Why luxury brands still aren’t embracing sustainable fashion

Designer Eileen Fisher made an eight-year commitment to sustainable fashion four years ago, after having “an epiphany about the earth” and her responsibility as the owner of her own company. In the years since, the brand has been vocal about these efforts.

“We made a commitment that, by the year 2020, we would eliminate our top volume fabric, viscose,” said Amy Hall, director of sustainable consciousness at Eileen Fisher. “The only thing was, we didn’t know how to do that then.”

During the WGSN Futures conference on November 10, Hall said that pushing Eileen Fisher’s brand to become more sustainable meant figuring things out along the way. Eileen Fisher has always been upfront about this journey, choosing to call itself “sustainably conscious,” not sustainable, because it’s still putting out waste into the world. The company lists the factories it works with and the fabrics it uses, plus it lists plans for future innovations. This month, it will launch Remade, a recycled line of clothing made from past designs that customers donated back to the brand rather than discarding. A dress in the collection, for instance, could be comprised of three pairs of used pants.

Right now, transparency in fashion is trendy. As they figure out the future of sustainability in retail, startup retail disruptors like Everlane and American Giant lay bare their pricing models and supply chain partners in an attempt to rope in conscious customers and keep them along for the ride. Mass companies like H&M, Zara and Gap Inc. have adopted similar habits in order to do the same; for fast fashion brands, speaking out about transparency and sustainability helps keep protesters at bay.

Among luxury brands, though, there’s some hesitancy to display company practices when it comes to sustainability and transparency. Hall spoke to an experience a member of her team had with her counterpart at a British brand, which Hall wouldn’t name specifically.

“We asked the counterpart if the cotton they used was organic, and she said no,” said Hall. “She said even if it was, we wouldn’t say, because organic doesn’t sell in the luxury market. To us, that’s a call to action.”

Hall said that this mindset emphasizes the idea that sustain-ably made clothing has to be, above all, good product. But she pressed that brands have a responsibility to educate and engage customers on sustainable measures so that they can take further action as individuals.

Marco Lucietti, the global marketing director of Isko Textile, said that sustainable brands can’t “force-feed people with what they’ve done.” Instead, they should just make commitments and stand by them. Sustainability in fashion can still carry the mindset of burlap, rather than luxury.

“People have a conception about what sustainable means in fashion,” said Marco Lucietti, global marketing director of Isko Textile. “But it’s not granola, hippy shit.”

Lucietti said that, as customers grow accustomed to brands being more transparent about their supply chains and efforts to improve workers’ rights and the environmental impact of production, this mindset will shift, both of the consumer and of the legacy brands.

On the factory level, the shift has already begun to take place. Jag Gill, founder of Sundar, a digital materials sourcing platform, said that most brands, even high-end ones, are beginning to open up their factory lists in order to find ones with cleaner supply chains.

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