Home Fashion Stylist-Activists Champion Top-Down Duty to Dress Ethically – WWD

Stylist-Activists Champion Top-Down Duty to Dress Ethically – WWD

Stylist-Activists Champion Top-Down Duty to Dress Ethically – WWD

As with designers, stylists are flaunting their influence in more tangible ways — focusing solely on what’s sustainable. While still a nascent arena at present, those stylists who are in on it early are set to command the sea change.

Pages of Influence

The deeper British stylist Mary Fellowes ventured into the fashion forest, the further she clung to her family’s conservationist values — born out of her upbringing in the English countryside. She counts clients like Livia Firth (founder of eco-based consultancy Eco Age) and actress Olivia Colman, both of whom are vocal in their sustainability stance.

She also discovered her sense of duty.

“I realized that I am lucky enough to have a certain level of influence and position in the fashion industry where what I say and do gets taken notice of, therefore I can make a difference,” Fellowes said. “At that point it wasn’t a choice to take action or not, but more a non-negotiable binding duty.”

Olivia Colman wearing Stella McCartney

Olivia Colman wore Stella McCartney the past two Oscars awards seasons. 
Stewart Cook for WWD

For Fellowes and others, sustainable styling has led to a new sense of purpose in an industry whose luster has been significantly muddied in the midst of the pandemic. The fashion industry saw economic profit down 93 percent in 2020 after growing 4 percent in 2019, according to McKinsey & Co.’s Global Fashion Index from December. What has remained steadfast throughout the pandemic is the values shift that’s occurring in fashion.

Fashion editors and stylists, Fellowes believes, are apt to portray the changes they want to see in the world — starting with fashion. Today, many fashion publications now have dedicated sustainability beats. Sustainability-related shopping searches were up 75 percent year-over-year in April, according to Lyst’s “Year in Fashion” report and cultural moments (Taylor Swift wearing vintage Chanel for a British Vogue cover story or, recently, Senator Bernie Sanders’ handmade mittens) help peak that interest.

“When you dress household name talent, the message that sustainable fashion is acceptable and aspirational seeps through to the mainstream pretty quick, as long as enough people are doing it and often. Both editors and celebrity stylists tend to have influence on the rest of the business, and also to consumers; they are partly influencers in their own right, and if enough of us band together to see this issue getting the attention it, and the planet needs — then it’s a no-brainer,” said Fellowes, comparing the organic food movement to how fashion needs to evolve.

An ‘Era of Activism’

Behind Emma Watson’s later-stage sustainable fashion moments, is British-born, L.A.-based celebrity stylist Laura Sophie Cox who started her business a few years ago after a decade working in fashion.

“When I started my business in 2018, I wanted to set about in making change for good. To be a tiny piece in this gigantic puzzle in doing better,” Cox said. For her, it means to “show love to designers who are thinking with environmental and social responsibility front of mind; support those labels that are choosing better materials; and erase the idea that sustainable fashion is hippies wearing hemp dresses.”

Stylists, she said, “are some of the most powerful influencers in the industry…I believe we have a unique position within the industry as storytellers. We connect the dots between celebrities, designers and audiences.”

With red carpets on pause, Cox hasn’t let up since, adapting her business for smaller interactions, styling clients for virtual events and jumping into Instagram Live conversations or publishing contributor pieces on sustainable fashion. Cox also teased the launch of “two very special sustainable capsule collections coming out in 2021,” though she didn’t elaborate with further details.

She also works with talents like singer-songwriter and actress Olivia Rodrigo (known for her hit “Drivers License”) and actresses Natalia Reyes and Jacqueline Toboni. Calling the present times the “era of activism,” Cox said her clients are probing their clothes more than ever and reaching for sustainable fashion brand ratings apps like Good On You (one which Watson herself endorses) to fill in the information gaps. While, to a certain degree, it could be for their image control — the interrogation speaks to the broader shift in consumer values.

Today, Cox’s clients are asking questions about where their clothes came from, who made them, what materials were used and whether the garment workers were paid fair wages.

“Over the past few years, I have seen a huge demand for sustainable dressing, and a motivation among my clients to support brands that are doing good for people, the planet and animals,” she said.

Many of her clients are also embracing rental and resale platforms.

“By Rotation (think Airbnb but for clothes) is a favorite among my clients. There is also a rise in vintage dressing, secondhand wearing and the rewearing of a piece from a designer’s archives. My client, Olivia Rodrigo, is only 17 and has a huge passion for shopping at Depop and hunting for treasures in thrift stores,” Cox said. “The idea of what luxury means today has evolved — a welcome move towards being synonymous with social responsibility and innovation.”

The New Celebrity 

Celebrity stylist Tara Swennen said the facade started to fade around fashion in its traditional form around five years ago. Noting that, she set out to do what she could to foster change, while marrying “ethics and aesthetics,” as much as possible, she said.

“Most of the work that I have done since 2020 has been virtual: Zoom press tours and talk show appearances and, at times, shipping items to clients while performing fittings via FaceTime. There is now a new awareness and urgency to create transparency in all that we do from start to finish,” said Swennen, who has styled the likes of Kristen Stewart in everything from vegan Vans to Kevin Germanier, a dress which featured all upcycled Swarovski beads.

With people spending more time at home and a deepening wealth disparity amid the recession, some found celebrities even less relatable — in their mega-mansions and socially distanced getaways — in times of duress.

“Most celebrities are conscious about how they want to re-emerge into the spotlight after sheltering in place for so many months,” Swennen said. “The definition of opulence has shifted since the pandemic began and with it a new era of consciousness with their choices and how they will want to relate to their audiences in general. I think we will see much more attainable and sustainable luxury from here on in.”

Likening the red carpet as a potential platform for social justice, Swennen argued: “Our job as stylists is to shift the focus from the top. If styling teams, designers and celebrities use their platforms to promote sustainability and Fair Trade [goods which pay a premium to producers for greater sustainability], creating aspirational looks without sacrificing or exploiting people and the environment, we can all help lead the way in creating a new relationship to fashion promoting values of intention and responsibility.”


For More, See:

How Cassandra Dittmer Is Styling a Sustainable Wardrobe for All

The Return of Designer-Activists in 2021

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