Sustainable fashion received a ringing endorsement on Tuesday—to the tune of $75,000—when the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Lexus awarded designers Monique Péan, Costello Tagilapietra, and Maria Cornejo $25,000 apiece for their eco-conscious collections. Amid the organic libations, vegan hors d’oeuvre, and festive music (Fabrizio Moretti from The Strokes plied us with tunes), however, an unspoken question loomed, one that encapsulates the push and pull of sustainability’s entree to the mainstream: Just how “eco” should a label be to be considered “eco enough”? For the CFDA/Lexus competition, the bar was set to a low and vague “at least 25 percent sustainable or uses 25 percent sustainable materials.” Laudable, yes, but laudable enough?
Julie Gilhart, fashion director at Barneys New York
We’re not knocking the designers, nor the intentions behind the event, of course. Any attention given to sustainable fashion is welcome. But as a standard, the challenge falls tragically short, considering the number of green designers who have toiled in the trenches for years, even decades, to achieve close to 100 percent sustainability. To make 25 percent the yardstick is like calling a restaurant vegan because a quarter of its dishes eschew meat, dairy, and eggs, or branding a box of tissues green because it uses only 75 percent virgin pulp.
Perhaps it’s our definition of sustainable fashion that needs tweaking.
The issue doesn’t get less murky with the winners, either. Monique Péan sticks to 100 percent recycled metals and conflict gems, but critics look askance at her use of fossilized mammoth ivory. The plaid-clad boys at Costello Tagliapietra utilize water-saving AirDye technology, but they make no other green claims. With Maria Cornejo, her eco-cred revolves mainly around the inclusion of cupro, a material made from the inside of the cotton seed that is usually discarded.
But perhaps it’s our definition of sustainable fashion that needs tweaking. Before announcing the winners, Scott McKinlay Hahn, founder of Loomstate and one of the judges, noted that it’s about “aesthetics, good design, quality of life, and sharing community.” So is the thinking better than the doing? Take that sentiment with a quarter-pinch of salt, if you will.