“It is a problem we all face – the way that we consume. Resources will run out one day. How will we save ourselves?” said designer Phillip Lim recently. Speaking during Pitti Uomo in Florence, the New-York based creative went on to say how in the world of men’s fashion, it’s not the color, cut or silhouette that is important today but the fabrics. And indeed, luxury fashion is now beginning to acknowledge the risks to our natural resources and is taking steps to protect traditional materials through engagement with local producers as well as by innovation.
Writing in the South China Morning Post, Ginn Fung explains how London-based luxury lifestyle brand Tengri purchases yak fibres directly from co-operatives that now represent and benefit more than 4,500 nomadic herder families. Founder Nancy Johnston, who now also works with heritage mills and bespoke tailors such as Huntsman on London’s Savile Row, discovered the Khangai yaks while she was on a trip to Mongolia and was fascinated by the relationship between the people, the animals and the land. Yak fibres are “as soft as cashmere and warmer than Merino wool,” she said.
Innovation is also playing a significant part in the effort to make the industry and its materials more sustainable. Ginn Fung notes how technological advances with wool have partly shaped the sportswear trend in recent years. An innovative process known as OPTIM processing can stretch 19-micron wool fibres between 40 and 50 per cent, making them 3 to 3.5 micrometres finer on average. “The touch of it is similar to cashmere, but its price is more competitive as it is still wool,” said Alex Lai, country manager Hong Kong for The Woolmark Company, and this makes it extremely suitable for sportswear and active clothing.
The rise in popularity of athleisure has seen many luxury brands combine sports elements with traditional craftsmanship, and they are investing in new technology to offer top-of-the-line clothing that allows the wearer to really move. In turn, mills are mixing wool with different fabrics to create something new and unique, including a now commercially available ‘wool denim’.
Funn goes on to explain how Ermenegildo Zegna has been actively using Techmerino in its collections, a fabric developed and produced by the Italian house itself. Made from pure Merino wool it is treated with special finishing techniques that result in a higher level of water resistance, elasticity and thermal regulation. The brand launched a range of Techmerino Wash & Go suits for spring/summer this year, which can be machine washed without altering their look or wearability, as well as jackets laced with heating panels that can generate heat up to 84 degrees Fahrenheit (28.8 degree Celsius) in less than a minute.
Trying to strike a balance between quality and innovation is key for Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes. “[There has been] massive advancement in fabric development. Both formal and casual [wear] are changing fast with ultra-fine waterproof and eco-friendly fabrics,” said the company’s creative designer John Harrison. “These modern fabrics give us the opportunity to reach newer consumers, who want a mix of technology and tradition.”
And this desire for innovation, as well as eco-friendliness, is something that Lane Crawford’s Kelly Wong is acutely aware of among the new generation of shoppers. “Our customers appreciate our edits and products that are created responsibly,” said the director of fashion. The Hong Kong store, which counts Stella McCartney among the designers it carries that ticks both boxes, has also collaborated with athleisure brand Phvlo on a capsule collection of outerwear jackets crafted from a synthetic, recycled and water-resistant fabric from Japan, and carries garments by companies such as Ecoalf which uses fabrics recycled from items such as plastic bottles and fish nets.
“Fashion goes beyond appearance," said Phillip Lim. “It’s about sustainability, which is about the past, the present, and the future. You take the inspiration from the past, you think about the effect on the future, but the results need to be perfect for the present.” And this is a view which is now thankfully shared by an increasing number of his peers.