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Top 13 Sustainable Fashion Designers Making a Change in 2021

With the global population set to reach nine billion people by 2030, nature will struggle to meet human demands like never before. The fashion industry emits more than 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year, accounting for more than 10% of the world’s carbon footprint. More consumers and brands realized the need for renovations in fashion, with consumers seeking transparent, sustainable processes, and brands making changes accordingly.

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.

Popular parts of sustainable fashion include:

  • Ethical Fashion: Production, Working conditions, fair-trade
  • Circular Fashion: Recycling, Upcycling, Thrifting
  • Slow Fashion: Sharing, Renting,
  • Conscious Fashion: Eco-friendly, green fashion

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.
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More and more brands are making the transition to sustainable fashion. If you are also considering a change, or just looking to get inspired, let’s take a look at these designers:

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, Stella has been one of the pioneers of eco-friendly, cruelty-free, inclusive, and ethical fashion. This designer is constantly exploring and experimenting with new sustainable materials and technology. She uses organic cotton, ethically sourced wool, regenerated cashmere, recycled textiles, while excluding fur and leather. Her stores use solar panels and LEDs for energy, and recyclable materials for packaging.

Stella McCartney’s latest Fall 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection centers on the hope of “a new beginning.” Apart from her usual sustainability commitments, this collection tapped into fashion’s transformative, escapist capabilities.

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. She doesn’t use fur, down, exotic animal skin or angora, and uses recycled leather, wool, and animal hair. Starting from vegan leather and upcycled materials, she creates bags, dresses, and shirts for both men and women. Her unique and straightforward 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 on protecting the planet and creating a better working environment for its workers. 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 to maintain a low carbon footprint and transparent supply chain. Moreover, Sandra Sandor is sponsoring a Giving Back program to support non-profit organizations that promote this development in less fortunate world areas.

Eileen Fisher

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

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

The company had an ambitious 2020 vision that includes a set of public commitments such as a 100% sustainable business model, 100% organic cotton and linen, and being carbon positive. The company is on track to meet its target and continues to set targets for improvement. Its current vision, “Horizon 2030” aims to:

  • Expand on its circular fashion goals
  • Increase use of natural fibers that increases biodiversity, and increase use of recyclable fibres
  • Take business practices to achieve fair wages, gender equity, and a culture of caring in the communities throughout our supply chain
  • Devote efforts in climate correction, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Katie Jones

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

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.

Sustainability as an obligation, not a buzzword

Phipps takes sustainability as an obligation, not a buzzword. All products are made with integrity and created with consideration for the environment with eco-friendly materials and sustainable manufacturing processes. All packaging, from manufacturer to consumer, is 100% recyclable and plastic-free. Conscious of its carbon footprint, Phipps keeps production mostly local, partnering with manufacturers in Portugal and Italy, where European law regulates pollutants and energy use. It also donates to environmental non-profits such as the USDA Forest Service and Oceanic Global to balance its environmental impact. The brand audits its manufacturers internally to make sure that they meet ethical standards and fair labour conditions.

Mara Hoffman

New York based Mara Hoffman designs women’s clothing, including swimwear, made from pre and post-consumer waste. The brand aims to encourage customers to re-evaluate the relationship they have with their clothing.

An alternative approach to fashion

Hoffman uses an array of sustainable fabrics including Repreve and Econyl, as well as fibrous plant-based materials such as organic linen and cotton. The Pre-fall 2021 collection It’s cut in 100% organic cotton. The swimsuit versions are offered in a blend of recycled polyester with built-in UPF 50+ protection. The brand uses compostable packaging, and uses digital printing technology to reduce water use. On the human side, the brand works on a transparent relationship with suppliers and factories that provide safe working conditions and fair wages. It traces most of its supply chain and visits its suppliers regularly.

In 2020 and 2021, Hoffman’s team decided not to produce the designed Fall 2020 collection, and focused on selling existing inventory. They also had a smaller Spring 2021 collection.

Maggie Marilyn

From New Zealand, Maggie Marilyn is one of the most outstanding examples in the fashion industry’s effort to protect the planet. All her collections are created with sustainable materials that are ethically sourced. Pieces are manufactured locally to reduce their carbon footprint. The brand visits its suppliers regularly, traces most of its supply chain, and ensures payment of a living wage. Additionally, the brand went the extra mile of using cassava root bags when packaging orders.

Wear-Forever Pieces

Maggie Marilyn is actively promoting a circular lifecycle for clothes, allowing fashion items to last forever. From the supply chain to the final product, every step of the process is monitored to make sure that it 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, to give everybody a chance to experience her concept.

The brand’s 2022 Sustainability Strategy plans to address issues of circularity and regeneration, and also aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Rag & Bone

Founded by Marcus Wainwright, Rag & Bone is a sustainable luxury 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 a love for casual wear, including t-shirts and jeans.

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.

Hillary Taymour

Hillary Taymour is the mind behind Collina Strada. The brand has become one of the most talked-about brands in New York over the past few seasons. 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. She also partnered with TheRealReal to recut and remake vintage pieces unfit for the site. Even though Hillary refuses to call her brand sustainable, Collina Strada is taking all possible steps to be environmentally friendly.

Designing Around Humanity, Animals and Nature

For fall 2021, she partnered with illustrators of the Animorphs book series to produce graphics that transform her models into another life form, connecting perspectives of humanity, animals, and nature. Taymour used leftover materials from previous seasons, repurposed clothes from Ghana’s Kantamanto market, created new material from past seasons, and used toiles in the look book.

Marine Serre

Marine Serre is a French fashion designer known for her cutting-edge, sustainability-focused designs that combine different cultural codes. Her work focuses on innovation and sustainability, mostly done by re-purposing ubiquitous elements that she finds. At least half of her collection uses upcycled material.

Regenerated, Upcycled and Recycled

Marine Serre’s Fall-Winter 2021 Ready-to-Wear collection, “Core”, was not presented on a runway (nor a virtual one), but by a website www.marineserrecore.com. She uses this website to show her upcoming lineup, and to educate consumers on how the brand regenerates clothings from discarded material. This collection is made with upcycled and regenerated pieces, and recycled fibres. The label spells out each material via the digital lookbook on its website. .

Emily Adams Bode

Emily Adams Bode, the founder of BODE — a brand considered by many to be the ultimate upcycled designer fashion, was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2016, Bode launched her first menswear collection made from antique fabrics from all over the world. Her pieces have a zero-waste design, are hand-made by expert artisans in New York, and are limited editions so as to minimize waste.

Preserving Traditions and Stories

Bode cares about sustaining traditions and stories, not just reducing her carbon footprint, and she understands her role as an employer. She continued hiring her team of craftspeople in India, Peru,and New York, despite the pandemic.

Ditte Reffstrup

Ditte Reffstrup is the creative director behind the brand Ganni. The brand champions sustainable fashion and has a cult following of #GanniGirls. Ganni is part of the Danish Fashion Ethical Charter and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Ganni states that “it’s not a sustainable brand” because of the “inherent contradiction between being in an industry that thrives and is driven by newness, and the concept of sustainability”.

Tackling Sustainability through Different Environment-Friendly Projects

Instead, Ganni works on different environment-friendly projects and policies. It promotes clothes rental through Ganni Repeat and uses deadstock fabric for its collections. For instance, 70% of the spcollection is made sustainably. In addition, Ganni aims to reduce its carbon emissions by 30% by 2030, and to use 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic packaging by 2025.

Gabriela Hearst 

Gabriela Hearst designs her namesake collection and is Chloé’s newly appointed creative director. In addition, she operates her family’s ranch in Uruguay.

Sustainability from the Collection to the Packaging

For Gabrela Hearst’s fall’s collection, she used 49% repurposed materials, close to her goal of 50% for 2021. Her current goal is to transition to 100% by the end of 2021 or early 2022. The brand is also very mindful of its environmental impact. The brand also uses renewable energy in its supply chain to reduce its climate impact. For some products that involve wool, it uses the wool coming from Hearst’s sheep farm in Uruguay. Hearst is also the first brand to use Tipa compostable bioplastics for all packaging.

Hearst continued her low-impact practice at Chloé, creating a new line that’s “four times more sustainable” than the last. Chloé has also removed synthetics and other artificial materials from their production, while sourcing organic silks and recycled cashmeres.

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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