BERLIN — The collaboration between the Green Showroom and the Ethical Fashion Show Berlin has created Europe’s largest grouping of sustainable fashion. A record 168 brands from 30 countries took part in the combined fair this season, which closed its three-day run here June 30. Both brand representatives and retailers pointed to a growing emphasis on trend-driven sustainable clothing and the increase in environmental awareness as the reasons why consumers are now much more inspired to go green.
The Green Showroom began as a trade show for high fashion and joined forces in 2009 with the Ethical Fashion Show, which concentrates on casual, streetwear brands and which this season celebrated its 10th anniversary.
“We at People Tree were the pioneers of ethical fashion in the late Eighties. We were on our own then and now look,” the label’s wholesale representative Anna Birse claimed, gesturing to the dozens of surrounding booths. “The market for sustainable fashion is having a real moment now because consumers are more aware of the effects of fast fashion from films and social media.”
The label has just appointed British designer Tracey Mulligan as its new creative director, recognizing the need to be allied to important industry names to attract attention from large retailers. “It’s working: We are now back in John Lewis in the U.K. and we were sold on Asos,” Birse reported.
Cofounder of the Green Showroom Magdalena Schiffrin acknowledged that the majority of retailers who attend are from independent concept stores that specialize in ethical fashion, but she said there is growing interest from conventional buyers who are tuning into the consumer demand for sustainable alternatives. “The big department stores are starting to come,” she commented. “We are at a critical point now, because if we want to move sustainable clothing into the mass market, then it has to hang next to conventional clothing in order to be accessible to consumers.”
Jules Hau runs the Revolution agency that represents ethical fashion brands. “The interest in sustainable and ethical clothing from big retailers has grown in recent years,” she said. “Even from huge online retailers such as Asos and Zalando. But it has to be fashion-led, because otherwise they struggle to incorporate it into their web sites.”
Another challenge is price competitiveness. Sustainable brands often struggle in the world of cheap and fast fashion. One of the brands Hau represents is Frieda Sand, founded by Kirsten Weihe-Keidel of Sense Organics. “Price value and a contemporary look are key for sustainable fashion to be able to compete alongside conventional brands,” Weihe-Keidel believes. “There has to be a value-added element in terms of fabric quality, for example, because a sustainable cotton T-shirt can’t simply compete with a similar cotton T-shirt from a cheaper, conventional brand.”
Independent retailers are still leading the way when it comes to selling sustainable fashion. Merryn Leslie founded her boutique 69b in East London five years ago and said sales “have been a steady upward line.” She was impressed with the Green Showroom’s diverse range of brands, which illustrate that “there is a new generation of sustainable brands who are thinking on their feet.”
For the former stylist, fashion and sustainability go hand in hand and during her second visit to Green Showroom this year, she said she saw women’s wear and accessories labels that she thinks are “up to par.” Leslie also noted a growing number of trend-led labels with an emphasis on sustainable production at Berlin’s Seek trade show this season.
Kate Richards, who owns Keep Boutique in London, also remarked that Green Showroom brands, while they vary widely in terms of style, are of a high quality. “Now there’s a much wider diversity of brands so you can still find the heritage-style hemp products, but you can also come across some really stunning pieces made to the highest standard and not compromising on style either.”
She suggested consumers are starting to wake up to the consequences of “fast” fashion. “The tragic collapse of Rana Plaza and the release of documentaries such as ‘The True Cost,’ combined with celebrities championing ethical fashion, has definitely led to an increase in awareness and demand,” she stated. In her viewpoint, Northern Europe is leading the way. “In the U.K., sustainability isn’t in our DNA the same way it is in countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries. But we are a lot further ahead than the U.S.A. and I feel there is an increasing appetite from consumers to know more.”
One German retailer that is forging the path is Glore, founded 10 years ago by Bernd Hausmann, which now has six retail doors in Germany, one in Switzerland and an online store. He noted that sustainable brands have improved their production in recent years. “The collections at Green Showroom and Ethical Fashion Show this season were bigger and we have noticed that the quality of the products that our brands are sending us is much better,” Hausmann said.
For many of the brands at Green Showroom and the Ethical Fashion Show, synergy with retailers is as important as the size of the order. According to Orinda Bouman, the “operational mind” behind the Swiss ethically conscious women’s wear label Jungle Folk, the strength of Green Showroom is that it matches like-minded retailers and brands. “What we like about it here is that buyers are asking us the right questions: where is this made and how, rather than how much does it cost. This is so important for brands like ours.” Bouman said the label had a “really good” first experience at the trade show this season, with interest from buyers from Holland, the U.K., Austria, Switzerland and Germany.