Fashion accounts for around 10% of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions mainly from the industry’s production, manufacturing, and transportation, but even consumers accustomed to the comfort, accessibility, and speed of fast-fashion and home-delivery are paying attention to the sustainable practices of their favorite brands. In the last decade, designers have taken a big step back to get a better look at fashion’s footprint, and it’s led many designers to re-evaluate their supply chains, delivery services, and business models to minimize the environmental price-tag of their clothing.
Here are six brands that are making headlines pioneering new technologies in the industry:
“The starting point is not design. The starting point is sustainability.” –Stella McCartney
Sustainable fashion’s leading lady, Stella McCartney, is one of the pioneers of ethical and sustainable luxury fashion and has committed her brand to ethical sourcing and sustainable operations since her brand began in 2001. Her lines have never used animal products—not fur, nor leather— and instead, she has pioneered replacements with recycled and sustainably sourced materials. Her flagship stores run on wind and renewable energy, and her ethos prioritizes slow fashion—the practice of buying fewer, high-quality pieces that last for a long time in order to keep materials in use for as long as possible. Each decision the brand makes is a symbol of their commitment to defining what a sustainable future for fashion looks like, and they are always looking to do more.
Gabriela Hearst’s brand relates to sustainability as “accountability,” and is committed to sustainably sourcing quality materials for pieces that will have a limited environmental impact and a very long life. Gabriela has pushed her sustainable goals further and further, from sustainable material sourcing to building her Mayfair flagship store with only recycled materials, to compostable eco-packaging, to putting on the first-ever carbon neutral runway show in 2019. By 2022, her stated goal is to eliminate the use of virgin materials.
When Onia, a luxury swimwear and resort-wear brand opened their New York flagship at the same time as coronavirus hit the city, they had to shutter their shop and take their business online, which created a need for efficient, ecological, and quick delivery. Fast fulfillment is no longer “nice to have,” but the expectation for an online shopping experience, and non-negotiable for a brand’s online success, whether it’s home goods, food, or fashion. In order to keep their environmental impact low, Onia’s swimwear is available for same-day delivery in Manhattan. Swimsuits are delivered using electric ‘Bondmobiles’ instead of cars to ship goods around NYC, lowering the overall emissions for Onia’s shipping.
Hailed by Time Magazine as “the world’s most comfortable shoe,” Allbirds uses innovative and natural materials to minimize their carbon impact. Their shoes incorporate natural and recycled materials like tree fibers, Merino wool, sugarcane, and recycled plastic bottles, but that’s not all: the company takes care to keep track of energy used throughout their manufacturing, and by measuring the emissions of everything they use—from raw materials up to end-of-life—the company can offset their carbon usage so that their sneakers and shoes are carbon neutral. Allbirds sells directly to consumers, and is delivered in 90% post-consumer recycled cardboard packaging with soy-based inks, which means their packaging can be recycled or composted.
More a materials science company than a fashion brand, Pangaia’s team of scientists, technologists, and designers create essential materials for fashion from unexpected natural resources. Their designers use organic cotton, engineered seaweed fiber, recycled materials, environmentally conscious dyes with low water-waste, and have designed coats by replacing goose down with FLWRDWN™, made from flowers. The brand has also adopted an innovative packaging solution, TIPA compostable packaging, which protects each purchase from supply-chain to customer before returning to the biosphere as healthy soil. Engineering essential materials for fashion through innovative tech and bio-engineering has caught the attention of celebrities like Pharrell, Bella Hadid, Kourtney Kardashian, and Kristen Bell, who are embracing the minimal environmental impact of Pangaia’s minimalistic line.
Mara Hoffman’s brightly colored designs make an impact, while reducing environmental impact. Hoffman’s line is made with organic, recycled, and regenerated materials like hemp, organic cotton, linen, alpaca, ECONYL(r) which is made from post-consumer waste, among other innovative materials. By reusing materials, the designer reduces virgin materials entering the industry and redirects materials that would otherwise end up in landfill. Hoffman’s brand remains open to new and innovative manufacturing and packaging processes, and since 2016, their swimwear is packaged in compostable poly bags instead of conventional plastic packaging.
By turning to technology to keep up with the demand, designers have reduced the environmental costs of materials production, clothing manufacturing, and shipping and it has created huge opportunities for innovation across the industry.
Now, fashion brands, manufacturers, packaging and shipping services are leaning into sustainable practices like materials innovation, responsible manufacturing, ethical sourcing, circular material solutions, and reducing emissions through supply chain initiatives and responsible last-mile shipping.
Five out of six of these incredible brands are run by women.