These Ethical and Sustainable Brands Slayed at NYFW

The designers who get an A++ for prioritizing sustainability, ethics and body diversity in their Fall 2019 NYFW collections.

Yesterday I read this on someone’s IG story, “To live fully, we must learn to use things and love people, and not love things and use people.”

Sure, it’s a billboard worthy quote but it also doesn’t tell the whole story of modern love and consumption. Sometimes loving people means loving their craft. And some people are called to make “things,” be they clothes or other consumer goods.

Even for the devout minimalist, there’s no escaping stuff. So, yes, all that jazz about non-attachment to things is important, especially for mental wherewithal. Do cultivate a life where you’re able to walk away from things the things you have, but give yourself permission to love them while they’re yours.

This idea is personal to me because I’m innately drawn to beauty, to art, and to the creation of things that don’t exist in nature. Things that come only by human hand. I refuse to apologize for this because style adds so much interest to my life and I’m driven to bring this joy to others. But I also believe it can be done ethically. In a way where rampant consumerism is subdued and makers are respected.

I apply my craft, writing and styling, to fashion where I profile the things, ideas, and people changing the industry. And while most of this progress happens in cities like NY and LA, and get bummed that I don’t live there sometimes, I’ve been there done that.

I worked in Manhattan and the city’s pace, along with the twisted ethics and unpaid labor practices in fashion, didn’t jive. I realized I could do more good moving somewhere that made me happier and changing the industry from the outside in by starting a humble writing platform and cultivating a loyal crew of intentional readers like you.

Why NYFW matters…

Still, being in Austin doesn’t stop me from devouring NYFW news with my scrambled eggs. I keep up with heavy-hitting brands and runways trends because a designer or blogger with 100K followers can sway more hearts and minds than I ever will. Even better if they’re talking about climate change.

Granted, I mostly cover niche topics, like supply chains and fair trade, and profile indie brands on The Peahen, but I don’t see this as a threat. Macro runway trends don’t threaten micro issues. Rather, they work in tandem to reinforce each other.

So, allow me to go back to my routes and honor some Fall 2019 designers. In revisiting the runway, I’m happy to report that fair progress has been made in sustainability, ethics, and body diversity.

Here’s who to watch:


Mara Hoffman

I started lusting after this line in 2011 when I the tiny boutique I was working at started carried her cult swimwear. Back then, Mara was known more for her kaleidoscope prints than her commitment to sustainability. But she was tinkering with eco textiles and recycled plastics in her formative years.

In 2016, she re-positioned herself officially as an eco-designer and brought her green sensibilities to her entire clothing line. Most notably, she partnered with Lenzing, an Austrian eco-fabric powerhouse (Tencel should ring a bell) signaling that she’s as serious about sustainability as she is about her light-hearted designs.

Mara mostly takes a “let the design do the talking approach” but this year she couldn’t avoid the spotlight.

“Mara Hoffman is known for its unique and focused commitment to sustainability. Realizing the impact the fashion industry has on the environment, the brand has implemented a strategy to drive effective change since 2015 with initiatives ranging from shipping it’s swimwear in compostable packaging, incorporating recycled, organic and responsibly sourced fabrics and researching ways to lessen the brand’s environmental footprint.”


The Row

Mary-Kate & Ashley’s notoriously elusive gallery girl brand is definitely not about “sustainability or bust” but they uphold timeless dressing and boast a ‘Made in USA’ label. Through their stylistic touch and insistence on rigor, the twins have made The Row one of the most illustrious brands on the market. But their stiff tailoring comes with steep price tags, which, if you ask me, is one approach to slowing consumerism.


Rachel Comey

You know her for those mules and the earring that are copycatted at Etsy popups acosss the nation. For me, Rachel’s eponymous eco-line is one of the most wearable ones on the market. And her Fall collection upholds that assertion. It’s best in its unexpected use of saturated but refined colors and mixed fabrics.

Like others, Rachel is coy about sustainability even though it’s part of her DNA. She sent a quilted coat down the runway made of recycled plastic and used mostly natural fabrics like cotton and linen for other designs.

Furthermore, she navigates the ethics of leather and fur, an area rife with contention, with pragmatism and diligence. While it’s inherently more difficult, Rachel sources textiles from animals that have died from natural causes.

“I work with a tannery in Peru that sources their skins,” she explains. “The leathers come exclusively from the death of baby alpacas – the hard weather in the alpaca-producing zones 12,000 feet above sea level causes the death of 15 percent of baby alpacas in the first three months of life.” [Independent]

She’s also pushing the industry toward inclusive body and age representation.

I mean…




It’s not often that a woman helms a menswear-only brand, but Emily Bode’s calling was “for the boys.” She started with a simple and inherently sustainable line made from antique fabrics in 2016 and grew in spades. For Fall, her collection included 80s ephemera like baseball cards and collector coins that she integrated into artistic jackets. She also introduced American-made denim made from deadstock fabric.



Designer Becca McCharen-Tran did the damn thing. Or things, I should say. With a reputation for upending fashion’s staid body norms, she upped her ethical credibility by focusing on climate change. Calling her show “Climactic,” she used mostly eco-textiles.

She told my pal Whitney over at Fashionista that, “Chromat has actually been using a sustainable Lycra made from discarded fishing nets since it first began producing swimwear five years ago, in addition to relying on upcycled and deadstock fabrics and working with factories that have been vetted for fair labor practices.”

To sweeten the deal, Becca channeled the cool neon shades of Miami beach in her designs. It’s electric Boogie woogie, woogie…

Turns out, perfection is a triumvirate. Body positivity, sustainability, and bomb color. Oh, and don’t miss her sweet kicks collab with Reebok. Keep an eye on Chromat as a champion of change.


Collina Strada

Streetwear darling Hillary Taymour followed suit with a thematic approach to climate change. Hers was the “Low Carbon Diet,” but rather than kicking off with a cleansing green juice, her plan started with knowledge. Activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez took to the runway to speak about plastics and ecology before her procession of entrees started. She used 75% deadstock fabrics and recycled ocean plastic beads.



But not sure if they’re sustainable…

I enjoyed the visually saturated and over-the-top work of Christopher John Rogers. This article cites him as a “sustainable” designer although I couldn’t find evidence to back up that he’s using eco textiles or how he’s manufacturing. His work, however, can be critically evaluated and appreciated because it brings a whimsical charm to fashion and represents a Southern point-of-view (he’s a NOLA native) that’s often looked over by fashion’s cognoscenti. It must be those refreshing ruffles, no?!


Also Khaite. For being a zenith of our time, at least to me. Designer Catherine Holstein captures today’s feminism that is grounded but has a sense of genuine delight and fantasy. Don’t hold me to her ethics though!


Now tell me, who were your favorites?

Also, check out my retro NYFW post.


You May Also Like