As part of The September Issues, of CNN's special hub dedicated to facts, features and opinions about the fashion industry and the climate crisis, the CNN team have rounded up some of the leading voices for ethical, sustainable and innovative practices.
Through design, research, activism and building more ethical business models, here are some of the people working to change the fashion industry for good.
Katharine Hamnett is synonymous with the protest T-shirt. The designer, who established her eponymous label in 1979, was a pioneer in using mass-marketed fashion as a tool for political dissent and eco-militancy. During the 1980s and 90s, she put political slogans in bold type on Ts -- examples: "Choose Life" promoting drug and suicide prevention, and "58% don't want Pershing," a statement against US nuclear power on British soil.
Hamnett had been advocating for sustainability for years, trying to set up ethical supply chains and change sourcing policies in various collaborations with large companies, like British supermarket chain Tesco in the mid-2000s. But, dispirited by the lack of tangible progress, she eventually withdrew from fashion to focus on activism and charity work. Then in 2017 she relaunched her label, with renewed ethical and sustainable practices. "Sustainability is no longer a left-field notion," her website reads.
Since launching her eponymous label in 2017, London-based designer Bethany Williams has set out to create an alternative system for clothing production, using waste and recycled materials to craft garments that skew towards haute streetwear. For each collection, the 30-year-old collaborates with different charitable organisations -- from shelters for former prisoners to drug rehabilitation centers. She enlists help from program participants to work on and creatively contribute to some of her pieces. She also donates part of her profits back.
Williams' efforts for change have already been recognised: In 2019, she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II award for British Design, the Fashion Awards' British Emerging Talent -- Menswear award and was shortlisted for the LVMH Prize celebrating young designers. In January 2020, Williams received a £10,000 prize from the Arts Foundation Futures Awards.
Actress Emma Watson has regularly used her global clout to speak out for a number of causes, from supporting victims of sexual harassment to raising awareness about gender inequality. She has also led the way in Hollywood towards adopting environmentally conscious fashion on and off the red carpet, as well as promoting labels that are committed to working with zero-waste factories, ethically sourced materials and cruelty-free practices. The 30-year-old star is especially vocal about Good on You, a campaign and app that rates brands on their production methods and environmental impact, giving consumers insight into their clothing choices.
In June, Watson joined the board of French luxury group Kering, to sit as the chair of its sustainability committee, bringing to the role her "commitment to sustainable development and women's issues," the group stated.
The grand dame of punk fashion, Vivienne Westwood's environmental agenda includes a broad spectrum of issues -- from embracing transparent labor practices and supply chain policies, to taking part in anti-fracking protests and promoting the charity Cool Earth's efforts to preserve rainforests. She documents her environmental views and activities and shares news stories on the Climate Revolution website.
Westwood, who has run her namesake label since 1981, has become increasingly focused over the last two decades on recycled and eco-friendly fabrics, tackling textile waste and sourcing ethical materials. Her message is about quality over quantity when we make fashion choices.
She has also used her fashion presentations to promote green beliefs: for her Autumn-Winter 2019/20 show at London Fashion Week, Westwood sent models, actors, and activists down the runway with political signs -- one of which read "What's good for the planet is good for the economy -- that touched on climate change; while her Spring-Summer 2020 collection, titled "No Man's Land" ditched the runway altogether for a video that, alongside her knits and blazers, delivered a message about equal land distribution, and "rot dollar" (corrupt financial systems) as the root of poverty problems and climate change.
Co-founder and CEO of Bolt Threads
Dan Widmaier is the brains behind Microsilk, a groundbreaking lab-grown fabric that is already being used by brands like Stella McCartney and Patagonia.
Widmaier was a fifth-year synthetic biology graduate student at UC San Francisco when he decided, together with a bio engineer and a bio physicist, to establish Bolt Threads one of the first ventures to spearhead the movement for bio-manufacturing textiles -- materials grown from live microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast, algae and fungi. That was in 2009, and their first product was Microsilk, which recreates the chemical properties of spider silk to form a biodegradable vegan alternative to silkworm protein. Other bio-materials that Widmaier is developing include a leather-like fabric made from mycelium, the underground branching structure of mushrooms.
Sustainable and Circular Business Developer at H&M Group
If in recent years H&M has carved out a name as one of the few fast-fashion giants to actively promote sustainability, Laura Coppen is partly to thank for that. The sustainability specialist at the group works on its Laboratory, an innovation hub exploring new circular business models and challenging the company's way of thinking when it comes to supply chains and services.
Last year, the Laboratory also provided a test-bed for a custom-fit denim pilot that used an algorithm and body scanning technology to create denim products with fits and sizes unique to their customers. "It's about redefining the entire system," Coppen told Women's Wear Daily. "This disrupts every stage of the production cycle, from design to supply chains to how we offer the experience to the customer. On-demand production is a great opportunity to be both sustainable and profitable."