Kate's eco opportunity

22:39, Mar 13 2013
ECO WARRIOR: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, pin-up girl for ethical fashion?

Kate Middleton had a tough February. First, photos of her sporting a bikini and baby bump on holiday in the Caribbean were printed around the world. Then of course, there was the absurdity of Mantelgate when British journalists placed the duchess and the double-Booker prize winning author Hilary Mantel at the centre of a savage and imaginary cat-fight.

But wedged in between these royal frustrations was another incident that prompted widespread indignation on the behalf of the future queen. Dame Vivienne Westwood publicly criticised Kate for having an excessive number of clothes.

The design doyenne's criticism came at her London Fashion Week show, at the close of which, Westwood said of Kate:

"I think it would be great if she wore the same clothes over and again, because that's very good for the environment and it would send out a very nice message. If you're going to all that trouble to get an outfit that suits you, then you should keep on wearing it. I mean you don't have to have a red outfit one day and then something almost the same in blue the next."

As criticisms go, this is pretty mild, and in fact it's a surprising criticism to be levelled at Kate Middleton, who has repeatedly been praised for repeating outfits, so much so that when Michelle Obama repeated an outfit on election night last year, the press wrote she was "pulling a Kate Middleton".

Perhaps because the criticism seemed unjustified, or perhaps because Westwood's criticism came sandwiched between pregnant pics and Mantel's misinterpreted comments, it was dumped by most people into the give-Kate-a-break basket, as yet another example of the unrelenting attacks on the young duchess.


However, Westwood makes an important point, one that is worth hearing, even if she does commit the sin of making it while criticising Our Kate. Hilary Mantel's misinterpreted comments should remind the world that Kate, and women more generally, are more than their fashion choices. But Westwood reminds us that fashion choices - despite the fact they are often sneeringly looked down on as insignificant female frivolity - do matter.

In particular, Westwood is advocating that Middleton opts out of a kind of high-end designer version of fast fashion, which encourages women to buy whatever is currently in fashion then discard a few weeks later for the next trend. The kind of fashion that sees Kate's cupboards fill up with matching dresses in slightly different shades of royal blue, and our cupboards fill up with neon t-shirts, harem pants, peplum lace shirts, military jackets, and other things that we were convinced we had to have for the brief window they were in fashion.

Dame Vivienne has put her mannequins where her mouth is. Her Red Label Collection, on display at the London Fashion Week featured classic, enduring pieces that had an emphasis on quality, rather than quantity. Westwood's comments and collection represent a growing trend among shoppers who love fashion, but want to engage with it in anti-waste, eco-friendly ways.

According to research coming out of Melbourne, Australia and published in 'The Inscrutable Shopper', consumer resistance movements, which are often anti-globalisation, anti-sweatshop, anti-chain store and pro-environment, are no longer the domain of environmental extremists, but have becoming increasingly common. Thoughtful, ethical shopping practices have moved out of the fringe and into the mainstream.

This is especially good news for women, who are inundated with fashion advertising. When women opt out of fast fashion, and make decisions to buy quality pieces (like Westwood advocates) or not to buy for a time for environmental, political or ideological reasons they reject the culture that tells women they must buy whatever is in vogue this week to look good, even if next week it will find its way to the dark recesses of the wardrobe, or the even darker recesses of landfill.

This is not only an environmental decision, it is also a feminist one. For it rejects the force of advertising messages, which tell women that their sexuality, attractiveness and value are caught up in their fashion choices and are so precarious as to need expensive overhauls every few weeks.

Unfortunately for Middleton the idea persists that a duchess is what a duchess wears. But perhaps Westwood is suggesting a way that Middleton could use this, admittedly limited, influence for good. Kate could model to a world that waits with bated breath for the next picture of her, ethical, environmental fashion practices. Fashion practices that demonstrate that women do not dumbly conform to catwalk trends, or exhaustedly tie their value to whatever colour or style is splashed across the magazine that month, but are capable of smart, clear-headed, moral, political decision-making even on a topic as "frivolous" as fashion.

- Daily Life