For so long, the sartorial elite turned up its nose at sustainable brands, because with the exception of a few—namely, Stella McCartney and Reformation—eco-conscious fashion just wasn’t there in terms of aesthetic, interest, and technology. There were complaints of stiff, scratchy fabrics; unflattering, baggy silhouettes; and a stigma that was far from luxury.
Well, a lot has changed on that front. Not only is it now more acceptable among the style-savvy set, but it’s also considered cool, chic, and more increasingly, important to embrace a more sustainable, ethical, and socially responsible lifestyle. This direction is further backed by the wave of top-tier fashion houses, like Gucci, Michael Kors, and Versace, that have recently announced their decision to go fur-free, along with buzzy new labels, like Marei 1998, for giving faux fur a chic, Bella Hadid-approved spin. And the fact that sustainability is the sole subject of Victoria and Albert Museum’s latest exhibit “Fashioned from Nature” (April 21 to Jan. 27, 2019 in London), which explores the relationship between fashion and nature from 1600 to today, is more evidence of this shift.
But under-the-radar names are worth knowing as well. Newcomer Par en Par may technically be a resort wear brand, but it prides itself on delivering designs so versatile, they can be virtually worn year-round and for most occasions (at work, during travels, and on weekends). Easy, relaxed styles, like lightweight robe dresses and roomy slips, are all handcrafted from organic cotton fabrics by weavers in India (pictured at top). Founded by Laura Choi, who’s committed to thinking about the supply chain as a full circle, versus linear (as in, considering every aspect of the manufacturing process, from the making of the garment to the end of its life), even the packaging is done with intent—a purchased piece is bundled with a piece of cloth that can be repurposed and worn as a scarf, a bandeau, or a head wrap.
And to illustrate just how much buzz there is surrounding eco responsibility, when CR girl Candice Swanepoel made the decision to jump from model to designer, she did so with the environment in mind. Her swimwear line Tropic of C launched earlier this year, offering one- and two-pieces that promised two things: instant sex appeal and sustainability. Half of her collection is made with Econyl, a bi-elastic techno-fabric spun from recycled materials, like discarded fishing nets and landfill waste. On top of that, its packaging is environmentally friendly as well, with 100 percent recycled paper hang tags and biodegradable plastic garment bags.
As for footwear, there’s Dear Frances, a favorite among CR favorites Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Selena Gomez for not only its timeless, yet modern luxury design, but for its admirable goal to help slow down the fashion cycle as a socially conscious business. Designer Jane Frances works with an Italy-based factory to source sustainable materials (ethically sourced denim, repurposed cork, organic linen, etc) and ensure that an ethical production process is in place. And for every pair of Dear Frances shoes purchased, the brand’s charity partner Soles4Souls will send a pair of shoes to a person in need.It’s hard not to fall in love with Shaina Mote’s designs—her namesake line comprises chic one-shoulder numbers knotted at the waist, relaxed two-tone wrap dresses, shirting reimagined with twists and cutouts, and so much more. It’s minimal, wonderfully effortless with the added bonus of a playful design twist or modern edge. And the fact that it’s all produced in Los Angeles by family-run contractors and local artisans using natural, renewable materials makes it all the more special. Nowhere will you find more edge than at Brooklyn-based jewelry brand Bond Hardware, whose ethos revolves around strong, bold designs that riff on sharp motifs like razor blades and chainsaws. But even cooler is that every piece is made from ethically mined metals and partially from recycled materials through sustainable production methods.
Beauty, too, has made incredible strides (some would argue even more than fashion). And after too many years of thoughtless, overzealous packaging (not to mention, toxin-, paraben- and sulfate-laced, animal-tested formulas) or a complete dismissal of social responsibility (as in, a lack of support of harvesters), a growing list of do-good, feel-good labels have become shining examples in the sustainability space, like RMS Beauty and Tata Harper.
And that list continues to grow, with emerging brands drumming up a great deal of noise in the space. There’s Peet Rivko, a natural plant-based line designed specially for those with sensitive skin (that means zero toxins, harsh actives, and irritants), with formulas manufactured in a SoCal-based wind-powered lab (a renewable energy source!) and packaged, whenever possible, in recyclable and biodegradable materials.
Similarly, luxury plant-based skincare botanical brand Cosmos also believes in the healing properties of “clean beauty,” eliminating bad-for-you ingredients and packing in organic plant extracts, and non-GMO plant-derived vitamin E—all boxed in reusable, compostable, and recyclable containers.
But when it comes to reducing waste altogether, Kjaer Weis and La Bouche Rouge are two standouts. For Kirsten Kjaer Weis, who launched her line in 2010, it wasn’t enough to have luxury, high-grade formulas (all of the makeup is made with certified natural or organic ingredients), she wanted it to be encased in beautiful jewelry box-like compacts meant to be kept (and treasured) forever, allowing consumers to buy refills for a fraction of the cost. French lipstick house La Bouche Rouge shares the same zero-waste mission: You buy its luxe leather monogrammable lipstick case once—and only once, which is the whole point—that you can refill with any one of the brand’s assorted colors (Anja Rubik is a fan). It’s the first environmentally friendly lipstick, a chic solution to the very problematic fact that roughly 1 billion lipsticks are thrown away every year.
Another major first: Sana Jardin is the first socially responsibly luxury fragrance house. The brand works with female flower harvesters in Morocco and it drives social impact by teaching these women skills that they can use to create products and earn a source of income (and thus, economic independence), and by creating a zero-waste closed loop from upcycling waste into candles and orange blossom water. In other words, Sana Jardin makes good on its promise to create social change—along with a collection of natural essential oil-based scents.
We only named 10 brands, but there are countless more—and hopefully, even more will emerge. Now that consumers (fashion people, too!) are becoming increasingly concerned about the planet and social responsibility, it will continue to push designers to do more, to do better, and eventually, shift this once very niche market into a mainstream one.END
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