A growing number of young brands are putting sustainability at the center of their business models. As part of WWD’s special Earth Day coverage, here are 12 emerging green designers:
1. Ali Grace
Background: Grace, a New York City-based jewelry designer, has been handmaking jewelry from the age of eight, selling to luxury retailer A’maree’s by the age of 13.
Aesthetic: Handcrafted in New York, each style reflects a hybrid urban/coastal aesthetic, with sculptural, organic textures expressed in clean metals.
Sustainable goals: Continue to manufacture locally in New York and to continue down a path of “no new mining,” even as the business grows employing all recycled metals that have already been developed and repurposed.
Achievements to date: Sculptural treasures made of recycled 14-karat gold and sterling silver and ethically mined diamonds and gemstones, sold at luxury stores including Barneys and A’maree.
Advice for others: “Be prepared to work hard and pour your heart into your brand. Constantly challenge yourself. Remain true to you and your vision. Know your audience.“
Sustainability hero or role model: Stella McCartney.
Biggest challenge/hurdle to surmount: Getting products in front of stores that appreciate sustainable goods.
2. Matek, Abigail Stern
Background: Abigail Stern grew up in Westport, Conn., Studied at CU Boulder and Parsons for fashion design, worked for Kassia+Surf, Asics, Nike and NikeLab before launching Matek in November of 2018.
Aesthetic: Honoring the heritage and attitude of the snow sport world and mountain culture while incorporating the technological advances in materials.
Sustainable goals: To be as thoughtful as possible in sourcing and ensuring eco-friendly products. In the year ahead: finding better ways to reduce shipping waste, explore nearshore and offshore manufacturing as forced migration and economic refugees face critical issues, provide gainful employment at a livable wage to workers in neighboring countries, and encourage investment in fabric mills in Central America capable of producing technical fabrics from recyclable materials. Spreading the word to consumers on how these are not just fabric choices but choices for a better future.
Achievements to date: Matek has been produced locally in California since Day One, utilizes sustainable packaging with water-soluble hang tags and is a corporate member and supporter of Protect Our Winters. It also uses materials like Repreve recycled nylon jersey and buttons made from palm tree nuts.
Advice for others: “Follow what excites you, learn as much as you can and ask one million questions.”
Sustainability hero or role model: Greta Thunberg.
3. Cie denim, Kelcie Schofield
Background: Schofield, an Atlanta, Ga., native, grew up vintage shopping and now resides and designs in New York City.
Aesthetic: Sleek and funky, clean and edgy, vintage yet modern.
Sustainable goals: Design with eco-friendly fabrics and continue to push the boundaries with recycled fabrics.
Achievements to date: Receiving a design patent on upside-down shorts.
Advice for others: “Make a business plan!”
Biggest challenge/hurdle to surmount: Making sustainability affordable. “It’s easy to cut corners, it’s not easy to make things right.”
4. Ookioh, Vivek Agarwal
Background: Vivek Agarwal was born and brought up in India. After pursuing his undergraduate degree from Western Michigan University in mechanical engineering, he returned to India and worked in the iron and steel manufacturing sector for a few years. In 2017, he decided to pursue a childhood dream of being in the fashion industry.
Aesthetics: Modern swimwear with a splash of nostalgia.
Sustainable goals: Short term: Move beyond fabrics and use recycled/upcycled products for packaging; go plastic-free in the next three years. Long term: Take a holistic approach to inspired outlook with responsibility toward the planet, scale enough to move production to the U.S.A. to reduce overall carbon footprint, and partner with organizations to raise the issues plaguing the industry.
Achievements to date: Building an all-women-led team (aside from himself), from the warehouse personnel to web site developer, designer, photographer, etc. Uses 100 percent post-consumer waste polyamide yarn/regenerated waste materials, including fishing nets, fluff, and rigid textiles, among others.
Advice for others: “Don’t shy away from asking for help. Especially within this ‘sustainable community,’ people are passionate about the cause and more willing to offer advice and help.”
Sustainability hero or role models: Eileen Fisher, Mara Hoffman, Marina Testino.
Biggest challenge/ hurdle to surmount: Achieving scale to be able to offer more to the customer and invest in creating awareness while competing against mass-retail behemoths.
5. For Days, Kristy Caylor
Background: Engineering, painting, design at Gap and Maiyet. For Days currently has a waitlist of about 3,500 aspiring members.
Aesthetic: Clean, authentic, versatile.
Sustainable goals: Minimizing clothing waste.
Achievements to date: Recognized by the Voss Foundation as a Women Helping Women honoree; appointed to the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Consumerism in 2016; invited to speak on the SXSW 2018 panel “Sustainability or Bust: The Future of Brands;” and named one of Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas in 2018.
Saved 4.4M gallons of water. Saved over 28,000 pounds of C02. Diverted 18,000 pounds from landfill.
Advice for others: “Make better life choices one at a time. Don’t get overwhelmed with perfection. Sustainability is about incremental improvement and doing better daily.“
Sustainability hero or role model: Patagonia.
Biggest challenge/hurdle to surmount: Building technology to support a closed loop future.
6. GaryGraham422, Gary Graham
Background: After attending art school in the late Eighties, Gary Graham worked between fashion and theater with J Morgan Puett, and assisted Julie Taymor with textiles for “The Lion King” before launching his namesake label.
Aesthetic: The designer uses antique coverlets, overshot weavings, tapestries, in addition to re-creating with a local mill a damask from Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield.
Sustainable Goals: “If we can create successful companies without end goals of having the company making a public offering I think there might be hope for the future. What is enough? It’s a question we all need to ask ourselves and one I constantly struggle with.”
Achievements to date: After designing his namesake label for over 20 years in New York City, launching a new brand which uses antique and vintage textiles and local mills to design limited-run garments with “labor card” hang tags noting the hours and people who worked on each garment. The upcoming GG422 store, opening May 25, will be located below his studio/factory with a live video feed to bring awareness to the design process.
Sustainability role model: Natalie Chanin
Biggest challenges/hurdles: To be able to create and produce an amount that allows his company to exist and thrive without diluting the product or creative aspects.
7. Germanier, Kevin Germanier
Background: Kevin Germanier, 27, is a Swiss designer who studied women’s wear at Central Saint Martins, worked as a junior designer at Louis Vuitton and expanded his side business into his full fledged ready-to-wear collection which debuted during in Paris in 2018.
Aesthetic: Sustainable glamour inspired by haute couture and the future (video games, the digital world).
Sustainable goals: To be 100 percent sustainable by improving over time, as Germanier believes sustainability is not a trend or goal.
Achievements to date: Using 100 percent ethical and upcycled materials: pearls, rocks, tulle, cotton, plastic thread.
Advice for others: “Work hard, stay humble.”
Sustainability role models: Christina Dean from Redress, Orsola de Castro, Alexandre Capelli, Guillaume Delacroix.
Biggest challenge/hurdle to surmount: Production.
8. Gypsy Sport, Rio Uribe
Background: Rio Uribe is a Mexican designer from Los Angeles with a passion for DIY and upcycling.
Aesthetic: Gypsy Sport is reconstructed ready-to-wear made of repurposed materials for all body types with chainmail, crochet, and denim as go-to materials.
Sustainable goals: A “zero waste” business practice.
Achievements to date: Uribe is currently working with brands like Levi’s and Swarovski to upcycle their damaged or irregular inventory. He uses fabric scraps for small accessories and byproducts to minimize waste and carbon footprint.
Advice for others: “Avoid shopping from fast-fashion companies as much as possible. And try to repurpose or donate your old clothes, instead of throwing them in the trash.”
Sustainability hero or role model and why: Pharrell Williams, specifically for Bionic Yarn.
Biggest challenge/hurdle to surmount: Convincing people that sustainable fashion can be cool, and not the stigma that it is “crunchy hippie clothes or scratchy and uncomfortable.” Influencing consumers away from cheap mass-produced brands and toward eco-friendly brands.
9. Maggie Marilyn
Background: At 21, Maggie Marilyn started her namesake brand in New Zealand, straight out of university, with a mission to change the game in sustainability and make a positive difference in the industry.
Aesthetic: Strong femininity, optimistic, empowering.
Sustainable goals: To leverage design as a problem-solving tool. “It is my goal for Maggie Marilyn to be a brand that is not only beautiful but transparent, accountable, circular and empowering. Our goal is to have a regenerative impact. To leave the world a better place than we found it. “
Achievements to date: Last year, the brand changed plastic dispatch packagings to biodegradable cassava root ComPlast bags, donated 5 percent of gross profits to a New Zealand charitable organization that support families experiencing the impact of mental illness and most recently completed a 2020 sustainability strategy with 14 goals that align with the United Nations Sustainability goals.
Advice for others: “Do something! Anything! We all have the power to make a difference, don’t think that because you are one person, you can’t ignite change or that your government will solve these problems for you. Because the only way we can rebuild this industry is by working together! We have one generation to save our planet, what happens 50 years, 100 years from now will be entirely up to what we do now.”
Sustainability hero or role model: David Wallace-Wells, author of “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming,” Ellen MacArthur
Biggest challenge/hurdle to surmount: Figuring out baseline carbon emissions from a holistic approach, work towards goal of being carbon zero, radical supply chain transparency, economies of scale, question around the cost of sustainable fabrics — high prices lower the possibilities of how to make sustainable fashion accessible and not elitist. Help retailers understand their position in rebuilding the industry and educate consumers on being more conscious consumers.
10. Mother of Pearl No Frills, Amy Powney
Background: Powney grew up in northwest England, studied fashion design and began working as an assistant at Mother of Pearl almost 14 years ago before owning and creatively directing the business today.
Aesthetic: Classic but never boring.
Sustainable goals: A global shift in ownership and consumption (from fashion to food, etc.) at both personal and big-bigness levels.
Achievements to date: Launching a sustainable line last year after three years of work into sourcing supply chains. Working with the BBC Earth team recently to create content that was viewed by almost one million people.
Advice for others: “Sustainability is a mindset across every element of your life, if you think before you do then often you can make better choices. Change your energy supplier to a renewable supplier, buy a reusable water bottle and coffee cup, take a bag with you wherever you go. Eat less meat and buy local and direct from the farmer if you can. It’s not only about buying better, it’s about buying less.”
Sustainability hero or role model: Sir David Attenborough.
Biggest challenge/hurdle to surmount: Educating and inspiring within a world of greenwashing.
11. YanYan, Phyllis Chan and Suzzie Chung
Background: Two 10-plus year industry veterans, Phyllis Chan and Suzzie Chung, who wanted to start their own premium knitwear line, inspired by their childhoods in Hong Kong.
Aesthetic: Quirky, emotional, timeless, modern.
Sustainable goals: Reducing waste with factory partners by using leftover materials from previous projects, putting in smart, efficient design and production processes to help reduce final cost and environmental impact for the customer. Sustainability from a human standpoint is also important — factory workers are paid fairly and work in safe conditions.
Achievements to date: Selling out styles designed from leftover materials, which otherwise would have gone to the landfill but were given new life and made customers happy.
Advice for others: “Follow your instincts! Sometimes your gut tells you to do something before you know why, but if something feels wrong, there is probably a reason. Use common sense, and have empathy for everyone you work with. Remember there’s another human working on the other side of that email.”
Biggest challenge/hurdle to surmount: “We’re a very small company — it’s literally just the two of us — so we really rely on the collaborative efforts of our factory, and our press and sales reps. We’re thankful that we get to connect with our customers on such personal level, so we try to be honest and transparent when we make a mistake. We hope that good quality, honesty and sincerity will translate to our customer.”
12. Cecilia Hammarborg
Background: From Linkoping, Sweden, Hammarborg studied agriculture and horsemanship before moving to London, where she studied fashion design at East London University.
Aesthetic: True Scandinavian style — clean lines and neat tailoring.
Sustainable goals: “You make your own rules, I try to work in an ethical manner in my manufacturing process, choosing to do fashion comes with guilt, sustainability is the key for me.”
Achievements to date? Hammarborg sources high-quality wool from a mill in Italy that has developed new technology to produce fabric made of at least 65 percent recycled material, lowering environmental impact measured on the production cycle, on the basis of water, energy and carbon dioxide consumption. Local sourcing and manufacturing also leads to a reduction in transport emissions.
Sustainability role models: Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Marie-Claire Daveu and organizations such as Fashion For Good and Bestseller
Biggest challenge/hurdle to surmount? I’m feeling quite uneasy calling myself an ethical brand, there is so much more we can do to be better. To be truly sustainable and ethical you need to find earth regenerative solutions — the environmental benefits of alpaca, llama, mohair and wool can be sustainable and have positive impact when produced through grazing on lands managed by carbon farming and processed through regional supply chains. This is a very exciting project and I am looking forward to learning more.