The initiative helps 10 designers improve their supply chains and focus on on ethical sourcing and sustainability. While the event on Monday was just the halfway point check in during the year and a half program, many designers were making big strides and doubling down on where they could make improvements.
Young designers also talked about the major challenges of being a sustainable brand while many big labels don’t make the same commitment.
Emerging label and CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund Winner Aurora James of Brother Vellies said sustainability was a part of her brand ethos from the start. James said since being in the imitative she’s expanded her sourcing to new regions like Burkina Fasso, Ethiopia and Haiti. Local artisans use renewable and sustainable materials in her footwear and handbags, including bone, hides and furs that are a byproduct.
She said that not matter where she takes her production, a key element of her brand is working with artisan groups to employ more workers and support a local economy (and in turn hopefully push against the traditional definitions of luxury goods) and teaching workers all steps in making her product.
James said one of the way she was promoting a sustainable message was by also making her knowledge and experiences available to others, including larger brands.
Similarly Prabal Gurung said he was refocusing his efforts on expanding production in Nepal. Gurung, who produces the majority of his collection in New York and is Nepalese born, turns to artisans from his home country to help create unique pieces for his collection. For spring he’ll be using jewelry produced by artisans in Nepal using recycled metals.
Among one of the biggest challenges being a sustainable brand and a luxury brand, said Gurung, was making sure his shoppers almost couldn’t tell the difference.
“We can’t compromise,” he said. “We’re a luxury brand. It has to look go and feel perfect.”
The winner of the Initiative will take home a $150,000 grant and two runner ups will receive $50,000 grants. Winners will be announced next April.