend, Janssen believes, but what is more important is that the big players in the fast-fashion industry change their ways. H&M and C&A are just a couple of the big names in the partnership that are looking towards a more sustainable future. “We’ve seen some progress: All our members have to outline plans by the end of January 2017 on how they will move towards more ethical and sustainable production for the coming year.”