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A glimpse into Berlin's eco fashion scene

Ethical designers present eco-friendly fashion at Berlin's annual Fashion Week

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BERLIN – From outside, the former industrial power station looks blocky and unappealing. Inside, it teems with life as vines cling to the walls and ceilings, and packs of 30-something fashionistas and 60-something fashion insiders comb makeshift stands for Berlin’s next big trend.

There’s one catch: everything shown at this fashion extravaganza is ethically produced. That means the earth didn’t suffer to produce it, the people making it worked under fair conditions and the animals and plants used were well-treated. Despite these constraints, the coats, jackets, dresses, purses, belts, wallets, shoes and accessories brimming from the stands look comfy and fashionable. They look just like the clothes draped on racks in mainstream clothing stores.

“Conventional fashion is boring,” said Christophe Dahn of Goodsociety, a company that produces ethical denim. The clothes look the same, he said, but the story behind eco fashion makes them unique and gives them a story.

The event is part of the third annual Ethical Fashion Show Berlin, which took place Jan. 16-18, at the former Kraftwerk power plant, now a vibrant and energetic venue for exhibits and events. It involved over 120 vendors and a catwalk finale with 25 models wearing the hottest ethical styles. Some labels use organic cotton, olive leather and alpaca wool. Others, like the Spanish company Ecoalf, go more extravagant and make sneakers from recycled plastic bottles, rain jackets from fishnets and use coffee grinds to make heavy-duty winter jackets. Nae, a Portuguese company, uses pineapple leaves and cork to make shoes, while TUBe Bags Thailand makes purses, backpacks and accessories from used tires.

“It is a slow process, but people are realizing they need to pay attention to where their clothes are coming from,” said Taco Stomps, the business director of Miss Green, an ethical fashion company featured in the Green Showroom. “It is the same as eating organically. People have to make the choice once, and then they get used to it. It takes energy and time to warm up to the idea of wearing good clothes.”

The 2018 Ethical Fashion Show Berlin presented the “back to nature” collaboration for the 2018-19 autumn-winter season as a counterpoint to Berlin’s famed fashion week, which occurred Jan. 16-19 and featured around 170 progressive labels. The main difference between the ethical fashion show and Berlin Fashion Week is the ethical show focuses on international street wear and casual wear while Berlin Fashion Week features trailblazers and pioneers in the design industry. Fashion Week featured 1,000 brands and even more collections.

Melissa Drier, a fashion journalist who has been covering the fashion industry in Berlin for over 30 years, is not convinced the styles of eco-fashion are good enough yet. She said the industry still has to evolve if it wants to replace high fashion.

“Green fashion is clothes, not fashion,” she said. “It doesn’t have the sophistication, so I’m unwilling to buy it. We are not seeing contemporary shapes. The level of drab is too high. I don’t want it.”

The industry, she said, is focusing too much on the materials and not enough on the designs and on hiring strong designers to give the clothes “strong lines.” Instead of buying ethically, she believes in second-hand clothes and passing on what no longer works for her.

“I buy less of what I like and recycle or give away what clothing I do not like or use anymore,” she said.

Germany is a famously “green” nation, a place where residents diligently sort paper from plastic and each house has three to four different bins for glass. But ethical fashion trends exist across the world and include such U.S. brands like Patagonia, Prana and Everlane.

But, even these companies are not as extreme in their philosophies as many European brands. For them, it’s about actively helping solve the pollution problem, not just having a neutral carbon footprint.

“They are Earth-oriented people, the Berliners,” Drier said. “This is where they came to be free.”

Tina Logar-Bauchmueller, founder of Mila.Vert, a Slovenian company, started her career as an economist, but felt she wasn’t doing what she loved or what would make a difference in the world. She now produces a minimalist line of women’s clothes made from organic cotton and is committed to using fabrics that contain at least 90 percent environmentally-friendly fibers. She said she changed her career path to follow her passion to “do it right.”

The fashion industry, she said, is the second biggest cause of pollution, next to the oil industry, in the world. The textile industry is bad for the water supply and bad for farmers and people working in factories, according Logar-Bauchmueller. Cotton, the crop that sources the majority of textiles, uses approximately 30 percent of the world’s pesticides and insecticides and requires tons of fresh water to dye materials. The industry leaves a huge carbon footprint behind in production and after transportation. It also is one of the major causes of deforestation because trees are cut and used to make garments.

Even leather can be made ethically. Lena Nocke, who represents Harold’s, an ethical handbag company, said the company treats the cows well and then uses the animals for meat. That cuts down on waste and carbon footprint, she said. She also said that in order to be a green, especially in a leather company, “designs need to be timeless. We do not want people to buy new products every two weeks.” Instead, she said, “people come back to us after 30 years of using our product for a new strap.”

Ethical garments do not cost that much more than conventionally produced ones. For example, Ecoalf sneakers that are made of recycled plastic bottles cost $79. They look similar to regular shoes. Though if price is an issue, shopping smart and thoughtfully is as good for the environment, if not better, than shopping with ethical brands. Second-hand stores and giving hand-me-downs to friends saves time, money and resources that can be used in the future.

In Buffalo, second-hand shops are a way to shop with a small environmental impact. Second Chic, Savers and MODA Vintage are just a few of the shops around the area.

The Environmental Network sells second hand clothes at pop-up shops throughout the school year. Students can donate clothes and pick up new things for free. The next pop-up shop is set for Thursday in the SU lobby.

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