Sustainable fashion brands have become a hot topic within the fashion industry. Well-informed, ethically-conscious, and digital-savvy consumers are dictating the market direction, with the top names in fashion following closely behind.

In 1987, the United Nations officially defined sustainability as: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The Beginning of Sustainable Fashion in the ‘80s

The genesis of the movement is difficult to pinpoint, from the anti-fashion hippies of the 1960s to the vintage-loving, Vivienne Westwood-esque, defiantly anti-materialistic punk culture of the 1970s. Although fur became a status symbol by mid-century, by the 1980s it became synonymous with animal cruelty, which prompted the rise of the anti-fur movement that became part of popular culture well into the 1990s and 21st century. 

faux fur sustainable fashion at italist
Faux fur coats from labels like Stand Studio, Glamorous, Pinko, and Herno.


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Vegan leather ready to wear from Nanushka and Staud.

Celebrities were a big draw for the movement as many icons, such as Naomi Campbell and Brigitte Bardot, lent their names and faces to the cause. The shocking print ads and celebrity influence seemed to change consumer opinion as sales of fur garments fell by 75% in Britain between 1985 and 1990. 

In 1987, the United Nations officially defined sustainability as: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

shop heron preston on italistThe Shift in Consumer Behavior

In 1986, the opening of the first McDonald’s in Rome not only sparked an outcry that led to the Slow Food Movement in 1989 (a food revolution that championed regional cooking and denounced fast food—and still lives on today), it also personally offended Italian designer Valentino Garavani, whose Roman headquarters abutted the fast food restaurant. 

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Marine Serre uses regenerated and recycled materials to create her line of modern ready to wear.

Fast forward several decades later, and “Slow Fashion” is likewise gaining momentum and greater consumer buy-in. Slow Fashion stands in opposition to Fast Fashion and advocates for quality over quantity in the manufacturing of clothing. While Slow Fashion has always been a cultural cornerstone in Italy, with the demand (and respect) for artisanal products still very much alive, it’s now garnering international attention.

See our interview from last year with Tess Montgomery, a slow fashion influencer based in London.

How COVID-19 Has Accelerated the Growth of Sustainable Clothing Brands

The crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic of the last year has led to record unemployment globally, and with the future looking so uncertain, it’s no surprise that people are more cautious about their spending habits.   

The shift in priorities, attitude & behavior during the pandemic has led to many changes, some of them permanent. People are more concerned about the ethics & values of a brand, especially after the civil unrest of last summer, and the demand for sustainable fashion brands that are purpose-driven has seen a sharp uptick.

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Prada’s Re-Nylon collections of women’s ready to wear.

The semiannual fashion weeks of Milan, London, Paris, and New York are notoriously unsustainable, however the majority of brands successfully pivoted in a mid-pandemic climate to digitize their shows, which confirmed that the industry can indeed adapt and survive. Copenhagen, for example, has set an industry standard by assigning itself the ambitious task of being the most sustainable international fashion week by 2023.

Another silver lining of the pandemic is that the halt on manufacturing has encouraged many sustainable clothing brands and designers (and some that were never before associated with sustainability) to repurpose deadstock fabric, which would otherwise have accumulated dust in a warehouse, or worse, a landfill.

Consumers are certainly more conscious about sustainability and the environment, and with the majority of time now being spent indoors or within private spaces, impulse shopping is no longer aligned with the current culture. All fashion brands must—at the bare minimum—operate in a socially & environmentally responsible way, though a few names are leading by example.

Top Sustainable Clothing Brands

Shopping sustainably doesn’t equate to sacrificing style. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Budapest-based vegan label Nanushka states: “our vision is to build a sustainable future.” Not only have they reached cult status by taking the greener route to success, but the self-described modern bohemian brand is aiming for 100% sustainability by 2025. 

nanushka womenswear italist
Nanushka vegan leather ready to wear.

Arguably the most well-known name associated with sustainable fashion brands is Stella McCartney, a brand committed to never use animal leather, skin, fur or feathers since its inception in 2001. Since 2013, their shoes and handbags have been made from “alter-nappa,” a synthetic material made from polyester and polyurethane, and coated with over 50% vegetable oil, a renewable resource.

Transparency is a key issue in all matters of sustainability, which is reflected in the release of an Eco Impact Report every year that details Stella McCartney’s actions and impact methodology. 

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Stella McCartney sustainable style collections.

Since she launched her line in 2015, Gabriela Hearst’s vision was to create a brand that “had that feeling of things that are well made and long lasting.” Through producing limited quantities via direct-to-consumer channels and presenting her first runway show using 30% deadstock fabrics, the Uruguay native set the tone for ultra-luxurious sustainable fashion.

The brand introduced cardboard hangers and achieved plastic-free status in 2019, with the use of compostable TIPA packaging, which serves to highlight that sustainability in fashion doesn’t start and end with the garments and accessories—but, rather, that the peripheral details matter too. 

High-end knitwear brand Alanui recently begun working with regenerated cashmere, which reduces the environmental footprint of its handmade cardigans.

sustainable fashion brands alanui
Alanui uses regenerated cashmere in its knitwear collections.

Other, larger labels, with massive supply chains and global operations, have also addressed material sustainability: Prada has begun to swap it’s iconic nylon for “re-nylon,” which indicates recycled, post-consumer fibers. Econyl is a similar material that’s been picked up by the likes of Burberry and Etro for some of their collections. Some day, these names may too be synonymous with “sustainable fashion brands.”

econyl luxury ready to wear recycled nylon burberry prada
Men’s ready to wear and accessories made from EcoNyl, a regenerated nylon material.

We Are Committed to the Development of Sustainable Fashion

At italist, we’re continuously evaluating methods to reduce our carbon footprint and operate more sustainably—which is why every italist order is packaged in 100% recycled cardboard with minimal wrapping, stuffing or printed material.

Discover how to shop sustainablyshop heron preston on italist on italist and read more about avoiding fast fashion on Porch.

Author: Werda Sudi

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About the Author

Alex English is the Head of Content Marketing at, building on a lifelong passion for fashion and luxury. After publishing a lifestyle blog for nearly ten years and obtaining an MBA in Milan at SDA Bocconi, one of Europe’s top business schools, he joined the italist team in 2019. His work since then has focused on upper-funnel messaging, brand storytelling, establishing italist as a thought leader in the space, and enriching the customer experience on the platform. Find him on LinkedIn.