Eco chic – passing trend or an enduring change?

No matter how much we consider ourselves to be individuals, most of us have an innate need to be accepted by whomever we consider to be our peer group and will alter the way we present ourselves and our buying habits accordingly. The following of fashion and trends are often about personal validation, acceptance and self-esteem rather than practicality or economy.

Eco chic is a term becoming increasingly prevelant – it simply means a combination of trendiness and environment. Eco chic is not just the perceived environmental impact of what you wear/have, but how it was made and the hip factor of the company producing it – with the latter being down to effective marketing. While it seems the latest essential fashion accessory is a social conscience, eco chic can be as much, if not more, about social status as it is about environment.

The eco chic mentality goes way beyond clothing – it extends to all aspects of life where having the green, cool brand-name version of anything bought from hip retailers is important – even down to the slogan emblazoned on a shopping bag made from recycled or earth-friendly materials. I’ve seen basic unbranded hemp tote bags selling for as little as $7.50, but up to $30 for the same bag with an eco chic company name or a pithy saying on it stating that the owner is environmentally savvy. You could write “contains earth friendly items” on a plain bag yourself for free :).

The situation reminds me of my dad’s resistance to buying anything with a company name plastered across it. He was of the view that he shouldn’t have to pay to advertise another company’s brand, they should pay him to do so. I must admit I agree with his logic.

For many of the grass-roots type green folk, eco chic really isn’t even on their radar. They just buy green for the sake of the environment or health and their purchase decision has nothing to do with the prestige of the brand; but more the practices of the brand. This doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily compromise on style; but they’ll choose a product based on their own preferences and research rather than on what’s proclaimed as being “in”. Often they’ll shun the eco chic brands due to the shallow associations they feel are connected to it – and will usually save a bundle of money in the process.

I have no problem with eco chic per se; except for the fear that like other trends, it will becomed quickly outdated or that the elitist/trendy aspect will become increasingly more important than the green message. I’m concerned that eco chic will still encourage rampant consumerism. An important part of green living is not just what you purchase, but the amount you consume and discerning between need vs. want.

Does going green really need to be so overtly hip in order to succeed? It probably does in order to get through to some of the marketing soaked generation of today I guess – the doomsday calls of the last 30 years certainly haven’t done the job. People don’t want to be told that consumption is bad, they want to be told they can have their cake and eat it too – and it’s obvious they are prepared to pay for the privilege of what would seem to be consequence free consumption. But we’re living in an age of consequences now, and that should never be understated. I feel at times there needs to be a little more balance in eco-chic brand marketing.

Eco chic certainly exposes more fashion sensitive people to the concept that it’s possible to live a greener life without losing a sense of style (however its defined at that time) and that’s great, but it may also alienate others who might mistakenly feel they cannot afford to go green as eco chic products tend to get the most media attention and can be dreadfully expensive.

Fashion is just such a transient thing – many people shudder at the styles and clothing of 20 or 30 years ago, yet at the time they were ultra-cool and “gotta have”. Fashion passes, functionality remains – go beyond the label, the flock mentality and the packaging when making your green purchase choices and not only the planet, but your wallet will likely thank you for it.