Whether celebrating the skills of ethnic craftsmen or studying innovative ways to reuse waste materials, this is BAZAAR’s guide to shopping responsibly.
Clockwise from left: Top, about $535, Shopbop. com. Trench coat, Gabriela Hearst. Sweater, Sonia Rykiel. Sneaker, Stella McCartney
Much has been said about the environmental footprint of the fashion industry—a US$2.5 trillion behemoth that has 60 million people at work behind the scenes making its gears turn, according to statistics compiled by Forbes. Which explains why there have been significant calls for brands and retailers to assess their impact on the environment. And to say that the industry has its work cut out for it couldn’t be truer— there is much work to be done.
2019 is the year when the pendulum swings and fashion is implementing more measures to walk the talk. “Sustainable fashion” is the latest buzz phrase, and on the industry-wide level, brands are coming up with measures to manufacture products in environmentally and socio-economically conscious ways, while encouraging the consumption of fashion more responsibly. On a micro scale, social media has proven to be a powerful tool to rally people behind meaningful causes too. In Singapore, for example, Instagram It Girl Mae Tan campaigned at an awareness event about the use of plastics. “We’re all part of the problem, but it’s time we become part of the solution,” she said.
With the environment increasingly under siege, the motto “First, do no harm” has never been more relevant. Fortunately, labels like Gabriela Hearst, Sonia Rykiel, Salvatore Ferragamo and Maggie Marilyn are rising to the challenge, swapping conventional textiles for organic versions that reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals. Stella McCartney is switching from nylon to Econyl, which is regenerated from fishing nets and industrial plastics. And she has also devised a recyclable sneaker made with hooks and stitching and glue. Adidas has also announced that it will sell five million pairs of shoes made from ocean plastic through their collaboration with Parley for the Oceans. “The threat, into a thread,” summed up Eric Liedtke, Executive Board Member, Global Brands Adidas Group, in a Forbes interview when talking about how the brand has spun a problem into a solution.
The Fifth Collection utilises cutting-edge technology to authenticate its luxury products.
By offering vintage or pre-owned items, e-commerce retailers such as Vestaire Collective are giving consumers the opportunity to rethink ethical consumption. Similarly, The Fifth Collection is also redefining the concept of intelligent luxury. “We provide a smart and environmentally-sustainable alternative for fashion,” said Angie Chen, the site’s fashion curator. “If we can help extend the shelf life of what’s available in our collector’s closets, we’d have saved a substantial amount of natural resources.” Others, such as Style Theory and The Treasure Collective, offer trend-savvy women an economical and eco-friendly way to experience fashion by allowing them the chance to rent outfits.
Thyine spring/summer 2019
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Thyine is an up-and-coming label designed for the minimalist and those seeking timeless elegance in simplicity. While the collections change with every season, one thing remains: Each item is made with ethically sourced raw materials that are of the highest quality.
Swimsuits, August Society
August Society is a swimwear brand that is not only good for you, but good for the earth, too. Their women’s swimwear pieces, which showcase timeless bold prints and colours, are made from a raw material derived from plastic waste.
Esse spring/ summer 2019
Esse is an environmentally-friendly womenswear brand where aesthetics meet ethics. Founded by designer Alicia Tsi, it is on a mission to build a supply chain that reduces waste and promotes transparency whilst producing versatile, classic and timeless pieces.
From left: Tote bag, I Was A Sari at iwasasari.com; Bag, about $169, Edun at maison-de-mode.com
Ethical luxury is about more than just raw materials: To be truly sustainable, fashion must be produced under humane working conditions. In the new Gucci Equilibrium manifesto, the House outlines its commitment to managing the planet’s finite resources and building a culture of respect. Gucci has lent support to I Was A Sari, a social enterprise that employs disadvantaged women in Mumbai to sew tote bags from pre-loved garments. Supporting the creation of one-of-a-kind pieces in the world of homogenised mass production isn’t just ethical, it’s also on trend. Case in point: Sustainable label Edun’s covetable raffia pom-pom bag, hand-woven in Madagascar.
Bags, Soliha Designs at Gallery & Co.
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Besides peddling a small range of furniture and homeware items made utilising the expertise of skilled Filipino craftsmen, Soliha Designs also sells crochet bags that are handcrafted by ex-inmates of the Davao Women’s Prison, situated on the south of Mindanao Island. The initiative not only offers these women a valuable opportunity to learn a work skill, but also gives them a shot at a second chance in life.
Afriyie-Kumi honours the beauty of her homeland with her designs. Bags, AAKS
Founded by Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, AAKS caught the attention of discerning customers with bags that are woven by women in Ghana. Made from ecologically harvested raffia produced by farmers in the African country, each bag takes about one week to produce and is carefully crafted to show off the colourful eclecticism of Ghanaian culture.
From left: Marc Jacobs spring/summer 2019. Versace spring/summer 2019. Prabal Gurung spring/ summer 2019. Prada spring/ summer 2019
In the world of fine jewellery, transparency is chic: Industry stalwarts are taking a stand for responsible sourcing. Tiffany & Co. recently announced a commitment to sharing with consumers the provenance of its diamonds to ensure they are not from conflict zones, where they could be used to finance violence; and De Beers has pioneered the use of block chain technology to track its gems all the way back to the mines they came from. Likewise, Chopard has pledged to use only ethically sourced gold.
Rings, Tiffany & Co. Earrings, Fernando Jorge
“The conversation has shifted because a majority of businesses today realise that, first of all, they are responsible for their supply chain because stories are coming out every day so it cannot be ignored anymore,” said Livia Firth, Creative Director of Eco-Age, a sustainability consultancy firm that partnered with Chopard on the project. What’s more, designers are increasingly opting for renewable alternatives to precious materials. Among the most innovative: Fernando Jorge, who uses tagua nuts from his native Brazil as a plant-based alternative to ivory.
There has never been a stronger push for more diverse representation in fashion than now. The good news: According to a report by The Fashion Spot, an online style and beauty resource, the spring/summer 2019 runways were “the most racially diverse ever”. It tracked 229 shows and found that appearances by models of colour stood at 36.1 percent—up from 32.5 percent from the previous season. Beyond the catwalk, however, the industry is also taking steps to ensure that diversity and thoughtfulness start from within. After some missteps, key fashion players such as Prada and Gucci have introduced measures to promote racial sensitivity. Prada, for example, has set up a diversity council co-chaired by African-American artists Theaster Gates and Ava DuVernay. The council strives to “elevate voices of colour within the company and the fashion industry at large.”
When shopping sustainably, keep your eye out for the Butterfly Mark, an eco-certifiCation awarded by Positive Luxury. The London-based organisation vets brands’ corporate and social responsibility practices and has given wings of approval to brands such as Louis Vuitton, Dior, TAG Heuer and Givenchy in recognition of their commitment to having a positive impact on people and the planet.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING: RACHEL HO, JASMINE CHUA, CHANDREYEE RAY AND HARPER'S BAZAAR US