It’s no secret that fashion has a bad track record in contributing to climate change. But exactly how bad is it for the environment? According to designer and environmental award winner Eileen Fisher: “The clothing industry is the second-largest polluter in the world, next to oil”. Conventionally grown cotton uses the largest amount of pesticides, harming the environment, people and wildlife. Its production is also wasteful — making a single T-shirt uses at least 2,700 litres of water. Rivers all over the world are contaminated by clothing dyes and toxic chemicals like lead and mercury, affecting wildlife and developing communities. And so, sustainability in fashion doesn’t just mean being kind to the environment. It also covers socio-economic issues like working conditions, fair wages and supporting local communities.
While fast fashion may be the main culprit, many luxury labels are not excused either. But times are quickly changing. High-end brands — both big name and under-the-radar — are going green. Ahead, we’ve listed some noteworthy labels that don’t sacrifice on style with their sustainable practices.
Gucci made headlines in 2017 when the brand announced it was going fur-free, and the bold moves towards making a positive social and environmental impact continue. A ten-year sustainability plan has been put into place, called the Gucci Equilibrium. It’s an online platform that curates Gucci’s environmental and social policies. The new strategy, which centers around three key pillars of environment, people and innovation, includes measures such as guaranteeing traceability of 95 percent of its raw materials and using eco-friendly and recycled materials for its packaging. Also at the heart of its brand DNA is its commitment to supporting communities. Gucci founded ‘Chime for Change’, a global campaign that empowers girls and women across the world with access to education, health and justice. To date, the campaign has raised over $10 million, benefiting over 400,000 girls and women. Gucci also supports numerous social enterprises such as ‘I was a Sari’, which equips women from marginalised communities in Mumbai with new skills to up-cycle saris, thus enabling them to earn their own income.
2. Stella McCartney
Stella McCartney was one of the pioneering high fashion labels that paved the way for sustainable fashion. A lifelong vegetarian, the designer’s namesake label is sustainable on all fronts. Her crusade for cruelty-free includes using faux fur, vegetarian leather and vegan silk, and swapping in typically luxurious fabrics such as reengineered cashmere, organic cotton, and ready-to-wear viscose sourced from sustainably managed forests in Sweden.
3. Brother Vellies
Brother Vellies is committed to ethical fashion and they want everyone to know it. A ‘sustainability’ section on its website makes for an extensive read that walks buyers through its ethical and eco practices. The luxury shoe and bag label champions its relationships with local communities by getting to know the farmers that supply its materials and working closely with local artisans— like single stay-at-home mothers — to do the beadwork and hand-casting of brass accents. On the environmental front, the label takes a kinder approach to its materials and uses animal by-products in the creation of its leather shoes. Kudu leather, its primary leather material, is the result of a government culling to battle overpopulation, while others, like nile perch, are sourced directly from local farmers and are by-products from the edible food business. While materials and craftsmanship highlights African traditions, the designs are kept contemporary — think mules, Chelsea boots and slides for women, and desert boots for men.
4. Salvatore Ferragamo
Salvatore Ferragamo isn’t completely sustainable yet, but it is taking big steps in that direction. Its recent ‘Rainbow Future’ shoes line is a good indication of its commitment to making a better environmental impact. A remake of the 1938 suede sandal made for actress Judy Garland, the 100-pair collection brings together the brand’s strict tradition of using ‘Made in Italy’ products with its new sustainable practices. Crafted in organic crocheted cotton with water glue and recycled thread, its lining is a leather finish made without carbon dioxide emission or water consumption. Buyers will also be pleasantly surprised by its packaging, as the shoes are wrapped in biodegradable cotton bags and come in 100 percent recyclable cardboard shoeboxes.
5. Mara Hoffman
Mara Hoffman’s clothes champion natural, recycled and renewable materials. The fabrics she uses are strictly sustainable, such as linen derived from the flax plant, organic cotton, Tencel (made of wood pulp from sustainably harvested trees), and econyl — a 100 percent regenerated nylon fiber made from waste. While not trend-driven, her ready-to-wear collections are always easy to wear. Her recent Resort 2019 collection featured primarily beige linen and safari prints in voluminous jackets, ribbed knit sweaters, short trench jackets and puff-sleeved dresses.
6. Gabriela Hearst
Gabriela Hearst is the name that society’s crème de la crème — from royals to socialites — are dying to wear. The New York-based designer is an award-winner. Amongst her list of accolades, she’s bagged the 2016/17 International Woolmark Prize for Womenswear and holds the title of the Pratt Institute Fashion Visionary Award for her commitment to sustainability. Her label shot to fame with the fortune cookie-shaped Nina Bag. True to slow fashion’s mantra, it’s not available for immediate purchase and are instead, made to order. She avoids using polyester, and uses linen that’s treated with aloe instead of water to minimise consumption.