As much as we like to believe that most of the damage done when we purchase anything luxury is, perhaps, to our wallets, there’s a far graver effect that comes long before, and often shortly after, our touch-and-go transaction. Second only to oil, fashion contributes more to waste pollution than any other industry. More than 5,000 gallons of water are used to produce a single t-shirt or pair of jeans, the dyes used for which are known water polluters. Even once manufactured, most clothes end up in landfills and only 70% of what’s in our closets, think those go-to staples, is worn on a regular basis. Carmen, soon to be a WWF ambassador, is partnering with the non-profit to launch an initiative that will address and raise awareness for fashion’s wanton waste.
And while it’s no secret that fashion comes at a cost to the environment, there still seems to be a lack of action from most in the industry. Start-ups and smaller companies like UnMade tout sustainability as a key component of their business, but most luxury designers have yet to get on board for fear environmental responsibility won’t be fiscally efficient. Here, CB.com looks at some of the luxury brands embracing ethical production and standing up for sustainability:
Gabriela Hearst is still a relatively new name in luxury, but since launching her brand in 2015, she’s maintained a commitment to ethical production. In only two years Hearst, a Uruguay native, created a cult following for her use of ultra-fine knits and manipulated textiles, many of which are sourced from her partner Manos del Uruguay, a nonprofit collective creating fine handmade yarns and providing jobs to female artisans. For her AW17 collection, her NYFW debut, some of Hearst’s finest knits came from the collective’s wool and cashmere, while other offerings saw Hearst source fabric directly from factories like Loro Piana and upcycle raw back stock Swarovski crystals. A tenet of her brand, Hearst’s holistic approach to sustainability is part of what she calls “smart luxury.” “I want to make sure that our women are driven by desire but they are doing something good,” she’s said. “You'll enjoy the product but I'm making sure that it was made with proper ethics and values.”
Widely recognized as one of the most socially conscious luxury designers, Stella McCartney is known not to use leather or fur in her collections. Rather, standard materials include recycled, organic, and non-animal fabrics, as well as ethically sourced rayon and non-forested alternatives. Currently partnered with nine environmental organizations, McCartney’s was the first luxury brand to implement the NRDC’s Clean by Design program, reducing water, chemical, and energy use in its textile mills. Though she’s maintained her ethos since her tenure as creative director for Chloé, McCartney’s eponymous brand has ultimately changed the face of sustainability, promoting it not as a sacrifice, but as a challenge more luxury brands should rise to meet. “I don’t think that ‘eco’ should be a word that immediately conjures up images of oatmeal-coloured garments or garments that are oversized or lacking in any sort of luxury or beauty or detailing or desirability,” she’s said. “I don’t think that things have to look ugly because they’re organic; why can’t they be beautiful as well?”
Known for manipulating materials and subverting expectations, Christopher Kane recently partnered with Disney and Eco-Age to launch a capsule collection with a sustainable twist. Debuting at Beauty and the Beast’s New York premiere, the 33-piece collection, ranging from ready-to-wear to accessories, paired recycled cotton, organic silk, custom lace and upcycled rubber from his SS13 collection with rose motifs and loose interpretations of character costumes. Kane partnered with Eco-Age for their Green Carpet Challenge in 2013 as well, creating a blush pink sleeveless gown and a tea-length navy halter dress, both done according to the initiative’s eco-certification standards. According to the designer, brands have a huge responsibility, even outside such collaborations, to think about the longevity and the impact of their products. “We all need to be more vocal and radical these days and be creative in how we think, as well as how we design,” he told Fashionista.com.
Launching her eponymous brand in 2013 after acquiring her first handloom, Steinmetz combats one of the most wasteful products on the market, dedicating her collections to upcycled and handmade denim. In doing so, her processes—though painstaking—have a far more minimal environmental impact than mass-market production. Yet Steinmetz doesn’t claim to be a sustainable brand. Instead, the designer prefers the term ‘responsible’ and to focus on longevity. “When people talk about us and sustainability, they say it’s because we hand weave and we don’t use electricity,” she told The Guardian. “For me it’s more promoting the idea of making clothes that take a long time and that you keep a long time.” For AW17, Steinmetz took denim from around the world and reworked it with different treatments, curbing waste and promoting the fabric’s durability. With most clothes ending up in landfills and denim acting as a key culprit in overconsumption, Steinmetz may not advertise herself as sustainable, but her collections certainly promote the ethos.
When Suzanne Pelaez entered the industry six years ago, she wanted to build a brand around social awareness. In her collections since, she’s promoted both femininity and feminist philosophy, and attempted to remove the stigma around sustainability. Brooklyn-based with garments made locally in NYC and fabrics sourced from Italian craftsmen, Pelaez endorses “slow fashion” where each piece is responsibly produced with recycled polyesters and nylons. With an ethos similar to other sustainable brands, Suzanne Rae pieces are meant to be long-term investments, rather than the throw away trends clogging local landfills. “We want the wearer to feel as though their Suzanne Rae original is a part of them and can be worn years into the future,” the site reads. In addition to being eco-friendly, Suzanne Rae emphasizes social consciousness, partnering with both environmental agencies like the Endangered Species Coalition, as well as service-based nonprofits like Girls Inc.
Co-founded by Ali Hewson and her husband Bono in 2005, Edun was created to “show that you can make a for-profit business where everybody in the chain is treated well.” Production for the brand’s traditional textiles and punched-up patterns is sourced throughout Africa, where it hopes to encourage trade and create sustainable growth opportunities for local artisans. The brand’s most recent collection collaborated with several African organizations, including the Ethical Fashion Initiative in Burkina Faso and a Kenyan weaving co-op. While the brand has been without a lead designer for two seasons, it’s been able to partner with Johanna Bramble, a Senegal-based designer, and to create community-based initiatives promoting traditional textiles, as well as recycled material.
Model Liya Kebede founded lemlem in 2007 after a trip to her native Ethiopia introduced her to traditional weavers without a market for their textiles. Known for lightweight, handmade cottons, lemlem upcycles regional patterns and embroidery into kaftans and cover-ups, as well as the brand’s signature striped scarves. "By employing traditional weavers, we’re trying to break their cycle of poverty, at the same time preserving the art of weaving while creating modern, casual, comfortable stuff that we really want to wear," said Kebede. In addition to preserving the work of local artisans, 5% of lemlem’s profits go to the Liya Kebede Foundation in efforts to provide women access to life-saving maternity care.
Homepage and Journal Photos: coveteur.com