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We live in a lucky time. Sure, we have every reason to be worried about the livelihood of our future and about the degradation of our environment. Yet, today, we’re forward thinking. Or, maybe it’s really backward thinking. Traverse back more than a century, and you’ll finally find a time when living sustainably looked more mainstream than it does today.
Study the way our predecessors dressed, and you can often get an anthropological lesson into the zeitgeist—from politics, to warfare to famine to opulence to slow fashion to fast fashion. Our T-shirts and jeans (in 2012 talk) say it all. Liberation, androgyny, rebellion, confidence and pioneering are just a few words we might associate with this singular style.
According to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and its 2011 exhibit “Eco Fashion: Going Green,” sustainability and style shared roots more than 250 years ago. Long before the advent of the Industrial Revolution, synthetic chemicals were scarce, if not non-existent. In seventeenth century England, as export markets for textiles and clothing grew, synthetic textiles and dyes began to replace natural ones derived from plants, bugs, shells and other flora and fauna. In the face of such development, sustainable style still survived. “In the nineteenth century,” for instance,“dresses were sometimes reworked to correspond to changing silhouettes—a testament to the lasting value of textiles,” reports FIT.
While the Industrial Revolution began in Europe and traveled west, what is today known as eco-, sustainable- and slow- fashion also holds its origins in this pioneering land. Today, across many industries—including fashion—Europe has taken the lead in banning or limiting the use of toxic chemicals like azo dyes or even irritating substances like nickel during textile production. Beyond such European Union-wide regulations, the textile industry itself has policed itself into a healthier state.
“Europe (and Germany, in particular) have a long history of strict regulations in the textile industry,” says Iryna Vogler, proprietor of ellecante, an importer of sustainable fashion and eco friendly clothing from Europe and New Zealand ‘where design embraces nature’ (see two designs from ellecante's collection on EcoPlum, below).
“In 1989, the International Association of the Natural Textile Industry (IVN), was founded in Germany to develop a standard for eco-friendly textiles, including the entire textile production chain, in terms of both ecological standards and of social accountability.” Today, labels like the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) exist to hold brands accountable and to help customers trust in a more sustainable, ecological product.
Beyond safety and seals, Vogler believes that “European fashion is edgier, more expressive and out-of-the-box,” than its international counterparts. Whether designed and made in Europe, the U.S., Bangladesh or China, we can all take heed from the sustainable and yes, stylish, lessons of our forefathers. Far beyond the price we pay, fashion comes at social, environmental and health costs.
There never looked a better time than today to turn back the clock and embrace our naturally fashionable roots. We are, after all, in the age of sustainability.
Cheers + Love, Organic Girly
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