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Is the fashion industry eco-friendly? No

By Xu Xiaomin (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-08-21 07:07
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I was a fashion writer for a couple of years, but the luxury industry could neither make me fall in love with it nor respect it. The first reason is obvious: astronomical prices. But the second reason, environmental unfriendliness, which deserves more attention.

Fashionists may argue that I'm not aware of the eco-fashion products that have hit the market one after another recently. The famous "I am not a plastic bag", jeans made from organic cotton and clothes made from garbage bags are just a few examples, they would say. And then, of course, they would mention charity donation programs held by big brands to help the impoverished people and protect endangered animals.

Well, some companies do come up with eco-friendly products or hold events to promote eco-friendliness, but that does not necessarily make them eco-friendly.

For proof, you have to go no further than an invitation letter from a luxury brand. Once I got one for the opening of a new store. I opened the big blue (master) envelop of the carrier company. Staring me in the face was another big envelop, made of thick and expensive paper with the company's gorgeous logo on it. In it was a piece of semi-transparent paper wrapped around the "real" invitation card, a 2-mm-thick board with golden characters. What a waste!

And that was just one of the "luxury invitations" I've received.

Most of such ceremonies are grand, usually followed by a big party or banquet. Enter the banquet hall at the height of summer and you'd feel like you are in Siberia - so low is the temperature. Haven't they heard about global warming? Most women feel the cold, but very few dare to say it. To understand why the air-conditioners run at full blast, you have to see the invitation cards, which say men should be in formal dress, that is, suit and tie.

And ah, the tableware! Each course goes with a different wine, which means a different plate, a different fork and/or spoon (or knife) and a different glass. Don't be surprised if you have to run through a course of 10 dishes.

To top it all, there are the "goodbye gifts", which always come in huge paper bags. Open the bag, and you'll find a small something, expensive though. Is it necessary to waste such a big bag on such a small item?

The fashion world does hold some events to show its green heart. But they are more of promotional shows.

The famous "I am not a plastic bag" designed by the British designer Anya Hindmarch created a shopping craze, pushing up the bag's price to 3,000 yuan in China. But is a 3,000-yuan bag more environmentally friendly than an ordinary cloth or jute bag? No, but it definitely means you pay 1,000 times more. After the "I am not a plastic bag" craze, almost all luxury brands have started offering shopping bags. Their prices: from hundreds of yuan to thousands of yuan. And what happens to them after a few days? They are lost in some corner of rich women's closet.

Some designers do present green fabrics, but at the back of their mind they know what their rich customers love: cashmere, pashmina, shahtoos and fur.

Some celebrities have bared "all" to protest against the use of fur and wool or leather from protected and endangered animals. But do they really protest? Don't they seem more like displaying their svelte bodies? Do we have to go naked to stop the cruelty to animals and protect the environment?

Some say the fashion industry and the environment are natural enemies. That may be unfair. Passion for fashion and love for the environment can co-exist if producers and customers can give up their wasteful ways during production, packaging, transportation and promotion.

xuxiaomin@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 08/21/2010 page5)