Ethical Fashion Show Berlin: How Ethical Fashion is Challenging its Reputation

Last week we had the absolute pleasure of attending Ethical Fashion Show Berlin at Berlin Fashion Week. Situated right along the water in the iconic Funkhaus, the Ethical Fashion Show/Green Showroom provided a relaxed atmosphere complete with live music, hammocks and nearly 200 ethical labels on display.
We had the opportunity to speak with the majority of brands showcasing at the Ethical Fashion Show Berlin and were blown away by the incredible collections as well as the people behind them. Here’s what we thought.
Ethical Fashion is Challenging its ‘Hippy’ Reputation
When people think of ‘ethical fashion’, many think of ‘hippy’ fashion complete with hemp harem pants and a burlap sac dress. While I may be a fan of the occasional pair of harem pants, this understanding of ethical fashion is completely out-dated, and many brands are working hard to prove it.
At the Ethical Fashion Show Berlin, we saw a wide variety of brands that are pushing the style boundaries of ‘ethical fashion’. Swedish brand, Dedicated, represents a fresh take on sustainable streetwear while Danish label, Carcel, offers their own spin on Scandinavian minimalism. Scandinavia is definitely a design leader when it comes to combining sustainability and style, although we saw great collections coming from all throughout Europe. Thinking Mu is making big waves from Barcelona with their colourful collection of graphic t-shirts, and UK-label Cossac is definitely one to watch if you love contemporary cuts with an edge. Ethical fashion has even moved into lingerie, with UK-based AmaElla offering a delicately feminine collection of flirty organic cotton lingerie. We could go on, but it’s safe to say that sustainable fashion has come a long way from the burlap sac, and we are happy to see it!
Innovative Use of Materials is On the Rise
In Berlin we saw a lot of organic cotton, but we also saw a lot of other sustainable materials rising to the spotlight. Tencel was a particularly popular fabric at this year’s show. Tencel, also known as Lyocell, is a sustainable fabric made from wood cellulose. It is soft against the skin and a great material for a summer collection, as Tencel is very breathable and absorbs moisture. It also has anti-static properties making it perfect for hot sticky days.
In addition to Tencel, we saw a number of other brands exhibiting innovative materials use. Sanikai has a vegan silk collection (made from recycled plastic) that felt just like the real thing, and German-brand Raffauf offered an amazing collection of rain jackets made from beeswax-soaked cotton. Luxury sneaker label, nat-2, even use rock to structure their sneakers. While these innovations are pushing the boundaries of material use, other brands found value in using end-of-roll material. Brands including Kiks and Up-shirt by Reet Aus create entire collections based upon up-cycled materials.
The Story Matters
What makes ‘Ethical’ fashion work? Well, at an obvious level it has to look good! But it’s not just style that sells in ethical fashion, it is also the story. People want to know why something is ethical or how it is different from the other options on the market. Telling the story is crucial for shoppers to understand why buying ethically is valuable.
While the individual stories behind the brands at the Ethical Fashion Show Berlin varied tremendously, the majority of brands we met with are making a conscious effort to engage with their customer base through the act of story telling. For brands committed to low-impact, or local production, transparency of supply chain is fundamentally important to share. Swiss label We Are Zrcl has the tagline ‘Streetwear without Secrets’ and include a barcode on each product that help customers track the life of the item all the way back to the organic cotton field.
Other brands are using their voice to showcase how fashion can be used as a powerful tool for social good. Brands like Rhumma, Eyd and Jungle Folk place as much attention on designing beautiful collections as they do articulating the incredible positive impact created for the artisan communities they work with. By emphasising the faces behind their labels, it helps to create a more meaningful connection between producer and customer, acting as an extremely powerful and effective tool to help shoppers understand the tangible impact of their purchase. Consumers must be encouraged to question the origin and provenance of the things they buy in order to truly understand the value of shopping ethically, and storytelling is a great way to achieve this.
Let’s Make it Mainstream
Walking through the Ethical Fashion Show Berlin, we saw a diverse range of labels proving that you don’t have to compromise on style to shop ethically. If that is the case, why isn’t ethical fashion more mainstream? While we enjoyed the extremely chilled out vibe of the Funkhaus, we couldn’t help but notice how far away we were from the other events at Berlin Fashion Week (nearly a 40 minute shuttle!). Based on what we saw, the labels on display were definitely worthy of showcasing next to the best of them. Next year, let’s have ‘Ethical Fashion’ a little closer to the limelight- it deserves it!