For Stella McCartney, the best way to deal with that colossal waste has always been head-on. For the designer’s AW17 campaign, she made her most explicit visual statement yet, collaborating with artist Urs Fischer and photographer Harley Weir to present models messing around on a landfill in Scotland. For McCartney, the campaign aimed to “portray who we want to be and how we carry ourselves; our attitude and collective path”. The result was an optimistic but bracingly honest set of images, which is not surprising, considering the designer has stood by her commitment to being a responsible, sustainable brand. Today, the label uses only vegetarian ‘Skin-Free Skin’ leather, uses forest-friendly and recycled fabrics whenever possible, and recently partnered with biotechnology company Bolt Threads to create new sustainable materials from proteins existing in nature.
The modern heir to Hamnett’s agenda-setting might be Demna Gvasalia, whose Parisian label Vetements is now the byword for radical change in fashion. Last summer, the designer announced his label was leaving behind the seasonal show system altogether in favor of lower production of clothes, as made at specialist factories, with fabrics that last. What’s more, when those items include an £880 pair of jeans made from two pairs of vintage Levi’s cut into 21 pieces and sewn back together, it’s clear that for Gvasalia, producing clothes ethically is simply a byproduct of rejecting fashion’s parameters from every possible angle.
Standing apart from the idea of simply producing fewer clothes, however, certain new names are combining environmentally friendly materials, as well as innovative methods to reduce wastage, to become the new ones-to-watch. In L.A., Reformation discloses the entire environmental footprint of each garment on its tag, using what the brand has coined as the ‘RefScale’. Also emphasizing how ethical fashion is part of the feminist fight, there’s a growing movement in independent, ethically minded lingerie labels: Anekdot, Neon Moon and Naja use techniques such as upcycling deadstock materials, and reducing water waste through digitally printing colors instead of dyeing them.
In London, Birdsong is an online and sometimes-IRL shop hoping to prove that shopping ethically needn’t break the bank. “All our clothes are made by women’s groups and charities with rare skills,” explains co-founder Sophie Slater, who works on a premise of no sweatshops and no Photoshop. “We pair their expertise with our designs, creating wearable pieces with a mind to the future.” In reality, that means cute garments crafted by everybody from migrant seamstresses to knitting grannies, meaning women who usually have significant barriers to work are able to get a living wage.
For Slater, brands and retailers need to see the bigger, 360-degree picture of the problem of how to shop ethically. From having total control of their supply chain to simply making clothes with pockets, Birdsong sees ethical fashion as a feminist mission. “Ethical fashion is growing at a faster rate than ‘regular’ fashion, and young people are more and more concerned with how things are made,” she says. “It’s felt great to have seen a gap for something that (women) needed and wanted.”
It seems like no coincidence that it’s driven young women, rather than faceless corporations, who are the figures innovating behind-the-scenes to create sustainability in fashion. By answering the problem of what people might actually like to wear, as well as letting them know who made it, fashion’s most future-minded labels are giving hope for a less-wasteful wardrobe to come.