In Style + Design

Sustainability Is The New Frontier For Luxury Fashion

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Boldly different, the new Volkswagen Arteon is designed for thoroughly unique individuals.

As far as fashion trends go, sustainability is one with undeniable sticking power. Despite continuing political debate about the veracity of climate change, fashion labels, grassroots activist groups and designers themselves are quietly enacting real change over their own domain.

In 2017, mass production is probably the easiest and cheapest it’s ever been, yet more consumers are voting with their buying power, steering away from fast fashion and brands with shady reputations in favour of those taking a stand.

For as long as fashion has captured the hearts and minds of the masses, there have been labels more focused on sustainability than others; Stella McCartney, a staunch vegan and animal advocate, utilises leather substitutes for her clothes and accessories. Kering, the French fashion group Stella McCartney belongs to, has positioned itself as a leader in sustainability in the luxury sector.

Beyond these proponents of luxury goods, ‘ethical clothing’ has traditionally been synonymous with hemp, hessian and Nimbin, inspiring about the same level of sartorial reverence as the good old potato sack.

These days, things are different. Consumers are actually seeking out ethical purchases, and designers are taking heed by producing sustainably-sourced clothing people actually want to wear.

How did we get here?

sustainable fashion luxury brands sustainability

Designs by Stella McCartney, a leader in sustainable fashion. Photo: Facebook

The Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, in which over 1000 underpaid Bangladeshi garment factory workers lost their lives when a building collapsed in Dhaka, brought issues of workplace safety and cheap labour crashing into the mainstream.

What was once easy to ignore while clicking our way through bulk orders online was suddenly all over the news, and everyday consumers were forced to reckon with how their choices affected the lives of the not-so-fortunate in faraway places.

Since then, the reasons for caring about sustainability in fashion have multiplied in both scope and magnitude. The issue of unscrupulous labour practices is by no means ameliorated; to this, add global warming, water waste and scarcity, ethical material sourcing (conventional cotton crops are considered the dirtiest in the world, as an example) and broader environmental concerns into the mix, and suddenly that cute new outfit you scored for under $100 doesn’t seem like such a good bargain after all.

The slow fashion movement

sustainable fashion luxury brands sustainability

Annie and Jessica Hamilton Photo: Locally Made Journal.

Just like slow food, slow fashion is fast becoming the new black. In Sydney, sister duo Annie and Jessica Hamilton have just launched Locally Made Journal, an online platform that explores the connections between people and the clothes we wear. Fashion Revolution is a global movement, started four years ago, aiming to “unite people and organisations to work together towards radically changing the way our clothes are sourced, produced and consumed, so that our clothing is made in a safe, clean and fair way”.

The fashion industry may be the second largest polluting industry in the world (falling just behind oil), but a new wave of conscious players are working hard to turn things around and shaking down the stigma once attached to ethical fashion – to the benefit of everyone.

“When something is beautifully and consciously made and is of the highest quality, it is not meant to be thrown away and will not be destined to end up in landfill,” high-end heavyweight Tom Ford recently told Vogue.

“Increasingly, all consumers are aware of the impact on the environment of the production of fashion, and they’re concerned.”

If you’re looking to ditch fast fashion once and for all, you’re definitely not alone. Players in the industry, spanning from retailers to clothing and accessory designers are meeting the increased demand for ethically-produced, sustainable fashion.

A marketplace for sustainability

Launched in 2016, Well Made Clothes is a one-stop-shop for well-curated ethical clothing, shoes and accessories, stocking covetable styles from Australian and Kiwi labels like Kuwaii, Dress Up and Kowtow. For a brand to be stocked on Well Made Clothes, it has to fall into one of eight categories: fair and sustainable, vegan, minimal waste, gender equality, local, transparent or handcrafted. Oh – and it has to look fabulous.

Founders Courtney Sanders and Kelli Elkin are proponents of investing in well-made clothing rather than cheap fast fashion pieces that are likely to be discarded after a season. This mentality is reflected in the pieces available on site, with classic silhouettes and statement pieces sure to stand the test of time.

Brands are now using ethics as a starting point

Unlike legacy fashion labels scrambling to change their practices, Australian designers Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin founded their brand TOME with a specific aim in mind: to incorporate sustainability at every step. “We knew this was something that we could instigate from the beginning and make it part of our practice and part of our culture,” they said. And in line with that vision, the designers make periodic visits to the TOME factories to ensure inclusivity, diversity and best practice.

Championing clean lines, practical yet sophisticated silhouettes and sustainable production processes, New York’s TOME ensures their customers know exactly where their clothes have come from. And best of all? The label’s offerings, regularly donned by style stars, are unfailingly modern and infinitely covetable – well and truly shaking off the ‘ethical’ clothing stigma.

Accessories to (really) match your lifestyle

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MATT & NAT. Photo: Facebook

The rise in concern about the ethics of fast fashion goes hand-in-hand with broader movements such as the increase in veganism and vegetarianism.

And lifestyle choices such as avoiding animal products are something the fashion industry has been quick to cotton on to. MATT & NAT, a Montreal-based accessories label is one such example. Based on a simple philosophy – that luxury accessories don’t have to involve animal materials – the brand offers bags, shoes and other goods are all completely vegan, which means your next look comes completely guilt-free.

Through constantly experimenting and innovating, MATT & NAT has used recycled materials from nylons to cardboard, rubber, plastic and cork to create their wares. The brand is a testament to the fact that luxury accessories are limited not by sustainable practices but only the reaches of a designers’ imagination. And with a proven track record of boundless creativity, the fashion industry has little to worry about on that score.

(Lead image: MATT & NAT. Photo: Facebook)

Boldy different, the Volkswagen Arteon rings in a new era of luxury. With cutting-edge technology and state-of the-art driving assistance systems, the new Arteon truly is a car like no other. Find out more here.

Published 26 October, 2017