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, where women like Livia Firth, Orsola de Castro and Sass Brown were behind the movement in the first place, and where 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. 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, and ethical fashion is something that just seems natural to us. But 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, we’ve selected 12 fantastic female fashion designers whose work is focused on making women look great, whilst helping to save the planet.
We simply had to start this article with the Godmother of Green, Katharine Hamnet. 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 in conjunction with the Pesticides Trust, with the goal of making all cotton grown around the world eco friendly in her lifetime. A strict Buddhist, she tries to ensure everything she does–be it in work or her personal life–is aligned with her beliefs. This dedication to morality has not made her popular with everyone, and 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.
For this Swedish born, Paris based designer, it’s all about the fabric. She uses upcycled textiles from some of the greatest fashion houses around to give them her own twist: think 70s floral frocks from vintage YSL stock; teeny polkadots blouses from hard-to-find 50s fabrics, and head scarves salvaged from a certain ‘very well known’ luxury brand before they met their destiny: burning (that’s right: most fashion houses actually burn their fabric, preferring to destroy it than have competitors copy it). 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, 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 are loose, unstructured, and fully adjustable to the wearer’s needs, allowing her to be comfortable in not only her wardrobe, but her own skin, too.
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 Beluah, 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, Beluah was born–a fashion label dedicated to having a fully transparent supply chain, focused on timeless and effortless elegance whilst raising awareness of human trafficking, and offering its survivors a sustainable livelihood.
The result is a line of soft, feminine silhouettes, subdued hues, delicate prints and very British style. Beluah is perfect for taking high tea, attending garden parties, and ok–even the office.
Natural dyes and organic fabrics are what this German designer is best known for. Using only the highest-quality natural materials. Riplinger creates what she thinks women actually want to wear, and says the cut and tailoring of each style is intended “to flatter the women’s personal contours and to complement her silhouette. Each design encourages the wearer to embrace who she is and enhance her self-confidence.”
We love how Riplinger allows for some movement within these looks, and the small touches, like pops of colour or flashes of unusual pleats or cuts that give her garments a gentle urban edge.
5. J Cavallo
Using only raw silk and wool, this designer is a woman whose clothing reflect her sexual confidence. Form-fitting jackets, 3/4 sleeves, midi-length skirts and standing band collars come in bold colours and organic patterns that make the wearer stand out.
Cavallo is a big advocate of women supporting women, so she’s hired a staff of them to help make her creations. Each piece is handmade by fairly-waged women in Cavallo’s native America, and what’s more, the designer donates 10% of all the profits she makes to benefit Women for Women International.
We first came across this label in Paris, at a private sale, and were blown away by M’Sa’s style. But when we found out she makes her pieces from fabrics ‘donated’ by Kering, we were over the moon! These eco friendly pieces are just part of an initiative of Kering’s to ensure that the groups labels–think Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Saint Laurent and more–don’t waste a single scrap. M’Sa gets to use these exquisite fabrics any way she deems fit, and the results are stunning: geometric, body conscious pieces with pops of colour. They’re not for those who want to blend in, and M’Sa is proud of that, and of being a fashion rebel.
M’Sa strongly believes there’s no beauty in clothing if those who make it are suffering, and she is a huge advocate of fair wages for garment workers. She stresses that “it’s important to get involved in this action even if it might mean going against the flow. That means that Fashion has to get involved in (ethical fashion) even if it makes it become less popular.” We think the absolute opposite is happening: eco fashion is becoming more popular than ever, thanks to female designers like M’Sa.
This designer’s motto is very much ‘by women, for women’. Inspired by traditional textile techniques in Eastern Europe which are becoming threatened by mass-production, de Hillerin dedicated her fashion range to preserving these ancient methods of weaving and embroidering. She works directly with with female local manufacturers in Romania and Moldova to support the production of handmade materials, which she subtly incorporates into each collection. The 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.
We’ve long admired this talented young designer, who believes fashion should be “less, but better”. Combining geometry, natural and a rock-chick aesthetic, Inglis’s minimalist garments make a maximum statement.
She also maximises her clothing’s environmental friendliness. Each piece is sewn in a small, family-owned factory in New York from high-quality, low-impact fabrics including Japanese organic cotton, Italian vegetable-tanned leather, and dead stock wool from the local garment industry. All styles are stress-tested to guarantee sturdy construction, ensuring that these un-basic pieces will be wardrobe staples for years to come.
We first discovered Titania Inglis at London Fashion Week two years ago, but since then, her designs have been featured in Elle, Women’s Wear Daily, and the New York Times and worn by musicians including Charli XCX, Chelsea Wolfe, and one of our dearest punk-feminist heroines, Kim Gordon.
10. Susana Colina
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.
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 CARMELà, 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 hand crafted by women sustaining artisanal jobs within Latin America, ensuring CARMELà gives back to those in need while remaining an eco-friendly luxury company.
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! No wonder huge eco bloggers like EcoWarriorPrincess, seen below, are fans.