Eco Fashion: Nice overview, poor design

The book „Eco Fashion“ by Kirsten Diekamp and Werner Koch is a German introduction to Green Fashion and a handbook for people interested in the topic. It is worthwhile a read. Seven of the books’ thirteen chapters (120 of 220 pages) give short introductions to relevant issues and controversies regarding the book’s topic: (I) History of eco fashion: From working against the fashion system in the 70s/80s to working within the system, (II) Green design is “the new black”, (III) Creative eco fashion: Slow fashion / refashion / vintage / second hand, (IV) (Organic) cotton, (V) Natural fibres vs. synthetic fibres, (VI) Chemistry and dyeing, (VII) Fairtrade and working standards. These chapters are quite well researched and give a nice introduction and overview of the single topics. What I particularly liked is that the authors illustrate much of the background information with corporate “good practice” examples. Regarding company examples the two authors are well experienced, as they founded the internet-portal „World of Eco Fashion“.

The remaining 100 pages of the book is a paper version of their website. You find a little „green dictionary“ and a comprehensive listing of certificates, institutions, fairs, fashion schools and similar knowledge. The last 60 pages list 444 eco-fashion designers, including addresses, some words on what they produce, their certification / memberships (ceres, fwf, ivn, made-by, organic exchange) and also criteria to evaluate the designers’ approach, namely: animal-free, fairtrade, natural fibres, organic cotton, local, handmade, recycling, vintage/second-hand, projects, climate friendly. If you prefer to open a book instead of your notebook, this listing might be helpful for you, otherwise you can search more comfortably on the website.

I generally enjoyed reading the book and freshening up / broadening my knowledge about eco fashion. However, I criticize the following issues:

  • The book asserts a lot of „facts“ without quoting any sources. Even though this book is not directed to a scientific audience, at least endnotes are essential. The missing references are a pity, because the book presents a lot of interesting facts that people might like to look deeper into. But it is also problematic, as there are a lot of conflicts regarding social and environmental „facts“, as these often depend on what exactly you measure in what way. For instance, on page 111 they write that “in general” voluntary CSR achieved important successes, what many others would deny. Hence: Who says that?
  • Many company examples read as if they were uncritically taken from the companies’ websites, instead of drawing on scientific research. For instance, on page 79 they write that Patagonia products are produced with decent working conditions, which is an assertion that still remains to be proven.
  • Chapter VII critically discusses the difficulties in improving social standards in global supply chain, and stresses the necessity of membership in a multi-stakeholder initiative. However, when presenting examples of what eco-designers do, the authors often assert that these goods were produced in a “fair” working environment, even though this assertion rests on a slippery slope.
  • Why is a book on “Eco fashion” printed on FSC Mix, while it could also be printed on fully recycled paper, as Black’s book?

In conclusion, the book reminds me quite a lot of Sandy Black’s „Eco-chic the fashion paradox“, which was published in 2008 (on recycled paper). Both books deal with very similar issues and answers very similar questions, while Black’s book does not have the listing of 444 companies. However, for around the same price, the „Eco-chic“ book has a beautiful design, inspiring pictures and is a mere pleasure to the eye, while the „Eco fashion“ book looks like someone forgot to design it. Hence, Eco Fashion is a practical handbook that includes a lot of helpful information for people that would like to know more about this topic, even if not all facts presented in the book should be taken too strictly. And if you have an eye for design, I would consider buying Black’s book in addition or instead.

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