In Ireland a growing number of small brands and young designers driven by ethical concerns are creating collections that are also aesthetically pleasing. It includes everything from a small start- up ethical fashion community in Trinity College Dublin called Nu founded by Ali Kelly and Aisling Byrne, to Brown Thomas which has recently introduced a sustainability audit in line with Selfridge's alliance with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion in the UK.
In Amsterdam, Irishwoman Gwen Cunningham has been working to make the fashion industry more sustainable through the Circular Textiles programme at Circle Economy and the Amsterdam Fashion Institute. Circular fashion is based on the idea that clothing waste is food for the system and on the principles of reduce, reuse and recycle. "People eat, sleep and breathe the idea of sustainability here", she says. "And Amsterdam will be the first circular economy hotspot in the world."
We Are Islanders
An art and fashion house established in 2012 by Rosie O'Reilly, Kate Nolan and Deirdre Hynes, it sources local woven fabrics and works with various suppliers to reintroduce wool into the weaving supply chain in Ireland. "We believe upcycling is more efficient than recycling as a design model," says Hynes. They use salmon leather tanned in Germany to create high quality products and reactive dyes transferred onto silk using seaweed gel. The collections are stocked at Made in the Powerscourt Centre and shops in Antwerp and Louvain.
Rieu launched Unicorn Design in May 2003 using organic silk and cotton. She has just launched her first collection under her own name using organic fair trade cotton, Irish linen and silk designed and made in Greystones and Blessington, Co Wicklow. For the first time she is incorporating an Irish designed textile print in green and cobalt blue hues by Olga Tiernan who printed it herself in Print Block's atelier in Dublin.
The Tweed Project
Founded by Aoibheann MacNamara and Triona Lillis who have created a collection that bridges a gap between tradition and contemporary design. They use selected cuts of premium Donegal tweed and Irish linen. It can be found in Indigo & Cloth, and Makers & Brothers in Dublin.
The Atlantic Equipment Project
Durable satchels and roll-top backpacks made from waxed cotton, canvas and cord with cotton webbing, cast-brass slide and D rings with bag tabs cut from vintage leather are all designed and made in Sligo by Ashleigh Smith.
The Ethical Silk Company
Eva Power creates luxury slips, loungewear and pillowcase in eco friendly Ahimsa silk and produced in a Fairtrade unit in Jaipur. Its ethos is "based on a business philosophy that puts the human factor first" according to the website.
Due to launch this month, this is an Irish lifestyle brand that uses organic or recycled materials that are entirely or party recyclable and/or biodegradable. The company is guided by The Green Plan to reduce carbon emissions, waste, energy and water consumption.
Based in Tuam, Co Galway, and set up by Mark Wells and Mary McGovern, it is the first company of its kind to be registered as Fairtrade in Ireland. They make T-shirts, hoodies and sweaters using 100 per cent organic cotton that is made ethically.
This new luxury Irish clothing brand uses ecological textiles and Fairtade manufacture with QR (quick response) coding giving 100 per cent transparency and traceability. Founder Dubliner Denise Thomas, who has a background in graphic design, photography and fashion design, has created a collection of six pieces made from Turkish Fairtrade cotton and a special woven fabric inspired by Irish dry stone walls for which she is sourcing crowd funding. The clothes will be stocked by Om Diva, Not Just A Label and Wolf & Badger.
Fashion graduates with sustainability as a focus include Holly Walsh of Griffith College whose collection was made from waste Astroturf and Alanagh Clegg of NCAD a recipient of a textile bursary enabling her to travel to India and commission craftspeople for her embroidered pieces which will be part of her Four Threads label stocked at Emporium Kalu in Naas from August. Other sustainable brands that can be bought in Ireland include H & M Conscious Collection, Stella McCartney and, online, Reformation and Asos Africa.