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Julia Smith is a womenswear fashion label that produces 'trade-fair' clothes that do not compromise on the design.

As somebody who already cares about where clothes come from and the environment, I want to prove that you can buy high end fashion without a guilty conscience.

Having completed an MA at the London College of Fashion, where I specialised in sustainability, I then went on to design for Alberta Ferretti in Italy. On leaving Ferretti, I went straight to Ghana to work on a fair-trade design project, with women’s co-operative Global Mamas and UK high street giant Topshop.

After 2 inspiring trips to Ghana where I was greatly involved with teaching the women there how to produce the dresses to UK standards, I returned to London and realised that it was time I put my own ideas out there.


Design for Life - Fair Trade Project in Ghana
My aim was to set up a designer label, that 'just so happened' to be ethical. As a designer and creative thinker, I think that I have a responsibility to reach for new ideas and ideals, and to make them accessible to the public. I wanted to prove that 'green fashion' does not have to be frumpy, floaty hippy dresses, or hand croched itchy woollen jumpers. It can in fact be beautiful. In some respects I want to do the thinking for the customer - to make it easy for them to make a socially responsible and environmentally friendly decision - that also makes them look and feel fabulous!

As a designer I work in two key areas in making our products ‘ethical’: These are: the raw materials and manufacturing selection process; resourceful design; and no waste. As a business we choose to work with Soil Association approved organisations. I am proud to say that the business has recently been awarded level 1 of the Green Mark environmental certification scheme for my efforts towards running an environmentally- friendly 'green' business. In order to achieve this we produced a 'sustainability pack' that is available on request via email: sales@juliasmithfashion.co.uk

(For more info on the green mark please go to: www.greenmark.co.uk)

For my current collection 'Conform' for Autumn/Winter 08/09 I researched new and interesting fabrics to work with, all of which are organic or sustainable materials that have been ethically sourced. I support my ‘trade-fair’ philosophy by ensuring that all involved in the production process are treated fairly. Julia Smith mainline collections are all made in England, supporting local trade.

Resourceful design covers most of my approaches to design – from the pattern cutting, to the textile design and right through to it’s life in the hand’s of a customer. This also covers our principal of ‘no waste’, in which we re-use fabric and paper as much as possible and constantly ensure that our consumption is kept to a minimum where possible. As a fashion business occasionally there are times when extravagance is called for, but this is when I really have to think resourcefully and question ‘is it functional?’ and ‘is there another way that we can do this – perhaps by using recycled fabrics?’

Conform is mainly made from fabrics such as: hemp/silk mixes; bamboo twill; bamboo silk mix; Scottish tweed; hemp/wool tweed mix; soy/organic cotton; and organic cotton. I sourced the fabrics from a variety of suppliers, but all are committed to ethical sourcing and practice. At Julia Smith we ensure that all suppliers meet our requirements on our ‘Environmental Questionnaire’.

We encourage UK sourcing where possible and currently work with Devon based company ‘Greenfibres’. We buy their organic cotton which is fully certified by SKAL. We also work with another company in Scotland to produce thoroughly durable Scottish tweeds – creating longevity for the finished garments.

For the linings in this collection, I commissioned a batiker that I had previously worked with (Global Mamas/Topshop project) in Ghana Africa, to produce hand printed batik cottons in jade green and blues. This has created a subtle but effective touch on the inside of the garments which has been well received. The batiker (Marian Barker) works for women's co-operative 'Global Mamas', but unfortunately she has been short of work over the last six months, so this has created a great opportunity for her to work with Julia Smith again.

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So many stores on your local high street have been offering clothes at extremely cheap prices for a while now. This may seem like a God send to many - especially to young students at university or those struggling to raise a family. But I think we need to ask ourselves: 'how are these clothes so cheap?' More importantly we need to be asking the retailers themselves. Shops sell to the customers demands. As consumers, we each have our own form of power over the retailers - if we ask for something, they will do whatever they can to give it to us.

I believe that traceability is what we need - we need a clearer idea of how our clothes have ended up on the shelves: where does the fabric come from?; who sewed it together?; and did they get a fare wage? So - it may not be possible to tell us this information about every piece of clothing in a department store, but if the retailers and designers start to show us their efforts toward fair practices and traceability then we can slowly build up faith in that store.

You may be thinking that you are happy to buy clothes at such a bargain. But would you be happy if you discovered that an underage child was being forced to work on the making of it - all for a pitiful wage? It is actually still possible to sell clothes at quite low prices - it would just mean that the big businesses that are responsible for this would have to take a slight cut in profits. I believe that the pressure needs to be put on them to do this.

As a consumer, use your power to demand change. Change your habits of consumption, consider new approaches:
Vintage shops and flea markets
Buy key staple pieces for your wardrobes
Clothes swapping or ‘swish’ parties
‘Make do and mend’
look at eco fashion labels
write to your favourite store
‘upcycling’ not recycling

After all – do you want to look like every other person on the high street? Or do you want the opportunity to be different? Make your wardrobe unique and feel good about it.

Click here to view the Julia Smith collection at The Natural Store >>

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