In a far-flung corner of west London, the 43 acre Mecca to mass consumerism that is Westfield London opened today, with thousands of eager shoppers expected to descend upon it. But earlier this week an event with a very different flavour took place closer to what has been the capital’s more traditional shopping destination.

Earlier this week, however, an event with a very different flavour took place closer to what has been the capital’s more traditional shopping destination.

Just off Oxford Street, a small gathering of fashion commentators, retailers and future trendsetters put their heads together at the Fashioning the Future summit, an event held by the London College of Fashion’s recently launched Centre for Sustainable Fashion. The subject? How to make the sector more ethical and sustainable.

The fact that the event was the college’s first of its type is somewhat surprising given the college’s determination to be at the forefront of issues affecting the sector and its reputation for producing those who steer fashion’s future.

However, it was also telling that it slipped somewhat under the radar. The ethical and sustainable debate is still one that has failed to attract sufficient attention from the mass media and retailers.

But the issue is likely to become more important as consumers re-evaluate their bingeing ways and there are increasing numbers of dissenting voices.

The fact that the mass media is now picking up on consumers' concerns says it all. For example, The Times this week published the results of a poll it commissioned on ethical issues, in which Primark was branded by consumers the worst ethical retailer. 45 per cent of those polled were concerned about the treatment of workers in developing countries. A shift in perceptions is bubbling beneath the surface, although there is undoubtedly some way to go.

The London College of Fashion event was described by fashion retailers who attended – including Adili’s Nick Samuel – as “brilliant”. Ethical flag-flyers including Whistles chief executive Jane Shepherdson, Adili creative director Sim Scavazza and fashion journalists including Caryn Franklin and Lucy Siegle led the debate. It asked the question, “What would the fashion world look like if it was sustainable?”. It examined the possibility of introducing legislation and global standards – including, for example, the labelling of products’ environmental footprint in much in the same way that the food industry has done.

It also pushed to redefine the meaning of luxury, as something linked to the kinds of values humans hold dear, rather than a name or label. This is an interesting point in the sobering economic climate, because consumers are likely to reassess their personal values and the value of the things they spend on.

The findings from the event will not be published until January or February next year. From that time, it seems more and more likely that we will see less events of White City’s magnitude and more retailers putting the ethical in fashion.