Nina Garcia is Making Sustainable Fashion Mainstream

As the founder of a sustainable fashion brand, there are times I tread water and others when I count my lucky stars. Today is the latter. Good Cloth has been included, for the second time, in Nina Garcia’s Quarterly Co. subscription box. This time she is featuring our round textile bracelets—strips of upcycled sari fabric cut, knotted, and twisted to create one-of-a-kind wearable sculpture.

While certainly a win for my boutique company, it goes far beyond than that; it’s a win for sustainable fashion. Nina Garcia is a fashion icon, the newly appointed Editor-in-Chief at Elle, former Creative Director at Marie Claire (the magazine has not yet named a replacement), and a judge on the popular show “Project Runway.” She’s also doing what no one has yet been able to do effectively: Make sustainable fashion mainstream.

Breaking the Niche

There are numerous reasons why sustainable fashion hasn’t broken outside its niche, including the lingering perception that sustainable fashion equates to high costs and a sacrifice to design. Roughly ten years ago both were true—dresses were made from rigid raw materials and created by environmental activists, not designers. That’s simply no longer the case. Today’s designers, many of them women, are revolutionizing fashion with collections that incorporate cutting edge, planet-friendly technology and upcycled materials.

Today’s sustainable materials are flexible, soft blends of organic cotton and Lycra; lyocell and hemp; and cork, bamboo, and Tencel. There is also Cupro, a cellulose fabric created from byproduct, specifically the ultrafine, silky fibers that stick to the seeds of a cotton plant after ginning.

Sustainable-focused entrepreneurs are rapidly discovering and creating new materials and dyeing techniques—such as using microorganisms to produce color—and accelerators like Fashion for Good are making sure they have the financial backing and networking to do so. Modern Meadow’s lab-grown leather is on its way to developing sustainable capsule collections that may even give vegetarians pause (maybe).

Clothing costs in sustainable fashion follow the same pricing seen in the mainstream industry. There is affordable apparel, pieces that are in the department store price range, and high-end luxury. The difference is that sustainable fashion comes with a socially conscious storyline—one that’s about durability, fair treatment of workers, and the environment. Most importantly, sustainable fashion highlights the importance of transparency. As Garcia’s Project Runway colleague, Tim Gunn, told me in a 2015 interview, “Designers and brands have a responsibility to provide transparency information to consumers. Otherwise, it’s just a lying, deceptive shell game.”

Ambassador for Change

Sustainable fashion designers are not only shining a light on their supply chain, but they also want the consumer to become attached to the concept of full transparency and apply their newfound awareness to the way they shop generally. This is all well and good, but companies like mine can only take the ball so far. Sustainable fashion may be trending at the moment, but it’s not mainstream. Without the support of forward-thinking, well-established players like Garcia who can reach mass audiences, sustainable fashion will remain a niche.

Garcia’s Twitter account (@ninagarcia), which has 3.33 million followers, engages readers with red carpet photos, news of her appointment at Elle, a picture of her pup sporting solar eclipse sunglasses, and (just like us) her love of Game of Thrones. But she also tweets about Alaska’s thawing permafrost, recycling, and Climate Change.

Far more than her peers, Garcia has increased consumer awareness on the environment and the role the fashion industry must play in cleaning up its mess. Garcia is the momentum behind Marie Claire’s August 2017 Sustainability Issue, which included environmental heavyweights in its Sustainable-Fashion Advisory Board such as Abigail Dillen, Vice-president of Litigation for Climate and Energy at EarthJustice. It also hit on pollution, ever mounting billion pound landfills from discarded apparel, and highlighted that the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter after oil.

Each quarter Garcia puts together pieces for her subscription subscribers that feature the latest in fashion and beauty. Her tenth Quarterly Co. box is a nod to Marie Claire’s first ever sustainable-focused issue. It includes six beauty and fashion items designed with consideration for the planet and the people who made them. Garcia isn’t about finger pointing—after all, even sustainable companies can have transparency issues when their supply chains are too convoluted. Instead, she motivates shoppers to think about how they shop, introduces them to sustainable designs, and encourages brands to take steps toward sustainability and transparency.

This post appeared on Huffington Post.

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