Meet the Designers Pushing Sustainability at Paris Fashion Week

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Both iconic designers and newcomers to the runway are incorporating sustainability into their brand mentality. 

At Paris Fashion Week, where luxury materials and time spent in the atelier are the most prized elements, sustainability is an interesting topic. Some designers, such as Dior, are now putting an emphasis on creating a sustainable production rather than just clothing. Besides that, rising designers such as Marine Serre of her self-named label and Antonin Tron of Atlein are making a point of always experimenting with sustainability during Paris Fashion week (think: garments made from deadstock materials and more). 


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While the fall 2020 shows may just be wrapping up in Paris, it’s definitely clear that sustainability was a major theme that was seen throughout the shows. On the second day of fashion week, for example, backstage at Dior, messages were plastered around the makeup and hair area by Bureau Betak, the company specializing in the production and design of many of the top fashion shows. The messages on the wall listed out the 10 green commandments ranging from everything to a zero single-use plastics policy to having 100% of event waste recycled. “Bureau Betak hopes to lead by example, such that the ephemeral nature of fashion events becomes an opportunity to develop and implement innovative thinking and better practices throughout the industry,” according to the official statement from the company.


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Similarly, Kenzo worked with Bureau Betak for the fall 2020 show, in which designer Felipe Oliveira Baptista debuted his first-ever show for the label; debuting a decidedly new sophisticated take on classic house codes of the Kenzo brand. The show took place inside of a large plastic bubble, which Kenzo will be recycling for future events. And it wouldn’t be Paris Fashion Week without a sustainable moment from Stella McCartney, the brand which has been vegan since 2001. At the show, guests were handed mini trees and told to plant them, in efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the show.


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But that’s not all; there were other big name designers who focused on sustainability, but with a totally different approach.  Maison Margiela, for example, has been looking at upcycling in an innovative way. Continuing a technique the brand pushed for its spring 2020 couture show, creative director John Galliano took used fabrics and clothing and upcycled them into the collection. He called the technique “Recicla,” and handpicked vintage fashion items, restoring and re-appropriating them into limited-edition garments or accessories, intended for sale. For the fall 2020 collection, these pieces ranged from coats with elongated collars and the patched-together dresses. Bags crafted from taro leaves and 5AC bags upcycled from reclaimed luxury skins are also a part of the new technique. 


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Elsewhere, Vivienne Westwood, who has largely become as well-known as a fashion designer as she is an environmental activist, had No Bra, AKA musical artist Susanne Oberbeck, perform a spoken word piece about how the world is burning. The brand also collaborated with Buffalo shoes to create sneakers and boots made of recycled nylon and leather.

But what might be most unique to Paris, is the group of cool, young designers who are committed to sustainability and are showing on the official Paris Fashion Week calendar. Take, for example, Marine Serre. The designer won the LVMH prize in 2017 and previously worked under Balenciaga designer Demna Gvasalia. Since she first started showing her collections in Paris a few years ago, her show has become one of the most anticipated shows of the week. She’s well-known for her signature crescent moon prints and her penchant for upcycling. In fact, nearly 50 percent of her collection is upcycled and the rest is made with recycled threads and sustainable practices.

“I started wanting to do fashion when I was around 14 or 15, but then I was living in the countryside and the only entertainment I had was from my mom and grandma and then my dad,” Serre explains. She would often go to outdoor flea markets to collect old keys, vintage clothing, and treasures from another time. “I started patching pieces together, embroidering them, mixing jeans with really old, 19th-century puffy lace tops.” 

“When I started the brand, I was thinking, ‘Okay, if you do your brand, you cannot just do skirts. It doesn’t make any sense. You're not going to like it. You are just going to get depressed. People around you don't need someone else to do that, they just need something else. In my family and in my background, no one knew about how fashion is made,” Serra adds, on the inspiration for her to create a sustainable fashion line. 

Atlein, too, is a covetable fashion line that shows during Paris Fashion Week and is becoming well-known for its upcycling. The brand’s fall 2020 collection was full of a mix of sophisticated and elevated vegan leathers that are reportedly eco-friendly. French designer Antonin Tron also estimates that upcycled fabrics made up about 50 percent of the collection—sourcing fabrics and materials from all different places.


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Similarly, designer Kenneth Ize, who made his Paris Fashion Week debut this season, has quickly become one to know when it comes to sustainable fashion in Paris. For fall 2020, he showed a colorful collection made out of Aso Oke (traditional Nigerian) fabrics which were handmade in an atelier in Nigeria. He also incorporated handmade lace from Vienna, Austria, directly from local workshops. “This season for me, I was trying to show sustainability throughout the whole time and for me, that is very relevant. We also have lots of embroidered fabrics that were done by hand, a bunch of different things that I've come across as a child.” Ize was inspired by the childhood memories of the way his native Nigerian mother dressed for church. With supermodel Naomi Campbell walking the runway, Ize’s collection, which addressed sustainability, was also given a great platform.


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In Paris, upcycling might just be the biggest trend when it comes to how designers are approaching sustainability. Take, for example, the emerging Berlin-based brand Ottolinger, which showed a crafty collection full of acid washed denim and cool mixed knits for fall 2020. “Sustainability is something we are working on and improving every season,” explains co-founder Christa Bösch. “All our denim is out of used and recycled cotton. The Jersey is organic dyed and all shearling jackets are vegan. All our products are produced in Europe to keep transportation as low and environmentally-friendly as possible.” As the luxury fashion market makes more efforts to delve deep into sustainability, it’s refreshing to see that even some of the bigger brands are making efforts when it comes to show production and fabric choice.