Sustainability in Focus | Emerging Brands

by Morgan Vickery


2019 has ushered a wakeup call for customers and businesses alike. In collective recognition of our climate crisis, the fashion industry, in part, is shifting to create a more sustainable future.

This increasingly fast-paced, and technological society has allowed for an influx of ever-changing trends, with fast-fashion as the result. For the past two decades, humans have been buying and discarding garments at an unprecedented rate; not to mention the waste, toxic dyes, and synthetic fabrics killing our ecosystem. And while businesses blame demand, consumers point the finger back at the industry. 

Despite this harsh reality, we have entered a transitional period in fashion. While, fundamentally, sustainable clothing equates to less garments altogether, it has opened new doors for conscious designers with mantras like, “quality over quantity,” and “consume less, save more.” 

Albeit large-scaled companies have access to costly sustainable production resources, emerging designers are surpassing them in creative solutions. Colovos, Mozh Mozh, STAATSBALLETT, Occhii, and Ply-Knits, are a few rising brands championing eco-friendly clothing under taut limitations.

After eight years as co-creative directors of Helmut Lang, Nicole and Michael Colovos launched their namesake brand in February 2016. In blending traditional tailoring and craftsmanship with modern minimalism, the duo won the International Woolmark Prize earlier this year.

What are sustainable initiatives currently practiced throughout your supply-chain?

We start by sourcing fabrics from suppliers that are using organic materials and non-toxic dyes to ensure no harmful chemicals are being used. The main fabrics we choose for the collection are naturally renewable fibers like wool, cotton, cupro, and other plant-based fibers that are processed in a closed-loop environment, and powered by renewable energy. When selecting synthetic fibers like polyester, we work with mills that are using 100% recycled materials and/or PET bottles to keep petroleum-based plastics out of landfills and oceans. Recycled polyester uses up to 75% less Carbon emissions than new polyester fiber.

We work very closely with all of our factories and have cultivated close personal relationships with all of them. They are all family-owned and operated, and we can ensure that they are paying fair wages and providing good working conditions.

All of our main labels, hangtags, and trim, are made from recycled or biodegradable materials. Additionally, we are working on closing the transportation gap from raw materials and the final destination to reduce the carbon footprint.  

As an emerging brand, what are the difficulties in reducing your carbon footprint?  

Scale. It is difficult to reach minimums, especially with regard to biodegradable packaging. The factories currently making these products require huge minimums, and the materials have a limited life span. We have to buy smaller quantities more often rather than buying huge quantities to use over time. To solve this immediate problem, we are working with other brands to make purchases together to meet the minimums.  

What sustainable initiatives do you hope to implement in the future?  

Carbon offset initiatives to address the emission that we aren't able to avoid, like shipping.  

Quality is inherent in our brand. We make our clothes to last a lifetime, however in the event clothes get damaged to the point we can't fix them, we would like to take them back and up-cycle the fabrics so we can reuse them. There is a process that can deconstruct and separate fibers using an organic, non-toxic process. After the fibers are separated, they can be re-spun and made into new fabrics.

It's a really hopeful time right now to see all of these new technologies evolve around sustainability and recycling. From the way cotton can be grown without pesticides using 95% less water than previously to the up-cycling of end of life garments and materials in non-toxic ways. We are inspired to be able to be on the side of this industry that is able to grow cradle to cradle.


Studying textile conservation and restoration in college, Mozhdeh Matin went on to create Mozh Mozh in 2015. With hopes to create a new language of clothing, Matin produces with women from different parts of Peru who have the heritage of knitting and weaving ancestral textiles.

What are sustainable initiatives currently practiced throughout your supply-chain?

Our main goal is to preserve traditional textile techniques in Peru. We develop our textiles by working with different communities around the country to continue the conservation of their art. We also work only with locals materials such as Alpaca and Cotton. Some of our pieces are hand-spun and hand-dyed locally. 

As an emerging brand, what are the difficulties in reducing your carbon footprint?  

My biggest issue is the shipping because no matter how pure the rest of my process has been, we end up using a lot of gas in transportation when we export. I don’t think that it is possible to be a 100% sustainable brand, is not realistic; what is realistic is to work on the best methods possible to do it right. 

What sustainable initiatives do you hope to implement in the future?

We’ve been developing a new material in the Peruvian Amazon. Is very similar to leather but is made from natural rubber that comes from a tree. We’ve applied this material on cotton fabric and smoked it till it dries, so it has the appearance of leather. I hope we can keep developing this material and share it in a conscious way. 


Kailee Man and Avery Ginsberg are the Youtube persona’s behind STAATSBALLETT. Launching in December of 2017, the non-seasonal unisex brand fuses comfort with quality tailoring and functional design detailing.

What are sustainable initiatives currently practiced throughout your supply-chain?

We produce our entire collection in small batches here in the US with locally sourced, organic, recycled, and/or deadstock materials. Ultimately, it is our goal to reduce our waste in any way we can, whether this is via altering a pattern to increase fabric yield or using materials that otherwise may have been scrapped. We choose not to use leather, suede, or fur.

As an emerging brand, what are the difficulties in reducing your carbon footprint?

For us, working primarily as an e-commerce brand, we struggle to find ways to reduce our carbon footprint in regards to the shipping industry. Our packaging is made of 100% post-consumer material and is both recyclable and reusable, but this is far from perfect! There are incredible startups like Repack working to create a zero-waste shipping solution, but unfortunately, they haven't made it over to the US yet. We're excited to see what the future holds!

What sustainable initiatives do you hope to implement in the future?

It's not enough to manufacture sustainably. As our business grows, we plan to invest in offset programs and partner with some of our favorite eco-friendly non-profit organizations.


Rooted in appreciating the unique, Occhii derives from “eyes” written in Italian, “occhi;” Russian, “очи;” Ukranian, “очi;” Spanish, “ojos,” and so on. Founded by Leonid Batekhin and Ilona Davidoff, Occhii bridges contemporary and cultural garments.

What are sustainable initiatives currently practiced throughout your supply-chain?

The majority of our collection is created using reclaimed, faulty, discarded and deadstock fabrics. We transform the fabrics' imperfections into integral design features of our pieces. We recently added undyed organic cotton denim to our core fabrics, which already contain several organic cotton qualities.

Our wovens are produced in New York City; this supports local sample rooms in the Garment District and reduces the carbon footprint. We are partnered with Fabscrap, and all unused fabric waste from our studio is collected by them for further reuse and recycling. 

As an emerging brand, what are the difficulties in reducing your carbon footprint?

The biggest challenge for us is the general consumer resistance to place the premium on and invest in sustainability. Making more environmentally friendly garments means more financial investment. It unlocks longer-term value in terms of doing good for the people, planet, building strong supplier and customer relationships and, at the end of the day, creating a higher quality product.

It is crucial to cultivate customer awareness and the understanding of how important it is to consume in a conscious and self-aware manner. We believe that clothes should be treated as a long term financial investment.

What sustainable initiatives do you hope to implement in the future?

We hope to become an integral part of the circular economy of the future when, hopefully, the blatant waste and exploitation of natural resources currently practiced by the economics of uncontrolled consumption is unlawful.

We see Occhii as part of this conversation on mindful use of resources and design choices that promote more environmentally friendly use of materials, labor, logistics, and consumption at large. This will manifest in our use of reusable, recyclable, durable and natural materials, eventual abandonment of petroleum-based products (plastic trims, packaging, polyester, and blends) unless it's fully recyclable or recycled. Additional important steps include supply chain transparency, fair labor practices, and further steps towards full integration into a circular economy.


Carolyn Yim is the creator of Ply-Knits, a retro brand designed for the inimitable, passionate, and persistent. Made at her family’s third-generation knitting factory, Yim studied under her father, refining an instinctive sensitivity towards materials.

What are sustainable initiatives currently practiced throughout your supply-chain?

Let's be frank -- the most environmentally sustainable way to make clothes is not to make new clothes. There's no way around it, and any company that markets sustainable clothing should be grimly aware of this pretension. Since my family is in the business of making clothes, the next best thing is to own up to responsibility. To do this, I have a checklist to deliberate on every possible choice and try to choose the most sustainable one. Since my business is vertical, I get to have a high degree of control:

Design: Is this product necessary? Is this style hype and will it become visual pollution one season later? Will this style be beloved and get heavy closet rotation? Can it avoid dry-cleaning, which is a petroleum-based process? Can it avoid being washed frequently, since it doesn't retain moisture? When this item is thrown away, how long will its raw materials stay in the landfill? How long will it take to decompose in the landfill? Does it contain plastic, which decomposes with byproducts of toxic fumes? 

Production: What mill am I getting this yarn from? Is there a similar deadstock alternative? How much material wastage will I produce? How much water am I using? How am I neutralizing the water waste? Am I treating the water waste at an ISO standard facility? What type of energy do I use to power my factory's electricity? 

Social: Does my team have personal growth in their work? How do I create a community that incentivizes staff to stay and grow, rather than turn over to a new company every year? Am I elevating the team's social consciousness? Am I sustaining a specialty skill that otherwise would be disappearing? Am I making a positive economic impact in the area, Dongguan? 

Lastly, all of this must be in line with business sustainability, which is not often discussed in tandem with environmental sustainability. What's the real impact made if you could create the cleanest, the most sustainable supply chain in the world, but is costly due to, say, your overuse of solar panels, causing your business to close? The overall impact would be none.

As an emerging brand, what are the difficulties in reducing your carbon footprint?  

An emerging brand like Ply-Knits can grow today thanks to our direct-to-consumer e-commerce storefront, which requires less start-up capital than a brick-and-mortar store. In order to grow and reach new markets, we have worldwide shipping. However, that also means once a customer in Brooklyn clicks 'buy,' our one little sweater will need to travel 8,000 miles from Hong Kong to New York by way of four vans, two trucks, and one plane in under 36 hours. Due to e-commerce behemoths like Amazon, the online shopper today is conditioned to expect instant, next-day shipping gratification. I find that troubling yet a conundrum for a small business that needs to grow. 

What sustainable initiatives do you hope to implement in the future?

The success of the Slow Food movement came down to Alice Waters' ability to persuade people that sustainably farmed, organic food simply tastes better. I'd like to find a way to share with consumers the same for apparel. For instance, to me, the superfine merino is hands down the best material, and it is also strong on the sustainability meter. Superfine merino is very soft, comfortable, looks really great, carries color richly, and drapes incredibly well -- far better than cotton, cashmere, and definitely polyester. I would like to find a way for material-forward decision making to be the norm in our shopping process. That means customers are always looking at the garment "ingredients" label, for shopping sites to have filters by not just colors, trend, sleeve length, but by the material.


Produced by: Morgan Vickery

Photography by: Oumayma Tanfous

Styling by: Noah Diaz

Makeup by: Deanna Melluso at See Management

Hair by: Risako Itamochi at The Wall Group

Models: Alvina, Bria Scott, and Grace Ming at Anti-Agency

Production Assistance: Valerie Stepanova

Photo Assistance: Natalia Palacios

Style Assistance: Sabrina Aguirre