All facts and figures aside – fashion-conscious consumers seem to care that they purchase sustainable styles. After sifting through a plethora of surveys and market research, it becomes increasingly clear that shoppers intend to purchase sustainable products but their words do not necessarily align with their purchasing habits. Among millennials, 66% of shoppers say that they are willing to spend more on brands that prioritize their sustainability initiatives – according to a 2018 study conducted by McKinsey & Company in collaboration with Business of Fashion. Although in practice, according to fashion business school, LIM College in New York, only 34% of millennials actually were driven to make a fashion purchase because the product was sustainable.
While we all are sometimes guilty of not practicing what we preach, especially when it comes to our clothing consumption habits, it is important to know the ramifications of our less sustainable sartorial choices. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a not-for-profit organization committed to facilitating the creation of a global circular economy across industries, cites in its A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future report that 73% of 53 million tons of garments produced every year end up in landfills or incinerated.
If this shocking statistic does not make us rethink how we create and consume clothes, what will?
In addition to the detrimental effects of fashion brand supply chains on the environment, individuals who produce our clothes often are left to labor under inhumane working conditions without livable wages. The world is waking up to the reality of this pressing issue. The tragic collapse of Rana Plaza, a garment-production factory right outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed over 1,000 works in 2013, and documentaries such as The True Cost, unveil the reality of life for laborers in the sweatshops responsible for producing fast-fashion merchandise. However, while the fashion industry’s supply chains have a long way to go, brands understand the importance of this injustice and are creating programs to uphold the corporate social responsibilities.
Then, there’s the animal welfare issue. With designer brands joining the Fur-Free alliance at an accelerating rate, entirely banning fur from their collections, it seems that luxury brands are making a statement about their ethical standards with actions that follow suit.
Lack of product availability, rather than malintent, tends to be a great determining factor in which garments get funneled into our wardrobes. There are brands like Everlane, Reformation, and Allbirds which have clearly won over younger generations of shoppers with chic and consciously-made designs. However, these brands are outliers in the broader fashion landscape.
In many ways, sustainable fashion is the new luxury. When buying luxury items, we tend to more thoroughly think through our purchasing decisions, becoming more conscious of where our hard-earned cash is going. Here are some luxury brands that will enable you to buy into sustainability-driven and socially-good causes, without sacrificing your style:
Arguably the founder of the sustainable luxury movement, Stella McCartney’s namesake brand, has been committed to creating ethical fashions since its inception. The vegetarian-friendly designer label’s success demonstrates that we do not need to sacrifice our moral codes to be fashionable in the modern era. The products are comprised of sustainability-source fabrics such as recycled nylon and polyester, organic cotton, and lines of Skin-Free Skin and Fur-Free apparel. Most recently, the brand challenged students to (successfully) create a more environmentally-friendly textile that can be used in place of wool.
The luxury brand’s charity efforts also are centric to its corporate mission. Over the years, Stella McCartney has partnered with not-for-profit organizations, such as Parley For Oceans and Fashion Positive, to bring some much-needed attention to the masses about how our wardrobe choices impact the world around us.
Rêve En Vert
With fast-fashion’s ultra-rapid turnover cycles, founders Cora Hilts and Natasha Tucker simply had enough of consistently watching our clothes go from our wardrobes to being thrown with waste into landfills. Hilts created the brand that aligns with her belief that “inevitably, your lifestyle choices pervade your fashion choices.” She continues:
“Personally, as I have become more concerned with climate change, animal welfare, and my own wellness, I have become more dedicated to my wardrobe and beauty choices reflecting these concerns. For instance, as I have become more in-tune with organic eating, I have also become more committed to making sure my makeup – what goes on my skin, mouth, eyes and in my hair – is also organic. It’s all connected.”
Following in Stella McCartney’s footsteps, the London-based, the sustainable luxury fashion platform prides itself on cultivating a broader awareness of our clothing, accessory, and beauty consumption habits. To have their products featured on the e-commerce site, brands need to uphold four criteria throughout their supply chains– use organic and natural materials, produce minimal waste, value their local communities, and implement fair-trade policies for their factories’ workers.
The brand goes against the industry trend of providing customers with free shipping in the name of sustainability in an attempt to make sure that consumers aware of the greater implications of modern-day conveniences. Rêve En Vert also contributes a portion of its profits to Tree of the Future. Holts explains how these two areas of the business work in tandem:
“We already use carbon-neutral shipping with our logistics, but as an international retailer, I felt like this still wasn’t quite enough to offset the inevitable footprint we were having getting things to and from our company HQ in London. Trees for the Future is an incredible charity that re-plants trees in places that have really suffered from deforestation and creates local livelihoods in the process. Working with this organization, I feel that we are able to put fresh oxygen back into the air and enables us to go a step further to alleviate the effects of our shipping. I hope this makes our customers feel better about [the extra shipping costs] as well.”
The retailer offers a variety of environmentally-conscious and chic contemporary designer labels, from their private label line, R.E.V by Rêve En Vert, to more widely available brands such as Mara Hoffman.
Launching in 2018, the brand offers a plethora of modern, minimalist styles of merchandise – from dresses, tops to jumpsuits, bottoms, and knits – with an interwoven incentive to buy.
Ninety Percent donates 90% of its profits to charities of their customers’ choosing. After receiving their online orders, shoppers can individually go onto “vote” tab of the Ninety Percent website, type in their unique order codes from the items’ care labels, and choose from a select group of charities to which they would like to donate 90% of the garments’ costs. According to the brand’s website, of the 90% donated profits, 80% of the proceeds will go directly to the chosen causes, 5% to those who produce the clothes, and 5% to those that “run the brand.”
By participating in this collective effort, Ninety Percent makes consumers not only aware of what they buy but why they choose to purchase certain items. Mindfulness truly is a modern-day luxury in-and-of itself.
Initially, the brand created its products from both animal leather and its animal-free alternative, Technik leather textiles. In an interview with founder Vicki von Holzhausen, she explains how and why, in the name of sustainability and ethics, the brand decided to switch over to using exclusively vegan leather. Von Holzhausen says:
“The leather tanning industry is the 2nd most polluting industry in the world, especially [with] respect to water pollution. When I realized that the leather industry ultimately did not reflect von Holzhausen’s core mission, I made it my goal to create an alternative that would be 100% sustainable AND ethical.”
With its commitments to being environmentally and socially-conscious, couples its ethical values with designs that are equally fashionable and functional. For instance, most of their larger styles, including the item shown above, can hold a 15” laptop, a feature that caters to the needs of our digital nomad generation. Accordingly, the now-vegan leather accessory brand prides itself on innovation. When creating its signature Technik leather, von Holzhausen designed the textile with the evolving modern luxury consumer in mind. As consumers increasingly are more concerned with the welfare of animals and our environment, von Holzhausen argues that leather no longer is luxurious as a well-made animal-free alternative. She says:
“The consumer is starting to show interest in different, future-minded attributes rather than what is typically considered ‘luxurious’. In our case, we see real leather as commonplace; while we know that our Technik-Leather is created with science behind it, making it more ‘luxurious’ since it is much more unique and takes effort to design and engineer.”
Based on her experience running her namesake brand, von Holzhausen explains the needs of a modern luxury customer. She continues:
“Our clients care about style that has added benefits. They still want the aspirational look and feel of a beautifully designed and made product. They also want to know that the product is created in an ethical and sustainable way and they are willing to pay a premium to have that.”
In accordance with its ethical standards, the brand follows a transparent pricing, DTC distribution model and gives 10% of the profits from each purchase to back to their local, Los Angeles community. The brand has had a partnership with the charity, Hope Gardens, a part of Los Angeles’ largest homeless shelter, Union Rescue Mission, since the brand’s founding in 2015.
The Tulum-based luxury swimwear brand believes that creating sustainable and ethical products is – not an option but – a requirement of a modern fashion brand. To make their bikinis and one-piece suits, the label manufactures its Italian fabric suits in a green energy facility, to lower their water usage and lessen their carbon footprint. Created out of ECONYL, a regenerated nylon sourced in partnership with The Healthy Seas Project, and LYCRA XTRA LIFE, all of their bathing suit styles are reversible and designed to allow the customer to “mix & match” all of the available offerings.
The brand’s overall mission, in conjunction with its sustainability efforts, is to support Mexican communities. By producing all of their products in Tulum, Amara creates jobs that offer fair, livable wages and promotes cultural exchange.
Matt and Nat
The brand understood the importance of creating sustainable leather goods before its mainstream fashion industry predecessors. Founded in 1995, Matt and Nat always has been committed to using animal alternative textiles to create its products. In addition to its signature animal-free leather fabric, the brand incorporates recycled materials such as recycled plastics, nylons, and cork into their women’s and men’s accessory products. Since 2007, the lining of all its handbags is made from 100% recycled plastic bottles.
Matt and Nat offers various lines of bags, shoes, and small leather goods that pair perfectly with any modern and mindful shopper’s aesthetic.
Short for “No Animal Killed,” this vegan shoe line shows that luxurious and sleek shoes do not need to be made out of leather – the textile that seems to produce the most negative environmental impact within the luxury industry. Unlike many eco-friendly shoe brands, NAK exclusively targets a luxury and fashion-conscious clientele. Sarah Palestrini, NAK's General Manager says:
"The main difficulty is related to the culture within the existing marketplace. We have a “basic vegan” market where existing goods have a limited application of fashion, intended as design and style, and a market for rare animal leather where many people are ready to spend high sums of money and wait for months to have their leather accessories delivered. Our target is to combine these two market segments, joining the concept of cruelty-free and luxury. We want to create a product that is for every consumer, not only for vegans"
Despite the shoes being made out of non-animal leather, they all are waterproof, breathable, and weigh three times less than a comparable shoe made of animal leather – according to the company.
The brand is still new on the sustainable shoe market scene, launching in May 2018 in the U.K. This label offers both women’s and men’s shoes and are manufactured in Italy. With their British aesthetic and artisanal Italian craftsmanship, NAK offers sleek, simple yet elegant styles from the heeled sandal shown above to vegan suede sneakers and knee-high faux leather boots.
Fashion allows us to explore our creativity and wear our beliefs on our sleeves. We might never be able to overcome our shopping addictions so we might as well shop to promote the creation of a more sustainable world and to support positive social impact initiatives within our communities.
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