The fashion brand which changed the way we dress

Esther velour cowl neck dress, �140.
Esther velour cowl neck dress, �140.
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Ethical fashion company People Tree is about to celebrate its 25th birthday, Stephanie Smith takes a look at its impact on our wardrobes.

Ethical fashion has come a long, long way since the days of sackcloth and vegetable tye-dye cottons, all crinkly and in colours that managed to be both watery and lurid.

Natasha striped jumper in pink, �99.

Natasha striped jumper in pink, �99.

And it’s thanks in no small part to People Tree, a company that has contributed hugely to fashion’s rethink about ethical clothing, helping to transform it into the new normal, offering style-focused brands that put sustainability and ethics first, but don’t make clothes only for those who like to look as if they have just run something up from a pair of old gingham curtains and a few pieces of bale twine.

With People Tree’s help, ethical fashion has overcome its erstwhile hopelessly hippy and hempy image. “But since the fashion industry is the second most polluting after oil, there is still much more work to be done,” says Mia Hadrill, People Tree spokesperson. “This is highlighted in the film-documentary The True Cost, which shows the social and environmental impact of fashion. It shares stories from across the world and details just how important a fairer fashion system is.”

People Tree has some serious mission statements: to support producers towards economic independence and control over their environment and challenge the power structures that undermine their rights to a livelihood; to protect the environment and use natural resources sustainably; and to promote environmentally responsible lifestyles and initiatives to create new models to promote sustainability. It also aims to set an example to business and government of a Fair Trade model.

It can all start sounding rather worthy, but People Tree’s mission is also to supply its customers with quality products and great service as it encourages them to buy more Fair Trade – so it makes sure that its fashion is beautifully designed as well as made sustainably and fairly.

Gwyneth boatneck jumper, �115.

Gwyneth boatneck jumper, �115.

What started as a volunteer group in Japan is now an award-winning company with 77 employees, 40,000 customers and 600 stockists around the world, supporting more than 4,000 artisans, factory workers and farmers in six developing countries.

This year it celebrates its 25th anniversary, with a new designer collaboration for spring/summer with Dame Zandra Rhodes, featuring her archive prints in a palette of soft colours using the finest 100 per cent certified organic cotton from India. A must for anyone who loves asymmetrical hemlines (and who doesn’t?), they are fantastic fashion collector’s pieces, offering Zandra Rhodes designs at High Street prices. Rhodes said: “We went for very simple garment shapes that can be both dressed up or dressed down and really show off the printed patterns that we have carefully chosen.”

The collection features the Lipstick print, originally created in the Sixties, inspired by a Guy Bourdin ad in French Vogue; the Bow print from the Eighties inspired by Egyptian stars on Rhodes’s first visit to Egypt where she saw Pharaohs’ tombs, with magical lines of bows crisscrossing the fabric as a background to the stars; and the Check print based on her stitching patterns used in her first collection in 1969.

The first clothing organisation to receive the World Fair Trade Organisation Fair Trade product label, People Tree is a true pioneer of Fair Trade and sustainable fashion, proving that it is possible to get a high style look while respecting people and the planet. With more collaborations in the pipeline, all ethical of course, it’s all set to plough its way sustainably into the future.

The new Zandra Rhodes 
collection will be available in February.