The Sustainable Highlights of the Spring 2021 Collections

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One of the few silver linings of the pandemic has been our heightened awareness around climate change and fashion’s ramped-up efforts to address it. By now, it’s generally understood that our industry is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the leading cause of climate change; it’s also responsible for pollution, waste, and even fracking. We were talking about the need for change before the pandemic, but 2020 pushed those words into action.

The spring 2021 collections, designed in quarantine and arriving in stores now, marked a particular turning point. In our conversations with designers, it was the first time sustainable practices simply felt like a given, not an exception to the rule (or, worse, a marketing stunt). At Patou, Guillaume Henry spoke of his certified organic cotton and recycled fabrics as almost an afterthought, rather than an aberration from the norm. (Why should chemical-treated cotton and plastic fibers still be considered “normal”?) Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia was similarly frank: 93.5% of his collection was made with certified sustainable or upcycled fabrics, a number his team met “quite easily.” As he told Vogue’s Sarah Mower: “There are solutions if you look for them. There’s a need to revise things. To start a new chapter.”

Here’s hoping the fall 2021 collections continue the story. As we cover them this month on Vogue Runway, Vogue’s sustainability editor Tonne Goodman selected her spring highlights you can shop now. “It thrills me to see some of my favorite established and new designers tackling sustainability in their products, as well as in their business practices,” she says. “These items are style with substance.” From jackets made of reclaimed carpets to recycled satin ballet flats, scroll through all of her picks below, plus a few tips on how to wear them.

Goodman calls Stella McCartney the “godmother of sustainability,” and for good reason. McCartney has refrained from using fur and leather for 20 years, and in the past decade she’s scaled up her commitments to organic, recycled, and bio-based materials. Her organic cotton jumpsuit and traceable viscose knits are the picture of modern-day investment pieces. “These are staples that will last a lifetime in every circumstance you can conjure,” says Goodman.

Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons’s first collection included full, swishy skirts—including this one in slick, 100% recycled nylon, the same material found on Prada’s signature backpacks and purses. “This revisits the nylon that has always made me love the label,” Goodman says. “The length is elegant and feminine with a sporty quirk—quintessentially Prada.”

Guillaume Henry’s floral dresses at Patou “embrace the optimism that comes with spring,” Goodman says. They’re also statement pieces you can wear every day, combining soft organic cotton with a happy print and major volume.

A handful of Marine Serre’s burgundy jackets, skirts, and dresses were made from reclaimed carpets; each is one-of-a-kind. Despite their unusual origins, Goodman points out that the jacket in particular is quite wearable: “This has a classic heritage sensibility built in,” she says. “This print reminds me of a DIY woodcut. It’s easy to dress up or down, and it’s completely genderless.”

A year into the pandemic, masks are still mandatory—but Hillary Taymour’s hand-dyed creations at Collina Strada are actually a joy to wear. “Undoubtedly the accessory of the season, this is a delightful example of how utility becomes fashion,” Goodman says. “Feel free to use the ribbons in whatever way they fit your personal style—from pussybows to headbands to classic streamers.”

For his spring 2021 collection, Coach’s Stuart Vevers introduced upcycled handbags, including some made of recycled plastic bottles. He’s also experimenting with vegetable tanning and natural dyes like turmeric, carrot, and cochineal; a new capsule of pastel totes displays the full spectrum of earth tints. “A tote is a tote is a tote, as in total bag needs solved,” Goodman says. “Add a seasonal wisp of color, and it becomes an even more important accessory for spring.”

With a cute, cinched design and shiny finish, Rag & Bone’s comfy new flats were made with 100% recycled satin. Goodman considers them the 2021 version of a ballet slipper. “I’m a girl who loves flats,” she says. “I grew up wearing ballet slippers as shoes, and these are a close-to-perfect interpretation.”

Sarah Burton’s entire spring 2021 collection for Alexander McQueen was created using materials from past collections or excess fabric found in the label’s stock room. Why order new textiles when so much already exists? This balletic tulle dress hardly looks like “leftovers,” but it’s as rare as any couture piece; it will be produced on a strictly made-to-order basis.

London designer Richard Malone almost exclusively uses deadstock, recycled, and upcycled materials. This trench might look like any other glossy statement piece, but it’s made entirely of recycled leather. “How great is a trench? It’s black for dramatic elegance in the evening, but ideally suited for daily adventures,” Goodman says. “The perfect investment for any season.”

Last summer, Alessandro Michele revealed an ambitious new project: Gucci Off the Grid, a collection of streetwear and accessories made from organic, recycled, and bio-based materials, like this sporty mini-bag in recycled nylon. “I love a crossbody because you can go hands-free,” Goodman says. This Gucci miniature messenger bag is the perfect size for your phone, mask, hand sanitizer, keys, and a little loose change. The wonderful, vibrant blue adds just the right snap to any look.”

Anyone who knows Goodman knows she’s never without her signature white jeans. “I’m a Levi’s girl through and through,” she says. “Why would I ever give them up? They are eternally classic, comfortable, and companions for life.” Now Levi’s has an entire site dedicated to pre-loved vintage and secondhand jeans; finding the perfectly-worn-in pair—white, blue, black, or ripped!—has never been easier.

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