sustainable designers 2019

The biggest message we saw at the recent S/S’20 shows was centred around climate crisis and rightfully so – the United Nations warned global leaders earlier this March that we have 11 years to prevent potentially irreversible damage to the planet – something that is well within our lifetime. We’re quite aware that using what is already available (i.e. making over pieces you already own or opting for second-hand/vintage) is the most viable way forward.

But let’s be practical: that won’t appeal to a lot of demographics in reality. So if you’re going to shop, you might as well do so with labels that actively walk the walk. Here, three independent names that are doing so – without compromising on aesthetics.

Patrick McDowell

What: The fast-rising eponymous label by British designer Patrick McDowell, who graduated from Central Saint Martins last year with the blessings of industry giants such as Burberry and Swarovski, cementing his status as one of the most promising newcomers on the sustainability front.

Eco-credentials: McDowell’s sophomore collection, titled Firefighting Aunties, was an homage to his family (his father is in the profession), skilfully mixing elevated utilitarian staples such as playfully oversized boilersuits and parkas with voluminous knits. In other words, it’s a trendy aesthetic that would not be out of place of say, Rihanna’s wheelhouse. Singers Rita Ora and M.I.A already count among his early fans. For Gen Z designers (he is 23), sustainability is not so much a marketing gimmick than a natural way of things. The collection was fashioned completely out of upcycled materials – as well as deadstock fabrics donated by Christopher Bailey during his tenure at Burberry; McDowell had previously interned at the British label and asked if he could use their leftover fabrics.

Likewise, the crystals used in his accessories were sourced from unsellable stock belonging to Swarovski. Every piece is made in England to minimize his carbon footprint. We say, for making street-photography-friendly pieces that defy the “beige” reputation that continues to plague eco-fashion, McDowell is one of your best bet. How to get his pieces? Hit up conceptual retailers such as the rent-based purveyor Higher Studio, or visit his website directly to get in touch with the designer himself, as he only makes one piece per design to minimise wastage.

Marine Serre

What: The Marine Serre story is well-known to industry players by now – the Balenciaga-trained designer first came onto the scene via her scoop of the LVMH Prize in 2017, despite having only one collection to her name at the time. Two years on, she’s become one of the hottest tickets at Paris Fashion Week, beloved for her futuristic, sporty-meets-utilitarian aesthetic filled with alien-like bodysuits printed with her signature crescent moon motif and dresses fashioned from vintage scarves.

Eco-credentials: Though plenty of designers – established and emerging alike – have hopped onto the sustainability bandwagon (often with dubious lip service), Serre has been serious about the topic since the get-go and her message only continues to strengthen with each season. For her F/W’19 collection titled Radiation (Serre’s take on a post-apocalyptic world), she told WWD that more than half of it was crafted via upcycling – the practice of reimagining and refashioning existing fabrics and materials into new designs.

A season earlier, she divided her label into four categories, among which is the 100% upcycled Green Line. Serre brings her upcycling magic even to the rarefied realm of couture via her Red Line – her version of haute couture. The gowns such as those seen at the finale of her S/S’19 show reimagine the standard black tie attire with a hodgepodge of everyday fabrics such as neoprene and reclaimed fleece blankets.

If Stella McCartney represented the early stage of environmental responsibility (within high-end fashion), Serre is a leading name in the sphere now – upcycling remains the purview of mostly small labels yet she’s at the stage where she’s producing more than 10,000 pieces per season. Here’s the good news though; you can readily buy Serre’s couture designs at select stockists such as Matches Fashion.


What: Among the environmentally-conscious, cutting down on consumption is the ideal – it nips the problem of hyper-consumerism in the bud. The next best option? Buying second hand or vintage. But as founder Elliss Solomon points out to Vogue UK, “I believe the most sustainable way to shop is to buy vintage – but that’s not always possible for underwear and jersey pieces.” The Central Saint Martins alumna established her eponymous label, which specialises in swimwear with a highly graphic edge, three years back and has since become a stalwart in the scene.

Eco-credentials: The label only works with resource-efficient fabrics such as hemp and bamboo and better yet, recycled ones such as Econyl, which takes waste such as discarded fishing nets from the oceans and purifies it to become nylon. (FYI, fishing nets and other related equipment form the majority of the Great Pacific Garbage patch aka the world’s largest collection of floating trash.) On top of that, most of Solomon’s manufacturing is done in the same building as her studio, which significantly lowers her carbon footprint.

Her highly visual prints, which resemble a pastiche of ‘90s glamour shots, are digitally printed (which greatly cuts down on the amount of water needed compared to more traditional methods such as screen printing) with certified non-toxic dyes. Which just goes to show – being environmentally friendly isn’t just about using recycled materials – it’s about improving processes at every possible stage in the manufacturing chain, and for that, Elliss gets our nod. Besides which, her swimwear (available on her own website) can also easily double up as stretchy, body-conscious party gear – a win-win all around in our books.