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Fashion with heart


Dutch designers and Amsterdam boutiques are leading the way in stylish, ethical clothing. Janneke de Jong reports

Janneke de Jong ,

Sharply tailored outfits, slick silhouettes, a bold monochrome palette with splashes of deep emerald and splices of hard-edged leather: Elsien Gringhuis’s show certainly caught the front row’s attention at Amsterdam International Fashion Week earlier this year. The emerging Dutch designer, fast on her fashion ascent, has been no stranger to praise recently. She has won numerous awards, including the Green Fashion Competition at Fashion Week 2011. Gringhuis’ covetable collections mark her as a pioneer of ethical fashion and put the Netherlands at the frontier of sustainable style: working with as few separate pieces of fabric as possible, she uses only fair-trade silks, cotton and bamboo.

Gringhuis and fellow sustainable designers are working hard to give ethical style a modern name and identity. The origin of materials, how clothes are made and what happens to them when the consumer has used them are the key concerns. So how can designers achieve this? Gringhuis and her peers maintain that materials must be organic and bought for fair prices. When treating raw materials, no harmful chemicals should be used and there should be a focus on water management during the production process. Employees should be paid fair wages and work in decent conditions. Ideally, the item is produced near where it’s sold and is biodegrabable, limiting the carbon footprint. The finished piece should also be beautiful and timeless, so that it can last for seasons. In short, no short order; any company undertaking such an endeavour clearly needs to be devoted to the cause. Thankfully, Amsterdam has them in abundance.

Charlie + Mary is a fashion label and an emporium for national and international sustainable brands. Among the brands stocked at the store on Gerard Doustraat is Meet Your Scarf, a fair-trade project between Charlie + Mary and Elsien Gringhuis. Items from Studio Jux, winners of this year’s Green Fashion Competition are also available. Studio Jux believes fashion should be satisfying not just for the consumer, but for the people making the garment; the labels used on Studio Jux’s designs are made of organic cotton, hemp and recycled cola bottles. MLY is a label run by Emily Hermans. Her breezy, feminine dresses in floral motifs, beautiful knits in soft neutral tones and cool denim pieces are all made using artisan techniques and are mostly produced in the Netherlands. Better yet, left-over pieces of yarn aren’t thrown out, but are turned into limited edition garments. Stat Fashion, also sold in Charlie + Mary, uses nothing but organic wool, silk and hemp for its elegant designs.   

A challenge for the organically minded consumer is finding accessories that match their ethics, which is where Oat Shoes steps in. The concept is brilliantly simple: made from hemp canvas, organic cotton, cork and biodegradable plastic, the shoes can be worn for years but when they are no longer useful they can be buried. A seed pouch, hidden in the tongue, will produce flowers and the shoes will degrade completely within six months. O My Bag aims to help minority communities in Kolkata, India. All the leatherwear is produced in Kolkata, and energy management, water control and safety are taken seriously; harmful tanning chemicals are avoided. Safe tanning processes are also used by leather and cashmere label Traced Good. For the best gifts, pay Fort Blink a visit (Panamakade 144); owner Preta Wolzak makes unique jewellery in collaboration with an Indian stone supplier and supports a school in Jaipur.

Style needn’t have to be at the expense of the planet, as Amsterdam’s innovative designers are deftly proving. Environmental never looked so thoroughly enticing.

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