This week’s green-and-glam idea starting with “P” is dedicated to the pioneers of sustainable fashion. Well before “eco-“, “ethical” and “conscious” fashion became du jour, they were blazing the trail, pushing the boundaries and teaching us some important lessons on how to bring desirable and sustainable together. For this article, I profile three such pioneers, all of whom incidentally have brands starting with a “P”. There must be something special about this letter!
With a name that means “the world upside down” in the Quechua language, Pachacuti founder Carry Somers did just that with the fashion world: turned it upside down. She established her brand in 1992, the year of the Rio Earth Summit, in response to the shocking inequalities she had witnessed on her trip to Ecuador. Two decades later, Pachacuti supplies 300 retailers around the world and creates private label collections for well-known designer brands. It is also the world’s first fair trade certified company, which empowers local women who create Pachacuti’s award-winning Panama hats. Hats off, I say!
Avid mountain climber Yvon Chouinard started producing “active sportswear” under the label Patagonia back in the 1970s and soon established the brand as both innovation- and sustainability-driven. Patagonia introduced polyester and fleece to the market back in 1985 and revolutionized the then bland-looking sports apparel fashion by throwing in a punch of vibrant colours. Environment has been a huge part of Patagonia’s identity from the early days: the company has been supporting grassroots conservation initiatives since 1973. It was among the first clothing brands to switch to organic cotton and to use recycled polyester. Patagonia’s corporate culture promotes a work-life balance for employees, with hiking and surfing opportunities and a daycare centre on the premises. The secret of Patagonia’s enduring success? In the words of the company’s founder, “We can’t bring ourselves to knowingly make a mediocre product. And we cannot avert our eyes from the harm done, by all of us, to our one and only home.” Words of wisdom for sure.
Safia Minney founded People Tree in 1991, launching the label first in Japan and later on in the UK. She succeeded where so many others failed: making clothes that are both sustainable and fashionable. Her business model of working with some of the world’s most marginalized farming communities and ensuring sustainable use of natural resources throughout the supply chain has been so successful that the British government has asked People Tree to create tools and training manuals so that more fashion companies can follow its example. The label has also won accolades for its stylish and fashion-forward designs – which is, after all, what consumers want. As Safia Minney reflected in a 2012 interview, “Fair Trade and sustainable fashion now meets the standards of design and quality of designer labels, which certainly wasn’t the case in 1994.” Her vision for the future? “There should be a gorgeous dress that is 100% Fair Trade and sustainably produced for every occasion.” Indeed!
Each of these three P’s embodies the concept also known as ‘the 3Ps’: people, planet and profit. The inspiring personal stories of these sustainable fashion pioneers prove that the 3Ps are not just theory, but rather a formula for success.