Fashion Designer

Innovative Fashion Designers Lead the Way on Sustainability

Innovative fashion designers are turning to such things as horseradish and nettles to make sustainable clothing and accessories to the delight of a growing number of buyers.

While more consumers are paying closer attention to how the production of goods impacts the environment, old habits die hard. A buy-and-toss mentality persists despite a boost from celebrities helping to drive the upcycle and vintage movements.

Actress Maggie Q, who created an activewear line from recycled fabrics, is among activists who see plenty of room for improvement. She says she feels “sick about fast fashion.”

“You hear people say, ‘Well, it was cheap and you need to wear it once, you throw it away,'” she said.

The British design duo behind Vin + Omi, a brand worn by Michelle Obama, Beyonce and Lady Gaga, is forever on the hunt for creative solutions to sustainability. They sourced latex from Malaysia, for example. However, they found the conditions for plantation workers appalling and bought the operation.

At their studios in the Cotswolds, in the heart of the English countryside, they grow a range of crops and plants for textile development, including chestnuts and horseradish. Their latest collection features garments made from nettles, alpaca fleece and recycled plastic from paint tubes. English designer Zoe Corsellis keeps the carbon footprint of her garments low by manufacturing them in London, with fabrics sourced in the U.K. and Germany. She makes them from wood pulp, sea waste and peace silk, considered more humane to silk worms than traditional production processes. A wood pulp gown feels like jersey to the touch.

Belgian designer Sebastiaan de Neubourg is recycling plastic bottles, car dashboards and refrigerators for sunglasses for his brand, W.R.YUMA. Plastic waste is collected and shredded to make 3D printer filament. Transparent frames are made from soda bottles, white ones from refrigerators and black ones from car dashboards.

“Waste, I believe, is design failure,” he said. Fee Gilfeather, sustainability expert at the nonprofit Oxfam, said there’s hope on a larger scale.

“The textile industry is getting close to working out how to do fiber-to-fiber recycling,” she said. “So what that means is that when you take a garment that’s no longer needed, you can break it down into the fibers and turn that back into a raw material to make clothing.”

More celebrities are also playing a role, with some turning to vintage.

Amal Clooney, the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle and Kim Kardashian West have been wearing more vintage pieces and re-wearing outfits, something unheard of among many celebrities. Billie Eilish recently wore a custom upcycled outfit from Burberry to the American Music Awards.


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