Today, sustainability is no longer a niche for specialised brands. It’s an expected standard for how companies approach their business. High-end shoppers, too, are beginning to question the eco-consciousness of their favourites. From fabric sourcing and manufacturing to distribution, sales and returns, a lot goes into creating trends that not only complement our wardrobes but our planet, too. HELLO! brings you the champions of the cause, the luxe labels doing right by the environment.
A luxury fashion house is truly sustainable if the brand…
- Engages in responsible manufacturing and protects the welfare of its workforce.
- Tries to preserve rich, traditional crafts such as embroidery, beading, jewellery-making, weaving, block-printing and dyeing techniques.
- Is forthcoming about its suppliers and supply chain altogether.
- Adopts the use of natural and ethical fabrics, as well as natural, non-toxic dyes like soy instead of traditional petroleum-based ink.
- Invests time and money to design well-made, bespoke items, as opposed to mass-market, computer-generated offerings.
- Favours FSC-certified paper over plastic and offers compostable packaging.
- Pays close attention to its messaging, and hiring practices — and whether both reflect inclusivity.
Synonymous with sustainable luxury fashion, Stella McCartney set the bar high for social and environmental accountability since the 90s. A pioneer of using alternative materials and ethical practices, her label uses re-engineered cashmere and silk, fibres from forests, recycled nylon and polyester, vegetarian leather and organic cotton.
In 2005, the brand launched the Adidas by Stella McCartney range of sustainable sneakers and activewear, and in 2014, put to practise Clevercare, a five-step labelling system that educates consumers on garment care. The result? A lot less waste. A member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, the UK-based fashion house is careful with its selection of suppliers, is cruelty-free (no fur or leather), 100 percent PVC-free, uses sustainable packaging, and conducts regular audits to measure its environmental impact. An added bonus: contributions to Bioplanet, Memorial Sloan Kettering and Million Trees Miami.
A slew of eco-initiatives blended with some unparalleled creative genius makes Gucci a covetable ethical fashion house. One of the first luxury labels to use ECONYL — a fabric made of consumer waste, recycled plastic, ghost fishnets and discarded carpets — Gucci is committed to environmental benchmarks.
It uses materials like metal or chrome-free tanned leather, recycled polyester thread and linings, and recycled brass, gold and palladium hardware. With a guarantee that the brand will make 95 percent of its raw material traceable, it’s among the most transparent brands in the luxury category. Gucci Equilibrium, a platform started in 2015, is the Italian maison’s commitment to eco-friendly and sustainable fashion, which upholds the vision of its parent company, Kering. And in 2020, Gucci launched Off the Grid, its first sustainable collection.
Grassroot by Anita Dongre
Anita Dongre needs no introduction in the fashion space in India. A pioneer of sustainability, she took her eco-initiatives up a notch with the launch of Grassroot by Anita Dongre, a label comprising only ethically made sustainable clothing. It nurtures and employs female artisans from villages, the custodians of Indian crafts. Think intricate thread work, hand-embroidery, and time-honoured dyeing techniques.
The House of Anita Dongre uses BembergTM and TencelTM fibres (both are biodegradable and compostable) as well as cotton sourced from the Better Cotton Initiative. The Anita Dongre Foundation also works with organisations that employ women who help upcycle fabric waste. Besides fashion-related initiatives, the designer is involved in tree planting drives, staying fur-and leather-free and going paperless wherever possible.
No stranger to sustainability, Gabriela Hearst took the slow fashion route since her first launch in 2015. In 2017, her eponymous label unveiled a collection using 30 percent deadstock fabrics, soon introduced biodegradable packaging, became plastic-free by 2019, invested in zero-waste stores and is now working towards eliminating the use of virgin materials.
In 2020, the New York-based designer hosted the industry’s first carbon-neutral showcase, for which she worked with EcoAct to monitor every aspect of the production, design, and installation process. She also uses wool from her family’s merino sheep farm in Uruguay to produce piqué and twill suits, and partners with a non-profit in her homeland to empower the rural women who work on the brand’s hand-knits. Today, she steers Chloé down the same path as its newly appointed creative director.
A member of the Fair Wear Foundation, which helps the brand monitor and improve labour conditions, since 2008, Acne Studios is clearly open to trying to improve year on year — a trait that’s evident in their annual sustainability report.
Besides periodically disclosing its sustainability targets and labour conditions, the Swedish brand is known for its use of recycled and repurposed fabrics, organic silk and linen, and lyocell in its contemporary designs, adding to the brand’s eco-luxury values. In fact, in 2020, Acne Studios added a sustainable line, ‘Repurposed’, to its repository. Since then, it’s designed a variety of capsule collections quarterly, using a series of discarded offcuts and recycled fabrics that otherwise would have gone to waste.
A high-end sustainable brand, renowned for craftsmanship and chic vegan products, Bottega Veneta is a prime example of eco-luxury. It was as far back as 2012 that it launched durable, classic and sustainable handbags, aiming to minimise carbon emissions.
For this edit, it used a sturdy, waterproof and flexible material made of Naoron paper, produced from the bark of mulberry trees, as well as Japanese washi paper. Functioning under the Kering Group, Bottega Veneta was the first luxury label to receive the LEED certification from the Green Building Council in 2014, for its ecological Montebello Vicentino atelier. And at Milan 2020, it unveiled a line of biodegradable boots made of sugarcane and coffee.
“Buy less, choose well, make it last.” With this motto at its core, Vivienne Westwood set quite the example by slowly transforming itself into a sustainable masterpiece. The legendary label strives to make its clothes with greater care, promotes arts and culture and uses recycled and eco-friendly fabrics like silk, organic cotton, hemp, coir and tencel.
The designer also tries to mobilise people using her label to educate them on climate change and human rights. And with cutting-edge sustainable technologies, collaborations and runway events, Vivienne Westwood shows that going down the eco-friendly road is no rocket science — it merely takes heart. The brand’s Fall 2022 edit featured garments in organic cotton, recycled polyester and nylon, and responsibly sourced viscose, and promoted cruelty-free products with a lower impact on the planet.
Known for its colourful swimwear, Mara Hoffman bases its creations on mindful consumption. The designer encourages consumers to reevaluate their relationship with clothing through sustainability commitments. Besides ECONYL (regenerated nylon fibre derived from waste) and REPREVE (regenerated polyester fibre made from recycled plastic), the brand’s also use hemp, organic cotton, linen, ethical alpaca wool, and fibrous plant-based materials like modal sourced through the Lenzing Group.
It employs eco-friendly means for shipping, packaging and branding, and upholds globally accepted environmental and human rights standards for responsible production. A bonus: Mara Hoffman hosts a second-hand shop called Full Circle to limit items that end up in landfills.
In the sportswear space, Adidas leads from the front, having been one of the first to bring sustainability to the mass market. With the aim to replace virgin polyester with recycled polyester by 2024, the brand follows an ‘innovation first’ principle. The end goal? A fully circular future. It’s been expanding its portfolio with more eco-friendly options. In 2015, for instance, Adidas introduced the first pair of shoes made from upcycled marine plastic waste.
Earlier this year, the Adizero x Allbirds ultralight running shoe — sneakers with the lowest footprint — hit the market. The brand also developed Stan Smith Mylo, a concept shoe made from a mushroom-based material. Adidas achieved its energy reduction targets of 20 percent by 2020, was a founding member of initiatives like Better Cotton, Leather Working Group and Fair Labor Association, and partners with the likes of the Parley network and the Fashion for Good platform — all highlighting its commitment to the cause.
One of America’s largest luxury brands, Tommy Hilfiger advocates sustainable fashion both from a social and manufacturing point of view. Abiding by its ‘Waste Nothing, Welcome All’ motto, Tommy Hilfiger strives to reduce waste by using eco-friendly fabrics and plant-based materials, through which it hopes to contribute towards the fight against climate change.
In 2020, the label launched its ‘Make It Possible’ initiative, aimed at reducing the company’s carbon footprint. The same year, the label unveiled premium shoes made of recycled apple peel fibres, a green alternative to animal leather. And to further its push for eco-friendliness, its parent company, PVH Corp, teamed up with biotech firm Evocative in 2021, to join the plastic-free vegan movement and use rapidly growing mycelium to produce raw materials.
This New Zealand-based designer is on a mission: she wants to transform the fashion industry into one that’s “transparent, circular, regenerative and inclusive”. Known for glamorous luxury designs that use organic cottons and ethically produced silks, Maggie Marilyn frames its own green strategy, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, as well as a suppliers code of conduct.
Maggie Marilyn Hewitt, the brand owner, incorporates organic silks and cotton and other sustainable materials like FSC viscose into her garments and is also vocal about creating an inclusive environment for manufacturers and suppliers. All these green initiatives aren’t merely a box-ticking exercise either, for the brand issues updates on the performance of its strategies and sets new targets annually.
Passionate about disrupting the linear production model, Eileen Fisher adopted the circular system, recycling and giving new life to old textiles and discarded garments. The Illinois-bred designer’s eponymous label produces luxurious sustainable womenswear crafted out of recycled fabrics, organic fibres, responsible wool, lyocell and natural dyes. So it comes as no surprise that the Eileen Fisher brand is B Corp-certified and also runs second-hand shops called Renew and Waste No More. The company launched its first recycling programme in 2009, accepting old purchases to repair, clean and sell at discounted prices. The team also collaborates with eco-conservation organisations, supports artisans and empowers women through the Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute.
Boasting eco-credentials like low waste, fair trade and sustainable materials, Roopa Pemmaraju makes vibrant collections designed as future heirlooms, prioritising slow fashion along the way.
Her feminine creations combining modern and traditional designs are drafted in New York and then sustainably made by skilled artisans in Bengaluru, who use age-old techniques like beading, embroidery, weaving, dyeing and printing to carry their legacy forward — also ensuring that no two pieces are alike. The use of natural fabrics like silk, recycled cotton corn fibres and eucalyptus, all dyed and block-printed using natural dyes, further add to the designer’s green credentials.
This interview has been adapted for the website from an interview that was originally published in HELLO! India’s December 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!