Sustainability — in all of its nuances and complexities — was a notable theme at many accessories and apparel brands, designers and distributors at the EDIT show held alongside Coterie, which was held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York earlier this week. EDIT presents recognized and emerging designers in the advanced contemporary and luxury women’s markets.
“We realize the confusion that customers have when it comes to sustainable products, that store owners have, that buyers have,” said Erika Freund, creator of Mikuti jewelry. “So we’re trying to show high levels of quality and explain why things are priced certain ways.”
Freund started her Mikuti jewelry with one bracelet she created during her years of living in East Africa. Over the years, she connected with the right people who allowed her to expand her line. Freund uses Skype to communicate with her artisans to create her jewelry, which is made from sculptured brass.
Freund described various definitions of the concept. “There’s employment sustainability, which applies to when you are working with an indigenous people and whether the work they are doing will affect their environment,” she said. She also noted that it isn’t enough to go in once to a group, that it’s important to be able to create consistent employment.
Beyond employment, there is the raw material and creation of the product. Freund said, “When you get into the product aspect, there are two things to consider. Try to use repurposed materials and consider the supply chain.”
One designer in the gallery, Mimi Prober, is keen on reusing materials. Prober repurposes fabrics by restyling antique lace from the 18th to early 20th century. She then develops them into custom textiles. Since each piece of lace is unique, the placement on the fabric is akin to creating works of art. Hand-sewing and -embroidery is also a key part of the aesthetic. It isn’t a seasonal collection and each collection has a philosophy.
Prober also uses reclaimed early 19th to early 20th century antique silver for her jewelry. She melts the silver down to use in sculptural forms for bracelets, rings and necklaces.
“Then there’s supply chain,” Freund said. “Do you know where your product comes from? Where does it start and where does each piece come from? How does it impact the person or the environment?”
A great example of this is the collection of scarves from designer Susan Easton’s brand From the Road. For Easton, sustainability is collaborating with artists in Nepal. She has created an ultralight cashmere scarf that is hand-woven to order in Nepal with more than 2,000 cashmere strands from Inner Mongolia. By choosing a master colorist Rakesh for her product, he was able to reopen his natural dyeing facilities that had closed because of lack of demand.
Easton is also obsessed with Yaks and in particular Yak cashmere. Customers can choose a custom colored scarf that is hand-tinted using natural dyes made of herbs, plants, nuts and fruits. Her scarves can be found in stores like Barneys New York.
Freund said, “We don’t have it all figured out, but we’re just trying to do the right thing. The message is buy less, but buy well.”