Young brands put sustainability first at New York Fashion Week
Emma Gage, founder of fashion brand Melke, started the brand after losing her job in the fashion industry to COVID-19 two years ago. Melke made her debut at New York Fashion Week 2022 this season - with a focus on sustainability.
The 26-year-old from Minnesota is not the first to bet on the trend at a time when the fashion industry has faced criticism for its impact on the environment.
Another designer, Olivia Cheng, 23, told AFP, "Everyone wants to be a part of this conversation now."
Her brand Dauphinette — known for its jewelry and clothing made from real flowers — was first featured on the official New York Fashion Week calendar and was shown at a Chinatown restaurant over the weekend.
Gage cited hemp, organic cotton and recycled fabrics as materials that are less harmful to the environment, and expressed her mission to buy materials from companies committed to respecting human rights.
"I never want to come out and say, yes, everything is 100 percent sustainable, everything is perfect, because that's a lie," she said.
Speaking from her studio in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood, a fashion district for New York's creatives, Gage said she's "focused on making pieces that last."
Zero plastic? Still elusive
"Zero plastic" remains an elusive goal at the moment, she said, as synthetic materials often slip into recyclable fabrics.
So focus on durability and make use of every piece of fabric you have on hand: Gage, for example, has created "scrap bags" made from small pieces of material.
Gage's favorite pieces aren't heavy or elegant evening gowns, but humble sweaters, and she uses embroidered patterns in every collection—flowers, fish and now sheep grace her pieces.
But keeping it simple doesn't mean less creativity. The designer's second collection - inspired by Anne Carson's book Autobiography of Red - emphasises this strong colour, often incorporating darker tones and using edges reminiscent of lava flows.
For the Fall/Winter 2022 collection, due to be released on Tuesday, Gage wanted to evoke memories of a trip to a medieval castle in Ireland and her discovery of a falcon: "A symbiosis of two predators working together - you have a human and a bird trying to working together with a common goal.”
Gingko nuts and beetle wings
Cheng's speech on Sunday bet on old clothes and floral materials that have been preserved thanks to what she says is a non-toxic resin.
She also ventured into experiments, offering a dress made of ginkgo biloba and one with beetle wings—a dress she assured died of natural causes, not for her project.
Both designers expressed their preference for local suppliers, but were not opposed to sourcing from elsewhere.
Sourcing only stateside, Gage said, "completely eliminates all the beautiful craftsmanship that exists around the world."
She does face the dilemma of maintaining her brand, which makes ordering items affordable.
"I can't be the only one making things more affordable if they're sustainable," she said. "I need other people to buy what I'm buying so the price can come down," she urged.
But that popularity can create problems of overproduction and waste. Gage tried to solve this problem by creating a line of products that varied in price, the cheapest being a $75 T-shirt.
Cheng, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, has two dresses on display at the Met's current fashion show, and is able to keep prices low for her fruit and floral jewelry, some for under $50.
"The most important thing for me is to remember why we started our mission and how we can take this story further," she said. "And don't get caught up in that grandiose fantasy," she advises.