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January 23,2018

Remember this time last year, when we couldn’t wait for 2016 to end and half-joked that it was the worst year ever? Let’s just say we spoke too soon. This was arguably a worse year across the board, but here’s the silver lining: 2017 also became a stage for certain causes to shine, including sustainability in fashion, which is the second-most polluting industry in the world. Maybe it’s the looming threat of climate change, which seems bleaker by the day, or the fact that people, in general, are demanding more information in every part of their lives, from the crackpot administration to the stuff they’re spending money on.

Until a few years ago, sustainability rarely came up in the greater fashion conversation, but in 2017, you’d be an outlier if you weren’t paying attention. Some designers have given their production cycles a rethink, others are reducing their carbon footprint, and some made the switch from real fur to faux. Add to that the technological advancements we’ve seen this year and a brand-new approach to shopping, and the future of fashion is really, truly looking brighter.

Below, we’re recapping the biggest sustainability highlights and game changers of 2017.

When luxury fashion got involved, sustainability got a major boost.

Let’s not forget the designers who prioritized ethical, environmentally friendly fashion long before the Trump era—Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, and Edun among them—but 2017 found some of the most recognizable and aspirational brands making headlines, too. Gucci famously announced it was going fur-free in October, and you can bet other designers are considering a similar move. Tom Ford, arbiter of unapologetic glamour and allure, has been quietly improving his ethical production practices for almost 10 years, and in September, he received the Green Carpet Fashion Award for Best International Designer Supporting “Made in Italy.” On the millennial front, there’s new designer Maggie Marilyn, who smartly balances her commitment to sustainability with a Gen Z–friendly aesthetic: lots of ruffles, streetwear influences, and bold colors.

While sustainability is an umbrella term for ethical fabrics, low-waste production, fair wages, safe labor conditions, recycling, and so much more, the most talked-about component is arguably the use of animal fur and skins. Faux fur is nothing new, but 2017 was a turning point, with better fabrications and new brands entering the picture. House of Fluff and Maison Atia joined the four-year-old label Shrimps as the year’s most exciting faux fur designers, and Burberry and Diane von Furstenberg now put both real and faux fur in their collections. It’s up to their customers to choose, but the fake fluff is so soft and warm, they might not even be able to tell the difference. Clare Waight Keller’s new Pre-Fall collection for Givenchy also included some unbelievably luxe-looking faux fur coats; as she told Vogue’s Amy Verner: “It feels much more modern to be looking away from the past in that aspect . . . There are newer ways to presenting old ideas.”

And that canary yellow coat from Raf Simons’s first Calvin Klein show? It was faux, too. When the coat of the year is animal-friendly, it’s safe to say, real fur is no longer the paragon of luxury.

“Alternative fabrics” are now a promising force in the fashion industry.

McCartney has been using faux leather and fur since she started her label in 2001 and has recently improved both categories, but she’s interested in sustainability on all fronts. This year, she worked with Bolt Threads to produce a spider silk dress (as opposed to regular silk, which typically kills the worms and is currently in short supply), and she partnered with Parley for the Oceans to use recovered plastic waste from the ocean to make sneakers. She’s not the only one embracing science, either: Earlier this year, H&M teamed up with Bionic Yarn to produce dresses made from tiny pieces of plastic from waterways and shorelines. Then there’s Miroslava Duma’s new Fashion Tech Lab, which invests in new fabric technologies, wearable tech, and brands that will reduce fashion’s carbon footprint. Orange Fiber, for instance, creates a silk-like fabric using recycled orange peels. Duma has also invested in Diamond Foundry, which creates real diamonds in a lab. According to PJ Smith, the senior fashion policy manager at the Humane Society of the United States, some scientists are even altering DNA to create “fur without the animal, silk without the worm, and leather without the cow.” Those materials will be expensive, but in a few years’ time, they could become a viable option for accessories designers.

Fashion’s new “circular” economy could become just as impactful as these high-tech advancements.

Vogue editors love consignment sites like The RealReal (which just opened its first store) because they can score gently used designer goods for a fraction of the original price, or track down a dress that sold out five years ago. The fact that it’s a sustainable way to buy (and sell) clothes is icing on the cake. Last week in London, McCartney presented a new plan for a “waste-free circular textiles economy” authored by Dame Ellen MacArthur, and pointed out that in the last 15 years, “we have doubled the amount of clothes we produce, and now they get worn an average of three times before they’re thrown away.” Instead, she’s promoting consignment shopping and simply getting as much use as possible out of existing garments, so you don’t have to buy new ones. Ace & Jig had that in mind with its ingenious Black Friday swap meets, which gathered women around the world to trade Ace & Jig pieces they weren’t wearing anymore. The lofty big-picture goal is for the industry to produce less waste and eventually less brand-new stuff. That will take time, and will depend on getting consumers on board, too. It’s fair to say that many shoppers remain unaware of the damage fast fashion’s buy-now-wear-once system causes.

Celebrities are getting the word out and helping to elevate these developments.

A more sustainable future depends on consumers, but how do you reach them? Celebrities arguably wield the most influence in our culture. Their social media accounts, in particular, can be a strong tool for promoting sustainable fashion brands and new developments. Earlier this year, Emma Watson, who has become known for championing sustainable fashion and natural beauty, launched a new Instagram account, @the_press_tour, to document her eco-friendly red carpet looks on the Beauty and the Beast promotional circuit. She tagged ethical brands like Filippa K and Stella McCartney, and wrote in-depth captions to outline each garment’s ethical components (like the Louis Vuitton dress, above), but she also pointed out when she re-wore something in an effort to change the perception around wearing clothes more than once. Michelle Obama joined the conversation while she was in the White House, too; she wore vintage to several big events, re-wore her favorite clothes, and promoted small, ethically minded brands like Maki Oh.

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