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As global awareness of the challenges facing humanity in these times grows, independent designers are declaring their embrace of sustainable, timeless fashion and moving away from impulsive trends. The sustainable design recognizes that fast fashion requires a conscious response, rooted in quality that lasts. The sustainable design makes room for a disruptive vision that sheds new light on change, what it means, and how to achieve it.

Artisanship, perhaps most publicly visible in a popular style and design movements like New Antiquarianism, is being embraced by these independent designers. And it’s bearing fabulous fruit that’s not only sustainable but pleasing to the eye. Added to the restoration of time-honored production techniques is the demand for manufacturing processes and materials that don’t impact the environment or result in minimal impact. Shipping practices, supply chains, fair wages, and employment practices all figure into the sustainable design process.

Since the advent of the internet and online shopping, fashion’s seasonal cycles have accelerated. While global Fashion Weeks are still held at their appointed times, micro-trends have gotten a toehold due to the newly broadened configuration of the market.

This tendency has led to trends that endure for no more than 3-5 years, against the traditional, seasonal cycle of 5-10. As you might imagine, this acceleration of the fashion cycle has led to incredible waste. With the rise of online influencers, the hunger for micro-trends has grown to a fever pitch. Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok users respond by purchasing “flash-in-the-pan” trends to match the style of the omnipresent influencer.

But there’s hope in the concurrent rise of brands dedicated to establishing a version of fashion unmoved by the vagaries of seasonal trends, whether micro or macro. The return to traditional, artisan methods of production and classic lines herald a new age of conscious design that’s undistracted by trends as commercial stimulants. Well-finished, artisan-produced clothes are emerging as objects of desire. Disposable fashion, opaque supply chains, and unfair labor practices are being questioned. Consumers are beginning to understand that long supply chains with thousands of suppliers are unsustainable and undesirable, acting as veils that conceal operations and may obscure labor and environmental issues.

Conscious Conservation

Common to all the independent designers you’ll be introduced to in this post is the core value of conservation. In conserving materials and processes by building clothing, objects, and jewelry to last, these fabulous designers conserve a cascading chain of resources. This growing change in design results in a slow and thoughtful fashion.

But they’re also fulfilling burgeoning consumer demand for goods that free people to put their money where their mouth is. Many of us genuinely desire an alternative to trendy disposability and these designers center that desire. These passionate designers have grasped the shank of major change, bringing it to life with their hands, their hearts, and their impressive design skill. The change they’re making encompasses all sectors of design from clothing to homewares to jewelry and beyond.

Let’s meet some fabulous independent designers who are leading the design world toward a reformed model. These upstarts are putting their shoulders on the wheel of change by revolutionizing their sector with the passion and pluck the entrepreneurial spirit is admired for. From their efforts, a new design zeitgeist is emerging.

Zii Ropa

Longevity, art, and balance are at the heart of this Mexico City designer’s work. Zii Ropa’s atemporal design aesthetic speaks to all contexts, effortlessly finding its place. Empowering women with the luxury of timeless elegance, the brand vision is that of clothing that proclaims carefree style as it moves between worlds.

To this freedom of movement, Zii Ropa adds local, artisan production, fair wages, and meaningful support for women-owned businesses and area families. Garments are handmade from biodegradable, natural fabrics that become more beautiful with every loving wear. Rooted in community and collaboration, Zii Ropa elegantly embodies a socially integrative approach to entrepreneurship, leading the way to a new way of doing business.

Maryam Nassir Zadeh

Maryam Nassir Zadeh’s erstwhile boutique in Lower East Side NYC was once a respected style barometer of trend-conscious ladies who lunched and demanded to be seen in leading-edge fashion. Today, with her unique design worldview, this graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design has her own vision of a slower, gentler world.

With unisex shapes and fresh textures, design icon Zadeh speaks to the world she lives in while calling for a new one in the unfussy, body-comforting shapes and natural fabrics she works with. Her eternally popular 90’s tribute shoes reveal a laser-sharp understanding of her market that knows when to strike and with what. This independent design entrepreneur leads with her finger on the pulse of all that’s disruptive, emergent, soulful, and real.

Completedworks

Deconstructing classical forms, Completedworks is less iconoclast than mad scientist, pushing the boundaries of tradition with post-modern zeal. This collective of maker-designers creates domestic objects and jewelry that challenge with insight and a conscious rethink of the status quo.

Championing a sculptural aesthetic that never loses its currency, Completedworks sources recycled and fairtrade gold for all its gold jewelry and as much recycled and reclaimed silver as possible for its silver works. Completedworks is dedicated to producing sustainable, inspiring, consciously-created products that bring people long-term, heirloom pleasure. By saying who they are without apology, this brand connects to its market in thought, word, and deed.

Baserange

Unpretentious describes this brand’s collections of simple, utilitarian clothing. Its clean lines and “practical essentials” aesthetic have no interest in trout-pout selfies. Baserange is too busy being authentically comfortable for that nonsense.

Baserange’s comfort starts with both recycled and reclaimed fibers but the brand’s commitment to sustainability doesn’t end there. This independent designer is committed to finding more sustainable methods for doing everything from production to shipping, without compromise. Baserange claims a place in the design world’s environmentally conscious vanguard for its unswerving dedication to unapologetic comfort and sustainable simplicity.

Jeanerica

While jeans may be internationally sought after, they consume a lot of water and represent a significant toxic threat to the environment. With the Conservation™ Denim program, Jeanerica has revolutionized the washing process for denim, revisioning it as a sustainable practice that wastes significantly less water and uses no chemicals or chemical processes. With a mission of minimalism, Jeanerica takes its message straight to its own in-house loomed denim.

Using future-facing fabric technologies, Jeanerica’s focus is on enduring artisan quality, repackaging a beloved icon of Americana as a consciously sustainable article of clothing. By the end of 2023, the brand’s manufacturing plant will be equipped with solar panels, supporting almost all its needs—the start of a sustainable energy future for this environmentally conscious brand.

Los Objetos Decorativos

Barcelona, the city of visionary architect Antoni Gaudi, is also the home of the innovative homewares brand. Los Objetos Decorativos. Using the modern benefit of prototyping techniques (think 3D printing), this brand produces emotionally-charged housewares based on a digital narrative and realized with the support of artisan partners.

Multidisciplinary designer Rosa Rubio seeks to open lines of communication between the object and the user, achieved via sustainable and ethical processes and materials. Conscious consumption is the key to this brand’s ethos, with artistic expression that reaches toward engagement between the end object and the consumer. This meshing of disparate ideas and systems places Los Objetos Decorativos in a unique position of artistic and ethical leadership.

Permanent Vacation

Without gender, season, or waste, the innovative clothing brand Permanent Vacation speaks to the spirit of our time. Creating beautifully crafted, ungendered clothing for all people to wear in all seasons, this brand eschews the proposition that clothing is, in any way, disposable.

Based in Paris and New Delhi, the traditional textiles of India are centered, including vintage cotton and silk sarees, sourced throughout the subcontinent and upcycled to create strikingly tactile, stunningly gorgeous clothing. Singularity is achieved through limited collections and editions, establishing Permanent Vacation as an entrepreneurial endeavor that has found a luxury niche in a clearly delineated cultural space. The genius of its narrative, translated into the materiality of its collections, is poetic.

Are Studio

The objects we surround ourselves with and use in our daily lives should be chosen consciously as useful fixtures, serving a specific purpose. That purpose is fixed and permanent, so the goal is to add only those things able to serve their purpose long term. In the case of Are Studio, the personal handbag is the object in question. Simplicity is the design aesthetic in play, conflating utility with beauty in a practical, elegant way.

Based in Los Angeles, the brand sources materials from local family-owned enterprises, with a keen eye on optimal usage/minimal waste. Skins used to create Are Studio’s inspired handbag collections bear their own story, translated into an object that will speak for the user for life. The synergy created is one of networked simplicity and conscious material usage, laying the groundwork for a transformation across the world of design.

Otiumberg

This family business was grown from the ground up and continues to grow into its mission of sustainability. Creating pieces intended to last a lifetime, Otiumberg is rising to the challenge of sustainability by eschewing the seasonal nature of their industry, instead creating non-seasonal jewelry that slows the cycle of consumption.

The timeless design replaces seasonal trends and fashion, ensuring the ongoing viability of any given piece. Using recycled metals, all the materials used allow Otiumberg to produce pieces in limited numbers that step lightly on the earth. In effect, this brand has restored the meaning of jewelry as heirlooms that move through time with families and loved ones, existing well beyond the original user. While this business model may seem counterintuitive, it’s a model the earth needs. Otiumberg models a business model for the future.

NU Swim

Creating swimwear that goes beyond the beach, NU Swim’s collections are practical, comfortable, and fundamentally sustainable. From the recycled thread used as often as possible to the sourcing of fabrics 100% made from reclaimed materials (including discarded plastics), this brand is engaged with sustainability as a foundational mission.

Fair employment practices and supply chain awareness are key to NU Swim’s manufacturing processes, which extend to fabric production, using non-toxic scouring techniques that honor the integrity of the environment. With 100% biodegradable, sugarcane-based packaging, NU Swim is raising the bar for other design entrepreneurs with its classic, long-lasting swimwear and disciplined approach to making it.

The Imperative of Sustainability

The fabulous independent designers you’ve just read about are not alone. Slowly, the uptake of sustainability by major fashion design houses is happening, with international design stars like Stella McCartney in the lead. But we haven’t reached Nirvana yet.

All change occurs at the grassroots of any given sector, trickling up to influence the larger players above the turf line. And consumers are certainly aware enough to know when the commitment is real or “astroturf”. Because of the increasingly environmentally-aware consumer, it’s become a fool’s game to engage in superficial sustainability projects that don’t mean business. Because consumers know astroturf when they see it.

Consumers drive change. Without consumer response to ethical environmental practices, those practices won’t trickle up to encompass the monolithic brands that control the market. Consumer awareness, like the practices of the designers we’ve talked about in this post, must extend to the supply chain, the packaging, and the processes in play. Today’s networked consumer spends a lot of time making buying decisions these days, researching options to obtain the objects and items they’ll purchase. Design entrepreneurs acknowledging that tendency will flourish.

The consumer drives change as much as retailers and makers do. The work of the entrepreneur is to respond to the rising demand for sustainably designed and created goods with ethical practices that address every link in the supply chain, every scrap of material used, and every package shipped. What the consumer demands are what determines the trajectory of the market. And it’s becoming clearer each day that sustainability is a driver of consumer purchasing decisions. The response and call between entrepreneurs and the market is woven into the shape of change, driven by people determined to create the conditions for it.