Image: Copenhagen Fashion Week
Starting in Copenhagen, the FW20/21 fashion month set a high precedent for the role of clothing in the climate conversation. Beatrice Murray-Nag investigates the best sustainable design showcased in the five fashion capitals, through both materials and messaging.
The arrival of 2020 brought with it one key sustainability message for businesses and individuals alike: the clock on is ticking, and fast.
Fashion is certainly no exception here, with its sheer pace and global influence putting the industry under fire to rethink its tight show schedule in favour of a slower, more sustainable approach. The start of the FW20/21 season held a clear question for the most important event in every designer’s calendar: can fashion month prove its relevance in a changing climate?
Yet as FW20/21 got underway, the season’s schedule quickly proved that these exact qualities of reactivity and cultural licence can make fashion a critical voice in the climate conversation. Beginning with the unveiling of Copenhagen Fashion Week’s action plan to reduce its impact and move towards a zero-waste business model, this fashion month has seen designers acknowledge the problem face on, before presenting a series of creative solutions through their shows and new collections.
From the materials to the messaging, labels used their shows to promote a radical rethinking of industry norms, challenging paradigms such as studio waste and exclusivity with their designs. Upcycled fabrics, recycled dyes and innovative plant-based fibres have put the planet on a global stage, encouraging more responsible practices within the industry while emphasising the urgency of the problem at hand. A line-up of immersive events has served as lesson in the importance of creative communication, proving that fashion month can be used to promote positive change and pioneer a new way of thinking about the problems facing the planet. Here are some of the best examples from the schedule so far.
Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood
The climate crisis is a familiar motif in Vivienne Westwood’s collections, but the British designer’s collaboration with Andreas Kronthaler took the sustainability message a step further by partnering with GIE CABES. Co-mangaged by the Ethical Fashion Initiative, GIE CABES offers employment to artisans in marginalized communities in Mali and Burkina Faso to lift them out of poverty. The collection featured handwoven cotton grown locally and transformed by a spinning factory in Burkina Faso, as well as mulesing-free wool and sustainable viscose.
Lagos-based designer Kenneth Ize made his debut at Paris Fashion Week with a colourful, heritage-rich collection modelled by the likes of Naomi Campbell and Imaan Hammam. The Nigerian designer put West African crafts and fabrics in the global spotlight, working with a group of weavers in his home country to produce a traditional cloth known as ‘aso oke.’ Ize extended his commitment to honouring the protection of artisan crafts with the adoption of lace made by Austrian sewers in Vienna, where he studied. The collection took inspiration from his mother’s ‘Sunday best’ approach, bringing to memory a not-so-distant past when clothes held a deeper significance compared to today’s fast fashion culture.
John Galliano’s latest collection for Maison Margiela once again subverted expectations, questioning the use of raw materials needed to compose a new collection. The designer’s Fall/Winter offering saw him channel the fascination with vintage clothing at the heart of the brand, carefully selecting second-hand garments and reworking them into new designs. The process, dubbed ‘Recicla,’, gave a new dimension to Margiela’s signature synthesis of past and future, as reborn vintage coats and reclaimed wicker accessories sailed down the runway. A new line of handbags – the 52C signature made from leather offcuts – accompanied the upcycled designs.
A touch of light-heartedness in a fashion month shadowed by uncertainty, animal mascots brought a smile to faces on Stella McCartney’s FW20 front row. A light-hearted representation of McCartney’s cruelty-free commitment, the characters handed out baby trees and encouraged guests to replant them to help offset the carbon costs of the show. The costumes were accompanied by outerwear in faux leather and shearling, demonstrating the high-quality animal-free alternatives offered by the brand.
This Milan Fashion Week, Diesel put sustainability on the schedule with the launch of the DIESEL UPCYCLING FOR initiative. The series will entail six creative collections, the first of which saw the brand’s deadstock materials transformed into colourful patchworks and street-inspired silhouettes. To mark the launch, the Italian label turned their flagship store into a live performance with seamstresses making pieces of the collection in front of the audience to show the importance of an artisan ‘cut-and-sew’ approach. Each piece also came with its own unique QR code, allowing customers to learn about exactly how each garment had been made.
Gucci is no stranger to sustainable commitment, having launched its Gucci Equilibrium platform in 2019 to better consider the planet and its people. Its A/W 2020 show continued this commitment to transparency, creating an almost immersive experience whereby the audience were permitted access to backstage. With the stylists and dressers as much a part of the performance as the models themselves, Gucci placed emphasis on those working behind the scenes.
Marni’s A/W20 collection presented its famous 70s-inspired silhouettes of A-Line midi skirts and overcoats in a collage of fabric scraps to showcase “finding beauty in leftovers”. With a combination of leather and calico, the garments carried the stories from pieces made before, with the final collection coming together to create a patchwork of browns, orange and blues.
Vin + Omi
A fantastical vision of the future of fashion, Vin + Omi’s FW20 catwalk was an unadulterated celebration of inclusivity and innovation. The radical design duo scrapped all stereotypes by inviting people of all shapes and sizes to walk their runway, clad in their signature sustainable fibres. From silk scarves made with the Savoy hotel’s waste plastic bottles to slogan dresses woven from British nettles, the collection acted as a think tank for sustainable ideas. None of the designs will be sold on, proving it possible to celebrate creativity without the need for consumerism.
Richard Malone is at the forefront of an exciting new generation of designers integrating sustainable practices into their production, from ground to garment. As the winner of this year’s International Woolmark Prize, the Irish designer’s fully traceable supply chain starts with the regenerative farming initiative that he has set up to harvest fibre crops in Tamil Nadu, India. Combining an uncompromised aesthetic vision with an end-to-end attention to the environment and made-to-order business model, Malone presents a radical alternative for the fashion industry.
Phoebe English tackled two of the fashion industry’s biggest carbon costs this fashion week: the production and transport of raw materials. Taking the use of deadstock fabrics to a new, localised level, English asked designers from around London to donate their studio waste towards her FW20 collection. The result was a sleek monochrome collection that combined Katherine Hamnet’s surplus cotton with offcuts from Preen by Thornton Bregazzi and Martine Rose into impeccable silhouettes, cut using a zero-waste technique.
GFX x Patrick McDowell
Known for his collections made from deadstock fabric and studio waste, Patrick McDowell’s FW20 collection came in the form of a swap shop hosted with Global Fashion Exchange’s Patrick Duffy. Held as part of the British Fashion Council’s Positive Fashion Exhibition, the pair providing a welcome antidote to the celebration of ‘newness’ that comes with fashion week, instead encouraging visitors to switch up their wardrobes by swapping garments between each other. Visitors were also invited to reinvent old garments using upcycled Swarovski crystals, while McDowell’s collection existed as an evolving selection of items as they passed through the swap.
Preen by Thornton Bregazzi
Design duo Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi are no strangers to sustainability, having crafted trend-transcending romantic silhouettes with upcycled fibres for some time. The FW20 collection saw the brand create of designs made from 50% recycled or upcycledmaterials, achieving their signature punk-touched aesthetic through deadstock tweed from British mills and surplus army camouflage materials. Patchwork knits from recycled wools were a highlight, shining a spotlight on artisan craft.
Widely recognised for her colourful fashion shows that bring a touch of fun to the climate conversation, Collina Strada’s FW20/21 offering did not disappoint. Playfully entitled ‘Garden Hoe,’ the collection was a celebration of all things earthly and eco, featuring a grass-covered runway and a real vegetable patch. Over half of the designs themselves were made from rose-silk, a more sustainable alternative created from rose petals, with the rest of the collection crafted using deadstock materials. The real star of the show? The return of the rhinestone-encrusted water bottle famously carried by Maggie Williams.
The Arlo Studio
The Arlo Studio launched its debut collection ‘Gone Bush’ at the Global Fashion Collective show. Inspired by the Australian outback, the designs told a timely tale about the fragility of natural beauty – a motif mirrored as much in the garments themselves as the production techniques behind them. Charlotte Terry and Julianne Propsting, the creative couple behind the label, minimised the environmental impact of their collection by using deadstock materials and partnering with print company Think Positive Prints who favour small-batch digital production and recycle their inks.
New York-based brand PH5 is building on the relationship between design and technology for a lower impact fashion future. Known for its innovative knitwear that blends architectural forms with avant-garde production, the Chinese-born design duo takes a quasi-scientific approach to sustainability. The FW20/21 collection was inspired by skiwear’s blend of fun and functionality, with each design created on 3D knitting machines for a zero-waste manufacturing process. As well as being the key to PH5’s signature sculptural shapes, this practice eliminates the need for pattern cutting and allows old samples to be unwound and repurposed.
A bold and unapologetic display of diversity, Chromat presented a FW20/21 vision founded on equal representation and ethics. Its signature swim-come-sportswear was presented in a gender-inclusive space where everyone was free to be their true self. Both the producers and planet were granted this same respect, with the collection produced from regenerated nylon in safe, ethical and fair-wage factories across New York City and Sofia, Bulgaria. The brand even worked with a team of divers to rescue old fishing nets and create a closed-loop system in which the nylon can be recycled infinitely without losing quality.
Nike proved that prioritising the planet isn’t just for new labels with the launch of the Space Hippie sneaker collection this New York Fashion Week. Made from scrap material found on its factory floors, every step of the production process has been used to lower the overall carbon footprint of its four debut designs. With recycled yarn uppers and repurposed foam soles, the collection showcases a futureproof opportunity for a more circular footwear industry.
Kicking off Copenhagen Fashion Week in a way perfectly aligned with its newly announced Sustainability Action Plan, Carcel turned the traditional catwalk on its head for the opening event. By partnering with women in prisons in Peru and Thailand, the Danish label aims to improve their lives by providing financial independence and skills training. Rather than showcasing a new collection this season, Carcel’s founder Veronica D’Souza used the opportunity to play videos of the artisans producing different garments, before inviting the audience to walk the catwalk themselves and be part of the change.
Rave Review’s FW20/21 show opened with the words of Greta Thunberg’s UN speech, setting a high precedent for the Swedish brand’s latest collection. With a goal to create beautiful clothes without exploiting the planet, creative duo Josephine Bergqvist and Livia Schück put upcycling in the spotlight once again for Copenhagen Fashion Week. The line-up featured looks crafted from floral bedspreads, velvet curtains, plaid rugs and old jacquards, perfectly tailored into Scandi-esque silhouettes with a high-end feel. While the show began with a message of anger, it closed with one of hope as to what can be done with the materials already in existence.
Copenhagen’s cult brand Ganni used Fashion Week to spotlight two important issues in one – female empowerment and sustainability. The label commissioned work from different women artists using upcycled materials and Ganni studio waste for its ‘202020’ pop-up kiosk this fashion week. Recycled glass paperweights featured next to crochet accessories made from leftover yarn from previous collections, proving that creating something beautiful doesn’t have to involve energy-intensive production of virgin materials. True to the show’s message, the brand also launched the Ganni Lab to showcase the work it is doing in order to lower its environmental impact. One such initiative is its carbon compensation partnership with the Clean Cooking Project in Nepal and Ghana which empowers women on the ground and reduces harmful emissions from stoves by proposing clean cooking solutions instead.
Facinated by seemingly meaningless rituals, Henrik Vibskov’s FW20/21 collection focused on the meditative act of bathing. The semi-surrealist show saw a pop palette accessorised with everyday items such as toothbrushes and shower caps. Made from 95% sustainable materials, the collection confronted the question of sustainability with a fun, tongue-in-cheek tone of voice that proved that creativity and conscious consumption go hand in hand. Of particular note was the outerwear offering, crafted using 100% recycled PET bottles and reused wool from Norway.
Danish brand Rains showcased a collection inspired by getting back to nature and slowing down. Pieces were designed for longevity and adaptability, featuring different fabric coatings for a smooth transition from wet weather to dry. Colours were inspired by natural dying and vegetable tanning, while the sustainable highlight of the show was the plant-based fibre developed for their jackets and puffers, eliminating the need for plastic or animal-derived padding. The fibre, Sorona by Dupont, releases 63% fewer greenhouse gas emissions in comparison to nylon 6.
Discover the newest sustainable textile innovations showcased at the Future Fabrics Expo 2020.
Read our interview with Patrick McDowell on being a designer in a changing climate.