By Arielle Toelke
Welcome to the future of fashion: Brands that are changing and challenging the industry standard.
Every time a purchase is made, it has an ethical, economical, social and environmental impact. By choosing what and where to buy, you are choosing the standard of how, with what materials, and where each item is manufactured.
Many brands produce their clothing using harmful chemical dyes, non-recycled materials, unethical labor and wasteful manufacturing. While this results in lower costs to the consumer, it also means the continued utilization of these destructive practices. Breaking this cycle completely is unrealistic, but it is possible to buy fewer, higher-quality clothes from brands using a range of sustainable practices and ethical manufacturing to change the standard for how and where clothes are made.
Eileen Fisher is at the helm with its Eileen Fisher Renew and Vision 2020 initiatives. The latter’s goal is to have a circular economy – a system that’s sustainable, fair and innovative with regard to the manufacturing, sourcing, resources and livelihoods of the people that make their clothes – by the year 2020.
Meanwhile, Eileen Fisher Renew is a take-back program that pays the donor in exchange for their worn clothes which are then sorted into three categories: good condition, immediately re-sellable; slightly worn (maybe a stain here and there); and irreparably damaged. In the first category, the pieces are cleaned and resold as vintage at a much lower cost. Items in the second category are given new life with mending and natural dyes provided by the powerhouse Botanical Colors, a partner in the Renew program.
The third category is where the company pushes the boundaries of upcycling. Instead of discarding damaged and stained clothing, they refashion them into completely new styles with high-quality materials meant to last. This keeps the textiles out of landfills, because they believe that their waste is their responsibility, and puts Eileen Fisher at the forefront of fashion.
Patagonia’s environmental efforts take them far beyond the average company. On a consumer level, they offer incredible customer service. Clothes are guaranteed for life and repairs are free.
Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder, does not consider himself a businessman, a humble statement from a man who has grown a global enterprise. Instead he feels an innate sense of responsibility to help, inspire and implement solutions for the greater good of the environment.
For over 30 years, 1 percent of every sale of Patagonia merchandise has been donated to diverse grassroots organizations such as Waterkeeper Alliance, which unifies a global effort against water pollution, and the New York-based Cafeteria Culture, an educational coalition working to eliminate the use of styrofoam and achieve zero-waste environments in schools. Chouinard has also started initiatives such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which holds its member companies to better environmental manufacturing standards. In 2013, Patagonia launched an internal venture capital fund, $20 Million and Change, now called Tin Shed Ventures, with the purpose of investing in any grassroots and like-minded companies seeking to create responsible solutions for planetary wellness. Areas they fund include organizations focused on building renewable energy infrastructure, practicing regenerative organic agriculture, conserving water, diverting waste, and producing sustainable materials.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org. for an application and information. To get involved with the grassroots activists in your community, contact patagonia.com/actionworks/
G-Star RAW is “future-proofing denim” through their continuing innovations, from manufacturing to ethical labor, a commitment which has earned them Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certification, the gold medal in sustainability. The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute brings awareness and education to manufacturers to promote environmental advancements and effect change within the supply chain, materials, fabrication, labor and beyond. This includes strict requirements of transparency, continuing innovation and sustainability of each company.
G-Star Raw doesn’t just use environmentally safe materials; they also want to lessen their overall energy footprint. By using responsibly-sourced labels and nontoxic buttons, their jeans are 98 percent recyclable. They have also invented new formulas for their indigo dye, one of which contains no salts and 70 percent fewer chemicals, so the water used to color their jeans does less environmental harm when it goes back into the waterways. Their organic cotton contains no chemicals or pesticides and requires 91 percent less water to produce. The remainder returns to the earth clean and the cotton that ends up next to your skin is irritant-free.
Eileen Fisher, Patagonia and G-Star Raw are just a few of the larger brands making giant waves in sustainable and ethical fashion. Although they are paving the way for smaller companies to thrive on similar platforms, the challenges such businesses face in transparency and sustainability are much different. Many items are manufactured locally or in-house, supplies are sourced domestically, and how they approach making sustainable goods can vary.
Zero Waste Daniel specializes in “ReRoll.” To prevent any fabric from ending up in a landfill, owner Daniel Silverstein takes little bits of scrap and pieces them together by hand into stylish unisex tops and bottoms in his make-shop in Brooklyn, New York. ZWD is the first company to make 100% zero-waste clothes, where all materials and resources are utilized to produce functional ensembles without producing trash, and offers custom designs.
Study NY is the brainchild of Tara St. James. Not only does Tara run a transparent, sustainable clothing company, but she also lends her talents to educating emerging designers and works as the production coordinator for the Brooklyn Design and Fashion Accelerator. Many of Study NY’s pieces employ zero-waste pattern-making, meaning the whole piece of yardage is utilized during the construction of the garment. Additionally, Tara creates new pieces like the Weaving Hand Sweatshirt from her own textile scraps. In every aspect of her company, she considers responsible fabric, ethical production and the ethos of slow fashion – a philosophy that ensures quality manufacturing to lengthen garment life, as opposed to disposable fast fashion.
Four Rabbit is changing the eco-fashion archetype by placing a vital importance on employing local and ethical labor, sustainable creation, and raising awareness in the textile industry. Technical, functional, stylish, unisex clothing is made using zero-waste pattern-making.
It’s becoming easier all the time to make smart, conscious choices as a consumer. If you want to be the future of fashion, buy sustainably.
For more information, visit eileenfisher.com/vision-2020, fourrabbit.com, study-ny.com, zerowastedaniel.com, g-star.com, and patagonia.com.