Real fur is flying — straight out of fashion — as the trendiest designers ensure their pieces fit the planet, as well as they fit you. Eco-minded designers are crafting clothing from materials espousing cruelty-free, environmentally correct, and socially responsible production and manufacturing techniques, along with other business models that benefit the health and wellness of all beings. A kinder, gentler, more compassionate design approach to Mother Earth and her inhabitants, both human and animal, is in right now.
While the look of skin-tight leather jeans may be cool, the planetary price of them is not. Leather-producing agriculture is linked to global warming, pollution and deforestation; and processing chemicals can be toxic to both the planet and its people. Attention is focused on animal-free manufacturing and operations, or at least via cruelty-free sustainable farming and animal welfare practices, as well as circular business models that reduce, reuse, and recycle natural resources and consumer waste. Moose Knuckles and Canada Goose, two hugely popular winter parka providers, recently made news celebrated by PETA for agreeing to drop fur by the end of 2022.
“The fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to pollution on the planet,” laments John Bartlett, whose work as a sustainable designer, newly appointed Marist College Fashion Department Director, and head of nonprofit dog rescue funds, inspires both students and other designers to be agents of change. He says he was “blown away” by his new students from day one. “Their approach to the fashion industry is seen through the lens of sustainability and diversity, so they are already exploring vegan materials and companies that share their values…researching companies, brands, and materials that do little to no harm. Most of these also happen to be vegan, which goes hand in hand with sustainable practices.”
Adidas vegan leather shoe
This is the fashion generation that digs deeper. Today, “leather” comes grown from the dirt as mushrooms, cactus, and grapes, bio-fabricated to create animal and petroleum-based (toxically troublesome) faux leather alternatives. Thoroughly modern designers explore science to balance style, through nature.
One such popular designer / scientist of style, is animal rights activist Stella McCartney. A lifelong vegan, she is best known for compassionate, luxury clothing that is animal-friendly, and real leather and fur-free. Her collections may not be 100% vegan (she sources recycled cashmere and ethically sourced wool from her own farms), but she uses recycled plastic water bottles for vegan “it” bags, recycled microfiber in her apparel, and is now highlighting Mylo mushroom “un-leather” that looks and feels like the ‘real deal’. Even her Fall marketing campaign focuses on animals’ equality with humans, pushing supporters towards signing the Humane Society International’s petition for a fur-free world.
Stella McCartney and her vegan bag collection
“I like Patagonia's marketing,” says Bartlett, which asks its customers “not to buy anything.” But Bartlett adds, if you must, buy items that are ethically created and made for longevity with environmental value. “I no longer wear leather, wool, cashmere, silk, feathers, or god forbid, fur. I try to buy organic cotton as much as possible, and if I am buying a synthetic fiber, I try to make sure it is recycled. I am always on the lookout for new materials like cactus leather, mushroom leather, seaweed fibers, and other materials that are both vegan and sustainable.”
Maria Cornejo Collection
An icon in the eco-friendly milieu, Maria Cornejo is a staunch supporter and steward of sustainable style and local manufacturing. She has been involved since the start of her boutique and minimalist “luxury fashion company with a conscience,” Zero + Maria Cornejo, over 20 years ago in the heart of NYC’s Nolita neighborhood. Working to promote awareness in the industry, while championing women everywhere, she serves as a founding member of the Council of Fashion Designer’s Sustainability Committee. She promotes local production, reusing leftover stock and, as she highlights on her website, designing "things that are timeless, that don't have a season… things that are really well-designed so you can keep them forever and pass them on." Focused on creating less waste, she has replaced plastic bags on hanging garments, and ships those garments to retail partners in eco-friendly compostable packaging, amongst other changes. The company offers “carbon-neutral shipping” on all online orders, and supports the One Tree Planted not-for-profit global reforestation initiative.
The message is simple - prioritize the health of our planet and its people, with your style statement. Seek out apparel and accessories made from alternative materials that, similar to Mylo “leather,” are good for us and good for the earth:
• Pineapple husk “leather”
• Hemp and bamboo - grown without pesticides, herbicides, or deforestation
• Tencel, or Lyocell - a wood pulp rayon made with recyclable solvents, less toxic to plants and people
• Organic cotton - grown without harmful chemicals
• Recycled rubber - reducing landfill waste
• Eco-fi - from post-consumer, recycled plastic bottles
• Vintage fabrics - from dead-stock clothing, or reused in new items
Need some help with which eco-designers to shop, and why? Some of Bartlett’s favorites include bio-based faux fur House of Fluff, with whom he’s collaborating for a menswear capsule for fall, Pangaia (Pan=inclusive; Gaia=Mother Earth) and Save the Duck.
Industry beacons spotlight Eileen Fisher, who uses organic materials and natural dyes, while recycling old textiles and garments within her sustainable, luxury clothing collection. This ethical business model weaves fair-trade business practice, with fair pay and gender equality in a “culture of caring,” focused on human rights; and she’s one of the first with a dedicated social consciousness department within her company.
Mara Hoffman’s scintillating swimwear is made from recycled consumer trash, using regenerated polyester. Not only are these swimsuits a blend of recycled polyester, they also boast built-in UPF 50+ protection. Add in compostable packaging, digital printing technology to reduce water use, and supply chain transparency to ensure safe working conditions and fair wages, and Hoffman stands tall in the eco-friendly crowd. In addition, Hoffman’s team opted to not produce the designed Fall 2020 collection, but sell existing inventory, as well as create a smaller Spring 2021 collection, striving for less consumer fashion waste.
Bags by Matt and Nat, named not as a design duo, but rather an abbreviation of ‘material’ and ‘nature,’ are focused on new eco-friendly vegan leather products. The Montreal-based brand relies on recycled nylon, cardboard, rubber, and even cork.
Also harnessing the circular business model, popular denim collection Rag and Bone, in partnership with Cotton Inc. for The Denim Recycling Project, lets customers bring their old jeans back, in exchange for a 20 percent discount on new Rag and Bone jeans purchases. The donated denim is then recycled and transformed into insulation for homes and civic-minded American buildings.
Buying New York-based brand ADAY’s seasonless, easy-to-wear, lifelong pieces, supports the environment via the use of recycled materials and recycled water at many of its solar-powered factories. Through her Urban Zen shop initiatives, Donna Karan connects healthcare and education missions in Haiti. Purchasing SKIIM Paris’s consciously sourced leather items, helps give-back through its SKIIM x Africa Foundation initiative for education, healthcare, livelihood development and conservation projects within Africa.
With today’s sustainable style supported by conscious consumerism, being green is a piece a cake. Vegan, naturally.
Kat's Favorite Products
Kat Burki uses glass containers in her collection to aid in the environmental issues we face in the beauty industry, our products are cold pressed and cold processed and cold poured. We only source organically and sustainably to ensure the carbon footprint is lowered.