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Screenshot: Ellen Köhrer

MUD JEANS Blog: Interview with Ellen Köhrer

FASHION MADE FAIR

Fashion Made Fair’ is a book regarding ethical and eco-friendly fashion labels. The authors of the book, journalist Ellen Köhrer and Magdalena Schaffrin, founder of the Greenshowroom for sustainable high-end fashion, put emphasis on presenting sustainable fashion in a modern way. The book is an excellent selection of  33 designers and labels from all over the world that put equal emphasis on sustainability as creating well-designed clothing.
The book lets you discover fair trade and sustainable fashion labels from more established brands like Vivienne Westwood, Freitag and Patagonia, but it also features a range of exciting younger fashion labels. The book itself features well-written pages, including expert talks explaining all aspects of sustainability, in combination with the beautiful imagery. Excited as we were to see several pages dedicated to Mud Jeans, we set up an interview with author Ellen Köhrer which you will find below.

IT’S REFRESHING TO SEE THAT YOUR BOOK SHOWCASES HOW SUSTAINABLE BRANDS CAN ALSO BE FASHIONABLE AND NOT JUST FOCUS TOO MUCH ON SUSTAINABILITY ITSELF. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE REASONS FOR STARTING TO WRITE THIS BOOK (TOGETHER WITH MAGDALENA SCHAFFRIN)?

E.K.: I am glad that you say that, mission accomplished. Our goal was, to make a book about sustainable fashion where design and innovations stand in the foreground. Because I thought that there is no such book in bookstores which concentrates on the positive aspects of fashion and sustainability in articles and pictures. During Berlin Fashion Week I saw so many beautiful sustainable fashion labels which needed to be shown not only to retailers and the press but also to the consumer. So I asked Magdalena Schaffrin which I know from an interview during Greenshowroom if we could make the book together. Independently she also have thought about to make a fashion book of that kind. So we started searching for 33 positive examples to show in portraits and pictures how beautiful their fashion is and how beautiful their stories are. We too interviewed experts like Bruno Pieters, Orsola de Castro or Kering Group to give a broader view about the current discussion about sustainability in fashion.

THE TERM SUSTAINABILITY IS A BIT WORN OUT AND IT’S BEEN ALMOST OVERUSED IN THE PAST YEARS. OFTEN WE STILL REFER TO ECO-FASHION AND SOMETHING UNAPPEALING WHEN THINKING OF SUSTAINABLE FASHION. DID YOU HOPE TO CHANGE THE MINDSET OF PEOPLE BY WRITING THIS BOOK AND BRING A MORE FASHIONABLE APPROACH TO SUSTAINABILITY?

E.K.: Exactly. People love and buy fashion because of its design. Sustainability and fashion is a contradiction in terms. Because fashion changes very quickly. Lots of the designers we interviewed for the book don’t like the negative connotations of the word sustainability. Bruno Pieters (designer and founder from Belgium label Honest By) told us during our visit in Antwerp: „The story behind the design must be as beautiful like the design itself“.

Sustainable fashion nowadays doesn’t look like in the beginning some 40 years ago. Even pioneers in the field like Hessnatur from Germany have learned, that they need to concentrate more on the design aspect and it worked out very well for them. Around 2008 lots of small sustainable fashion labels emerged on the market with a modern approach. The times are changing. To be honest, I am a bit tired reading in every second article that sustainable fashion doesn’t look like eco fashion anymore, which has in German a very un-modern, unfashionable reputation. So yes, we hope that with our book, we can help changing the reputation of sustainable fashion to the better.

HOW DID YOU SELECT THE DESIGNERS THAT ARE FEATURED IN THE BOOK?

E.K.: For me that was the biggest challenge. We searched for 33 designers worldwide which has outstanding design and an outstanding concept at the same time. We wanted to give an overview of Best Practices and show different styles from High Fashion to casual fashion plus shoes and accessories. We researched big brands and small labels. Vivienne Westwood, Patagonia and Lily Cole are the most prominent ones I assume.

Some of the brands in our book concentrates more on materials like organic cotton, hemp and flax like Freitag. Some are working together with artisans and help to provide traditional handicraft techniques like Jungle Folk. Some are working with recycled materials or with upcycling techniques like Christopher Raeburn. Some with vegetable tanned leather like Deepmello. And we thought that Mud Jeans with it’s Leasing concept needs also to be shown because it’s a very new and outstanding idea to lease jeans instead of buying them.

We interviewed also six sustainable fashion experts about their views on fashion today to have some more theoretical background and to show different angles of the discussion about sustainability in fashion. At the end we even kicked two labels out of the book because the informations they gave us in the interviews didn’t convince us.

Bild: FASHION MADE FAIR, Ellen Köhrer + Magdalena Schaffrin, Prestel

WHAT STARTED YOUR INTEREST IN SUSTAINABLE FASHION?

E. K.: First of all, I love fashion since I was very young. My mom sewed for herself and for us children beautiful dresses. Later she taught us how to do it on our own. Knitting and crochet knitting were also very popular as I was a teenager. Relatives are in fashion retail since four generations. I guess these background is the reason why quality and long lasting clothing is an issue for me until today. Today that sounds a bit odd, but as a teenager in the 1980s, the word Fast Fashion doesn’t exists and fashion chains started to open their first shops in the High streets.

Second, my interest in sustainable fashion starts during a visit at Fashion Week Berlin in summer 2013. There I discovered how beautiful sustainable fashion is nowadays. In the previous year I travelled to Bangladesh for a research in textile factories producing Fast Fashion for high street retailers. During my visit I also interviewed social business entrepreneurs from sustainable fashion labels. And I’ve visited small NGOs which are focusing on health and labor issues for the workers. After these experiences I decided to focus on sustainable fashion. I think that brings all my interest perfectly together.

IN THE PAST YEAR, IT SEEMED LIKE THERE’S BEEN A LOT OF DESIGNERS SPEAKING UP AGAINST THE FAST FASHION SYSTEM AND FINDING ALTERNATIVE WAYS OF PRODUCING AND DISTRIBUTING THEIR PRODUCTS. WHAT HABE BEEN THE BIGGEST CHANGES AND IMPROVEMENTS THAT YOU HAVE RECOGNISED IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY?

E.K.: The fashion industry is in turmoil at the moment. Big changes are underway with lots of innovations in materials, productions techniques as well as in retail and in consumption. I am thinking of 3D-produced clothing which soon will be individualised and produced on demand. Or robots which produce sneakers in factories nearby and not in Asia. I like the fact that the circular economy model reaches fashion. Like the business model of Mud Jeans. Or the Kleiderei from Hamburg, where you can rent clothing on a monthly rate. There is also lots of research how to recycle blended materials. Last week a sustainability managers from one of the Fast Fashion retailers said in a discussion in Berlin, that there is no such solution to date. Correct me, if I am wrong, but as far as I know at the moment you can only recycle unblended materials like pure cotton, Polyacyl, PET and Nylon.

A SUSTAINABLE PRODUCT IS ONLY SUSTAINABLE IF ALSO USED CORRECTLY BY THE CONSUMER. HOW CAN YOU EDUCATE CONSUMERS ON SUSTAINABLE CONSUMPTION?

E.K.: Labels and brand can help educating the consumer how to care for their clothing so that it stays beautiful and lasts longer. I like the idea of giving back my used Mud Jeans to your company and you decide, if you sell it second hand or if it’s too worn out, you recycle it into something new.

But to really educate the consumer, we should start in schools teaching the children about sustainable consumption. Bloggers have also a big influence. More and more blogs about sustainable fashion emerge with tipps how to style sustainable fashion, how to detox or smaller your wardrobe and how to value your wardrobe more. Innovative sustainable fashion should also be an big issue in fashion schools as they teach the designers of the futures who are responsible for what will be produced in the future.

SUSTAINABILITY IN FASHION ISN’T ANYMORE JUST ABOUT AN ORGANIC COTTON T-SHIRT. THERE IS AN EXCITING DEVELOPMENT OF WHOLE NEW CONCEPTS AND BUSINESS MODELS AMONGST BRANDS. HOW DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF THAT?

E.K.: I wish that all these new approaches and innovative ideas we discussed here will grow and help changing the fashion industry to the better for the people and the planet.

You can order the book FASHION MADE FAIR in English and German.