With Fashion Month behind us, one theme stands out: sustainability.
From designers creating their collections using recycled materials, upcycled styles, and deadstock, to legacy brands like Chloé and Gucci diving into the sustainability space and protests taking over the runway, responsible fashion remained at the forefront of September’s shows.
But with the industry being one of the largest contributors to climate change, more must be done to make a serious impact to reverse the crisis.
While it’s a significant step that the major fashion houses are incorporating eco-friendly materials in their design process, it’s only the first.
We connected with Ana Kannan, Gen Z CEO and Founder of responsible luxury shopping platform Toward, to provide insights on what else is needed from major fashion players to make an impactful mark on the global crisis.
With a passion for conscious ownership, Ana has always paid close attention to the responsibility of the items that she purchased.
After graduating from the University of Southern California, Ana identified a blind spot in the retail market for customers who value truly responsible pieces but won’t sacrifice style and quality.
She founded Toward in the pursuit of progress over perfection, making it easier than ever for consumers to do better, by buying better.
Keep reading for Ana’s thought leadership on the term responsibility, key learnings from fashion month, and a checklist for consumers to determine where a brand is making a real impact on the current climate crisis.
What sets Toward apart from other eco-friendly fashion brands and retailers?
At Toward, we source from the most fashion-forward contemporary and high-designer brands that are backed by incredibly strong sustainability initiatives. We pride ourselves on having the most extensive sustainability criteria in the industry, asking brands to provide us with answers (and proof!) to over 100 questions spanning 9 pillars: transparency, emissions, water management, waste & chemicals, materials, animal welfare, biodiversity & forestry, ethos, & workers’ rights.
How would you define the term environmental responsibility? How does it encompass more than just sustainable materials in fashion?
Environmental responsibility goes beyond the garments produced. It’s a commitment to making a positive impact throughout the supply chain, from ethically sourcing raw materials to reducing waste and lowering carbon emissions. Our 9 pillars, transparency, emissions, water management, waste & chemicals, materials, animal welfare, biodiversity & forestry, ethos, & workers’ rights, are great benchmarks for the different criteria.
What steps need to be taken in addition to the use of sustainable materials, for the industry to make a real impact on the climate crisis?
Materials are a great start, but making a significant impact on the environment means amending processes throughout the supply chain. Our 9 pillars, transparency, emissions, water management, waste & chemicals, materials, animal welfare, biodiversity & forestry, ethos, & workers' rights, are a great indication of what brands should consider when looking to minimize their impact.
Can you expand on some key learnings from fashion month?
I believe Spring fashion month provided us with a major takeaway: that brands (and shoppers) are now ready to re-embrace longevity and individuality, effectively moving away from the microtrends we saw over the last year. Additionally, the recent consumer demand for sustainability has further incentivized brands to embrace and experiment with innovative materials and processes. One such pioneer, Stella McCartney, introduced mushroom leather to her Spring 2022 collection, while Gabriela Hearst has given Chloe an ethical upgrade with its fair trade status (as of Fall 2021).
You talked about new leather and fur alternatives entering the sustainable fashion space. Can you expand on these alternatives a bit more?
There’s Mylo, a mushroom leather that is vegan, biodegradable, and regenerative. Additionally, brands have started experimenting with Cactus leather, (which feels just as soft as the original). For brands that are fans of genuine leather, recycled varieties have been making the rounds, with every brand from Agolde to Deadwood opting for this circular alternative. Of course, there’s also the use of recycled plastics -- polyester, nylon, etc. -- for vegan alternatives to both fur and leather. One great example is Koba faux fur, which is made of recycled polyester and is 63% more carbon-efficient than other faux furs.
What needs to be done for brands to implement real change rather than performative activism?
The first step is always to understand the problem -- without knowing what the problem is, how can you solve it? I recommend each brand undergo a full internal review of its processes, from what factories they work with to how many garments remain unsold every season. I even recommend they ask us for a copy of our framework questionnaire since that will help them better categorize and recognize their biggest problem areas.
Because sustainability has become so trendy, do you think this detracts from the real issues at hand?
Yes and no -- I think it’s great that everyone from shoppers to industry professionals is interested in sustainability. This renewed interest has incentivized many brands to step up and take action, with many making major commitments to reduce their impacts.
On the other hand, some opportunistic brands have recognized sustainability as a marketing opportunity. Instead of doing the work to become more responsible, they have instead started labeling collections as eco-friendly for doing the bare minimum (e.g. calling non-animal leathers ‘sustainable’ even though they’re composed of toxic dyes and plastics). This is known as greenwashing, which is a rampant issue in the fashion industry.
Any brand that's able to answer "yes" (with proof!) to the following 6 questions is likely on the right path:
Does the brand….
1. Monitor working conditions in its factories?
2. Calculate, offset, and actively reduce its carbon emissions?
3. Reuse water used in washing and dyeing processes?
4. Have processes in place to prevent chemical contamination and microfiber pollution?
5. Use responsibly certified materials (e.g. EcoVero, GOTS, GRS, etc.) with a goal of eventually eliminating virgin plastics?
6. Uphold standards for basic animal welfare recommended by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)?
Photography by: Courtesy Toward