Cashmere, cotton, linen, plastic, wool, leather, viscose and denim. Eight fabrics you know and wear, but do you know their story? Some of the most progressive eco-friendly brands from all over the globe have gathered in London to help tell these stories. Fashion loves these fibres but many designers don’t love what they’re doing to our planet. Together with Selfridges these eco-conscious designers are  working to educate consumers about some positive possibilities for sustainable fashion in their new project Material World.

And it will be hard to miss, since eight of Selfridge’s Oxford Street store windows will be dedicated to the theme. Each designer will take over one window display, representing a fibre of their choice. We asked the brains behind the brands what their chosen material means to them and how they plan to work towards a sustainable and stylish future:

Tengri: Luxury Fibres

The British brand Tengri has been working on an alternative to cashmere: yak wool. Cashmere goats have turned much of Mongolia into desert, but yaks produce similar super soft qualities without ruining the land (they eat grass from above the roots). The Tengri founder Nancy Johnston is working closely with 4,500 Mongolian families to source the yarn. She says, “We are working to provide a long-term stable source of income for nomadic herders, preserve heritage, and provide positive social and environmental benefits to all those with whom we work.”

STUDY NY: Cotton

Tara St James, the founder of STUDY NY, pays close attention to the sourcing of her organic cotton. She tells us: “Cotton is universally loved because it's easy to care for and great to work with. As an ethical business owner, it is equally important for me to have full transparency along my supply chain, and organic cotton suppliers can provide this. I don't believe another human, animal or the environment should have to suffer for fashion. It's as simple as that.”

Kilometre: Linen

Fast fashion just doesn’t feature for Kilometre, the Parisian brand reworking vintage linen with bespoke embroidered designs. Kilometre employ indigenous female artisans to create each piece in their spare time, taking up to six weeks at a time to create one garment. Alexandra Senes reveals, “If all French people purchased a shirt made from linen instead of one in cotton, it would be equivalent to saving a years worth of drinking water for all Parisians. Linen produces no waste: it is entirely recyclable and biodegradable.”

Dick Moby: Plastic

Dick Moby’s Italian sunglasses are handmade from acetate that is 97% recycled. Even the speckled cases they come in are made from recycled leather. The founder Tim Holland explains: “For us sustainability is in our DNA, and we try to apply this throughout the entire value chain. By showing that nice design, high quality, and sustainability can go hand in hand, we believe that sustainable fashion will be the future.”

Le Kilt: Wool

Samantha McCoach, founder of the British label Le Kilt, couldn’t create her one-off pieces without recycling. The designer even reworks her grandmother and mother's old clothes for her personal wardrobe. To McCoach, “Sustainability is about buying more key pieces that are made well and last a lifetime. Something that can be passed on and looked after.”

Deadwood: Leather

The Swedish brand reworks old leather jackets, saving pieces from going to landfill whilst preventing the 200 kilos of carbon-emissions produced (per jacket!) and the slaughtering of animals. The co-founder, Carl Ollson says: “Unfortunately the leather industry is a dirty one. We use recycled vintage leather, which gives a unique soft worn-in feel and saves resources that otherwise would have gone to waste. Our goal is to create great products but at the same time we will always stay true to our ethical values.”

VYAYAMA: TENCEL® Viscose

Most athleisure fabrics are made of petrochemical-based synthetic fabrics but VYAYAMA have spent years creating a plant-based, non-toxic, biodegradable alternative. Their design director, Anette Cantagallo, remains realistic: “We don't believe being mindful has to be separate from enjoying fashion. We are New Yorkers after all! Botanical Fabrics are a win-win for the wearer and the environment. We hope that responsible choices for the body and environment become the norm for clothing not the exception.”

Tortoise Denim: Denim

Kevin Youn gives fashion a good name. The designer has developed a new denim rinse, “Wiser Wash”, which limits the use of toxic chemicals and eliminates nearly all water wastage. And now, he’s working on a new recycling system that generates drinkable water in the process. Youn believes this is the future of fashion: I love denim and indigo but cannot reconcile myself with the fact that I am damaging the environment in the process. I believe though that soon sustainable manufacturing will become a necessity, not a choice.”

Text by Abigail Southan

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