The Highsnobiety Better Earth Manual is a guide for style enthusiasts in the age of ecological crisis — a crisis caused in part by the fashion itself. Here, you’ll find a growing set of resources about conscious consumption and the pioneers who are making change in our industry.
There’s no getting around the fact that fashion is wasteful, but not everyone in the industry is playing by the same rulebook. Although the giants have a lot to answer for, there are many designers creating amazing collections, and doing so in a way that genuinely takes their own impact into account.
This isn't to say these brands are sustainable — there isn't really any such thing as sustainable fashion, and we’re not going to pretend that there is. However, those pushing to make the industry a better, less wasteful place (and managing to do so without dressing you head-to-toe in hemp) deserve celebrating. So, we’ve decided to do just that.
Below you’ll find a list of 10 brands that are leading by example. This list is by no means comprehensive (shout out any we've missed in the comments), but hopefully it shows you that caring about fashion and caring about climate aren’t mutually exclusive.
Scroll down for our selection of conscious fashion brands.
Emily Bode founded her eponymous luxury menswear brand in 2016. Two years later, she became the first woman to show at New York Fashion Week Men’s, paving the way for female menswear designers while garnering a loyal following internationally.
Bode is committed to using eco-friendly materials to reduce its energy use and greenhouse gas emissions while limiting its amount of chemical and water use. From her studio, she produces unique pieces which pair modern workwear silhouettes with vintage fabrics, quilting techniques, appliqué, knitting, and more.
Priya Ahluwalia is the woman behind Ahluwalia Studio. Before launching the brand, she joined Beyoncé’s very first IVY PARK team and worked at Wales Bonner.
After graduating with a Master’s in Menswear from the University of Westminster, she traveled throughout Nigeria and India (where her parents are from), and visited the recycling factories that inspired her to incorporate repurposing in her work. Ahluwalia’s collections now include coats, jackets, and jerseys made from recycled fabrics from donated clothing.
“Everyone’s always looking for the next thing instead of enjoying the current thing,” Ahluwalia told Highsnobiety. “This means things get thrown away and people’s work gets copied.”
Bethany Williams is another woman making a change in mens fashion. She's also as much a designer as she is an NGO: While studying in London, Williams volunteered at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, which later impacted her work.
Williams launched her label in 2017, creating every piece using waste, second-hand denim, and hand-woven textiles. Each collection she launches addresses a socio-economic issue – for example, in her “Breadline” collection, she partnered with UK supermarkets and food banks to raise awareness around hunger. Every piece was made from waste, and 30 percent of the profits went towards the Vauxhall Food Bank.
Read our interview with her here.
Christopher Raeburn's brand RÆBURN launched in 2009, and over the last decade or so, the brand has become synonymous with repurposed fashion. It has launched a number of initiatives, including the RÆCYCLED subline featuring fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles, and it has shopping bags made from corn starch, meaning they can compost once they’ve been disposed of. The brand also offers clients free repairs, as well as workshops teaching people how to make their clothes last longer.
Founded by husband-and-wife duo Saeed and Katy Al-Rubeyi, STORY mfg is a self-proclaimed slow brand. The collections are made by embroiders and tailors out of an atelier in India, with some pieces taking as long as six months to make. Pieces include crotchet hats, tie-dye dresses, and knit cardigans made using biodegradable materials and organic dyes like indigo, madder, and butterfly pea.
They're not ones to rest on their laurels, either — the founders are constantly checking themselves. “We do our best, but we are not perfect,” Saeed wrote in a recent essay. “We have issues, to name a few: we make new items, we send items in single-use packaging (even if it’s biodegradable and recycled paper), we fly to our dye house, we ship items across the planet to stores and customers.”
Before launching her brand, Marine Serre was a promising tennis player. However, after an accident, she decided to study fashion (and interned at Margiela, Balenciaga, and Alexander McQueen). In 2017, Serre decided to take the plunge and launch her brand. The move was a successful one, as she went on to win the prestigious LVMH Prize, and its now-signature crescent moon print can be spotted everywhere.
The label has two lines made from repurposed fabrics. One, the Red Line (which includes the popular lunar designs), is made from discarded fabric and clothing. Meanwhile, the Green Line features scrap fabrics that are stitched together to create new pieces.
“I think it’s quite a challenge to transform old things into something new,” Serre told W Magazine. “Maybe in three years, you don’t want a Marine Serre piece from five seasons ago. So what do we do with that? Maybe we could make it into something new.”
Mother of Pearl
Mother of Pearl is a womenswear brand based in London who began incorporating conscious practices in 2018, when it launched its first “No Frills” collection, with pieces made from organic cotton. The brand then started tracing its supply chain via the “Traced from Fabric to Final” program.
According to Good on You, Mother of Pearl often visits its suppliers and makes sure its workers earn a living wage (though it doesn’t disclose the amount). Two years ago, the brand also partnered with BBC Earth on a short film, titled Can Fashion Be Sustainable? that premiered during London Fashion Week.
Children of the Discordance
Hideaki Shikama is the designer behind Children of the Discordance. He doesn’t market his brand as conscious, but his work is all about fair-trade practices. Shikama’s collections often include designs inspired by India, Mexico, and Palestine, as seen on the bandanas, keffiyehs, and turbans. To make them, he travels right to the source to work with local weavers and embroiderers directly.
“I believe in paying full value to those embroidery craftsmen. It motivates them to do their best work as it brings them a better life,” Shikama told Highsnobiety. “I never negotiate discounts with the domestic partners we create our collections with. I will continue to work as I do now."
LES FLEURS Studio
LES FLEURS Studio began as a repurposed and vintage clothing shop. The owner, Maria Bernad, would carefully curate old clothing, jewelry, and accessories for her online marketplace. And, pretty soon, she started creating her own pieces.
LES FLEURS’ pieces are always made from old materials, whether it’s deadstock from luxury brands or fabrics found from landfill waste. “We launch some capsule collections that are always sustainable, and then collections by season always produced with end-of-stock materials that are natural like silk or cotton, recycled buttons, and ornaments,” Bernad said in a Forbes interview. “Our atelier employs women that need a part-time job to be able to take care of their families.”
Seeing Patagonia on this list is perhaps a given, but it's here for a reason. The outdoor label has long been taking steps to implement fair and sustainable processes. It's a founding member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which is committed to holding clothing companies accountable and supporting fair labor practices, it has discouraged consumers from buying its products, and once took a full-page ad in The New York Times asking readers to shop responsibly. The list goes on and on.
“It’s not hypocrisy for us to address the need to reduce consumption,” Patagonia later said in a statement. “On the other hand, it’s folly to assume that a healthy economy can be based on buying and selling more and more things people don’t need.”
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