Welcome to the Glossy 50, our first annual list featuring men and women contributing to the transformation of fashion, luxury, beauty and technology.
The industries are being turned on their heads. The heat is on to ship faster, lower prices and be first to market with trends. Those driving these modern strategies are the people we’re recognizing. They’re insiders from 10 categories we cover daily — including platforms, wearables, startups and streetwear — who captured our attention in the past year.
In this feature, we dive into their contributions to their industries’ new directions. Below are the honorees in the Sustainable Fashion category. See honorees in other categories here.
Patagonia was founded with sustainability as part of its DNA, long before brands glommed onto it as a marketing strategy. Founder Yvon Chouinard made care for the environment central to the brand’s mission. Cara Chacon, Patagonia’s vp of social and environmental responsibility, is tasked with driving that legacy forward.
For the last seven years, Chacon has led a team of employees dedicated full time to environmental initiatives at Patagonia, overseeing everything from supply chain programming to ensuring animal welfare for products that use materials like wool and reducing Patagonia’s carbon footprint. Chacon’s team has helped inspire some of the brand’s most shocking marketing efforts, like the “Don’t Buy This Jacket” Black Friday campaign that urged shoppers to reconsider superfluous purchases to limit waste.
“The only way we can ensure the long-lasting health of our planet and, in turn, our own health and prosperity, is if we all pitch in and buy less and buy quality, long-lasting products that are made in facilities that provide fair
and safe working conditions,” she says.
As the Trump administration has deprioritized federal initiatives to prevent climate change, Chacon’s work has become increasingly vital to Patagonia. In August, Patagonia debuted its first-ever TV ad, a $700,000 campaign supporting U.S. public lands and parks under review and in danger of privatization. Patagonia’s success in positioning itself as a front-runner in sustainability is largely because it has considered environmentalism a core tenet from the beginning. The company — which was founded in 1973 to outfit rock climbers and today offers a variety of outdoor apparel — operates with the mission statement to “use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
However, Patagonia’s position as a sustainability leader is also a testament to Chacon’s tenacity. Chacon says environmental initiatives have become less of a competitive edge for Patagonia and more of a moral obligation it feels compelled to share with peers and competitors. Today, it co-funds a number of sustainable industry organizations, including the Textile Exchange, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the Fair Labor Association. “We share with other brands our knowledge, challenges, failures and successes in the hopes others can move forward faster,” she says. “It takes up a lot of our time and adds another layer of complexity to our work, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.” Chacon says the most significant change during her Patagonia tenure is the evolution of the word “sustainability,” which initially encompassed strictly environmental efforts. It has since transformed into a catch-all term that includes social responsibility. “Unfortunately, the term itself has been watered down a lot, overused and misused,” she says. “Around the office, we tend not to use it much and would rather focus on outcomes.”
Chacon says Patagonia will continue promoting and serving as an industry resource for sustainability efforts. “If a consumer focuses their purchases on responsibly made products as much as they can, they would be contributing to the betterment of the world and sending a message to corporations that are behind that they need to become part of the solution,” she says.
Livia Firth is determined to make fashion more sustainable. In 2009, Firth founded Eco-Age, a brand consultancy that helps fashion companies build value through sustainable initiatives. She has since helped clients like jeweler Chopard and luxury group Kering reorient their businesses for the greater good. From fixing problematic supply chains to crafting eco-friendly product initiatives, Firth and her team simplify the often-confusing language of sustainability for an industry that’s long turned a blind eye on the topic. Her Green Carpet Challenge initiative has pushed the limits even further, tasking brands and celebrities with wearing ethical and eco-friendly designs on the world’s glitziest red carpets. It’s thanks directly to these efforts that fashion royalty like Anna Wintour and Natalie Massenet are seeing green.
Under the direction of Paul Dillinger, vp of global product innovation, Levi’s has recently made breakthroughs in sustainable production. It has also restored faith in wearables with a smart jacket stemming from Project Jacquard, its collaboration with Google.
Which of Levi’s recent innovations are you most proud of?
We’ve developed a holistic model for sustainable denim design through our Levi’s Wellthread products. This new systems-based approach to design incorporates sustainability into every stage of the development process. The end results are durable products with timeless, enduring style that are more responsible for both the people who wear them and the planet. We’ve also radically re-engineered some of our iconic products, dramatically reducing their environmental impact without any compromise on aesthetics or cost.
Do you share your sustainable processes with like-minded brands?
When a discovery or invention helps to resolve a sustainability challenge, the decision to keep that discovery a secret becomes morally problematic. Put simply: If you’ve figured out a way to save water or cut carbon emissions, and you keep that a secret, you’re a jerk.
How have Levi’s jeans evolved?
Instead of trying to serve up one perfect design solution to fit every lifestyle, we’ve built a range of purposeful design solutions for a world of diverse lifestyles: Some of our jeans use specialized fibers for extreme durability. Some incorporate advanced fiber, chemistry and detail innovation tailored to the needs of modern urban cyclists. Typically, the Levi’s consumer wants both comfort and performance, and stretch denim is a key component of both.
As the director of social consciousness for Eileen Fisher, Amy Hall wears many hats. Hall juggles internal team development and external advocacy. Her day can involve anything from global supply chain management to signing policy letters on Capitol Hill. In 2015, she helped launch the brand’s Vision2020 project, in which the brand vowed to be 100 percent sustainable by 2020. As she tells it, she works through the lens of two questions: “Are we being as transparent as possible? And are we doing the best we can to move toward our future vision, while maintaining financial performance?” It’s a constant test of patience and determination, she says, peppered with glimmers of hope.
Like a long list of new-age brand founders before him, Matt Scanlan eliminated middlemen so Naadam Cashmere could sell high-quality cashmere sweaters, robes and more without markups. Unlike most direct-to-consumer brands, however, Naadam runs a parallel nonprofit that supports the goat herders who supply its yarn. Scanlan and his co-founder, Diederik Rijsemus, launched the company after meeting a herding community during a trip to Mongolia. Naadam gets first access to the yarn in exchange for the nonprofit support, which has established veterinary programs, livestock insurance and breeding development initiatives. Scanlan initially thought Naadam’s nonprofit, socially conscious angle would be enough for the brand to gain traction. Ultimately, he realized, Naadam’s success boils down to its product. A nice backstory is just that — nice. “What we do is important,” he says. “But if we can’t make a smart competitive product that’s the best quality, there’s no point. No one will buy it.”
Yael Aflalo’s sustainable fashion brand, Reformation, makes being both sustainable and fashionable seem easy. If you want to be fashionable, wear a Reformation gingham mid-length dress. If you want to take on environmental damages riddling the fashion industry, start a new business.
What are you actually talking about when you talk about sustainability at Reformation?
We’re are a carbon-neutral, water-neutral and waste-neutral company. Every [carbon dioxide] emission we create, we offset. We’re also moving toward full traceability, which means we know where every single fiber comes from for our products. In fashion, you typically don’t know where things come from: It goes from a vendor through a vendor through a sub-vendor.
What’s the difference between traceability and transparency?
Traceability is a third-party certified tool that lays out what’s required at different levels of the organization. Transparency means you’re just telling people things about your product. It’s like when companies write “natural” on their food. It’s not regulated, and it doesn’t mean anything.
What has to happen on the brand-by-brand level for the industry to see progress?
It has to start at the highest level. If sustainability is just the goal of someone in the middle of the company, it’s impossible to make change. As more companies enter the space, it makes me cringe to see some that are making false claims. But it’s positive in that companies are realizing consumers care about this enough that it’s worth tricking them.
People still seem to think sustainability and stylish clothing can’t go together.
If you look for 10 more seconds, you see the sustainability messaging everywhere. We just don’t lead with that. People don’t buy clothes because they’re sustainable. It’s our job to make clothes people want to buy and make them sustainably.