In an industry dominated by men, these ethical female fashion designers are shaking up the world of fashion!
By Chere Di Boscio
It’s not a secret that fashion, like just about any other industry, is dominated by men. Sure, there have been some notable exceptions: Chanel and Prada come to mind. But from Lagerfeld and Jacobs to Dior and Vuitton, the big houses’ big players are almost always male. This is especially ironic given that most of the actual work being done on the garments they design is done by women. And their customers are, of course, female.
Fortunately, eco fashion seems to be a slightly different world. Here, women like Livia Firth, Orsola de Castro and Sass Brown were behind the movement in the first place, and many more designers tend to be female.
Maybe it’s the female instinct to nurture that leads women-led brands to care more about their employees. Or maybe it’s long-term thinking about the state of the planet they will leave behind for their children that makes them care about the environment more. Or maybe–dare we say it–women are just more forward thinking and caring overall. Ethical fashion is something that just seems natural to us.
There can be no doubt that in the realm of ethical fashion, women rule. They focus on making us not only look good (notice their cuts are more ‘forgiving’ and less ‘punishing’ than male designed fashion), but also feel good, knowing our clothes weren’t made by slave labour from toxic, planet-killing fabrics. Long may it stay that way!
Here below, we’ve selected some ethical female fashion designers to celebrate. Their work is focused on making women look great, whilst helping to save the planet.
Awesome Female Fashion Designers To Celebrate
We simply had to start this article with one of the first ethical female fashion designers. That would be the Godmother of Green, Katharine Hamnett. Way back in the 80s, this woman was telling us to RELAX with her bold, slogan T-shirts, but since then, she’s put the power of fashion to work, advancing her political ideas through slogans like: Education, Not Missiles! Save the Rainforests! and Worldwide Nuclear Ban Now!
And unlike Dame Vivienne Westwood (who has ‘borrowed’ the slogan tee idea to preach environmentalism, yet who hasn’t made any move to stop using toxic dyes and fabrics), Hamnet actually puts her money where her mouth is.
Horrified by the fact that an average of 20,000 people a year are killed by pesticides used to grow cotton (not to mention the damage these chemicals do to our ecosystems), the designer launched Cotton 2000. She did so in conjunction with the Pesticides Trust. Their goal? To make all cotton grown around the world eco friendly in our lifetime.
A strict Buddhist, she tries to ensure everything she does – at work or in her personal life – is aligned with her beliefs. This dedication to morality has not made her popular with everyone, though. She’s been quoted as saying: “I know for a fact that certain glossy sections of the fashion publishing world would rather that I disappear.” Given the support for toxic, unethical fashion by the mainstream media, this can only be a huge compliment.
What we love: This is a woman who truly practices what she preaches in terms of sustainability!
Sustainable because: Only organic cotton is used, and all items are made in ethical factories.
Yep, number 2 on our list is another of the pioneering ethical female fashion designers: Stella McCartney.
Most people know McCartney is ethical for her vegetarian approach to style. She’ll never, ever use any dead animal products – including leather and fur – in her creations. But there’s so much more to her approach than that!
Stella is deeply involved with dozens of charities, mainly animal causes. She either donates directly or partners with them, creating tees they can sell to raise money. In terms of women, she works closely with the Linda McCartney Centre to help raise money for breast cancer research.
Regarding sustainability, every year she makes new gains here. For example, in 2018, she banned the use of mohair, launched the Loop sneaker, committed to going plastic free, and made the first ever handbag with Bold Thread’s Mylo™ mushroom leather. In 2020, she debuted Coreva™ biodegradable stretched denim, added bio-lenses in Stella McCartney eyewear, and launched Stellawear – a sustainable innovation fusing underwear and swimwear, made from Aquafil Econyl® regenerated nylon and ROICA™ elastane.
What we love: McCartney’s massive success is an inspiration to other women designers around the world.
Sustainable because: She’s always looking for innovative, new, regenerated materials.
This is one of our ethical female fashion designers who is all about the fabric. Based in Paris, Swedish born Bialas uses upcycled textiles from some of the greatest fashion houses around the world. She them incorporates them into zero waste designs.
Think 70s floral frocks from vintage YSL stock; teeny polka dot blouses from hard-to-find 50s fabrics, and head scarves salvaged from a ‘very well known’ luxury brand. She saves these fabrics before they met their typical destiny: burning. Yep, that’s right: most fashion houses actually burn their unused fabrics. That’s because they’d prefer to destroy them than have competitors copy their pattern designs.
But Bialas has no desire to compete with the likes of Chanel and co. She’s perfectly content to create her eco-friendly, one off pieces in her studio herself. She loves knowing that each customer is going away with a little piece of history that’s hers, and only hers.
Bialas acknowledges that women come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. And not only that–our own sizes shift depending on various factors like pregnancy, age and even times of the month. For this reason, she’s designed her clothes based on geometric shapes so that they’re loose, unstructured, and fully adjustable. This allows each of her customers to be comfortable in not only her wardrobe, but her own skin, too.
What we love: Each design has women’s comfort in mind.
Sustainable because: Upcycled fabrics are used to make zero-waste creations
India has some of the most beautiful sights in the world, gave birth to the world’s oldest religion. Sadly, it also has some of the world’s poorest people, which has resulted in human trafficking and a thriving sex trade.
When the two founders of Beulah, Natasha and Lavinia, first worked an aftercare home called Atulya in the Delhi slums, they witnessed the horrors that extreme poverty and trafficking first hand and decided to do something about it. Two years later, Beulah was born. Today, this is a fashion label dedicated to having a fully transparent supply chain, focused on timeless and effortless elegance. Beulah is also dedicated to raising awareness of human trafficking and offering its survivors a sustainable livelihood.
The result is a line of soft, feminine silhouettes, subdued hues, classic maxi dresses, delicate prints and very British style. Beulah is perfect for taking high tea, attending garden parties, and ok–even the office.
What we love: Meaningful employment given to vulnerable and previously trafficked women
Sustainable because: Fully transparent supply chain information; many natural fabrics used
This is one of our ethical female fashion designers whose motto is truly ‘by women, for women’. She was inspired by traditional textile techniques in Eastern Europe which are becoming threatened by mass-production. Today, de Hillerin dedicated her fashion range to preserving these ancient methods of weaving and embroidering.
Of course, these methods were dominated by women. For that reason, she now works directly with female local manufacturers in Romania and Moldova to support the production of handmade materials, which she subtly incorporates into each collection. Her aim is to enrich the bank accounts of these highly skilled craftswomen by creating more demand for their cultural skills in a modern fashion context, whilst creating fashion that is completely ethical and sustainable.
What we love: The preservation of ancient European textile creating techniques
Sustainable because: Only natural materials such as linen, hemp and wool are used.
This Spanish designer works with the most natural fabrics around to help ensure the planet is left in a decent state for the next generations. In addition to using organic cotton, bamboo and Lyocell, Colina uses a more controversial fabric too: hemp. Despite its association with a ‘hippy’ counter-culture, this has been touted as the ultimate eco-friendly fabric because it requires no chemicals to grow; is extremely versatile, and can be used to create strong, sturdy fabrics – even rope – or soft, delicate items. Hemp can even block the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, making it the perfect fabric for summer.
The designer also uses what is sometimes called “vegetable cashmere,” a super soft, soy-based fabric that’s easy to care for, absorbs dye quickly and hangs gently on the body, making it ideal for Colina’s penchant for flowing maxi dresses and cape-cut sleeves.
What we love:
This Venezuelan-born designer studied fashion design and marketing at Savannah College of Art and Design, whilst also for Ralph Lauren, Elie Tahari and DKNY. After graduating, she created an extension of her senior collection that is currently being sold online and in boutiques across New York and South America. The sustainable brand, called CARMELA, was created last year with the help of Kyra Webb, a born and raised New Yorker who also graduated from SCAD.
The New York based brand aims to reduce, recycle and reuse post consumer fabric waste to create uniquely fashionable, fully sustainable luxury denim wear. All products are handcrafted by women sustaining artisanal jobs within Latin America, ensuring CARMELA gives back to those in need while remaining an eco-friendly luxury company.
What we love:
Frustrated with the lack of sexy, sustainable clothing in the market, Agatka Natalia Kozak launched Cossac 2014, dubbing the vibe of her eco-friendly, yet affordably priced label as being ‘eco hot’. True to its mission, COSSAC uses fair trade, organic and recycled fabrics, and ensure that all dyes and textiles have low environmental impact. The production process is fully transparent, taking place in fair waged factories based in Europe and Turkey.
We especially love the brand’s slogan tees, like ‘It’s Just A Ride’, the famous quote by comedian Bill Hicks reminding us of the impermanence of life, and Namaste, Bitches – perfect for yoga class!
What we love:
The founder of LeMuse brand comes from a long line of fashion designers from Lithuania. During her childhood in this Baltic nation, she was mesmerised by what her grandmother was doing – cutting patterns, sewing, drawing designs – and she began to do these things herself. So passionate was her family about linen, they named her Lina, which means ‘linen’ in Lithuanian!
Lina has kept linen designing in her family. Today, her brand LeMuse and their lovely linens is a run family business, led by Lina and her husband Kazimieras.
What we love: The brand is keeping traditional female-led craftsmanship alive
Sustainable because: Everything is made from naturally dyed linen!
10. Ma + Lin
Ma + Lin founder Yue Jiang gets a lot of inspiration from vintage shops for her designs. She claims she could spend hours and hours hunting down vintage treasures! But her dedication to sustainability is utterly modern. For her first collection, she used a medium-weight, plain weave linen. These blouses and tops (which the brand specialises in) can be worn easily throughout the whole year.
That being said, the Italian-made wooden buttons, as well as Peter Pan collars on some styles, do harken back to her obsession with vintage!
What we love: Every item from Má + Lin is fully traceable, from the farm where the raw materials are cultivated to the warehouse where the final items are dispatched.
Sustainable because: Every item is strictly sold on a made-to-order basis, and is 100% biodegradable.