Going into 2020, not having responsible design top of mind is unacceptable. Many young designers — and the rare heritage fashion house — understand this, others don’t. In a year that’s already seen massive bushfires across Australia that have destroyed over 27.3 million acres of land fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought, the direct impact of climate change has been most felt in the Southern nation, which is home of The Woolmark Company.

“Like every industry, wool farming has its challenges. Mother nature threw its challenge at us this year,” says John Roberts, General Manager at The Woolmark Company. At a time when sustainability is the fashion industry’s favorite buzzword, the term has been at The Woolmark Company’s core from day one, both in the sense of business (it works with 60,000 woolgrowers) and the environment.

“In order to be successful, reform needs to be a collective effort and emerging designers need a seat at the table,” model and activist Karen Elson, who this year hosted the prize, urged attendees in the crowd.

This year’s finalists of its annual fashion prize — launched in 1954 and first won by Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent — were naturally tasked with prioritizing eco-conscious fashion design and manufacturing by focusing on traceability in their supply chains and creating a sustainability roadmap. All with a focus on transparency.

Lillie Eiger

“Winning the Woolmark Prize is completely unexpected, my mind is blown,” says Malone, who won the grand prize worth $134,000 with a collection inspired by his upbringing in Wexford, Ireland. For his winning line he eliminated the use of traditional chemicals and worked with a society of skilled weavers in Tamil Nadu, India, to create a process that only used organic and plant-based dyes and other conscious fibers. “I come from a farming place in Ireland and having worked at fashion houses in Paris and seeing how fashion is consumed, that feels quite unnatural to me,” Malone adds.

At a time when big fashion houses are using sustainable solutions as competitive advantages, Malone is adamant not to follow in their footsteps: “It’s important to find a way to share my research, because it’s not a win for me if I keep it to myself.”

“What impressed me the most about [Richard] today is his organic approach to the number one issue in fashion right now: sustainability”, says Kim Jones who sat on this year’s jury alongside Tim Blanks, Takashi Murakami, Edward Enninful, Anja Rubik and more. “These awards are so important to emerging designers because nowadays it’s impossible to get anywhere without the support from a larger corporation.”

Malone competed against a strong roster of finalists that included A-COLD-WALL*, Blindness, Bode, Botter, Feng Chen Wang, GmbH, Ludovic de Saint Sernin, Namacheko and Matthew Adams Dolan.

Lillie Eiger

Taking home the inaugural Karl Lagerfeld Award worth roughly $67,000 was Emily Bode, whose namesake brand has upcycled deadstock fabrics found in abandoned factories like bed linen, tablecloths and bottle caps from since founding her namesake New York-based label in 2016.

“I’m really excited that this is the first Karl Lagerfeld Innovation Award,” says Bode. “He’s been such an idol and inspiration for me. I’m also really excited to build on all the relationships I have made during my Woolmark Prize journey.”

With the prize money, Bode plans on expanding her own retail network and working with her suppliers on a bigger scale.

“Bode’s story of working with old pieces and transforming them took me back to my childhood,” said legendary fashion editor Carine Roitfeld, who presented the award in honor of her late friend Lagerfeld. “When I was young there was no fashion like there is today so I would go to the flea market and my mother and I would sew patches onto clothes to make them new. Bode’s collection reminds me of this time and I like that.”

The final collections of all finalists will be commercially available in September 2020 at The Woolmark Company’s global retail partner network that includes Browns, Matchesfashion.com, and Boon the Shop.

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