The current narrative in the fashion industry assumes that sustainability can’t be chic, or that adopting ethical practices would limit a designer’s artistry. Thankfully, that’s changing.
Sechs Element, a Chinese firm that supports innovative designers, hosted seven emerging designers embracing sustainability in their debut NYFW SS18 show. I spoke with Jingtian Wu, a member of the Sechs Element team, who said the firm is dedicated to shifting perceptions of sustainable fashion primarily through educating shoppers, empowering designers, and moving towards an industry that produces less overall. It’s not necessarily about always using recycled fabric, she said, but teaching consumers that it’s time to buy fewer, more durable pieces.
Each designer incorporated their vision of sustainability into their collections that swept, floated, and trounced down the runway.
Cen Si with her collection Con Moto, a musical term meaning to be played with movement and spirit, challenged the audience to consider the process that went into each piece and develop an emotional relationship with their wardrobe. The classically trained composer drew her inspiration from music, translating fond memories first into song, then sketching a design based on that melody. Inside each garment is a QR code that links to the original melody behind the piece, which she hopes will make the garment profound rather than disposable to its owner. Her vision of sustainability envisions a world in which we cherish our clothes and keep meaningful pieces for years. Both in form and practice, the collection represents a fusion of art forms and styles, structured yet undone, modern yet timeless.
Alice Potts studied biology and math before she was drawn to the fashion world by her desire to create beautiful objects and make a positive impact on the planet. While exploring ways in which she could make versatile sustainable pieces, an offhand joke imagining a completely unsewn collection inspired her to create a method of interlocking squares that need no adhesive, staples, or string to stay together. These squares are sourced from cutoff in the textile industry – the scraps that are left behind after a garment is created. Using this method, she could turn 100 small squares into myriad designs. There are approximately 1.7 billion tons of textiles wasted in the UK each year, she said, and she wants to mitigate that waste.
While she’s passionate about environmentally sound designs, she notes that a sustainable fashion industry will have to be a collaborative effort. While it’s up to designers and engineers to find innovative ways of producing garments, shoppers must engage with sustainable practices. The textures these small squares created were conceptual yet wearable, highlighting the movement and structure of the textiles in a marriage of color and form.
In his collection, Peiyang Zou celebrates the value in everyday fabrics and the hard work done by artisans in the fashion industry. For him, sustainability means being mindful of both the people and the materials that go into making our clothing. For his earthy designs, he used 95% recycled fabric from unexpected sources, like cotton gauze from the medical industry or upcycled clothes from his friends. The fabric itself is what inspired his pieces, working with the shapes and feel of his materials to inform the final design; the collection heavily features neutral tones in order to showcase the fabrics in their natural state. This collection seeks to bring attention to the unseen waste across industries by coaxing out the inherent beauty they hold. His collection is refined in its restraint and would be right at home hanging elegantly in a modern woman’s closet.
Apoorva Gupta draws from Indian craftsmanship and culture to make silky, ethereal pieces that threatened to float away. To her, sustainability means garments that are versatile, made to last a lifetime, and created without creating textile waste. She wasn’t focused on sustainable fashion until she took a class at Parsons that proved to her that you can make pretty clothes while being mindful about the environment. Now, each piece in her debut collection can be worn three ways, filling multiple niches which is ideal for a capsule wardrobe. She also cut the fabric in a way that created zero textile waste, much like a puzzle, each part being essential to the whole. The collection of rich neutrals was inspired by her childhood in India. This is her way of giving back, she said, giving those artisans a platform to be celebrated for their craft on an international scale.
The futuristic collection of Jiaren Du are meant to be modular, with interchangeable parts that will ultimately reduce waste in tomorrow’s wardrobe. He wanted to take sustainability into the avant garde with garments made from recycled PVC and paper inspired by see-through affect that’s become so popular. His wearable art pieces can be altered to include other designs by separating the clear layers and adding new materials. They’re truly customizable, and he sees this as the solution to waste in the fashion world, when shoppers can invest in lifelong pieces, with small interchangeable pieces like sleeves or collars sold in stores. The pieces themselves are surprisingly wearable, as he relies on classic silhouettes and spring patterns to ground the futuristic pieces to today’s sensibilities.
Finally, Chenhui Zhang’s conceptual collection reinvents elements of 1990s Chinese workwear by injecting them with levity which gives the pieces an avant garde feel. She drew heavily from vintage patterns to design this collection, and sourced her materials as sustainably as she could, often relying on recycled fabrics. She believes the history she imbues in each piece will allow consumers to connect emotionally with their clothing, ultimately creating less waste.