Is Cornwall a new hub for ethical fashion?

I think we’ve all experienced that feeling of excitement, which quickly turns to anxiety, when a special invitation leaves us freaking out about what to wear. It’s one of the oldest and most unavoidable situations, no matter how comfortable and confident you feel within yourself. Whether it’s a party, wedding, conference, or simply meeting someone new for the first time, we all want to make a good impression and visually represent who we think we are inside.

So, when I was recently invited to attend the Observer Ethical Awards, with the scary sounding dress code of “Sustainable style”, I experienced this vain but natural freak out. If I could even claim to have some form of style in the first place, I would feel a little less nervous. But unfortunately, my outfits usually consist of charity shop hauls and friends hand-me downs. Naturally due to my “make do and mend” approach not simply  that I’m a complete fashion-phobe!

However , determined to at least attempt some kind of eco sophistication, I did some digging to see if I could find my own unique sustainable style, without spending more money on one outfit than I would normally spend in a year at the Cats Protection charity shop!

The good news is, my search was easier and closer to home than I thought. It turns out Cornwall is already a bit of a hub for eco fashion, so I don’t have to roam too far to kit myself all green and shiny!

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Like many counties across the UK, Cornwall has always been extremely proud of its own home-grown produce; not least because down here we see ourselves as a county within itself! From clotted cream and pasties, to tin mining and the iconic surf culture; Cornwall naturally and seamlessly balances both its historic and modern identities. So it shouldn’t really be any surprise that 5 of the best ethical fashion brands happen to be Cornish…

Finisterre

Effortlessly transforming surf wear from beach shabby to sophisticated, durable and – more importantly – ethical, Finisterre pride themselves on using only the most responsibly sourced materials.

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Interestingly this St Agnes business (where my boyfriend comes from!) are so passionate about the relationship between product, people and the planet that they ensure their manufacturing sticks as close to natural and traditional practices as possible. Maybe surf wear isn’t appropriate attire for an awards event, but I love the ethos behind Finisterres clothes.

EKO (Earth Kind Originals)

EKOs small but accomplished team have been making elegant, simple and sustainable women’s clothing on the wild West Penwith coast of Cornwall for over 7 years. After setting up the company in the founders garage, they have gone on to become an award winning ethical label; sold throughout the UK and worn as uniform in some of the best luxury eco spa retreats in Europe. Using Organic cotton, and investing in fair production in factories on the Izmir on the coast of Turkey, in 2011 EKO also won the award for innovation by the Ethical Fashion Forum. Though their yoga wear is absolutely stunning…they are still not quite right for an evening in London!

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Frugi

Moving inland a little, to the small Cornish town of Helston, Frugi (which is “Fruits of the Earth” in Latin) is the cutest kids clothing brands around. This growing family run business uses only the finest Organic cotton, is picky about the factories its suppliers use (to ensure the highest treatment of workers) and holds the Soil Association stamp of approval. If I was attending the awards 25 years ago, I’d be the most sustainably styled kid around!

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Nomads

When Nomads clothing is mentioned, the image that generally springs to people’s minds is a free-spirited hippy, chilling at a muddy local green festival. But this old fav of mine (yes, I did actually want to be that hippy dancing in the rain..) have re branded itself beautifully over the last few years. Though – to my delight – glimpses or tie-die are still evident, the Launceston based company now boast some of the most beautiful organic and fair-trade clothes.

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Though the prices seem to be a little higher than I remember, their quality and originality is well worth the extra few pounds. I am very very tempted by a few of this seasons dresses – though I may have to live off beans on toast for a week or two to allow myself the £60 price tag!

Seasalt

Arguably one of Cornwall biggest exports, Seasalt is an iconic brand which makes even the grumpiest London tube commuter look like they have enjoyed a week’s holiday munching on pasties in the sun. Their clothes are cheeky and fresh looking, but more importantly come with a big heart. Not only do they invest in quality materials and fair labour, unlike many fashion brands they even have their own Environmental policy, Social Responsibility policy, Ethics report and Ethical Standard code to keep themselves in check!

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Though most of these Cornish ethical fashion brands appear to be  more day wear at the beach, than sophisticated London drinks and nibbles,  I feel much more myself in their laidback style. In fact, if I really want to find my own unique sustainable style, I really should be investing in something that is local, comfortable and more importantly fit for multiple use. After all, isn’t that what sustainability is all about?

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