Start-ups tackle sustainable fashion at New York Fashion Week

During the pandemic, Emma Gage lost her fashion job. Two years later, she founded her own label Melke, a little girl making its debut at New York Women’s Fashion Week with a focus on more sustainable fashion.

The young woman, originally from Minnesota, isn’t the first or the only one to bet on this niche as the fashion industry is singled out for its environmental impact. “Now (…) everyone wants to have something to say about it”, another young designer, Olivia Cheng, 23, told AFP. Her brand, Dauphinette, which has become known for her jewelry and outfits made from real flowers, was featured on the official Fashion Week calendar for the first time, running from February 11-16, 2022.

The Dauphinette brand founded by designer Olivia Cheng in her studio, during New York Fashion Week, Feb. 9, 2022 (ED JONES / AFP)

Hemp, organic cotton, recycled fabrics, Emma Gage, 26, highlights materials that are not very harmful to the environment and her concern to buy from companies that respect human and social rights, stated on her website. But “I will never say that everything is 100% sustainable and that everything is perfect, because that is a lie”she warns, from her small studio in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York artists meet, like the murals that invade the streets.

Melke designer Emma Gage in her studio during New York Fashion Week, Feb. 4, 2022 (ANGELA WEISS / AFP)

So the “zero plastic” remains a target for now, as synthetic materials can still slip into recycled fabrics, she explains. These limits are an additional argument for creating “clothing that lasts and is made to wear”† And don’t spoil anything, like these bags made from scraps of fabric.

Far from voluminous and sophisticated evening dresses, one of her favorite models is a simple sweater, which returns to every collection, with embroidered motifs of flowers, fish and now sheep.

The sobriety it claims doesn’t stop it from being creative and sharp. His second collection, inspired by Red .’s Autobiography by Anne Carson, this color takes pride of place, often in dark tones, with many fringes reminiscent of lava flows. For her fall-winter collection 2022-23, she wanted to recreate the memories of a trip to a medieval Irish castle and her discovery of falconry.

As for Olivia Cheng, her presentation played on the codes of the male and female genders and still relied on old clothes and floral materials, preserved thanks to a resin that she promises is non-toxic.

But she also ventured into strange experiments, such as this set of ginkgo nuts or this dress studded with beetle wings, which she indicates“They weren’t killed for that.”

Two of her dresses are already on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in the exhibition In America: a lexicon of fashion.

The Dauphinette brand founded by Olivia Cheng.  The designer shows off a dress adorned with beetle wings, during New York Fashion Week, Feb. 9, 2022 (ED JONES / AFP)

While they prefer local suppliers, neither of the two designers remembers buying from the other side of the world. Emma Gage explains that she doesn’t want to cut ties with certain forms of craftsmanship that don’t exist in the United States. The dilemma of more affordable fashion also arises with her brand, which sells to order. “I need others to buy what I buy so that prices come down”she says. And to add that right away, there arises an issue of overproduction. She tries to partially solve the problem with a diverse product line dating back to the T-shirt for $75.

For her part, Olivia Cheng relies on her fruit and flower jewelry, some for under $50 “For me, the key is to remember what mission we started with and how we can continue this story, without being trapped in some kind of delusion of grandeur”explains this daughter of Chinese immigrants.

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