The Most Glorious Green Carpet Gains From Milan Fashion Week’s Sustainable Fashion Awards

by Karly Rayner

Fashion's tumultuous relationship with the environment has been under the spotlight in recent years. The fact that 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are the result of the industry is stark, but greener, more conscious initiatives are being given their dues at Milan fashion week. 

With a reputation as the most glamorous fashion week of the big four, the fact that Milan fashion week now closes with an ode to sustainability would have seemed ludicrous ten years ago. The ostentatious, excessive over-the-top dreamworld of fashion weeks is pure escapism, so to see the real world piercing the veil feels revolutionary. 

The Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI) Sustainable Fashion Awards took centre stage at the iconic Teatro alla Scala in Milan and, while the industry still undoubtedly has a long way to go, it’s refreshing to see environmental and social initiatives getting the green carpet treatment. 

Below is a round up of some of the most exciting ingenuity highlighted in the CNMI sustainable fashion awards.


1. NKWO’s Second Hand Denim Revolution

Winner of The Bicester Collection Award for Emerging Designers

There are few wardrobe moments more gutting than looking in the mirror with fresh eyes and realising your favourite jeans are no longer fit for public consumption. 

Enter the NKWO social innovation project and their collection named “NKWO Transformables.” This venture invited customers to send in denim they no longer use to be repurposed into a piece of their choice from the collection. 

Although the air miles required don't exactly make it the greenest for UK residents, Nkwo Onwuka, also uses the mountains of secondhand clothing which land in her home city of Lagos and has turned trash into treasure by inventing a new African textile called Dakala. Using traditional techniques in a groundbreaking way, the fabric resembles handloom-woven cloth which is made by stripping and sewing discarding denim. 

This social enterprise works closely with female artisans to preserve local craft and the planet and it looks fabulous while doing it. 


2. Indigo Innovation from the Albini Group and Stony Creek

Winner of The Groundbreaker Award

Greenpeace burst into Milan fashion week in 2014 with disruptive protests about the use of toxic chemicals within the industry,  but now natural dyes are having their moment. 

Grounded Indigo by the Albini group in collaboration with Stony Creek Colors have created a fully natural indigo dye with the same performance capabilities as its more harmful synthetic analog. 

The plant itself is cultivated by regenerative farming practices in the regions of Tennessee, Kentucky, and southern Florida, a practice which nurtures the soil and encourages biodiversity. 


3. Timberland Goes Full Circle 

Image credit: Timberland

Winner of The Ellen MacArthur Foundation Award for Circular Economy

Timberlands Trekker City Hiker boots are designed to be disassembled and reborn, or recycled in a loop of sustainability. 

Practicality and versatility have always been part of Timberlands perhaps unlikely fashion cred and the company aim to be fully circular in all aspects of production by 2030 — and it looks like they will achieve it too.

As well as turning their tyres into shoes, Timberland’s circular vision includes making footwear from recycled leather (the first company to do so) and ensuring all natural products come from farmers practising regenerative agriculture.


4. Art Over Adversity with Ara Lumiere 

Winner of The Social Impact Award

A celebration of the empowering, transformative nature of creativity, Ara Lumiere helps domestic violence survivors who have been victims of acid or burn attacks shape new futures. 

The designs are created by the women in a project which began as a form of art therapy as they reclaimed their identities. As well as being paid fair wages, 100% of the proceeds come back for the rehabilitation of survivors, including medical treatment for their injuries and psychotherapeutic care. 

Fronted by philanthropist and psychologist Kulsum Shadab Wahab, the Indian social enterprise makes fashion a more inclusive space by bringing often hidden women into conversation and celebrating their resilience. 


5. Biodiversity Breakthroughs From Ermenegildo Zegna Group

Winner of The Biodiversity Conservation Award


The Ermenegildo Zegna group scooped the biodiversity award for Oasi Zegna, where the first free was planted in 1910, long before conservation was a word on many peoples’ lips. 

Zegna believed that quality products were connected with a positive relationship to nature and community. The founder was responsible for the planting of half a million trees on the previously naked surface of the mountain as well as creating homes for employees, a school, a hospital and recreational facilities to enjoy. 

This forward thinking act of reforestation created Oasi Zegna, now a free access national park covering over 100km. Although populated almost exclusively by conifers, selective felling has now begun to plant new species of trees in an effort to increase biodiversity. 

It’s easy to be cynical and start totting up the carbon footprint of an event like the CNMI Sustainability awards, but image, performance and status is central to all things a la mode. Elevating conscious fashion and embedding value in where clothes came from and how they were made — as well as how they look — will be central to changing the industry for the better. 


Cover image: Ara Lumiere 


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