Courtesy of Cienne
The last thing that comes to mind as you admire knit pants with clever stripes or covet the easy glamour of a wrap shirt is sustainable fibers. That’s exactly what Nicole Heim and Chelsea Healy had in mind when they co-founded Cienne, and why design-driven collections like theirs are changing our perception of ethical fashion.
Cienne’s ready-to-wear line is made in Manhattan’s Garment District using natural materials and textiles sourced from global artisans. In a race-to-market, trend-obsessed industry, the co-founders have taken another route. They’re building sustainable practices into every aspect of their brand: sourcing fabrics, designing to reduce waste, working with suppliers who allow small-batch products, and transparency with customers.
Since it launched late in 2015, Cienne’s seasonless pieces have collected celebrity fans–Gwyneth Paltrow, Emma Watson, and Olivia Wilde–and won raves from Vogue, WWD, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elle. Cienne was a finalist in the 2016 Design Entrepreneurs New York City and was recently named a finalist in the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative, a nine-month program supporting sustainable companies in the industry.
Ethical designer fashion is a natural fit for Lexus, makers of the first luxury hybrid sedan. “Sustainability is a core concept for us,” says Rachel Espersen, creative programming and partnerships director at Lexus. “We like the concept of sustainability without sacrifice.” Lexus launched the program with CFDA last year with ten designers, and this year narrowed the group to five brands so each receives more attention and mentoring. The brands have a variety of models and are at different stages of growth, but like Cienne, all have ethical fashion at the core of their vision. Participants receive guidance navigating fashion’s complex supply chain and in making strategic design and business decisions using a triple bottom line approach — valuing people, planet, and profit holistically. “We fully realize that one designer or one brand isn’t going to change the industry, but with each one the voice of change gets louder and louder,” says Espersen.
Coutesy of Cienne
Heim’s own journey mirrors one more consumers and brands are taking. Fashion is one of the most polluting industries, and consumers are increasingly concerned about its impact on the environment as well as ethical treatment of workers—about 80% of which are women. “We have seen a huge surge in interest even in the last three to six months,” says Heim. “I think with the weather changes and the natural disasters, more people are noticing and being affected by climate change themselves.”
While working for Victoria’s Secret, Heim spent enough time overseas visiting factories to know that while that company was committed to ethical practices, many companies were not. The sheer size of the industry and its impact on the environment also hit home. “There is just so much produced and so much waste,” she says.
Courtesy of Cienne