A Shopping Guide to Sustainable Fashion

A fashion industry sustainability consultant shares her favorite spots for shopping environmentally and socially responsible finds.

Courtesy Maiyet
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When the trend of buying organic food graduated from hippie culture into the mainstream conversation, a flurry of questions flooded the (green) market. What was actually organic? Did it really take one gallon of water to produce a sole almond? Now, it’s fashion’s turn at the cutting mat as the industry shifts towards environmental and social responsibility. “When you see large companies focusing on sustainability, like a Kering (the luxury conglomerate behind Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Stella McCartney, and a slew of others), and you have brands like Saint Laurent doing sustainable retail spaces, the world starts to realize that it’s actually important to be sustainable,” says Shannon Broyles, a former Brunello Cucinelli and Donna Karan executive who founded luxury fashion consultancy S/B Factory in 2012, in part to help fashion labels adopt sustainable and ethical practices. Add to that a laundry list of global brands, including Ralph Lauren and Tiffany’s, which have publicly vowed to incorporate these standards, and sustainability isn’t just a buzzword anymore.

According to Broyles, it’s an outright need. “We’re starting to see the effects of the emissions over the past 30 years from the factories,” Broyles says. “Fashion relies on non-renewable resources, like leathers and wools. The market is realizing that we need to take care of our surroundings so we can continue to have a successful industry.”

But what exactly is sustainability, as it applies to fashion, and how can the consumer verify a company’s practices? Some look to associations like the Green Carpet Challenge, a program run by Eco-Age that is dedicated to creating sustainable, ethical products in collaboration with luxury brands like Gucci and Chopard, which cites 10 principles of social consciousness for a designer to receive their endorsement. Though there is no universal definition, the basic tenets of sustainability usually refer to fabrication, manufacturing, transportation, and consumer care, while ethical standards focus on working conditions and community impact.

While a few fast-fashion brands have made commitments to sustainability, such as H&M, which has set goals for transitioning to certain sustainable materials by 2020, the best options for sustainable and ethical practices exist in the luxury market, in large part due to high production costs, as well as consumer appetite—many items are produced in limited quantities, creating an exclusivity that luxury consumers crave. But even with this seismic shift across the industry, with the exception of leaders like Kering, many brands devoted to full transparency in these sectors are still relatively niche and hard to procure. Early adopters of the sustainable and ethical fashion movements, a group that Broyles refers to a “super chic nomadic tribe,” regard their one-of-a-kind pieces as warranting the kind of bragging rights often reserved for a custom Birkin.

Here, Broyles shares her favorite destinations to find sustainable and ethical brands around the globe, from multi-brand retailers carrying established designers like Rick Owens to curated selections of small-batch, artisanal products.