“It’s the triumph of fake fur … because fake fur changed so much and became so great now that you can hardly see a difference.”
—Karl Lagerfeld on his Paris Fashion Week show for Chanel F/W 2010/2011
With a rising trend of consumers accepting, and in some cases even preferring vegan leather or pleather, there’s no question that the concept of sustainability in high fashion is where it’s at for the sartorial set. But how did it happen? Why are the price tags ascribed to crocodile skin bags now comparable to those made of synthetic materials, and when did it all begin?
While Lagerfeld may have decided to embrace the use of faux fur because of its new promise as a convincing high fashion imitation material, luxury sustainability trailblazer Stella McCartney decided back in 2001 that eco-friendly practices would be a linchpin in her design concept. The daughter of Paul and Linda McCartney, and ex-Creative Director of Chloe, will tell you she was raised on an organic farm, and has been a vegan since day one. So it seems natural that her commitment to building and maintaining a line free of animal furs or leather is only a small part of a total approach for incorporating total sustainability into every aspect of her eponymous label.
McCartney has recently partnered with Ovis 21 and Nature Conservancy, two South American based networks of over 140 farmers working to reverse environmental damage caused by over grazing. This is also how she sourced wool in her fall 2014 collection. She also released a new edition of her well-loved Gemma bra at the beginning of October 2014 with proceeds going towards building a new mammography suite at the Linda McCartney Centre.
McCartney’s commitment to bettering how clothes are made has paid off in the form of a successful ready-to-wear line with a well-tailored flair; chic accessories; a perfume with Kate Moss as the face; adorable kid’s fashions; a collaboration with Adidas; and 33 store locations in destinations like Soho in Manhattan, as well as Milan, Paris, and London. Perhaps the biggest testament to her success is the sphere of influence that could be credited to McCartney; influence that has touched well-known designers and labels, accessible mall brands, and a flock of new comers to the high fashion scene.
London-based Shrimps is arguably selling the faux fur trend best. Hannah Weiland, creator of the outerwear brand, with a background in art history and a textile design diploma from the London College of Fashion, seems to be putting her knowledge to work; having fun with the trend as opposed to fooling the world into thinking it’s animal fur, she infuses modern art concepts and bold patterns reminiscent of 60’s mod style. Since the brand’s 2013 launch, it is now being sold in countries including Canada, Russia, Hong Kong, Japan, and several others. In the UK, it is carried by retailers like Selfridges and Matches; in France, it is sold at Colette; and in the U.S., it is carried by Open Ceremony, and hidden gem Tender.
Swedish retailer H&M is at the top of the game when it comes to impactful sustainability lines for the masses. Much like McCartney’s high-end line, they’ve committed to a total approach that stands to make things better for people, the environment, and animals as well, while also developing stylish pieces. A handful of the ethically conscious decisions they’ve made as a part of their commitment to sustainability include starting a garment collection initiative, and partnering with World Wildlife Fund and UNICEF. The now two year old annual H&M Conscious collection runs on a slightly higher price point than other things carried by the retailer, but materials like organic hemp, cotton, recycled wool, and even plastic go into setting the collections apart. As do the highly stylized concept pieces like a matching organic (not vegan) leather bustier and skater skirt.
“At H&M, we have set ourselves the challenge of ultimately making fashion sustainable and sustainability fashionable. We want to help people express their personality and feel proud of what they wear. I’m very excited to see the progress we’ve made so far,” Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of H&M has said. “and create a more sustainable fashion future.”
Altuzarra, Comme des Garçons, and Tom Ford have all been using imitation leather for years. Not because of a commitment to sustainability or a regard for the well fare of animals, but because when the microfibers of imitation suede are slit properly, it can yield impressive results. “The poly-leather is incredibly luxurious; the way that it wears over time … It doesn’t wrinkle.” Joseph Altuzarra says. “It travels really well. It’s waterproof, so if you wear it in the rain it completely repels water. There’s something sort of magical about its properties.”
For whatever reason, sustainable materials fall in favor with certain sects of the fashion crowd, and it looks as if it’s here to stay. If you’ve got sustainability on the brain, the following four brands should absolutely be on your radar and your wish lists:
Atelier Delphine: Striking feminine West Coast styles made locally with 100 percent natural materials.
Feral Childe: Brooklyn-based with evocative designs made with natural fibers, upcycled materials, and a low impact business model.
Kowtow: Looks reminiscent of Ms. Chanel herself a la CoCo: Before Chanel, made with all fair trade and organic cotton.
Angela & Roi: Minimalist backpacks and chic cross-body bags made with vegan leather where proceeds go towards various charities.
Raven & Lily: A socially conscious line for the everyday chic bohemian looks we all need in our lives.
– Ashley Jones for The Untitled Magazine