By Kim Robson:
Finding clothing that’s environmentally responsible is harder than one might think. I have a friend who went to great lengths to find “vegan” shoes (i.e. made without any animal products) that weren’t Crocs and looked nice enough to wear to work. Ordinary shoe stores were useless: he had to order a pair from overseas – not exactly eco-friendly with shipping.
Green-Mom recently posted an article about retailers including Kohl’s, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Saks Incorporated, Lord & Taylor, DrJays.com, and RevolveClothing.com passing off real animal fur as fake or faux. Recently, H&M was outed for selling “100% organic” cotton that was decidedly not organic nor sustainable. So where can one go for a reliable source of eco-friendly clothing?
Sometimes it can be hard to discern whether a brand is actually helping to make the planet a better place or just riding the green bandwagon with labels like “organic,” “sustainable,” or “fair trade.” These are nice, but often meaningless, feel-good marketing terms.
For instance, the term “sustainable design” could mean any number of things, according to Rachel Miller, who teaches sustainable design in the Department of Fashion Design at Pratt Institute. “It could be about preserving the environment, it could be about ethics and fair wages, it could be a designer that has an interest in designing with organic materials, or it may be recycling what’s already there, using recycled materials to create something new.”
For example, a company that uses organic cotton could be abusing labor laws to save money. Conversely, items labeled “fair trade” are not necessarily environmentally friendly. Don’t forget that trucks, ships and planes are still used to transport “green” products.
Buying second-hand clothing is good, but we all need new clothes sometimes, too. Buying sustainably-designed clothing is certainly the way to go. There are brands out there that are legitimately doing their part to help the planet, taking a holistic approach to sustainable design. I’ve long known about Stella McCartney’s dedication to the environment and that it extends to her fashion line as well. A lifelong vegetarian, she never uses any leather or fur in her designs.
Below are ten more environmentally-friendly brands that are helping to save the world one frock at a time:
Study NY: Brooklyn based designer Tara St. James, previously of mainstream eco-friendly sportswear label Covet, creates city-friendly pieces often with trompe l’oeil details and quirky, cool prints. She uses organic cotton, linen, hand dyed fabrics and recycled materials. Study NY strives for no-waste pattern-making and production, and makes everything locally in New York. St. James is also involved in several mentorship programs for eco-minded emerging designers, and is Fashion Director for The Uniform Project, a fundraising platform using sustainable design to raise money for underprivileged children.
Alabama Chanin: This “family of businesses” designs and produces an array of products, from wedding dresses to lifestyle items like quilts and placemats, with an earthy, homespun vibe. Each item is hand-made by talented artisans who live and work near Florence, Alabama. They use a combination of new, organic and recycled materials, and stress the importance of sustainability and “slow design,” the countermovement to “fast fashion,” which considers factors such as material and social impact, as well as the short- and long-term impacts of the design.
Titania Inglis: Based in Brooklyn, Inglis began her career with New York designers Camilla Stærk, Jean Yu, and Threeasfour before recently launching her solo line. She was recognized for her minimalistic, inventive designs as well as her environmental efforts with the 2012 Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation award in Sustainable Design. Every garment is sewn in a small factory in New York from sustainably sourced fabrics including Japanese organic cotton, French vegetable-tanned leather, and dead stock wool from New York’s garment industry. Inglis’ innovative designs mean that many garments can be worn multiple ways.
Feral Childe: This fine arts trained, bi‐coastal design duo produces quirky, cool pieces from one of a kind collaborative drawings. Moriah Carlson of Brooklyn, NY, and Alice Wu of Oakland, CA, use sustainable fibers, manufacture locally in New York, and dispose of production waste responsibly by either donating remnants to schools or sending them to a textile recycling facility. Production is “to order” to prevent excess inventory, and they will happily provide transparent reports about their sourcing and manufacturing techniques upon a customers’ request.
Awamaki Lab: This Peruvian nonprofit is dedicated to helping impoverished Quechua women weavers. They bring young designers to rural Peru to work with members of their artisan cooperatives to create modern designs influenced by traditional Peruvian textiles. They help women weavers, seamstresses and knitters in the Sacred Valley of Peru to develop a sustainable income. In addition to helping local women by honoring their artisanal skill, their commitment to hand weaving techniques (which do not require electricity) and sustainable materials like wool means less environmental impact.
Carrie Parry: A graduate of the prestigious Central Saint Martins in London, Carrie Parry was awarded the Ethical Fashion Forum’s 2011 Innovation Award for her feminine, timeless pieces designed with a commitment to responsible sources and practices. Her line is produced ethically and locally in the New York Garment District, using environmentally conscious materials such as organic wool, tencel, recycled polyester and hand-woven wools, and helps to support artisanal communities worldwide.
Loomstate: One of the few mainstream, mass-produced lines to employ eco-friendly techniques and fabrics, Loomstate’s simple yet well designed pieces are casually cool. Using sustainable materials like tencel, they employ production practices that reduce water consumption, eliminate manufacturing waste, and strive towards a closed-loop product life cycle. Their 321 collection uses innovative design to ensure that each garment can be worn up to five different ways.
M. Patmos: This up-and-coming contemporary designer label, helmed by Marcia Patmos, previously of luxury brand Lutz & Patmos, uses eco-friendly material such as faux fur made from wool and alpaca, and vegetable tanned leather, proving that green fashion can look extremely luxe. The brand employs handwork techniques from women’s artisan collectives in Nepal and Bolivia, as well as zero waste seamless knitting technology from Japan.
100%NY: These designers produce easy to wear urbanite pieces. Their tagline is “100% chic, 0% waste.” Dedicated to minimizing waste in their production process, the company uses organic, recycled and ethical materials, and produces entirely in the New York Garment District.
Elroy: Flirty, easy, wearable clothing designed in Vancouver by creative director Leanne McElroy, this line is produced out of a small, self-run cottage industry in Indonesia, fostering responsible growth in Indonesia’s textile industry. Committed to a design and business model that is as environmentally conscious and as socially responsible as possible, they use textiles such as organic cotton, bamboo, tencel, linen, hemp, wild silk, pineapple, wool and upcycled fabrics.