Kayla Marci

April 4, 2022

How Sustainable Were The Fall Runways?

Upcycling and conscious leather underpinned sustainability narratives at the latest fashion shows.

Headlines surrounding eco efforts fell by the wayside at the back end of Fashion Month as brands presented new lines against the backdrop of war.

A closer look revealed sustainable materials and processes continued to inform next season's collections, while disruptive designers looked to digital experimentation to reduce fashion's impact as the traditional runway setting hurtles towards its inevitable future venue within the metaverse.

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Key Takeaways

• Leather emerged as Fall 2022's defining textile. Designers championing sustainability opted for grape and mushroom alternatives, as seen at Stella McCartney, or responsibly sourced and traceable leather, like at Chloé.

• Recycling is paramount to combating textile waste, and designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Marine Serre led by example, showcasing looks upcycled from deadstock fabric.

• As digital currencies and virtual playgrounds become more realized, Altuzarra and Jonathan Simkhai dabbled in metaverse technologies, which have the potential to minimize travel emissions and waste associated with the traditional runway setting and fashion production.

• The quality and craftsmanship synonymous with luxury fashion were emphasized through handknitting, quilting and embroidery, with designers celebrating local artisans, and drawing attention to the slow fashion movement.

Vegan vs. Responsible Leather

Runways have served as a hotbed for introducing animal-free alternatives, and Fall 2022 demonstrated competing schools of thought in approaches to sustainable leather. Stella McCartney continued to spearhead plant-based materials, showcasing shoulder bags made from grape leather, while Balenciaga debuted a mycelium-based jacket. Minimizing waste by using leather as a by-product from the meat industry was Chloé's direction, presenting head-to-toe looks comprised of traceable leather compliant with European tanning process standards. Coach upcycled to create shearling outerwear repurposed from vintage leather coats.

Genuine leather still holds court in the current luxury market, even experiencing a 1% increase YoY. Though vegan alternatives are not yet as embedded in collections, double-digit growth is observed. Fashion is currently taking cues from the kink community, positioning fetishcore as Fall 2022's breakout trend. This precipitates demand for an abundance of leather within the market, which brands will need to approach responsibly. Following global policymakers' commitment to cut methane emissions at COP26, retailers will need to stay on course with their climate goals and pick a route - vegan, vintage or traceable.

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Chloé, Stella McCartney & Balenciaga Fall 2022 - Images via IMAXtree

Recycling & Upcyling

Designers' quest for luxe materials with minimal environmental impact informed choices for textures and fabrics. As activists turned their attention to wool production, the material experienced a 9% YoY drop at luxury sites. Though less common, conscious wool recycled or responsibly sourced and farmed has seen a 67% increase. Gabriela Hearst used recycled cashmere for coats and suiting, while Edeline Lee incorporated the tactile material throughout its monochromatic show. Amid Rentrayage's deadstock dominant collection, knitwear was a sustainable call out, with a cashmere blend and a Donegal wool made from 99% and 90% recycled yarns. Creating new pieces from deadstock fabrics outshone repurposing unconventional materials. However, the decorative beads recycled from ocean plastics throughout Botter's presentation and Atlein's discarded Nespresso pod designs were notable exceptions.

Vivienne Westwood introduced its Reimagining Waste concept, which will see deadstock materials from previous seasons reused. Collina Strada upcycled organza petals to create the effect of feathers. Jade Cropper, which works exclusively with waste fabric and recycled materials, favored mesh, leather and denim. Deadstock denim was also shown at Rejina Pyo and Conner Ives, while Diesel presented recycled denim, cotton and elastane dyed without water. The deconstruction and reworking of pre-loved clothes was a major theme. Marine Serre executed a masterclass, running multiple workstations alongside its show outlining the processes of sorting, cutting and sewing vintage items into its signature "regenerated" designs. Garment mashups were clocked at Kenneth Ize and (di)vision, showcasing workwear style outerwear spliced with a bomber jacket, plaid shirt or cardigan.

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Marine Serre, Atlein & Diesel Fall 2022 - Images via IMAXtree

The Metaverse Goes Mainstream

Ahead of the inaugural Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW) in Decentraland, designers made significant strides in exploring digital alternatives for Fall 2022. Metaverse technology will play a pivotal role in unlocking the innovation required to reduce some of fashion's most carbon-intensive processes, many of which the traditional runway setting contributes. Experimenting with virtual fashion shows has been heralded as a way to minimize travel emissions, while digital garments produce 97% less CO2 than physical ones.

Designers ticking these boxes included Imitation of Christ's show in Decentraland, Jonathan Simkhai's presentation in Second Life and Maisie Wilen's virtual models. However, digital pollution still needs to be addressed as scaling metaverse technology requires serious energy outputs. Eco-friendly NFT marketplace, Bubblehouse, partnered with designers Altuzarra and Markarian on integrating collectible tokens into their shows, powered by the Polygon blockchain, which is more energy-efficient than Etherium.

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Imitation of Christ, Jonathan Simkhai & Altuzarra Fall 2022

Slow Fashion

Empowering artisans was the overarching theme at Bethany Williams's show entitled "The Hands That Heal Us," which celebrated the local weavers, knitters, printers, and embroiderers that contributed to the collection. Handknits are the core of Alejandra Alonso Rojas' business and the brand dedicated its show to its team of US-based Ukrainian knitters. At Chloé, the show closed with a blanket-like gilet patchworked from deadstock fabrics, commissioned by the African-American Gee's Bend women quilters in Alabama, who also served as an inspiration for Connor McKnight's handmade quilt gown made of recycled polar fleece.

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Image via @bethany_williams_london

Making A Stand

Despite operating as a portal for escapism, the influence of modern designers has led to runways also serving as a platform for political and social causes. Before the invasion of Ukraine, Balenciaga's presentation of models fighting their way through a snowstorm was originally a message about climate change. Activism was rife at London Fashion Week with the Changing Markets Foundation and Extinction Rebellion promoting Greenwash.com to hold brands accountable for their environmental claims. Meanwhile, activists gathered outside the PrettyLittleThing runway to protest alleged wage theft and unsafe working conditions.

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Image via Extinction Rebellion 

Also Of Note

Biodegradable materials

Investments in fabrics that break down to avoid adding to landfills were noted at Stine Goya, presenting rain gear made from biodegradable rubber. Apiece Apart included a skirt constructed using a fiber made of biodegradable cellulose.

Forrest-friendly viscose

Certified responsible viscose was a standout material in Vivienne Westwood's low-impact collection, where the designer applied it to dress pants and genderfluid shirting. Retailers need to follow suit by exploring recycled and renewable wood pulp alternatives to help tackle deforestation.

Repurposing set designs

The lavish backdrops synonymous with runway shows are getting a second life. As part of its commitment to minimizing waste, Prada will upcycle and resell the olive faux fur carpet featured on the set and the chairs of its Fall 2022 presentation. The seating at Acne Studios' show will be reused for next season's collections.

Responsible dyes

Efforts to reduce natural resources and chemicals in dying processes were noted on the runway. The vibrant colors at Gabriela Hearst were achieved by ground recycled wood and botanical dyes made from citrine and watermelon. Iso.Poetism's designs used a technique to dye with the least possible amount of water.

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Prada, Vivienne Westwood & Gabriela Hearst Fall 2022 - Images via IMAXtree

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