We're bombarded with a stream of fashion-related images on a daily basis. As conscientious consumers, it can be overwhelming; how do we know where to best spend our money so that we're not only making our wardrobe better, but also purchasing in a responsible manner? With NYFW just around the corner, there's no better time to highlight some of the fashion brands that create with the well-being of the planet in mind and are invested not only in what kind of fashion we shop for but also in the future of a sustainable industry.
Sustainability isn’t just about designing collections with eco-friendly materials and sourcing organic or recycled fabrics; it's about creating garments that are built to last—both physically and style-wise. These serve a long-lasting purpose, namely, to reduce the number of clothes we buy.
While this might sound like a sensible approach (particularly right now, when we have a presidential administration determined to deny the effects of climate change), it's surprising how few designers presenting at NYFW make an effort to use sustainable, ethical practices—at least publicly. But that's all the more reason to celebrate the ones that do. Below, meet the designers who not only create fashion that consumers will want to wear, but also the kind of clothes we can invest in and feel good about.
Founded by Christopher and Nicholas Kunz back in 2003, urban nomad label Nicholas K is certainly no newcomer to the fashion game. The duo design collections that are versatile, transitional, and meant to transcend seasons, thus prolonging the life of each piece. “On a macro level, we strive to create products that are modern with longevity in aesthetics and construction,” says Nicholas. “Relevance many seasons later is how we define success.”
However, a movement toward furthering sustainability took time: “In the early years, our vision seemed at odds with the industry norm,” says Christopher. “As we matured along with the online customer, so too did sustainable partners in the supply chain.”
Over the past few years, they have incorporated more eco-friendly materials like organic cotton, vegetable-dyed leather, Tencel, and more as well as developed a vertical relationship in order to reduce logistics, making it easier to oversee the sustainability measures of the factories used.
“Design is an innovate process that should always include sustainability,” says Nicholas. “I do believe there will be a point where designers will want more for themselves, their families, and the collective community. It’s human nature to be mindful, aware, and have a desire to contribute.”
“We encourage everyone to make incremental steps [toward sustainability]. We are all partners in our future,” adds Christopher.
Nicholas K will be showing on Thursday, February 9 at Skylight Clarkson Square.
OHLIN/D is the brainchild of Anne Deane and Jacob Park, a label that focuses heavily on supporting a socially and environmentally conscious market, taking into consideration both the well-being of the planet and the animals that inhabit it.
By sourcing eco-conscious and cruelty-free materials, staying local, and focusing on safer water practices, the two strive to use as many “do no harm” practices as possible—though they're the first to admit that they aren’t fully sustainable just yet. “We’re unfortunately not 100 percent there yet, but we get better and better every season and are 100 percent transparent about what isn’t yet totally sustainable,” says Deane.
The two hope that more designers will join the eco-friendly movement. Park explains that the fashion industry is the world’s second largest polluter, next to the oil industry. “If more designers practiced sustainable processes, this would greatly lessen the impact,” he says. “Making clothing consciously and sustainably, if done correctly, would help reduce pollution and, by virtue, require that people buy less and save more of what they do buy.” Deane adds, “We have a lot of hope that due to this new administration's lessened interest in environmental issues that, as a population, we will wake up and do our part. If you ignore this, you’re ignoring your entire species and the planet we call home.”
Mara Hoffman runs her namesake ready-to-wear and swimwear line with a strong belief in mindful and conscious practices. Hoffman and her team pay close to attention to how they can do better in all facets of creating a product, from fabrication to factories. She, like many other sustainable designers, creates pieces that are meant to last throughout many future seasons. “I think it’s important for us, through our messaging, to embody the philosophy of buying less and wearing more. Pushing the idea that investing in a better piece, a piece with a longer life, a piece that you’ll wear on a repeat uniform basis is the new cool.”
Hoffman points out that while her brand has always been conscious of manufacturing partners, making sure the facilities they work with follow their social responsibility standards, it wasn’t until recently that they really dove into sustainability. “The real shift and overhaul didn’t happen until two years ago when we went full steam ahead with the more technical changes,” says Hoffman.
She hopes that her brand will be an inspiration to others, especially those who weren’t built and rooted in sustainable practices. “I hope we can be an example and help other brands realize that you don’t have to start a company based on sustainability in order to eventually make those shifts,” she says. “We are living, breathing, and changing proof that it’s doable, that sustainable practices will always be a work in progress, and I truly hope that inspires change.”
Mara Hoffman is showing on Monday, February 13 at Shop Studios.
NYC-based label Monzlapur was born in 2015 with a sustainable production model as part of its identity. Designer Mona Hamid does all she can to ensure minimal production waste while keeping things local in NYC’s Garment District.
“We’re becoming even more conscious every day, and it’s getting us to think more creatively about how to create, and urging us to ask ourselves more questions,” says Hamid. “More and more, I’m brainstorming the idea ‘less is more,’ and creating smaller and more meaningful collections.”
She thinks that a large sustainability movement in the fashion industry needs to start within the community itself. “I think we need to, and will, create awareness by starting to implement it ourselves. We’ve been so engineered to consume relentlessly, and we need to go back to establishing a connection with basic things, like what we place on our bodies and where it’s coming from. If designers were more eco-conscious, they ould create more carefully and less abundantly.”
Hamid hopes that by doing so, this will lead to a world that consumes more meaningfully, which will overall lead to a world that benefits from less waste in all aspects of the production chain.
Monzlapur will be showing on Friday, February 10 at the Flying Solo Collective Show at The Garage.
Fashion designer Elena Rudenko focuses her namesake label on both comfort and femininity—as well remaining true to the idea of slow fashion. She produces each piece with high attention to quality so that it can serve the owner as long as possible, creating less need to buy more. “I believe garments should be multifunctional, so it can automatically reduce the number of pieces you buy,” she says. She’s the brains behind the hashtag “#HaveMoreBuyLess,” which was created in the hopes of stimulating more thoughtful attitudes toward shopping habits.
Of course, Rudenko strives to also produce her pieces with sustainable fabrics, using organic cotton, naturally processed wool, and natural dyes. She even knows the names of some of the sheep she sources her wool from.
Rudenko believes it's up to the major fashion brands and retailers to help kick off a movement against climate change in the industry. “Lots of emerging designers are already involved, but real change will become visible with changes from big fashion conglomerates,” she says. “It’s easy to criticize, and I can understand how hard it is to turn around a huge train, but overall it’s inevitable. Otherwise, it can become too late way sooner than we think.”
Elena Rudenko will be showing on Friday, February 10 at the Flying Solo Collective Show at The Garage.
Ryan Roche takes many measures to reduce the impact of her namesake luxury knitwear label on the climate. Mainly producing collections in Nepal and Italy, Roche is committed to manufacturing responsibly, sustainably, and with low impact.
Opting for eco-friendly natural plant dyes as often as possible, her Nepal factory also uses a water recycling filtration system during the dyeing process. The designer ensures factory workers in both her Italy and Nepal factories are paid a working wage and developing life skills. In Nepal, the brand has supported job opportunities for destitute women, while giving them the opportunity to work in the Aasha Ghar Women Center, where they can live modestly and support their children.
What's more, the label is striving to be even more sustainable. Roche is in the process of searching for recycled cotton and silks to be introduced into future collections.
Ryan Roche is showing on Saturday, February 11.
Collina Strada, a boutique brand known for inventive takes on wardrobe staples, was founded back in 2009 by designer Hillary Taymour.
While you may not dub Collina Strada as a fully eco-conscious, sustainable brand, the steps Taymour takes to be a more environmentally friendly brand certainly contributes to the fashion industry being less inherently toxic. The label is considered a slow fashion brand, ensuring quality manufacturing to lengthen the life of each piece, with all production taking place within Manhattan's Garment District. “I don’t believe in shipping product all over the world to finish one jacket,” says Taymour. She also keeps greenhouse emissions as low as possible, ships with only recyclable boxes, and uses non-chrome-dyed fabrics as much as possible.
Still, Taymour does not claim her brand to be fully eco-conscious. “There is huge controversy behind claiming yourself as an eco-conscious brand, which is why I don’t label the brand that way anymore,” she says. “I realize that not everything we do can be geared toward saving the world—sometimes a non-eco fabric just works better for your vision. Still, I like to do anything I can that hopefully might make a difference, and will continue to do so even more now that we are in this new administration.”
The designer believes that a consumer movement away from fast fashion could help play a major part in helping the fragile state of earth’s climate. “If we could shop more consciously, we could probably gain a few more years on a habitable planet,” she says.
Collina Strada will be showing on Thursday, February 9 at Pier 59.
Minan Wong is a sustainable womenswear label that exists to celebrate the strength of a woman, using soft and feminine silhouettes. Designer Mimi Wong proudly creates her collections with sustainable materials whenever possible—using everything from organic cotton to recycled wool and more—living (and producing) by the philosophy, “Great design starts with sustainable materials whenever possible.”
Wong is no newcomer to sustainable fashion. After working for sustainable label Eileen Fisher for over a decade, she brought those skills and ideals to her own label. In addition to using sustainable materials, all garments are produced ethically and locally in NYC’s Garment District.
While she says the movement has clearly already begun, it’s a matter of now “closing the loop.”
“We are out there, but it’s a matter of retail and consumer awareness, as well as promoting the importance of sustainability,” she says. “Once more designers are on board with being more eco-conscious, it will help create a backward trickle effect. The farmers, fabric suppliers, chemists, and manufacturers will also start to produce sustainably—supply and demand.”
Minan Wong will be showing on Friday, February 10 at the Flying Solo Collective Show at The Garage.
Designer Jenny Lai produces her sustainable brand NOT entirely in New York City—whether in her own Upper West Side studio or with small factories and seamstresses in the Garment District. Not only does she use end stock fabric for many of her designs, eco-consciously giving her pieces a unique edge and limited availability, but she never overproduces. She keeps her stock limited while tailoring production to customer demand.
Lai believes that in order for the sustainability movement to take place successfully and effectively, the public needs to be more educated and be offered more alternatives. “If documentaries such as A True Cost become widely disseminated and discussed starting in school years, the option of shopping from local designers can be as convenient as shopping at Zara. If customers start demanding transparency, then there’s a change that large companies will pay attention.”
She adds that while the garment industry is one of the most wasteful ones, the consumers have the loudest voice. “Making the effort to find out who or what you’re supporting through your purchase and moreover, being outspoken about it, will, in turn, impact businesses to pay more attention to the decisions they’re making in terms of sustainability.”
NOT by Jenny Lai will be showing on Friday, February 10 at the Flying Solo Collective Show at The Garage.