As the high street wakes up to the benefits of sustainable collections, and more and more design-led brands emerge, Drapers looks at how ethical fashion is evolving.
Ethical fashion is growing up. Where once retailers and consumers had to resign themselves for swapping style for sustainability, today’s ethical collections – from high street giants and smaller brands alike – are increasingly stylish and sophisticated.
“Companies are becoming more aware of going through the right processes of sourcing and manufacturing,” confirms Harold Tillman, chairman of the Ethical Fashion Forum. “Major retailers, from the commercial end of market through to luxury, are all building awareness programmes. They are stepping up their efforts.”
As a result, there is an increasing amount of choice on the high street. H&M is expanding its Conscious Exclusive collection in terms of volume, while Mango and Zara have both launched standalone sustainable collections within the past year. This is having a halo effect on the wider industry, as smaller ethical brands seek to take advantage of the growing awareness among consumers.
For high street retailers, ethical collections have always had their uses as a marketing tool. However, today’s collections have developed serious design credentials and they are driving sales. The midi-length green dress in Mango’s Committed collection, which launched for spring 17, sold out within a week.
“Our customers have appreciated the effort in terms of sustainability, and also in terms of design and high fashion content of the collection,” says a spokeswoman for the brand.
There is still a long way to go to making fashion supply chains transparent and ethical. But the steps in the right direction taken by the high street and new ethical labels outlined below are to be welcomed.
Stepping it up on the high street
H&M Conscious Exclusive
H&M leads the pack when it comes to sustainable clothing on the high street. Its goal is to use 100% sustainable cotton by 2020 and 100% sustainable materials by 2030, and every item in its Conscious Exclusive collection is made using at least 80% sustainable materials.
Conscious Exclusive has been around for a few years but this year H&M took it to a new level in terms of design. In the collection that launched on 20 April, the headline grabber is an ethereal blush-coloured gown made of “Bionic Yarn” – shoreline waste recycled into a polyester that looks more like chiffon.
Other hero pieces include a women’s tuxedo, which has been reimagined as a lounge jacket in organic silk and Tencel twill, with matching trousers that flounce out from the knee. Retail prices range from £7.99 to £49.99 for kidswear, £19.99 to £199.99 for menswear and £24.99 to £249.99 for womenswear.
Mango launched its first sustainable clothing collection, Committed, in March as part of wider plans to become more environmentally friendly. The collection of 25 women’s and 20 men’s items are made from materials such as organic and recycled cotton, recycled polyester and Tencel, and have been dyed with environmentally friendly inks in a palette of neutral colours.
All garments in the collection have international certificates that guarantee their sustainable origin and are manufactured in Portugal, Turkey and Morocco. Retail prices range from £15 for jewellery and £100 for a coat.
Zara Join Life
Zara launched its first standalone sustainable collection, Join Life, last autumn. Some items are made from materials such as organic cotton or sustainable fabrics such as Tencel, lyocell and recycled fibres. Others are made in production facilities that are either powered by clean energy or use less water and chemicals.
The collection features bold shapes and clean silhouettes in a colour palette of mineral tones. Standout items include a frilled-sleeve blouse, tapping into the trend for statement sleeves, and a burnt orange gathered-waist jumpsuit. Retail prices range from £5.99 for a sleeveless T-shirt to £49.99 for a jumpsuit.
Emerging ethical brands
London-based premium athleisure brand Silou Active was launched by former model Tatiana Kovylina in February. Manufactured in Lithuania, it keeps a watchful eye on all facets of production to ensure workers are offered good working conditions and fair pay. It also uses only non-toxic materials, such as Tencel.
The brand has two stockists so far – Rêve En Vert and luxury health club Third Space Canary Wharf – and sells online via its own site. Wholesale prices range from £35 for a Lydia sportsbra to £100 for a Gaia dress.
Max V Koenig
East London-based accessories designer Max V Koenig launched his brand for spring 17. Sustainability has always played a big part in Koenig’s design processes. All of the leathers and shearlings he uses are byproducts of the food industry, and he avoids using harsh chemicals in the dying process where possible.
The bags are manufactured in a small workshop that has been owned and led by the same family since 1855. The brand is available via maxvkoenig.com, and Koenig is seeking UK stockists. Wholesale prices range from £93 for the Auriga wallet and £516 for the Orion tote bag.
This ethical streetwear brand was founded by Johan Graffner, Johan Mooe and Joakim Knapp in Sweden in 2012. They wanted to combine their passion for graphic design, photography, music and popular culture in a sustainable fashion brand.
Dedicated Brand uses 100% recycled polyester and all of its cotton is 100% organic, Fairtrade and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified. It is currently stocked by 20 retailers in the UK, including John Lewis, London womenswear indie Boutique 69B and Chelmsford designer indie Zagger. Wholesale prices range from £14 for a T-shirt to £35 for a jacket.
Tome is a New York- based luxury womenswear brand founded in 2011 by Ramon Martin and Ryan Lobo. As well as using sustainable fabrics and reducing waste, Tome constantly reviews internal practices, monitors its supply chain and conducts periodic check-ins at its factories. It has two UK stockists, Fenwick and Selfridges. Wholesale prices range from US $198 (£154) for a shirt to $798 (£621) for outerwear.
Why big names are joining the ethical bandwagon