How Designers Like Stella McCartney Pair Good Style and Doing Good
While most creative people travel for inspiration, few truly repay the debt to their foreign muses. The following innovative designers, whether by supporting disenfranchised artisans or employing sustainable grazing practices, are teaching the rest of the industry how to walk the walk. Proof that good style and doing good are no longer mutually exclusive.
Because she took cruelty-free fashion from frumpy to fabulous.
It’s little wonder that McCartney, a lifelong vegetarian who was raised on an organic farm in the English countryside, has had a heightened eco-consciousness from an early age. “Nature is part of my roots,” she says. “The environment has always been important to me.” Since the launch of her line in 2001, the British designer has been a maverick for fashion that’s at once ethical and luxurious, and stubborn in her refusal to use fur or leather in her collections. That same sense of conviction brought her to Argentina, where she partnered with the Nature Conservancy and Ovis 21, a network of more than 140 farmers across Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay who have banded together to reverse the devastating effects of 100 years of continuous grazing in the Patagonia grasslands by adhering to a multi-pasture protocol that replicates natural grazing patterns. Argentina is the world’s fifth-largest producer of wool, and McCartney sourced much of the material for her fall 2014 collection (including oversized fringed woolen blanket coats) from Patagonian farmers who participate in Ovis 21’s program.
McCartney’s wool is from Patagonia, Argentina.
This isn’t the first time travel has played a vital role in McCartney’s designs: Her clothes are rich with visual references from different destinations. Last year, she also collaborated with the International Trade Centre, a Geneva-based agency that has helped match luxury labels with artisans across Africa, to create printed totes made in Nairobi. “It’s important to encourage industry in small communities,” she says. “The luxury goods market has a long way to go, but we should all be taking steps toward sustainability.”
Maiyet’s new weaving center will be in Varanasi, India.
Because they know that behind every great dress is a great artisan.
In 2010, when Maiyet co-founders Paul van Zyl and Kristy Caylor set off on their first exploratory 20-city trip around the world, an early stop was Varanasi, India, to visit the silk weavers for which the city, one of the oldest on earth, is renowned. “I remember Kristy admiring the silks and the complex way they’re made,” says CEO Van Zyl. “The experience encapsulated everything we hoped to do with Maiyet—create rare, beautiful, and covetable product, but also enable artisans to collaborate more productively.” Now the company has joined forces with Nest, a nonprofit organization that offers support to artisans in several countries, to finance a David Adjaye–designed silk-weaving facility opening next year in Varanasi. The new space will allow up to 100 craftsmen to work together in safe conditions—and to grow their own textile businesses. “We wanted to give them a chance to help themselves,” Van Zyl explains. This hands-on approach is at the center of Maiyet’s mission. In Varanasi, Creative Director Caylor found inspiration in both the place and the crafts produced there. In recent years, Indian saris have been made using a distinctive jacquard weaving method, and this fall some of Maiyet’s own polka-dot silk dresses will incorporate the same technique. Van Zyl and Caylor’s collaborations don’t stop in India, however; they’re currently working with Kenyan artists to create brass jewelry, and with Indonesian textile makers on experimental batiks. “One of the things our travels have taught us is that any craft demands a skill set, pride, and dignity from its practitioner,” says Van Zyl. “To be able to connect with these artisans and then bring their work to a Paris Fashion Week runway and to customers in London, Miami, and Tokyo—it’s at the core of what we do.”
John Foster/Radius Images/Media Bakery
Péan sources her mammoth ivory from the Arctic Circle.
Because she knows that (ecologically friendly, ethically sourced) diamonds are really a girl’s best friend
When the New York–based fine jewelry designer launched her line in 2006, sustainability and luxury were rarely uttered in the same breath. In fact, Péan points out, few people realized then that the fine-jewelry-making process is actually extremely harmful to the environment: Gold mining, for instance, releases huge amounts of cyanide, lead, and mercury into local water sources. “It took a while for attitudes to change,” says Péan, whose pieces pair ecologically approved materials like fossilized wooly mammoth and walrus ivory sourced from Alaska with 18-karat recycled gold and conflict-free diamonds. “But now collectors are starting to shift their mind-sets.” While there are still only a few luxury brands that can claim to be truly environmentally sustainable, Péan continues to fight for responsible change by forging relationships with artisans everywhere from Washington to Peru—people whose skills might otherwise die out.
Then there are her travels, which inform all her designs: An overturned iceberg spotted on a recent trip to Antarctica, for example, inspired an oceanic-hued spectrolite ring with diamonds and recycled gold. “I have now visited 60 countries, and there are still so many I can’t wait to explore,” says Péan, who goes on one big scouting trip a year in search of new materials and artisans. “My list just keeps growing.”
Courtesy Monique Péan
The deep-blue spectrolite in this Monique Péan ring was sourced from Norway (price upon request).
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