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Fashion might be one of the world's most polluting industries – responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions – but it's also home to some of our most ingenious innovators. Arriving at COP26, a small but mighty group of creatives united for the British Fashion Council's GREAT, a campaign whose aim is to showcase this country's commitment to climate action through fashion innovation.
No one has been more instrumental in making sustainable fashion a fashionable proposition than Stella McCartney, who was north of the border last week, participating in panel discussions and Prince Charles' Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI). She's been showcasing a new plant-based material called 'Mylo', what she calls an 'un-leather', that's grown from the vegetative part of a fungus (mycelium).
Phoebe English is another designer who has always put sustainability and social responsibility at the heart of her brand (she was one of four creatives who mobilised during the pandemic to create the Emergency Designer Network). At Glasgow's showcase, she brought the less extractive fashion methods (using non-virgin resources) she's developed to the table. 'The fashion sector has a huge opportunity to be contributing to healthier, less extractive systems. It is imperative that as an industry we are unified in our actions to make these approaches general practice across the international sector.' she said. 'The time is now.'
Priya Ahluwalia is one of the most exciting names in the world of upcycling, transforming deadstock materials and vintage clothing into one-of-a-kind, patchwork pieces that tell the story of her dual Indian-Nigerian heritage (and London roots). (Her latest innovation, Circulate, involves fashion fans sending photos of their pre-loved clothes which, if they pass a digital inspection, will be sent to the brand in exchange for reward points that can be redeemed at Ahluwalia.world.
Mother of Pearl was one of the first luxury brands to recognise the importance of traceability in the sustainability story. Amy Powney, the brand's creative director, launched its first fully sustainable line, No Frills, in 2018, which uses natural fibres such as organic cotton, wool and Tencel™.
The advice from Powney – as with all of the designers – is that these mindful approaches to production can't be isolated occurrences in the industry: they need to become the norm (and that goes for consumer behaviour, too). 'Sustainability has been a life-long passion of mine and I’ve been on a mission for Mother of Pearl to reduce its impact on the planet. However it's no longer about one brand, the fashion industry requires an entire system reset and a shift in consumer behaviour. We need to get back to valuing clothes as beautifully crafted pieces, not throwaway objects. The system needs to slow down, we need to invest in brands with the right values and consider closed loop systems which encourage us to rent, repair, recycle and resell, replacing impulse purchases and fast fashion methodology,' she said.
The British brands who are staking their future on sustainability (and, thus, imposing strict goals) include Burberry – who has committed to becoming climate positive by 2040 – and Mulberry, who has committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 (more than 50% of its products are now produced in Somerset, where its factories have been carbon-neutral since 2019).
OMNES is a sustainable womenswear fashion brand that builds the bridge between conscious consumption with eco-friendly fabrics and responsible design at its core. Look out for its beyond-pretty prints.
Baum und Pferdgarten's Responsible Edit are made from organic cotton and recycled fabrics to be 'considerate to the planet, and its people'. The full range starts from £49, and doesn't compromise on the Scandi cool that the brand is known for.
Monika The Label is a UK brand made in North London. They also produce the majority of the collection in organic cotton or Regenesis Light Satin (a material made out of recycled plastic bottles), and use deadstock fabric to create bandanas and scrunchies.
Mashu, a London-based handbag label, uses materials such as recycled polyester, the natural fibre pinatex and repurposed wood from old furniture to make top-handle totes and sleek belt bags in its family-run factory of five artisans in Athens.
This minimalist brand, based in LA, is all about timeless staples with 'made locally' credentials, such as effortless slip dresses and sweaters with added slouch. Tencel, made from eucalyptus trees, rayon, made from wood pulp, and MicroModal, from beechwood trees, are three of its sustainably harvested hero materials.
One of the easiest ways to lower your carbon footprint is to buy second-hand. The Level Store, an online marketplace that aims to promote a circular economy, takes the rummage hassle out of vintage shopping. The edit of classic trenches, tailoring, sweaters and handbags is impressively premium, plus it donates €1 from every order to reforestation projects in Portugal.
The clue's in the name. Sheep Inc is a carbon-negative, 100% transparent sweater brand. Each wool jumper comes with a digital tag, meaning you can track its manufacturing journey from New Zealand to your wardrobe. Test out its mantra – 'Strangers will want to pet you' – for yourself.
Mediterranean Spain, and its legacy of craftsmanship, is the inspiration behind accessories label Hereu. The shoes (flat loafers, espadrilles and lace-ups) and bags (baskets and woven leather cross-bodies) are all designed and produced in Barcelona.
If you can't get enough of prairie dresses, you need to know about O Pioneers. Founded in north London, the limited-edition and one-off designs are handmade using deadstock and vintage fabrics. Fun fact: co-founder Clara Francis made the beaded headress Emma Watson wears in Little Women.
Fashion insiders are already falling for Ssōne, the London label that specialises in socially-conscious, environmentally friendly statement pieces, each of which comes with facts about its provenance.
So there's never any leftover stock that's wasted, Hai's playful scrunchies and bags are produced in small batches (also minimising your chances of unwanted 'twinning'). Silks are coloured with eco-reactive dye (less damaging than regular versions), and its packaging uses zero plastic.
The weighty chain-link necklace is set to continue its reign as one of the year's most-desired pieces. Join the club the sustainable way with All Blues, which handcrafts its designs in Stockholm from recycled sterling silver. The definition of a forever piece.
All of Rave Review's big personality patchwork coats – a firm street-styler favourite – are made using upcycled garments, resolutely proving that second-hand doesn't mean second-best.
Flat mock-croc Chelsea boots, glove-fit ballet pumps and chunky ankle-strap sandals – all of which are big for SS20 – are all part of ESSĒN's pared-back designs. Collections are designed with a small carbon footprint in mind. Its new styles are produced through a pre-order model, so they're only made when ordered, thereby avoiding overproduction.
The Duchess of Sussex is a fan – and you will be too once you hear the roll call of Veja's sustainable and ethical credentials. Founded in 2005, it buys agro-ecological cotton and rubber directly from family producers in Brazil, signing one to three year contracts to guarantee income, its logistics workers are part of Atelier Sans Frontieres, an organisation promoting the professional integration of people who have been excluded from the labour market, and it's the first trainer brand to use B-mesh, a fabric made entirely from recycled plastic bottles. It has also purchased 195 tons of wild rubber, to preserve 120,000 hectares of the Amazon rainforest, since 2004.
Reformation is as dedicated to sustainability as it is to making Insta hit after Insta hit. Its RefScale tracks its environmental footprint – adding up the pounds of carbon dioxide emitted, gallons of water used and pounds of waste generated – so that the company can then offset those resources. International shipping is now free – and totally offset, naturally.
This New Zealand sneaker brand's mantra – 'Light on your feet, easy on the planet,' – tells you all you need to know. The trainers – made from superfine merino wool, processed using 60% less energy than materials used in synthetic shoes, tencel lyocell, which uses 95% less water than cotton and sugarcane, a renewable resource transformed into Allbirds's SweetFoam soles – really do feel like clouds for your feet. It also takes its carbon footprint seriously – good news for a shoe label – and is a 100% carbon-neutral business.
Mother of Pearl isn't just committed to making sustainable clothes, it also cares deeply about its company culture reflecting its ethos. It has a vegetarian lunch scheme for staff, with produce sourced from local producers via Farmdrop, the office itself runs on green energy and it even uses toilet paper from Who Gives A Crap, a charity who donates 50% of its profits to improving sanitation in the developing world.
This Aussie brand has prettily printed bikinis and swimsuits made largely from Econyl, nylon that has been regenerated from abandoned fishing nets and nylon waste. All its fabrications also meet the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, the highest certifiable standard for ensuring responsible use of chemicals during the fabric construction.
The Aussie brand Bassike, founded in 2006, already has some impressive stats under its (pleasingly minimal) belt. Its organic cotton jersey was developed and is made in Melbourne with 95% certified-organic fibres, which biodegrade and are produced without pesticides, it donates past season samples to a company that turns them into cleaning rags and its paper and cardboard packaging is 100% recyclable and biodegradable.
Fisch's eco-credentials are as on-point as its scoop-backed, squared-necked cossies. They're made out of Italian Econyl, a 100% regenerated nylon fibre created from fishing nets and other types of nylon waste, which is woven in Lombardy, Italy.
The denim sector of the fashion and textiles industry is one of the worst culprits in terms of sustainability because of the amount of water and chemicals involved in the dyeing and production processes. Each pair of zero-waste E.L.V jeans, however, is made from two pairs of discarded jeans that would otherwise end up in landfill and are produced in a five-mile radius between Dalston and Walthamstow.
As its name suggests, the LA-based Re/Done is all about making something new out of something old. That 'something old' is previously worn Levi's jeans that are hand-picked and hand-cut in limited quantities. The result is the perfect straight jeans, bell bottoms and ankle crops.
Everlane, the San Francisco-based start-up that proves sustainable clothes don't have to cost the earth, has a simple mission statement: 'radial transparency'. It has extensive information about each of its ethical factories online – from the loafer factory in Brescia, Italy, to the knitting factory in Fujian, China – and lists where every single garment was made, and from what materials, in the product information.
No luxury label has made bigger waves in the sustainable fashion market than Stella McCartney. Some of her most innovative experiments under the adidas by Stella McCartney umbrella involve the 'Infinite Hoodie' – 100% recyclable and created with advanced textile innovation company Evrnu from garment waste – and the biodegradable 'Biofabric Tennis Dress', made in partnership with Bolt Threads, a company specialising in bioengineered sustainable fabrics and fibres. While neither was put into production, both prototypes prove that closed loop clothing is not only possible, but desirable.
Ninety Percent does exactly what it says on the tin, donating 90% of its profits, and has a platform on its website that allows customers to vote for their chosen cause after making a purchase. Its materials are strictly sourced from reputable suppliers, and features a lot of tencel, a fabric made from renewable wood pulp in a closed loop system.
Every season, Lee find new ways to create with lower impact on the planet, whether it be reduced water, less waste, or using organic fibres. The brand's 'For a World That Works' programme employs multiple innovative techniques and initiatives to make a blue planet greener. This includes recycled fibres, Indigood foam dyeing, Crystal Clear dyeing, organic fibres, recycled hardware, biodegradable back patches and more.
Dutch sneaker brand Mercer has been a pioneer in sustainability for nearly eight years. Aiming to change the average shoppers perception of sustainable and vegan fashion as cool and contemporary and 'not all socks and sandals', they produced the first-ever sneaker made from pineapple 'leather', and more recently wine leather, cactus leather, and soles from algae and more.
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