The luxury fashion industry is embracing sustainability in a big way as clothes made of organic fabrics, ethically-sourced materials, and repurposed trims become a common sight on the catwalks of Paris, Milan and New York.
Where once luxury could be synonymous with wasteful, this move towards sustainability marks a major shift in the industry towards practices that are more mindful and responsible when it comes to creating clothing. And why not? Luxury in exclusivity, and nothing is more exclusive than slow fashion such as artisan-made handbags or handwoven pieces, each item 100% unique and made with care.
However, this sustainable fashion shift is slow. Emerging brands have the opportunity and responsibility to do things better and create more sustainable business models. While top luxury brands like Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood are leading trends in ethical clothing ranges, new upcoming luxury fashion brands and emerging designers like Gabriela Hearst, Conner Ives, and Koraru are changing the luxury fashion industry as we know it. We've rounded up our top 7 emerging luxury fashion brands that were truly built with sustainability in mind.
Gabriela Hearst is an ethical fashion brand dedicated to sustainability and timeless clothing. Launched in 2015 as the eponymous label of designer Gabriela Hearst, the brand crafts stylish and statement pieces using deadstock fabrics and other sustainable materials. The design process focuses on longevity, with Hearst aiming to create items that will bring their owners joy for years to come. The brand is plastic-free and aims to be virgin material-free in the near future.
Hearst also runs her family's ranch in Uruguay, which has been in the family for six generations. She uses the wool from her own merino sheep for her brand, and partners with Manos del Uruguay, a non-profit and women's cooperative, for the production of the brand's hand-knit pieces.
In 2020 Hearst was named the new creative director of the luxury brand Chloé. Shortly after in 2021, Chloé proudly achieved B Corp certification: one of the most demanding sustainable business certifications which measures a company's commitment to positive social and environmental responsibility. In Chloé's spring/summer 2022 collection show, guests sat on upcycled cushions made from fabric remnants and made by Les B'tisseuses, a network that trains female refugees.
So Good To Wear is a socially conscious luxury fashion brand dedicated to making cashmere essentials and creating positive change in Nepal. The knitters working in the fair trade knitting factory are well trained, well compensated, and work under safe labor conditions. Each item sold helps contribute to Nepal's rebuilding after the 2015 earthquakes. So Good To Wear works closely with the local artisan community by providing them with high-quality yarn while paying them fairly for their work. The end result are custom-designed garments that maintain their quality over time, look beautiful, and keep their wearers warm during cold winters.
Using only ethically-sourced materials produces clothing that’s tailored to meet the highest standards without compromising on comfort, beauty, or affordability. Customers can choose from an array of cozy shawls, sweaters, hats, scarves, and anything else that can be made with luxurious cashmere yarns. By opting for ethically-made pieces from So Good To Wear, customers will feel good knowing they are supporting Nepal’s rebuilding as well as artisans who make beautiful items crafted with skill and love.
The Social Outfit is an Australian-based social enterprise and charity that works to promote eco-luxury values while providing employment and training to refugees and migrant communities. They focus on creating fashion from reused materials and donated deadstock, helping to reduce waste produced by the fashion industry.
By creating job opportunities for a diverse range of locals, they are able to help new arrivals feel more at home in Australia. At the same time, they maintain a strong environmental focus while continuously striving towards zero waste production. By utilizing reused and donated fabrics, they cut down on waste associated with excessive fabric consumption seen in other designer labels. Overall, The Social Outfit operates under an inspiring ethos combining sustainability and empowering initiatives —making it possible for communities newly arriving in Australia to gain work experience while preserving the environment.
Noah is an American men's clothing brand founded in 2015 by Brendon Babenzien and Estelle Bailey-Babenzien in New York City that rebels against the typical fast fashion industry practices of cheap labor and materials. They are a part of 1% for the Planet and deem themselves a responsible brand rather than a sustainable brand. They are transparent about their supply chain, opting for pre- and post-consumer recycled fabrics and materials and disclosing the origin of their materials - sometimes down to the mill.
What makes them stand out is their commitment to using recycled fabric. They have a similar model as Patagonia, allowing returns of their used clothing and giving credit towards a new purchase from their store in exchange. They then either repair and resell the items, donate them to organizations such as New York Cares, or recycle them.
Conner Ives is a fashion brand that is committed to sustainable and ethical practices through the use of deadstock fabrics and organic and sustainable fabrics, such as organic cotton, recycled polyester, and Tencel, to reduce their environmental impact. In addition, the brand uses environmentally-friendly dyeing and finishing techniques to minimize its impact on the environment.
The brand works with small, family-owned factories in the United States and Europe that prioritize fair labor practices and safe working conditions. They pay fair wages to their workers and are able to maintain a high level of quality control by keeping production small and local.
STUDIO ONE EIGHTY NINE
Established in 2014, Studio 189 is an innovative fashion brand and social enterprise that works with artisanal communities to create African-inspired apparel. Founded by actress Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah, the company produces ethically-made pieces through collaborations with artisans throughout the African continent. These local communities utilize traditional crafting methods such as kente weaving, natural plant-based dye indigo, and hand-batik.
The vision of Studio 189 is focused on creating jobs for West Africans and supporting education through projects that provide skills training for women artisans in Ghana, Mali, and Burkina Faso, as well as other initiatives such as providing healthcare services for communities in need. This social enterprise aims to uplift these artisanal communities by reigniting the culture of craftsmanship passed down from generation to generation while helping to develop sustainable economic environments that seek to improve livelihoods across Africa.
Founded by model turned designer Oana Ponomarenco Romaneiro after dealing with the constant frustration of swimwear that wasn't even sustainable enough to last a season, Koraru is a luxury swimwear brand that was founded on the tenets of durability, transparency, and circularity.
Dedicated to creating garments that celebrate our planet’s natural beauty, Koraru believes in using natural resources as much as possible when designing clothing to reduce environmental impact. Their swimwear is made with ECONYL® regenerated yarn from nylon waste, and they use a variety of new recyclable materials in all their packaging solutions, but never any plastic. In addition to creating durable, timeless pieces, Koraru is also dedicated to being completely transparent about their supply chain. They publish their Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 manufacturers on their website.
ECO-RESPONSIBILITY IN LUXURY FASHION
Sustainable fashion brands have to be mindful of the whole design journey – from sourcing fabrics to manufacturing, distribution, sales, and returns – in order to create trends that simultaneously complement our wardrobes without exploiting either the planet or people working in the industry. The shift we are seeing towards sustainability is the industry taking responsibility and holding themselves accountable for their supply chain.
Luxury brands are now crafting garments out of responsibly-sourced materials, working to create pieces with a low-environmental footprint while still reflecting the high levels of style demanded by luxury fashion lovers. Not only does this reduce waste, but it also helps to support local businesses and communities while creating pieces that will be admired and enjoyed today while still standing the test of time tomorrow. Sustainability and high-end fashion can coexist harmoniously. As shoppers, it’s important for us to be vocal about wanting more ethical alternatives - by making conscious decisions concerning our choice of clothes, we can take an active stand against exploiting the planet while still being fashionable.
Written by Neesha Basnyat - Sustainability Writer for Koraru
Neesha Basnyat is a an experienced sustainability writer and researcher specialising in biology, sustainability, CSR, and ESG analysis and reporting. With an educational background in Biology and Environmental Science and over 6 years of experience in the sustainability field, Neesha loves everything green, from shoveling compost to calculating emissions or researching the best new standards in the sustainability space.