As the Environmental Justice Foundation launch their SS11 ‘Pick Your Cotton Carefully’ t-shirt collection, the familiar ‘Save The Future’ slogan is modelled by Burberry’s Alex Watson (brother to Emma) and French supermodel (Estée Lauder cover girl) Constance Jablonski.
Alongside the long list of celebrities previously involved in the campaign, Kenzo, Noir and John Patrick have joined the line-up of international designers representing the cause. The EJF works for a positive, fairer future for fashion, supporting a campaign which gives a voice to the millions of children forced to work in cotton fields. Produced from organic fairly traded cotton and using certified printing inks, the t-shirts are designed around the themes of childhood, lost innocence and hope. Paris based designer Kenzo manifests this theme in an image of three children with the word ‘Espoir’ above their heads, translating to ‘hope’ in French. Noir contributes a suitably dark grey coloured tee with a black garland design on the chest, whilst John Patrick’s is a t-shirt with a Japanese symbol on the front, inspired by nature and Japanese scholar Takashi Aoyagi.
Designed exclusively for EJF, the Katharine Hamnett t-shirt has quickly become associated with the campaign, generating a great deal of coverage in consumer magazines. First modelled by Lily Cole, the t-shirt has become the leading image of the collection – testament to the impact of celebrity endorsement in ethical campaigns. The EJF are an example of how support from celebrities really works – over forty models have now been photographed as part of the campaign and big names from other celebrity backgrounds, such as the musician KT Tunstall and socialite Peaches Geldof have also been snapped. This kind of media attention has really enhanced the EJF’s profile, expanding their client base from ethically conscious consumers to copy-cat shoppers keen to imitate the styles of celebs. These t-shirts offer an affordable price tag (starting at £30) in return for a designer label. Working with celebrities helps define a brands image; in the case of the ‘Pick Your Cotton Carefully’ t-shirts, EJF’s affinity with Lily Cole’s keen ethical beliefs has allowed them to utilise these values to inject glamour for the general consumer.
While it is unrealistic to expect that every ethical brand (especially small businesses and new start ups) could land Cole, everyone has to start somewhere. But how did the EJF land such high profile talent in the first place? The EJF have worked closely with model agency Storm for a number of years, gaining Cole’s full support after they gave her a copy of White Gold, a report about cotton production in Uzbekistan, in 2006. Alex Watson is represented by the same agency and Constance responded to contact made by the campaign’s New York based photographer, Eric Guillemain.
When choosing the faces to represent them, the EJF have carefully considered their choices. Celebrity endorsement can generate bad press if the decision is somewhat mismatched, as WGSN’s Digital Development Director (then editor of Drapers) Lauretta Roberts told The Independent: “Whoever does it, both in terms of the celebrity and the fashion brand, would have to think very carefully. It would need to be a credible pairing on both sides, as you’re just asking for someone to scrutinise your behaviour and business practices’ (1). Lily Cole is a great ambassador for ethical fashion and an excellent choice for the EJF: known for her combination of beauty and brains, she has modelled for advertising campaigns such as Chanel, Christian Lacroix and Hermès and currently reads History of Art at King’s College, Cambridge. Larissa Clark, EJF’s Marketing & PR Manager, explains: “The people we approach by their nature want to do what they can within the limits of their incredibly busy lives to help and this really ranges. Some simply donate their time and image for a photograph as their contribution and others go further like Lily Cole who last year spoke at an event at the House of Commons aimed at driving action from the UK Government on the Uzbek cotton issue.”
Livia Firth is another high-profile figure who can make the career of an ethical fashion designer – wife to Colin, she has vowed to only wear green on the red carpet – dubbing it ‘The Green Carpet Challenge, she updates the public throughout on her Vogue.com blog. Especially after the success of ‘The King’s Speech’, the press garnered by film industry events are, without doubt, one of the most desirable marketing tools to showcase a fashion designer’s work. At the ultimate event of the movie calender, Firth wore a Gary Harvey gown to the Oscars. The dress was fashioned from eleven dresses – upcycled vintage, thrift and charity originals from the 1920’s and ‘30s (the era of ‘The King’s Speech).
However, the real key to the EJF’s successes is not necessarily just down to a pretty face. Behind the campaign is a well thought out marketing strategy that serves as a great model to ethical projects. The ‘Save The Future’ t-shirt had already been test driven by Hamnett in 1984, as the designer wore a similar polemical statement when presented with the British Designer of the Year Award, by then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. The social significance of this design, plus its stark simplicity has been a really effective method of advertising the EJF’s cause. Not only is their campaign well-informed, but it’s sophisticated and comprehensive, as Clark illustrates: ‘The clear benefit that they [the models] know the campaign and respect EJF’s approach to celebrity endorsement helped to secure Alex’s support for the campaign, which we are thrilled about. It is really essential to have great guys endorsing the issues – ethical fashion isn’t just for girls after all!’
(1) ‘Celebrities set up ethical shop’, The Independent, 6 January 2008
Image © Eric Guillemain