4 Chic Fashion Brands Doing Things Right, Right Now

4 Chic Fashion Brands Doing Things Right, Right Now

Ethical, sustainable fashion have become buzz words, but these designers go above and beyond

There are no hard and fast rules about calling a fashion brand “sustainable” or “ethical.” The simple fact is every brand should be creating clothing with as little waste and environmental impact as possible. We’ve all heard the stats, “The world uses 1.3 trillion gallons of water each year for fabric dyeing alone, enough to fill 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools”; “The average costumer bought 60% more clothing in 2015 than 2000, but kept each garment half as long”; “The average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste each year. That adds up to more than 11 million tons of textile waste from the U.S. alone.” This all adds up to a double faced issue: the first is that manufacturing clothing is like a bitch slap to Mother Earth and the second is that an entire generation of consumers views clothing as a transient purchase, to be worn limited times—or not at all—and thoughtlessly discarded.

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The trick then lies in either not buying clothing, buying only used or vintage clothing, or being incredibly choosy about the clothing we do buy. If we choose the latter (and if you’re a reader of this site, let’s be honest, you’ll probably shop again) it’s about making sure that what we buy is coming from brands that limit their use of natural resources and overall impact on the environment. Perhaps even more important than that, though, is actually loving the few pieces we put our dollars behind so much that we plan on holding on to them for years to come—perhaps long enough to pass them along to a next generation. Here are four brands that hit the mark in four very different ways.

Cienne

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Who They Are:

Founded in 2014 by designers Nicole Heim and Chelsea Healy, this New York-based brand makes ultra-special pieces locally and builds seasonally on a foundation of basics. Their latest collection for Fall is equal parts chic caftans, flirty animal-print dresses and lavender suede trousers that somehow feel like closet basics—but so much more. Gigi Hadid, Gwyneth Paltrow, Emma Watson, and Naomi Watts are fans.

Cienne was recently named the runner-up in the 2018 CFDA + Lexus Fashion* Initiative, and is a semi-finalist in the 2018/19 International Woolmark Prize.

What are the key differences in how you work versus a traditional fashion brand?

Chelsea Healy: I think one key difference is the idea of purpose. We try to be purposeful in everything we do, from designing to producing to interaction with customers. This is something we felt passionate about from the very start and how we operate on a daily basis. We also hope that this comes through in our creative output.

How did your prior work in the industry lead you to creating Cienne?

Nicole Heim: After years of working as a designer for a large fashion brand, and spending a lot of time in overseas factories, I became intimately aware of what mass consumption looks like. Everything is digested in large amounts and at such a fast pace, and that comes at a cost. It personally started to really affect me—both as a consumer and as a designer. I began seeking out quality, creativity, and meaning in both my work and my life. I decided to quit my job and take a sabbatical in East Africa. It was a really transformational journey, and that work is what laid the foundation for Cienne. Thinking about how, why, and what we make is really important to me, and we set out to build that ideology in Cienne. I also felt the sustainable fashion available in the market had a specific aesthetic and messaging, I was really passionate about creatively reframing that.

CH: When Cienne was coming to fruition, I had already been working in the industry for 10 years with a major fashion brand. I was able to gain experience in many areas of the industry over that course of time; including textile design, styling, and concept-color-apparel design. I fortunately was able to travel overseas and work on factory floors, so I really got familiar with the process and how garments were made first hand. At a company like Cienne, you have to be 100% hands on in every area of the business- so my knowledge and prior experience was critical for this next chapter, and I’m not sure how I could have done without it.

What did you feel was missing in the fashion conversation, what did you want to do differently?

CH: I personally didn’t think anything in the market looked very unique, or it was very trend driven and overpriced. I value high quality pieces you can invest in and have as a part of your wardrobe for years. We wanted to create fashion that felt both interesting and necessary; with the idea that you could build a foundation for your wardrobe that could be enhanced upon season after season.

What do you dislike about how people talk about eco/sustainable/responsible fashion?

NH: Sustainability in fashion is still a very new thing, and we’re all still learning. It’s incredibly complex and still lacks simple definition, so it’s going to take education and time for us as an industry to accurately address what sustainability means to fashion in a more mainstream way. With that being said, what I dislike about the responsible fashion conversation is that if you’re a fashion brand that cares about people and planet and treating both fairly, you fall into this bucket of a ‘sustainable’ brand, and that can be the only thing people talk about. It’s also a specific conversation that often involves the same words which lack definition and aspiration. I’m very much a purist when it comes to design and creative. We put a great deal of effort and emotion into our creative process, and when we talk only about sustainability, it neglects the core of what we do – design. Fashion is about fantasy and emotion and discovery; I believe those things still need to be at the forefront of a brand, while values and vision and sustainability should be the foundation and a tool to how you do business. In my opinion, we will be successful when we can stop talking about sustainability as it’s own category or niche spot in the market, and instead come to expect it from the brands we buy from.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

CH: There are many words we use to describe Cienne’s aesthetic but my favorites are “Boldly subtle. Clean and feminine. Eclectic.”

NH: Our aesthetic is a mix of masculine and feminine, refined and playful, clean and bold. It’s the juxtaposition and nuance of these traits that inspire us.

What do you think the future of fashion should look like? What is “ideal consumerism?” in your opinion?

NH: Honestly, I’m not yet sure how we balance the concept of “ideal consumerism.” I do think we must find new ways and models of operating. We have been in an age of excess and carelessness for so long that we have done irreparable damage. In my personal opinion, waste is my biggest concern, and the future of fashion must be about making and consuming only what we need, in addition to finding innovative ways to put what we’ve already made back into the system.

CH: I believe the future of fashion is going to be about breaking free of all the old codes. Right now, fashion is a machine! How much we produce, how often we produce—these are areas that need innovation. I feel it needs to slow down to speed up; meaning, how can we do more with less? Striking that balance is the future. To me, ‘ideal consumerism’ is about steering consumers to make investment purchases and see the value in paying more for a higher quality garment that they will get more use out of.

MaisonCléo

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Who they are:

Marie Dewet launched MaisonCléo with her mom Cléo as a sort of French girl chic meets Supreme—on Instagram. Cléo is a seamstress and Marie hails from resale site Vestiaire Collective. The two only list items to go on sale once a week and the elder Dewet produces each of the 20-25 pieces herself—all made out of natural fabrications of silk, cotton and linen leftovers sourced from Couture houses. It’s an old world approach that works that much better in the modern age of internet marketing—thanks to a multitude of blogger fans like Leandra Medine and celebs like Emily Ratajkowski. The sexy but cute and very French countryside vibe is perfectly in the fashion ethos right now—and special touches like a matching scrunchie for each look leave any idea that fast fashion is a good idea in its wake.

What are the key differences in how you work versus a traditional fashion brand?

Marie Dewet: One of the main difference is we have no schedule to follow, we have no collection, no season, just creating the pieces that we want, when we want, depending on the fabrics we find. We don’t produce any fabrics so it depends on what I can find next week or next month among the Couture Houses and fabric suppliers’ leftovers. Also, all the pieces are handmade to order by my mother so there is no stock, so no loss. Thanks to that system my mother can tailor each piece according to the measurements of the client that you can send us by email after your order. It is also possible to ask for special demands like a higher neckline or longer or shorter sleeves.

Why did you want to create Maison Cleo? Did working in the fashion industry affect your decision?

Totally. I have worked in the fashion industry, so I have seen the processes of making clothing, how much it costs, how it is produced and it really made me think. At the same time, a lot of “French” brands were bring created, but always made with synthetic fabrics and I hate that at it’s not pleasant to wear. I wanted to create something where the price breakdown would be detailed on each product page so people know what they buy. I also want to fight against the mass production and to show to everyone there is another way to consume.

What did you feel was missing in the fashion conversation, what did you want to do differently?

I see that people are really excited when they order something from our shop because they have to wait, that is someone we are not used to do today, and the waiting is very exciting. It feels like you are buying something unique, handmade just for you. I think everyone can wait one week or two to get something, especially when we are talking about a piece of clothe because we have other pieces to wear—so really there is no need to have it right away, right?

What do you dislike about how people talk about eco/sustainable/responsible fashion?

I don’t think any of it is bad—the conversation about sustainable fashion is too important for our future not to be having. Perhaps, some people think the pieces are too expensive because they are used to buying their clothes at big fashion brands. But it’s not their fault because they don’t know how much it costs to produce a piece, how much time is needed, how much it costs for one meter of fabric, what taxes we have to pay—so we have to explain it to them. There is no transparency given by other brands, so they can’t know, we have to tell them for them to be able to react, understand and think about changing their way of consumption.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

Authentic. We have nothing to hide and as we are very simple people and I think you can feel that in the way we talk to our lovely clients. I often share videos of my mother sewing or packing the orders for example.

What do you think the future of fashion should look like? What is “ideal consumerism?” in your opinion?

A very personalized act of purchase, like in the past when you had to go to the tailor to have new clothes. A piece made with your own measurements—because nobody has the same type of body—that you receive at home, that’s not mass produced in advance. I also like when items are produced locally, because they are from that country and because it’s important to have people working working locally. I like buying from an Australian brand that makes their stuff in Australia, from Barcelona from a brand that is hand-making in Barcelona or from a LA brand that is producing their label in LA…

KAMPARETT

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Who they are:

Designers Anna Chiu and Valerie Santillo, named KAMPARETT as a melding of their mothers’ maiden names. The two bring backgrounds in fashion—Anna in childrenswear and knitwear after a stint studying pre-med and Valerie in lingerie with an innate talent for illustration and painter. The San Francisco-based pair who produce everything locally have become a go-to in the cool girl tech and art scenes in Northern Cali with plans to take over the world—including a recent foray into bridal.

What are the key differences in how you work versus a traditional fashion brand?

Valerie Santillo: We are very hands-on and make everything in small batches at our local factory. We are able to walk over and monitor how our things are being made, and have a personal relationship with everyone who touches our clothes. Fashion has become so fast and all about the bottom line. We, of course, need to be a profitable business to exist, but we want to create something authentic and true to us, our values and aesthetic, and we are not willing to compromise on quality, labor wages, and selling out for the sake of making money. We still hand-paint pieces in each collection, a process that is slow and time consuming, but that creates one-of-a kind pieces with soul that customers really appreciate.

What did you feel was missing in the fashion conversation, what did you want to do differently?

VS: This question is always so hard to answer because we didn’t set out with this as a goal in mind when we first created the line. I think all we wanted to do was convey a point of view, our collective voice and have the opportunity to translate illustration or hand-painted aspect onto garments. I think we both just wanted to explore that creative aspect of ourselves. It wasn’t like we set out to do something different from the fashion conversation, it was more of a personal endeavor.

What do you dislike about how people talk about eco/sustainable/responsible fashion?

Anna Chiu: Often, it feels like a marketing tactic for some companies. It is how we conduct our business because we think it is our responsibility as humans and to the planet to manufacture ethically and as sustainably as possible. We operate this way because we think it is the right way, not because we want to hook people to buy our clothes.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

VS: Effortless and sophisticated. I think the Kamperett woman is the one in the room that subtly stands out from everyone else without being showy, by exuding confidence in an understated way.

AC: Soulful, easy, chic, and sensual.

What do you think the future of fashion should look like? What is “ideal consumerism?” in your opinion?

AC: We think that people should buy what they want and what makes them feel good, but also know where it came from and be educated about how it was made. Ideal consumerism would be making educated purchases. Possibly spending a little more to buy clothes that will last and to support those who are making it in a fair and ethical way. As our grandmothers said, quality over quantity. I do think more and more people are starting to shop this way.

VS: To buy and collect with purpose. Less is more. Treat your wardrobe as if it is a life collection, a living thing that grows over time and only adding pieces to it to it that have value.

KOWTOW

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Who they are:

Kowtow is like the OG of chic sustainable brands—it was launched in 2007 as a slow fashion label by Gosia Piatek. Kowtow takes sustainable production very seriously, beginning with fairtrade farmers in India growing non-Monsanto cotton seeds. “Farmers use companion planting, crop rotation, and on-site green waste composting. From there the 16 month long process of seed to garment begins. Every small detail from the coloring, the design, and even the buttons (made without nickel) are all accounted for,” according to the brand bio. The vibe is minimal with a punch and the perfect hint of pretty and Piatek does not shy from color. Kowtow currently has a store in New Zealand with plans to expand.

What are the key differences in how you work versus a traditional fashion brand?

Gosia Piatek: We only work with sustainable yarn that has an ethical production chain. Our cotton is certified fair trade by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation and certified organic by the Global Organic Textile Standard. We have recently started working with New Zealand ZQ certified merino which has the highest standard in animal welfare. We use Italian-made recycled hemp buttons and nickel-free German made denim tacks.

We also sea ship all our production and are constantly working on new and innovative ways to improve our collection and workroom practices. We care about all the details and want to create positive impact with what we do.

Because of our ethical and sustainable production chain, we are required to work further in advance to most fashion brands. We do not work with fabric off the roll and instead develop our own from scratch – designing the warp, weft, color, weight and wash. This means we have to start design 18 months prior to delivery and ensures we produce garments completely exclusive to us.

We recently opened our first flagship store in New Zealand and unlike other brands we ensured the store fit out was in line with our sustainability values. All our wood is sourced locally, paper lanterns are made with traditional techniques in Japan, the sofas are made from New Zealand wool, rugs are made from regenerated nylon and counter top tiles are hand made by a past collaborator.

What did you feel was missing in the fashion conversation, what did you want to do differently?

When I started Kowtow 11 years ago, sustainability and ethics were not prevalent words in the fashion industry. I found that I could not speak too openly about this subject as people often associated sustainable fashion with design that wasn’t desirable. Today, the fashion landscape could not be anymore different with large fast fashion chains now incorporating sustainable lines into their range. It is exciting to be able to talk to our customers about where our cotton and wool comes from, where our trims are sourced from and who makes our collections. We find that our customers are now so much more engaged in this subject and it’s exciting to show them that we are at the forefront of the movement.

What do you dislike about how people talk about eco/sustainable/responsible fashion?

Sometimes consumers can just read a buzz word like “eco” or “sustainable” and buy it simply if the packaging has these words on it. However, I think there are massive differences how one brand does it to another and for many it is still token. For us, we work with fair trade certified farmers from seed to garment, we are a genuinely curious workplace and do not hold back addressing the elephants in the room and are constantly coming up with solutions.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

Utilitarian, minimal and understated femininity.

What do you think the future of fashion should look like? What is “ideal consumerism?” in your opinion?

Great question! What if our clothing was biodegradable? A wonderfully mastered circular economy where everything was recycled and reused. A world with no fashion waste. What if we could bring back manufacturing into every country rather than a small number of countries producing for the whole world? What if we purchased with our minds, not frivolously and we cared, repaired and cherished our clothing? In my heart I am hoping that we are working towards this greener and healthier future.

From: Harper’s BAZAAR US

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