Episode 58: Was Sustainability still on the agenda for the SS23 Fashion Weeks?




  • Introduction
  • New York Fashion Week
  • Milan Fashion Week
  • London Fashion Week
  • Paris Fashion Week
  • Conclusion


Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host, Belinda Humphrey, and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet and product.

Hello and welcome to episode 58 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. How is everyone out there? It is raining and cold in Melbourne today. We have been warned of flash flooding right across Victoria. I hope everyone is staying safe out there. But on the upside, it's Melbourne Fashion Week this week when I'm recording. I hope you've also had a chance to see some of the runways and make it to some of the panel discussions. There are so many talented and clever people in our city. I hope you got a chance to experience some of that. And before I get into today's episode, I wanted to say that it's the middle of October and I don't know about you, but in my mind, the holiday season is right around the corner, which is great because I'm planning to take some time off. But if you are wanting to work with me one on one in a coaching session where you can ask me anything that's been blocking you from moving forward in your business, you will need to do that now and booking your session by heading to the shop on the website belindahumphrey.com, because I'll only be doing those up until about the start of December. So if you're thinking about it, book it in now and if you've got questions before you wanna book in, you can email me info@belindahumphrey.com

One of my most popular podcasts was episode 14 on weather sustainability was still a top priority at the spring summer 22 fashion weeks. I thought you'd be interested for me to do a little follow-up on that and see where things are at this year. Considering Paris Fashion Weeks just wrapped up not long ago. We're now two years on from everyone committing to change and building back better. But what has actually changed? I saw the hype over Kim Kardashian at Dolce & Gabbana, the dress sprayed on Bella Hadid at Coperni, and the model twins at Gucci. But I couldn't help but get the feeling that brands were sliding back into the ease of business as usual. I started digging to see if sustainability was still on the agenda.

Let's start with New York. The first collection there I wanted to talk about was Angel Chang, who produced a zero-carbon collection using electricity by the hands of indigenous artisans in the Mountains of Guizhou. I'm probably saying that wrong, in China. She explains that her zero carbon design philosophy follows three core tenants, no electricity, all-natural, and locally made. It's made hyper-vertically in one location using in-season raw materials and creating local jobs in rural communities. Each piece is 100% handmade seed to button, starting from the native seed cotton that we grow in the ground to the hand spinning, hand weaving, dying, and sewing.

Collina Strata, which was founded in 2008 by Hillary Taymour, manufactured its pieces in New York and the design team used rose silk, deadstock fabric, and recycled cotton to handcraft their collection. Gabriela Hearst was the next designer that I wanted to mention. She is always vocal and transparent about her brand's commitment to sustainability, but apparently, she also made strides in other areas of the business, including producing a carbon-neutral fashion show, plastic-free packaging, and building new stores and popups with conscious construction in mind. She incorporates repurposed and natural materials with botanical dyes. She introduced eco-friendly footwear this season using natural rubber and cork, and she also donates to projects in the villages of Kenya that have limited access to energy and are dependent on local biomass from forests.

The last label from New York I wanted to mention was Studio 189. It's an African-made brand and it supports the infrastructure of manufacturing and retail in Accra, Ghana's capital. And they use local craftsmen using traditional African techniques such as Kente Weaving and Boholanfini mud cloth with recycled materials as well as organic cotton, pineapple leather, and tencel were treated with low impact and natural dyes. Within the collection, there were traditional techniques that included hand batik, weaving, patchwork, indigo dying, and basket weaving.

Moving onto Milan, I didn't seem to find as many labels that were putting sustainability front and center, and like I've said before, that doesn't mean that they're not doing it. Maybe they just don't choose to put that in their PR notes. But yeah, there were just a couple. The first one that I wanted to talk about was a designer called Lisa Von Tang. She used dead stock fabrics, as well as natural materials like silk and hemp with no chemical treatment. And she even ensured that all of her suppliers and partners for the collection held green certificates like the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or the Global Recycling Standard and the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production Program (WRAP).

The next label from Milan was Themoiré, and they created pieces made out of 100% Rafia, a palm leaf sustainably sourced from Madagascar, and they also worked with local artisans to weave the fibers and create the collection, and they plan to give back a portion of the sales to an orphanage in Madagascar. Co-founder Francesca Monaco says "We involved the oxchuc community in Chiapas to create a collection of limited edition pieces and the proceeds from the sales were reinvested in cooperating with the Cantaro Azul Association to bring drinking water to seven rural schools."

The final sustainability mention from Milan comes from Ermenegildo Zegna. The label was awarded the Biodiversity Conservation Award at the Camera Nazionale Della Moda Italiana's (CNMI) Annual Sustainable Fashion Awards. Excuse my Italian accent. It should be better considering I'm married to an Italian. But they were honored for Oasi Zegna 100 square kilometer conservation territory in northern Italy, and it's been maintained for over a century. The Zegna family has planted more than 500,000 trees in the area, reforesting the land, and turning it into a free national park.

Moving on to London, I feel like there are a few more labels speaking about sustainability within their brands. The first one was Daniel W. Fletcher, and he partnered with Nona Source to use high-quality deadstock fabrics within his collection. And those fabrics come from the LVMH Maisons. They're quite high-quality leftover fabrics. It's a fabric resale platform.

The next designer, Eirinn Hayhow, created her collection with materials, dyes, inks, and paints grown and foraged by herself. And the collection experimented with bio couture in an attempt to embed the healing properties of plants into each garment.

Phoebe English also explored plant dyes as well as focusing on circularity and designing out waste. In particular, her outerwear was made in collaboration with Lavenham that was wadded with naturally shed wool sourced from flock local to the firms Suffolk factory. And these were worn against bags made from scraps generated by the development process.

Rixo really focused on diversity. The collection was worn by models of all sizes, ages, and backgrounds, and they say that each garment will be stocked in sizes UK 6 to UK 24.

And finally, we come to Paris. Now, you can't mention sustainability and fashion week without talking about Stella McCartney and in her range or her collection, she used regenerative cotton, which apparently made its catwalk debut, and it was the result of a three year pilot project in Turkey, which adopted regenerative agriculture methodology for a cotton process that captures carbon within the soil. She dubbed it dirt to shirt in an attempt to mirror the success of the farm-to-table movement in food. And if you're interested in a bit more information on regenerative farming, I cover that in episode 53. So yes, also within the collection she used a grape-based alternative to leather, and she is hoping to be able to use the grape skins from the LVMH of vineyards, which are across 13 states, across four continents. And she hopes that they will become the raw material for more leather alternative fashion and says she wants to infiltrate from within and she hopes that's possible.

The next label, Chloe, which is headed up by Gabriela Hearst, dedicated her collection to the promotion of fusion, explaining it's basically the energy of the stars and the universe. Apparently, she was flanked by representatives of ITER as well as Commonwealth Fusion Systems in Heon, which are companies working on harnessing this benign source of energy through giant round devices known as Tokamaks. They say it can't be used to produce a fashion collection yet, but as Hearst says, eventually they will because we'll need the energy to make clothes. Imagine that whatever is a coal plant now will be a fusion plant in the future. The future is close. The most important thing you need to know is that this is a source of clean energy with very little waste. A glass of fusion fuel can power a house for approximately 800 years. That sounds pretty good. She also used recycled cashmere, line, recycled plastic trainers and recycled cotton as well. Within the collection, there was also a black suit, which got a lot of people talking, and apparently it was forged from Wool from the design's ranch in Uruguay, which houses about 8,000 Marino sheep. And it was one of the few pieces in the collection labeled with a QR code that when scanned by potential customers in store, it will tell you exactly where its material was sourced. 

International Citizen was another label I wanted to mention. It was, created by Canadian designer Annika TIBando, and she combined sustainability and spirituality with garments that integrated chakra crystals throughout the clothing. She says that she's precise about her sourcing as her technique. She uses recycled solos, nylon, organic cotton, and silk from regenerative farms. And as a fan of full transparency, she lists all the mills she works with and the certifications.

She says, I probably annoy them with all my questions, but I go through a very cumbersome list. She has her own requirements and points out that competing certifications can be confusing, but essentially she says, I want to, as much as possible, get the information of where they're sourcing from down to the farms. She goes on to say sustainable is an overused word, there should be another way, a steady, incremental way. I don't want every year to surpass, surpass, surpass. I don't want to be a trend. I think an incremental, slow evolution of growth and a healthy business flow is the way to do it. The collection also sustains best sellers from season to season. And she says, I think when you create beautiful silhouettes and shapes, they have the ability to live long. 

Prototypes were the final label that I wanted to mention. And they make use of repurposing and upcycling a lot of fabrics and items into their collection.

But I wanted to mention them because they have developed these proto packs, which they say was a unique concept of manuals and sewing patterns. Anyone can create a look without professional skill for the more applicable pieces. It sounds like they're actually giving the patterns and a bit of a kit to be able to create those items at home.

In summary, there was sustainability, but it seemed to be mostly the usual brands that we hear from, the labels like Stella McCartney, Gabriela Hearst, and the usually smaller, more nimble brands. And in terms of main focuses, there were Carbon Zero, dead stock, organic, and regenerative materials as well as craftsmanship. 

I hope you enjoy that little roundup. Let me know what you thought or if I missed anyone that you thought was doing a great job of embedding sustainability into their collection. You can get in touch on Instagram @belindahumphrey, or you can email me at info@belindahumphrey.com. And as always, you'll find the show notes in any links on the website, belindahumphrey.com in the podcast section.

Thanks for listening to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you want to get in touch head over to belindahumphrey.com or you can find me on Instagram @belindahumphrey 

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change. 


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