Heron Preston

Heron Preston was showing no signs of any wear-and-tear Friday, despite having just returned from a three-country journey, which included a stop in Africa.

Invited by the Future of Fashion Now collective, the two-night trip marked the launch of the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion. The U.N. Alliance for Sustainable Fashion is rooted in the urgency to better coordinate sustainable fashion efforts as they fit with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The Future of Fashion Now collective arranged for Preston and the cadre of other young designers to fly to Nairobi, Kenya for panel discussions, tours of secondhand markets and safari excursions. The markets were packed with essentially “the effects of what happens to our stuff when we no longer want it.” Taking out his smartphone to illustrate that point, Preston reeled through photos of a room stacked to the rafters with compressed bales of secondhand clothes.

So flooded with secondhand goods, the markets have more than they can sell, Preston said. “Then that really affects the local designers and markets there. It’s harder for them to thrive because of all this stuff that we’re sending,” he said. “It’s crazy — just clothes, bras, athleticwear, jerseys. There’s a documentary about it. We think we’re donating clothes, and it gets sold off by the weight in bales and bales. There’s a bunch of stuff that isn’t even used. Another photo shoot by Preston showed a man unstuffing a pile of teddy bears to reuse the cotton. “They’re just breaking things down and using it for different purposes,” he said.

Preston was at The Whitby in New York to reconnect with Fashion 4 Development’s senior adviser sourcing and innovation Jeanine Ballone, who was on the Nairobi trip, and to meet the group’s founder Evie Evangelou.

The designer, a contender for the CFDA’s Emerging Designer of the Year award, said his interest in sustainability started out with a zero-waste collaboration with New York City’s Department of Sanitation repurposing 9,000 old uniforms. That sparked “this curiosity and challenge to do better in fashion. From there, I really learned and discovered how damaging the textiles and apparel industries were. I had no idea. And I had no idea that I was part of that problem as a designer.”

An apprenticeship with Eileen Fisher had helped to set him on his way, repurposing a tarp that he had hung in his showroom with an Eileen Fisher quote — before he met her — into camera bags. His latest earth-friendly project is Jump, items made from military-grade decommissioned parachutes, which launches next month. During his U.N.-sponsored trip to Nairobi, he presented some of those designs. Preston has switched his cotton sourcing and is now using only organic certified cotton, and is looking to use other environmentally preferred materials.

Preston buzzed by Germany to visit Rimowa and tour the factory, getting a closer look at the machinery that is used to make Porsches and airplanes. “It was million-dollar, heavy-duty engineering that just goes into aluminum luggage,” he said. “They started back in the 1800s making leather luggage. The factory had a fire and the only thing that survived was the aluminum. It’s beautiful luggage as well — all handmade, weather-resistant, super, super airtight glue, nice design.” On Monday, he is off to Hong Kong for the city’s Art Basel where he will DJ for David Zwirner’s gallery. The trip east will give Preston the chance to stop by his Hong Kong store in Causeway Bay. He shrugged off his resilience to transcontinental travel. “I’ve been in a different country every week, so I think my body is just up all the time.”