Dressing the issues: the celeb-approved fashion designers making eco chic
Easy being green
In an industry so often called out for its superficiality and supposed lack of substance, there are a determined few designers who are as lauded for their philanthropy as for their fashion-forwardness.
The cause: Supporting traditional African artisans and employing sustainable practices
Followers: Anna Wintour, Zendaya, Solange Knowles, Lady Gaga
Emblazoned with the stamp of approval from fashion's high priestess Anna Wintour, CFDA award-winning footwear label Brother Vellies is as revered for its strong ethical considerations as it is for its quirky-take-on-the-traditional collections. "At the end of the day, we as people have to change our value system to shift what makes us happy. If you're someone who values commodity, you are likely to make choices that will get you more things at any expense and view those without as less than," founder Aurora James explains.
Built around the traditional African velskoen, the ancestor of the modern day desert boot, Brother Vellies goes straight to the source when it comes to making. It employs a small group of artisans across South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Morocco who work with generations-refined traditional making techniques to assemble just a few dozen pairs of shoes a day - just enough to stem the demand for her quirky-chic creations coming from powerhouse stockists such as Net-a-Porter and MatchesFashion.com.
"My only intention was to help these guys in Africa keep food on the table for their families. Nothing more, nothing less," says James on why she started the label. The statuesque Canadian beauty has become something of an It-girl in New York having been a model agent and curator before becoming creative director of Brother Vellies. "We use animal by-product materials and vegetable dye leathers. We repurpose old tires into soles and discarded denim into mules." Far from finding this a challenge, she exclaims: "We have so much fun being inventive every season with materials!"
When asked who the dream Brother Vellies woman is, James's simple, yet powerful response is "Mrs President".
The cause: Repurposing Vietnam War-era shrapnel into jewellery, making Laotian land safe and providing work for local artisans
Followers: Emma Watson, Beatrix Ost, Angela Lindvall
Elizabeth Suda of Article22 has always been an activist. The former merchandiser for Coach remembers being impassioned to write letters to Saddam Hussein when most kids were writing to their latest boy band crush, delivered a speech to her school on Martin Luther King on his national day of celebration and sent tapes to Presidents Bush and Clinton - at the age of eight. "I was very anti-war and conflict, and staged rallies in front of my dollhouse. I just felt the fire."
This fire would prove to be inextinguishable, ultimately leading to the inception of her jewellery brand Article22. She quit her job at Coach, went to Laos and met artisans melting US bombs from the Vietnam War into spoons, effectively clearing the land. "I was so inspired by their local innovation to feed their community, to use the metal in a constructive way, to move into the future - that's progress. It is progress of spirit and it is resilience. How powerful to turn a negative into a positive," says the designer.
Suda set out to create 'heirlooms from history' and find ways of sustaining traditional crafts (natural dyeing and hand-weaving) into the global fashion market. "When I saw the artisans in this village upcycling the war metal, [I was inspired by] the bracelet as the embodiment of a virtuous circle - upcycling, generating income for artisan families, and helping to professionally clear unexploded bombs from the land through donations to MAG (Mines Advisory Group)," she explained. "The layers of impact that could be made while creating something beautiful and meaningful to the wearer - whether through design symbolism or custom engraving which we evolved to offer."
The collection itself takes inspiration from the land from which it came, the shapes of Laos, the architecture of temples, gold leaf motifs and the use of green onyx to represent the jungle; beautiful, yes. But the true beauty of each piece extends far further than the eye the can see.
The cause: Anti sex-slave trafficking in Cambodian communities
Followers: Anyone that appreciates good fit and good will
"As far as the fashion side was concerned, I had a passing interest but nothing serious - the fashion side is the means to the end of human trafficking," explains founder of Australian brand Outland Denim, James Bartle. How fortunate, then, that his jeans happen to be as chic as they are philanthropic.
Working directly with survivors of sex slavery and trauma, Bartle employs rescued Cambodian women as seamstresses to provide jobs and living wages that allow them to reintegrate into their community with purpose and dignity, cutting, stitching and quality checking each pair of jeans by hand.
However, Bartle understands that his company required more than goodwill to inspire his customers. "I knew it had to stand alone as a fashion brand without the cause propping it up. So we had to concentrate on really honing our craft and ensuring we could produce beautiful jeans that people would want to wear and not simply buy as a one-off 'charity purchase'."
And with the use of soft, organic Turkish denim fashioned into effortless flattering cuts, this is a pair of jeans that truly look as good as they feel - on all accounts. A must for any woman who wakes up each day intent on making positive changes in the world, starting with what she puts on every morning.
Buro 24/7 Selection
Buro 24/7 Selection