Sustainability is hot in luxury fashion. The intended result is an industry that’s more environmentally aware and more respectful to our planet.
The Obama administration spoke about the United States’ need of clothing and accessories to be made in a sustainable way. It stepped into the arena with the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, a program that inspires beauty and fashion companies to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.
Greenwashing vs Sustainability
Marie-Claire Daveu, the chief sustainability officer for the Kering luxury group, noted that the luxury industry has even more of a responsibility in this direction because it sets trends. That’s why the luxury branch should be open to innovation and hold sustainability at its core. But change doesn’t come that easy.
For years, major brands considered greenwashing more important than investing in sustainable measures that make a difference. The mind-set is changing, mainly because customers and demand have forced brands to do it.
“Consumer consciousness and expectations are evolving regarding corporate environmental issues, especially for millennials. They want their brands to behave responsibly,” said Elisa Niemtzow, director of consumer sectors at BSR, the largest nonprofit business network focused on sustainability. “Brands up until now were marketing sustainability as what consumers should do. Now it’s: ‘Here’s what we are doing for you.”’
Eva Kruse, chief executive of the Danish Fashion Institute in Copenhagen, agrees on the importance of the public perception. Customers have started asking how fashion could call itself sustainable when the main thing it cares about is consumption. That has spurred significant changes. Sustainability means focusing more the impact on the environment while continuing to produce clothes in a reasonable amount.
Together for a Greener Industry
For many brands, green targets are all about cleaner fabrics and getting rid of chemical-heavy treatment. Animal rights in fur and leather production is also important, as well as brand transparency, worker rights and safer manufacturing conditions. Last but not least, the sustainable movement is trying to take a more proactive look at the impact of climate change on the fashion industry.
Some analysts have pointed out that if the targets won’t be achieved, the fashion’s supply chain could be affected. Brands and companies can lessen the impact by helping suppliers improve their practices. Learning herding skills and sustainable grazing, for instance, could provide more eco-friendly products.
Fashion’s Green Efforts
We’ve seen a lot of initiatives flourishing during the past couple of years. In Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, the Danish Fashion Institute has implemented several tools to help brands clean up their production.
They have opened in Copenhagen a library of sustainable fabrics; it contains more than 1,500 cloth samples, in addition to a database of 100 sustainable fabric suppliers. The institute has promoted their green initiatives by hosting the world’s largest event on sustainable fashion.
In September 2015, Première Vision – the world’s largest fabrics fair – staged a “smart conversation” in Paris to teach “a new generation of responsible values in the fashion and textile industries.” Not just Europe got on board the sustainability train, but the United States as well.
Since 2010, the Council of Fashion Designers of America has partnered with Lexus to set up an annual “eco-fashion challenge.” This is a competition that awards cash prizes to three small businesses committed to designing fashion lines that are environmentally responsible.
What started at a small level soon expanded and welcomed large American brands which wanted to adopt sustainable practices. Ralph Lauren, for example, has hired directors of sustainability to help them clean up their practices. Thinking green can sometimes feel like learning a new language, but it’s good to see that the industry is work on this together.
Measures & Bans
One of the most important initiatives in sustainable fashion is the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Based in San Francisco, the apparel, footwear and home textile industry association is developing the Higg Index, scheduled to be ready by this year. The index will be a standardized supply chain measurement tool that will inform shoppers about their purchases’ environmental effects with just a glance at the garment’s tags.
In addition to the index, another measure being put into place is Kering’s ban on the use of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. Bottega Veneta and Gucci are also producing what they call “zero-deforestation” handbags, joining the green trend.
The launch of responsibilityinfashion.org was also a huge step forward. It is a trade association partnering with the C.F.D.A. to provide fashion companies with a three-step action plan template. It also helps brands become more sustainable with tools, industrywide goals, and listings of organizations that can make their practices greener.
Sustainable Luxury Fashion Brands
An increasing number of designers have come to the realization that going green does not mean compromising luxury. As they add more and more eco-friendly designs to their repertoire, customers realize splurging is all the more enjoyable when you buy with a clear conscience.
According to François-Henri Pinault of Kering, sustainability “gives us an opportunity to create value while helping to make a better world.” Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga – all of which conjure up images of luxury – are included among Kering’s brands. Here are some other luxury fashion brands that have hopped on the sustainability train.
International fashion brand, EDUN is the perfect example of celebrity-come-fashion designer. Ali Hewson and Bono founded EDUN in 2005, a company that now promotes long-term, sustainable growth opportunities in Africa. In doing so, it supports green infrastructure, manufacturers, and community building initiatives. The aim of the company is to contribute to the increase of trade throughout Africa.
Danielle Sherman, the brand’s latest designer, is a great advocate for how fashion and sustainability can be merged harmoniously. Sherman pays particular attention to a minimalist vibe through a collection of collarless shirts, blazers and coats. While the line’s prices start at about $400, you can find something to suit most budgets.
Eviana Hartman, a New York based designer, is another global voice for sustainable fashion. She founded Bodkin, a sustainable fashion line, in 2008, with the goal of merging a particular aesthetic with a focus on sustainability. The company uses organic and recycled fabrics and non-harmful dye in the production of the clothes.
Hartman has spoken out several times on the controversy surrounding the expense of eco-fashion. She noted that the increased demand for organic cotton outstrips supply, which means the end product will be evidently more expensive. Harman also believes that beautiful designs made with attention to detail by skilled people will always cost more than mass manufactured clothing.
3. Stella McCartney
The fashion designer has made a name for herself by getting involved in the efforts to decrease the carbon footprint in the world of fashion. Fun fact: All of the company’s UK based studios and offices are powered by wind energy. McCartney believes that brands are directly responsible for the resources they use – or waste – a stance that clearly reflects in her clothing collections.
Designing new collections involves as much organic cotton as possible. Similarly, the company continues to scout for new, recyclable materials. McCartney’s sustainable collections include eco-friendly eyewear (50 percent natural and renewable resources) made of natural raw materials – castor-oil seeds or citric acid. Biodegradable soles are also part of her collection, as well as eco-friendly faux leather handbags.
4. Honest By Bruno Pieters
Bruno Pieters is a Belgian fashion designer who founded Honest By in 2012. Pieters’ inspiration was a trip around the developing world in which he observed the natives’ clothes. He was particularly interested in the ways they wore their clothes and the materials they were made up of. The name of the company reflects the 100 percent transparency promised by Honest By. The company shares the information about the materials is uses “from yarn and button origin to fabric and manufacturing details.”
Design duo Max Osterweis and Erin Beatty have gained great appreciation around the world since launching their kaleidoscopic colors and eye-popping prints in 2010. Inspired in part by traditional African textiles, their collections have been nominated for both the CFDA/Vogue Fashion award and the Swarovski award for Emerging Talent.
Awards aside, Beatty and Osterweis run an ethically minded company; most of their collections are sustainably produced in Kenya. According to happy customers, their designs are like crack to the street style set who can’t get enough of the work-appropriate wrap dresses, quirky coats, and cute sequined skirts.