I love beautiful clothes and always cared a lot about the quality of a garment but I would never call myself a fashion person. I tend to keep my clothes forever and will wear them on and off throughout the years. So I’ve never had an ‘it’ bag or been a devotee of designer labels.
So it was with some trepidation that I began to get involved in the sustainable fashion scene. But through my eco lifestyle store, Eco Age, (http://www.eco-age.com/). I had come across designers who were creating products with bigger aspirations than just ending up in landfill. It was only a matter of time before I began meeting designers attempting to do the same for fashion, providing an ethical alternative to fast fashion. I also met three friends Jocelyn Whipple, Lucy Siegle and Orsola de Castro who are all big proponents the ethical fashion movement. Together we began a programme at Eco Age ’12 Degrees of Ethical fashion’. Our mission was to give burgeoning design talent some profile, a little bit of shop space and to promote some of the pivotal issues of ethical fashion, from cotton production to the rights of garment workers.
Over the past 12 months I’ve been introduced to dozens of beautiful brands but From Somewhere, Orsola de Castro’s brand remains one of my favorites. In fashion circles she is known as the queen of ‘upcycling’, taking factory waste – often from extremely high end producers – and rather than recycling, which largely means turning waste into something less valuable, she makes it into exquisite pieces. But it’s not just the upcycling that appeals to me. She has an innate sense of quirky style that stands out from the homogenized style that seems to dominate fashion. She mixes classic style, reminiscent of La Dolce Vita with innovation. Every time I wear a From Somewhere dress, sweater or coat those pieces become the main topic of conversation.
I also love the idea of working with Orsola and developing designs with her. The beautiful thing about her shop in Notting Hill is that it feels a bit like going to a friend’s house. When I saw her wonderful ‘Carina’ black dress made from reclaimed fabrics, with accentuated chiffon sleeves I immediately borrowed it to wear to the Venice film festival for the premiere of Tom Ford’s movie A Single Man. It was made in the Cooperativa Rinascere in Italy, which Orsola set up to make all her clothes. The Cooperativa helps to rehabilitate disabled people and people with mental health problems. Orsola’s seamstresses used to work for top fashion houses but since becoming ill it has been hard for them to re-enter their profession. She says that when I wore the dress in Venice and it came up on the screen, the atmosphere in the Cooperativa was like a football match!
After Venice, Lucy Siegle challenged me to do the rest of the awards season dressing solely in ethical fashion. As we discovered non mainstream designers have a hard time accessing red carpets, so we launched the Green Carpet Challenge through my blog on Vogue.com. Helped along by suggestions from readers who are following the journey, and a lot of input from designers and places such as London College of Fashion, I’ve so far walked down red carpets in a repurposed wedding dress, bamboo wool suit, milk fibre, fairly traded and mud dyed silk and sustainable cork shoes. The level and breadth of design has astonished me and I have met some amazingly talented designers who priorities social and environmental justice and deserve as much recognition as they can get.
On 7 March it’s the Oscars, and the end of this phase of the Green Carpet experiment. With this dress, I wanted to go for old Hollywood glamour and a bit of La Dolce Vita brought together with impeccable ethical credentials. I also wanted to bring the Green Carpet challenge back to where it had started. Of course we all know the perfect candidate: Orsola de Castro who will make the final Green Carpet Challenge Oscar dress. It will be very simple and very elegant, and entirely constructed from waste. I can’t wait!