Recycle, repurpose and reuse: how brands are finding their green thumb right now

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Vogue combs the spring/summer ’19 collections for green shoots.

Recycle, repurpose, reuse. The three ‘r’s formed a theme this season. Those sexy, sporty, plunge-fronted floral playsuits at Stella McCartney? The ones with the biker short legs? Not only did they make us want to renew our gym membership, but they’re made from Econyl. That is, a wonder yarn regenerated from post-consumer waste in the form of old carpets, and abandoned fishing nets dragged out of the ocean. Its producer claims the process slashes the global warming impact of nylon by 80 per cent.

Richard Malone also used Econyl this season, in skinny layering pieces worn under the curvy, blooming volumes of his sustainable silk satin. In Milan, Econyl turned up on newcomer Tiziano Guardini’s runway – he won the Green Carpet Challenge award for Best Emerging Designer in 2017. The latest winner, announced at a gala eco event on the last night of Milan fashion week, was Gilberto Calzolari, who calls recycling “a moral imperative” and makes cocktail dresses out of old jute coffee-bean sacks. Oh, and that namesake carpet? You guessed it: woven from Econyl.

Guardini called his spring/summer ’19 collection Sustainable Kit, and worked with a suite of new eco options, including a yarn made from renewable, biodegradable castor oil. He is a vegan who wants to minimise fashion’s harm to living creatures. His ahimsa silk (‘nonviolence’ in Sanskrit) is produced in India without the need to bake or boil the silkworms in their cocoons in order to harvest the fibre. The moths flies away of their own accord, leaving the cocoons ready to be unravelled.

McCartney is the best-known vegan designer, having eschewed leather and fur ever since she started her brand in 2001. These days, she takes her cruelty-free approach way broader. It was she who broke the news, just before Christmas, of the UN’s new Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, joining more than 40 companies aiming for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

McCartney says spring/summer ’19 was her “most sustainable collection to date”. She focused on natural fibres: organic cotton, and sustainable linen and viscose in sorbet shades and tie-dyes. All the wood pulp for her viscose is sourced from sustainably managed forests in Sweden, while the fibre is produced in Germany, where chemical regulations are stringently upheld.

Image credits: Getty Images/Indigital, Vogue Australia, March 2019.

Image credits: Getty Images/Indigital, Vogue Australia, March 2019.

Still, it was Burberry that was named the leading luxury brand in the 2018 Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Not that you’d know it from looking at Riccardo Tisci’s debut for spring/summer ’19. Its sustainability innovation is focused on back-of-house. They’re trying to go carbon neutral and looking at new ways to recycle and reduce waste. They’ve also ceased burning unwanted stock and said no to fur.

Anti-fur is a trend, but it takes more than that to constitute a sustainable collection. Some opted to slow down and reboot the artisanal, like J.W Anderson, who last season announced plans to reduce the number of collections he shows, and this time pushed a hand-worked aesthetic celebrating custom-weaves, embroideries and trims. Gabriela Hearst makes a virtue of high craft too, while Tome has long celebrated artisanal collabs as a way to imbue clothes with preciousness and longevity. This season, to natural-dyed organic fabrics it added tassels made by refugee women who are rebuilding their lives in Texas.

Vin + Omi ticked a lot of boxes: vegan, eco, upcycled. For its London fashion week show at Saint Pancras Station, they fashioned clothes out of old cans, a fabric derived from chestnut skins and an eco-friendly latex made from sustainable rubber. Accessories were made from reclaimed plastic waste as part of its Bin 2 Body project. It was a conversation-starter, but for some of these pieces, one box remained unticked: wearability.

Mother of Pearl nailed that, and furthered discussion, too. If a smallish independent brand can pull off a covetable, organic collection with a completely transparent supply chain, and make it cheaper than its main line, as creative director Amy Powney did with No Frills, what’s stopping everyone else?

Millennials know fashion that lives more lightly on the planet is the future. Emerging designers are turning more trash into treasure. Like Dubai-raised Swede Nathalie Ballout, who buys old, unwanted denim by the box-load, redyes and recuts it into edgy-romantic collections that belie their humble origins. Or Milan-based Londoner Bav Tailor, who has sourced buttons made from cotton waste and designs fish-leather jackets produced from skins that would otherwise be thrown away.

Or Swiss wunderkind Kevin Germanier, who went home from Vogue Italia’s Who Is On Next? showcase clutching an award from Swarovski, bestowed for his work using dead-stock crystals. These he dusts on sleek blazers, bustier dresses and upcycled jeans. The results look dipped in coloured sugar. “Bring on the glamour,” he said. “There’s a place for the eco slogan T-shirt, but it’s not for me. I feel more likely to persuade people to consider the issues by delighting them.”

This article originally appeared in Vogue Australia’s March 2019 issue.

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