In recent years the term sustainable has started taking over the world of fashion. A growing awareness around the fashion industry’s impact on our environment and such unsettling documentaries as The Price of Fast Fashion have prompted designers and consumers to make responsible choices when it comes to clothing manufacturing.
While some sceptically mull over whether sustainability can ever truly be achieved in fashion, some brands are choosing action over theory. Be it textile recycling, the use of local factories, carbon footprint offsetting or providing safe working conditions, many fashion designers now make sustainability their priority. We look at some of the brands that are reinventing the very idea of eco fashion.
Stella McCartney needs no introduction. The famous Beatle’s daughter has proven to the world that her main asset is not her parentage but her talents. An absolute queen of ecological design today, she first made waves in 1995.
Graduating from Central Saint Martins at the time, she presented a collection catwalked by no one other than Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. Naturally, the soundtrack that accompanied the show was Paul’s Stella May Day, which was especially written for the occasion. Two years later Stella replaced Karl Lagerfeld as the creative director at the helm of Chloé and started her own brand in 2001.
As a life-long vegetarian, Stella refused to use fur, leather and feathers from the start. The brand soon reverted to only using organic cotton, ethically sourced wool, recycled textiles, biodegradable stretch denim, created using plant-based yarns, and even regenerated cashmere, a material produced in Italy from the off-cuts of cashmere factories.
Stella McCartney’s manufacturing is free of plastics, with solar panels a common site in her boutiques and recycled materials used for packaging. By putting nature first, Stella does not skimp on outstanding design. Her collections effortlessly combine cutting-edge trends with timeless classics, prioritising high-quality materials and playing with prints, floral motifs and silhouettes.
“We do not want sustainability to be our edge. We want it to be universal,” says Eileen Fisher, another pioneer of ethical fashion. She founded her brand in 1984.
The incentive was simple. Eileen could not find what she wanted, namely minimalist silhouettes from premium fabrics in tasteful colours. This, and a sustainable approach, became the definition of her manufacturing process and Eileen Fisher brand philosophy.
When creating garments, Eileen uses recycled fabrics, organic fibres and natural dyes and even gives clothes a second lease of life through her own second-hand initiative. The brand collaborates with environmental organisations, working with craftsmen and its own programme promoting female leadership.
Gabriela Hearst’s name made headlines last year. The American designer and founder of a successful brand of the same name became the creative director of Chloé. She made her presence known from the first collection of this French fashion house. It was about reinforcing such values as ethical production and the use of ecological materials. Gabriela has used the same conscious approach to fashion for many years, including for her own brand.
In September 2019, as part of the New York Fashion Week, Gabriela Hearst presented a collection where the majority of items were quite literally made of rubbish, only using leftover materials. Torn antique Turkish rugs were used to create outerwear, recycled cashmere was used for suits and dresses and knitwear was made by hand.
But it was not this creative use of materials that has made the brand go down in the history books but its first ever carbon neutral catwalk in the industry. Many other prominent fashion houses followed suit, including Gucci and Burberry, who cut down and offset their carbon production linked to catwalks.
Gabriela is also a role model outside of the catwalk setting. The brand’s signature suits, minimalist dresses and it-bags are delivered exclusively in compostable Tipa packages using recycled cardboard hangers. As of 2019, Gabriela does not use plastic in any phase of her production. Her care for the planet makes sense, given her upbringing on a ranch in Uruguay, where she was surrounded by breath-taking animals and plants. No wonder that she tries her best to preserve the sites that sparked such treasured childhood memories intact.
When Mara Hoffman launched her brand in 2000, ecological goals was not a priority. A Parsons School of Art graduate, she was much more concerned with growing her client base. But having accumulated a cult following for her brightly coloured swimsuits, original prints and seamless cuts 15 years later, Mara decided to look into her company’s ethics.
Research soon turned to tangible action plans. In 2015, the designer chose to transform her brand to ecologically accountable manufacturing. From that point on Mara Hoffman switched to using organic cotton and materials with regenerated fibres, which are produced from recycled plastic bottles.
The brand does not use fur, leather, sheepskin and feathers, closely monitoring their supply chains and working conditions at their factories, using environmentally friendly materials. The separate online shop which sells and buys the brand’s used clothes further supports this ethical cycle.
Founded in 2016, Sandra Sandor’s Nanushka killed two birds with one stone: she put Hungary on the world’s fashion map and proved that ecological design does not have to be dull. Her brand became known first and foremost for its vegan leather, which is now a wardrobe staple for any influencer, editor or fashion lover.
Despite its worldwide success, 85% of Nanushka’s manufacturing still takes place in Hungary, enabling it to maintain a transparent supply chain and low carbon footprint. In 2020, the brand also published its first report on ethical and sustainable design efforts. It states that 47% of male and 48% of female garments in their autumn collections was made of ecologically pure materials (compared to just 5% and 35% of prior collections).
This is a vivid illustration of Sandra Sandor moving closer to her goal of only using 100% ecological materials by 2025. Nanushka also increased the use of recycled and old textiles in their new collections, introducing reusable packaging.