Today’s world of fashion gives ‘Zero Fs’ to the planet. The industry is mostly concerned with creating ever-changing trends and making dirt-cheap virgin clothing which is sold fast and cheaply via sales, bargains and two-for-one deals. All done without considering waste, pollution, resources and ethical labour practices.
But working in this three trillion dollar industry, are exceptions: there are designers committed to eco-conscious fabrics and methods of production including local fashion and lifestyle brand, LUNAR.
LUNAR was launched by Karen Ter Morshuizen in 1994, and has always drawn inspiration from nature and used natural fabrics and pigment dyes to create sophisticated and simple designs. With her business partner, Paul Harris, Karen developed her fashion label into a well-respected and loved ethical and sustainable South African brand. It’s now run and owned by creative director Nicola Luther (pictured on the left, below) who has teamed up with Sonja Stanislaus-Kaw Di-Aping (pictured on the right, below), part of the original ground-breaking and multi-award winning Stoned Cherrie design team.
Because the brand identity has always been closely linked to nature, it embraced an eco-approach long before sustainability was on anyone’s radar. Nicola says, “The connection we have with nature makes us aware of the effects of our actions and wherever possible, we try to lessen our impact on earth.”
Garments are designed to last, with many clients wearing LUNAR items for well over 10 years.
“It’s incredibly important to us that our clothes don’t end up in a landfill. But if they do, at least we know they are made from natural fabrics. One of our linen tops would take only two weeks to decompose as opposed to a polyester one which would take 200 years!” says Nicola.
With sustainability top of mind, the team at LUNAR conceptualises new collections within a sustainable and ethical framework. “When you have a non-negotiable, like polyester, it is simpler to create within that eco-space,” says Nicola.
A major challenge for the LUNAR team, a challenge all local designers face, is access to good fabric.
“It’s important to us to source locally and to be able to trace where and who makes our raw materials. Unfortunately, for the most part, this is not possible. There are very few mills left in South Africa so we struggle to source locally produced, high-quality natural fabrics. We have to work with what’s available and are currently working with a few local wholesalers who we trust and who import linens, cottons and silks from either Turkey or India. This is not ideal as it’s not in line with our local ethos. But we are exploring options within Southern Africa.”
When it comes to finishes like zips, buttons, and threads, Nicola partners with local companies they know and trust. “We try to use natural products wherever possible such as bamboo buttons but it is a constant struggle as very few finishes are produced locally.”
Nicola feels hopeful. Over the last few years, she says, there has definitely been an increase in questions about where clothes are made and with what they are made. “We’re still a long way from where we need to be, but at least we’re on the right road. It’s all about education. At LUNAR we are lucky to have customers who do ask important questions and, hopefully, soon all customers will want to know more about their garments.”
Nicola says that sustainable practices will become the norm rather than the exception. But first, she says, we have to build the infrastructure to support a sustainable fashion industry. “This is where the consumer comes in. If we all demand sustainably-produced items, suppliers will fill in the gaps in the market. Since the market is based on supply and demand, we all need to make responsible choices with what we support and where we spend our money.
“Vivienne Westwood says that the fight is now between ‘the idiots and the eco-conscious.’ With the realities of climate change becoming more and more evident each day, it’s difficult to not be eco-conscious and to operate one’s business in an ethical way.”
*Image credits: Justin Dingwall, Ingrid Alice Photography and Robyn Keet