the displayed frocks can be labelled ‘drab’, ‘boring’ and ‘predictable’

The catwalks in cosmopolitan cities, the presence of big designers and fashion houses, models geared up and ready to exhibit spring/summer fashion: this annual ritual makes plenty swoon, tickling their curiosity about the trends that lie ahead. As the designs are paraded, fashion editors scramble to find the right adjectives to eloquently applaud next season’s trends, photographers snapping away at the presumed holy grail of inspiration for the personal statements we’ll be making next season. The fashion industry’s job is to promote a certain ‘look’, to endow chosen colours, fabrics and shapes with a touch of glamour, making them aspirational. Yet approaching fashion from a different angle the displayed frocks can be labelled ‘drab’, ‘boring’ and ‘predictable’.

For the innovators amongst us another dress, additional pleated skirt or floral blouse is unlikely to set our pulses racing. These designs have become two dimensional in a time when demanding customers are starting to look beyond the print and yearn for a narrative.  When even high street retailer H&M launches a ‘Conscious Collection’ where is the Avantgarde of ethical and innovative fashion?

Key to this riddle is to define ethical and innovation. Ethical fashion, which is thankfully starting to outgrow its bohemian image, is about more than marks and a perceived premium price: it’s about fair working conditions, fair trade, sustainable production and animal welfare. Innovation is trickier to define but to quote Scott Anthony, “it’s something different that has impact”. Ideally positive impact.

Whereas insiders might think an alteration of form or change in packaging or does the trick, being truly innovative requires a bit more. Ecouture’s got it: exemplified by companies such as Twin Couture, whose sumptuous collection is made using eco-friendly cruelty-free sustainable fabrics under fair labour conditions, it shows that the concepts of being ethical and couture aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact they are symbiotic: the two providing added value to each other and stimulating discussion. However, ecouture is incremental innovation: a small step that improves products. 

The Avantgarde doesn’t subscribe to dainty steps, it leaps, leading to radical changes. Real innovation in fashion, something that’s turning the established ways of thinking about what fashion is and how it functions on its head, can be found at Dutch company Lease a Jeans who go beyond the basic ethical ideals. Their concept does exactly what it says on the tin: you rent your organic denim on a monthly basis. This allows you to swap your worn-out pair for a new one when the lease’s up, or you can keep them if they’ve become your new best friend for making your butt look gorgeous. If you do hand over your blues, you get license to proclaim yourself a goody two-shoes as ‘your’ jeans are either cleaned and given a new life as a vintage pair or the material will be recycled and reincarnate as a fresh pair.

 Leasing clothes might not initially be an appealing idea to everyone but it’s a trend that’s likely to pop up in more areas than fashion as natural resources become scarce and more expensive. Expect to be leasing your mobile phone and appliances in the future, it’s all part of a concept called the circular economy. For now however, if you’re looking to rent an outfit for more than a night, you’ll first have to support Lease a Jeans parent company’s current crowdsourcing initiative ‘Lease a Fleece’.

As we get wrapped up in spring/summer 2014 in catwalk stipulated metallics, florals, stripes and pleats, all designed to make us look and feel fabulous, it’s easy to forget to critically examine the statement fashion is making, or perhaps what statement fashion should be making. More importantly however is the stance we want to take ourselves. Innovative thinking is problem solving, by keeping an open mind, taking a different perspective. So the hottest spring/summer trend for 2014: circles. And with that the challenge of how to innovative on the classic pleat that once again is on our fashion horizon and endow it with an extra dimension, making the ethical aspirational.