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Top 13 Sustainable Fashion Designers Making a Change in 2020

With the global population set to reach nine billion people by 2030, nature will struggle to meet human demands like never before. More consumers are becoming more mindful of their purchase and seeking awareness of where their clothes come from. As a result, apparel companies are transforming their operating practices or business models to improve transparency about their manufacturing process and standards.

What does sustainable fashion mean?

Sustainable fashion is a design philosophy and movement that promotes environment and social responsibility. Sustainable fashion is defined as clothing, shoes, and other accessories that are manufactured and used in the most sustainable manner possible, taking into accounts both environmental and socio-economic  

How eco-friendly fashion designers are making a change

  • 1. This fashion approach reduces the amount of micro fibers released into the environment.
  • 2. Reduces toxic waste and supports animal rights.
  • 3. Clothes are distinct and unique.
  • 4. Leads to less strain on the planet’s resources as eco-friendly clothing is made through sustainable practices.
  • 5. Eco-friendly fashion does not harm you.

If you are looking to make a shift to sustainable fashion, a new generation of sustainable fashion designers is changing the way we understand fashion and understanding their approach might help to inform others:

Stella McCartney

When thinking of sustainable and ethical luxury fashion, Stella McCartney is the first name that comes to mind. Since the launch of her fashion house in 2001, she is one of the pioneers of eco-friendly fashion and offers sustainable wardrobe alternatives. The materials used by this designer include organic cotton, ethically sourced wool, recycled textiles while excluding fur and leather.

Stellam Mcartney
Source: Vogue

Stella McCartney hosted her Fall 2019 collection at Paris Fashion Week, with designs centered on her new “There She Grows” initiative that strives to protect endangered rain forests. The designs that were shown on the runway were cruelty-free and sustainable.

How sustainable is Stella McCartney?

Stella McCartney bases her sustainable fashion strategy on 4 fundamental pillars:

  • 1. Respect for nature: The designer protects the planet by sourcing as many sustainable materials as possible such as cashmere, organic cotton or fibers from the forest i.e. viscose which is traceable and sourced from renewable sources.
  • 2. Respect for people: From the farmers who grow the crops to the customer, Stella McCartney ensures a positive impact on all the people involved in the supply chain.
  • 3. Respect for animals: As a vegetarian brand, Stella McCartney promotes cruelty free methods and treats animals and their habitats with respect.
  • 4. Circular Solutions: The brand follows the principles of circular fashion by using regenerative and restorative production methods.

Sandra Sandor

​Sandra Sandor is the mind behind Nanushka, a label that finds its origins in Budapest, Hungary. Starting from vegan leather and upcycled materials, she creates, bags, dresses, and shirts for both men and women. Her unique and simple style reveals her love of nature, and it is taking the fashion world by storm.​


Committed to Reducing its Carbon Footprint

Nanushka has implemented several sustainability initiatives that focus both on protecting the planet and creating a better working environment for its workers. Therefore, the company is continually searching and experimenting with new eco-friendly fabrics and upcycled materials while treating and paying its employees fairly. Even though the brand is growing and expanding, 85% of the production still occurs in Hungary since this significantly contributes to cutting back its carbon footprint and allows for a transparent supply chain. Moreover, Sandra Sandor is sponsoring a Giving Back program to support non-profit organizations that promote this development in less fortunate areas of the world.

Eileen Fisher

We couldn’t make a sustainable fashion designer list without mentioned Eileen Fisher. This eco-friendly designer is passionate about disrupting the linear production model and works in a circular model. She recycles old textiles and garments that result in luxurious and sustainable clothing.

Source: Ellen Fisher

Fisher also went one step ahead by creating a dedicated social consciousness department within her company that addresses human rights, sustainability, and more.

Eileen Fisher Vision 2020

The company has made ambitious public commitments through their Eileen Fisher’s Vision 2020 that comprehends a series of initiatives towards a 100% sustainable business model including plans to hit benchmarks like being carbon positive and using 100 percent organic cotton and linen.  Furthermore, the campaign is not just about resources and energy, this ethical fashion designer is committed to improve the lives of the workers from their supply chain with action plans like the “Handloom Project” by paying fair wages and investing in the development of rural areas. Finally, the ethical fashion designer is also committed to continue and expand her recycling program, taking a step forward towards circular fashion.

Vivienne Westwood

According to an article on good on you, British designer, Vivienne Westwood said “Buy Less, Choose Well, and Make It Last,”. She also said that there is a need to change spending behaviors to address the environmental issues of the fashion industry.

Vivienne Westwood
Source: Vivienne Westwood

While the designer brought a new wave of fashion and modern punk to the mainstream, she is also very sensitive to and concerned with the impact of the industry on climate change issues.. The eco-friendly designer has also presented various protest collection with strong messages like ‘Climate Revolution,’ and more.

Beyond Political Activism

Vivienne Westwood has a long lasting commitment with eco-friendly fashion. In 2011, she teamed up with People Tree, a fair trade apparel company, and launched a collection which is 100% organic with the final goal of attracting people’s attention to the delicate situation of rainforests around the globe.

Katie Jones

Katie Jones, is a UK based knitwear eco-friendly designer who incorporates playful aesthetics with serious ethics. She puts sustainability in practice by embracing her grandmother’s vision of making something beautiful from nothing.

Source: Katie Jones

The ethical designer ensures that her designs are addressing the issues of landfill and over-consumerism. Moreover, the brand also creates experiences that encourage social and environmental change.

Waste not

Based on her approach “Waste Not”, Jones uses unclaimed materials from apparel manufacturers. The sustainable designer and her team turn them into wearable artisanal collections that embrace color, texture and fun. 

Spencer Phipps

Spencer Phipps started his career at Marc Jacobs as a part of the menswear design team. In 2017, he founded Phipps that works on the principles of respect and curiosity for the natural world. This ethical fashion brand explores the concept of environmental responsibility and sustainability in the realm of style.

Source: Spencer Phipps

Sustainability as an obligation, not a buzzword

Phipps takes sustainability as an obligation, not a buzzword. All his products are made with integrity and created with consideration for the environment with eco-friendly materials and sustainable manufacturing processes. The new PHIPPS line even features illustrations of endangered species.

Mara Hoffman

Mara Hoffman designs women clothing, which includes swimwear, made from pre and post-consumer waste. The brand aims to encourage customers to re-evaluate the relationship they have with their clothing.

Mara Hoffman
Source: Vogue

An alternative approach to fashion

By using alternative approaches to fashion production, the ethical fashion designer uses an array of sustainable fabrics including Repreve and Econyl. Hoffman also uses hemp in the ready to wear collection, as well as organic linen, cotton, and other fibrous plant-based materials. Meanwhile, the human side is also part of the brand’s ethos by working in a transparent relationship with suppliers and factories that provide safe working conditions and fair wages. 

Furthermore, her Fall 2019 collection was smaller than usual, in a concerted effort to reduce waste.

Steph Gabriel

Steph Gabriel is the founder of environmental-friendly swimwear line, Ocean ZEN  that is made from recycled fishing nets and plastics.

Source: Ocean Zen

Saving the ocean with Fashion

Ocean ZEN believes in the cause of Cleaner Ocean. Its main mission is to raise awareness on the current state of oceans through sustainable swimwear. The brand has also pioneered the use of revolutionary fabric, which supports the removal of marine debris from oceans.

Moreover, they also do not use any plastic packaging in the transportation of garments.

Maggie Marilyn

Maggie Marilyn is a designer from New Zealand who stands as one of the most outstanding examples in the fashion industries efforts to protect the planet. All her collections are created with sustainable materials that are ethically sourced. Additionally, the brand went the extra mile of using cassava root bags when packaging orders.

Source: Vogue, Peter Van Alpen

Wear-Forever Pieces

Maggie Marilyn is actively promoting the idea of a circular lifecycle for clothes which will make fashion items last forever. From the supply chain to the final product, every step of the process is monitored to make sure that is ethical and sustainable. After their use, she can take back and recycle those pieces into something new. As she stated, “sustainability shouldn’t be a luxury but something everybody can buy.” Therefore, her collections start at a very reasonable price, in order to give everybody a chance to experience her concept. The company has even written a Sustainability Strategy that will be fully implemented by the end of 2020 and it is in harmony with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Rag & Bone

Founded by Marcus Wainwright, Rag & Bone is a luxury sustainable label that redefines the urban style as it is all about local production and sustainability. The brand initially launched as a denim label, and its beginnings were also rooted in love for casual wear including T-shirt and jeans.

Rag and Bone Sustainable luxury brand
Source: Rag & Bone

The Denim Recycling Project

Later in 2017, the brand partnered with Cotton Inc’s Blue Jeans Go Green to start a denim recycling program. Through the program, customers brought their old jeans to the brand stores for recycling in exchange for a 20 percent discount on the purchase of full price jeans from the brand. Following the donation, the denim is recycled and transformed into insulation for homes and civic-minded building around America. Plus, this new insulation material is environmentally safe, free of chemicals, and carcinogenic warnings, and contains active mold and mildew inhibitors.

Kelly Slater

Kelly Starter, along with a group of fellow surfers started a brand called Outerknown. The brand’s aim is to design casual menswear with a manufacturing process that works in respect to the planet.

Source: Outerknown

Transparency and Sustainability

The environmental-friendly brand works on sourcing 100% ethical cotton and uses nylon waste to make jackets and trunks. It is also committed to safe working environments and fair compensation within the entire supply chain of its garments. Their commitment with fair labor practices goes beyond words, since the launch of the brand, they have created trusted partnerships with companies such as Econyl and Fair Trade USA and reached full accreditation by the FLA.

John Patrick

Giving a modern take to the classic silhouettes, John Patrick shows how designers can be eco-friendly without sacrificing on style. He started as a hat designer, but after 20 years in that field, he moved to a warehouse, where he began research on organic materials.

Source: John Patrick

Sustainable Fibers for a better world

As a dedicated eco-fashion designer he continued to dabble in organic fabrics and developed his own line of men and women’s wear- ORGANIC.

Patrick is one of the few sustainable designers to develop a direct relationship with organic farm collective and use of organic materials and eco-conscious practices. Moreover, his entire line is biodegradable.

Furthermore, for the designer, fair labor practices and ecological awareness go hand-in-hand and define his label. Recently he has moved the entire production of his label to New York in order to minimize CO2 emissions and shorten the transit from factory to retail.

Hillary Taymour

Hillary Taymour is the mind behind Collina Strada and perhaps one of the most sustainable fashion’s biggest champion of 2021. Taymour is up for challenges when it comes to sustainability and 2021 is the year of change! Hillary is definitely going beyond trends with its new FW21 collection, that connects different perspectives of humanity,  nature and animals. The brand has been on the scene since 2009 but over the past few seasons it has surged to become the most talked-about brand in New York. Even though Hillary refuses to call her brand sustainable, Collina Strada is taking all possible steps to be environmentally friendly.

Spurce: Vogue, Charlie Engman

Designing Around Deadstock and Used Clothing

In line with its commitment to an environmentally conscious design, Hillary Taymour is mainly using deadstock and left-over fabrics to create her collections. Recently, she has partnered with The OR, an organization that aims at recycling used clothing. Hillary’s upcoming Fall 2021 collection, named “Collina Land,” highlights the brands signature style, defining as “print-on-print layering with bright colors and eco-fabrications” by Hillary Taymour.

How to become a sustainable fashion designer

Whether you have started, or are planning to become a sustainable fashion designer, designing on sustainability principles is a lot more than using organic fabrics, dyes, and textiles.

60-80% of a garment impact on sustainability depends on the choices made at design and development stage. To become a sustainable fashion designer, you need to design anticipating the impact further along in the supply chain, be it at the sourcing, production and packaging phase. To achieve that you will need to learn the different facets of sustainability and efficiently communicate and collaborate with other actors in the development process who also need to be educated on sustainable practices and can align with your vision.

To upgrade your skills and know more about sustainability in fashion, go for Motif’s Sustainability in Fashion Course. The online course is self-paced and relevant for designers and product development team members at a large, whether they are seating in brands, retailers sourcing offices and vendors. And don’t forget as a simple citizen and consumer you should also do your part by supporting sustainable fashion designers to take ethical fashion from margins to the mainstream.

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