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Sustainable innovators to watch: meet the winners of the 2019 CO Leadership Awards

By Marjorie van Elven


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Common Objective, the London-based network connecting fashion professionals to a global database of sustainable brands and suppliers, has unveiled the winners of its 2019 Leadership Awards, which aims to recognize fashion businesses that lead and disrupt the sustainable fashion space. The 10 winners were chosen by a panel of industry experts including Caroline Rush (Chief Executive Officer, British Fashion Council), Dylan Jones (editor of GQ UK and head of London Men’s Fashion Week), Giorgio Belloli (Chief Commercial and Sustainability Officer, Farfetch), Orsola de Castro (Co-Founder of Fashion Revolution), Clare Press (Sustainability editor, Vogue Australia), and others.

“It’s so exciting to see newcomers, as well as established brands, moving towards innovation and sustainability”, said Orsola de Castro in an email to FashionUnited, commenting on this year’s winners. “The future requires that we rethink our fashion systems, and to see commitment and creativity in design and production is both thrilling and encouraging”. Fashion designer Roland Mouret, also a member of the panel, added: “I believe that all these brands are winners in the fact that they are making sustainability the core of their ethos”.

2019 CO Leadership Award Winners

Osklen, a Brazilian luxury brand founded in 1989 by orthopedic surgeon turned fashion designer Oskar Metsavaht. Today, the Alpargatas Group (Havaianas) owns a 60 percent stake in the company. Metsavaht is known for using recycled and upcycled materials in his collections, as well as natural fibers from the Amazon forest, but his championing of sustainability doesn’t stop there: excerpts from the Kyoto Protocol and Agenda 21, the UN action plan for sustainable development, were used in prints for his 2002 E-Brigade collection, for example. Osklen also runs its own institute to research and develop sustainable innovations with a view to turn Brazil into a sustainable development innovation hub.

T-shirts from Osklen’s current collection

Raeburn, the eponymous label of British fashion designer Christopher Raeburn, who now also serves as Global Creative Director of Timberland. Raeburn is best known for reworking surplus fabrics and garments, such as military equipment, guided by the principles of Remake, Reduce and Recycle. His studio in East London also organizes events, discussions and workshops about sustainability.

A recent post on Raeburn’s Facebook page

Outland Denim, the Australian denim company founded by James Bartle in 2011. Offering denim made from 100 percent organic cotton, the brand provides employment and training opportunities to survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Outland Denim was made world-famous by the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, who wore the brand during her recent Australian tour.

Outland Denim calls itself 'the social denim'

Stella McCartney, arguably the most prominent brand championing sustainable fashion. Last year, McCartney initiated the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, a UN charter uniting fashion industry leaders to “create the change that is urgently needed”. In February, she launched a collaborative collection with Adidas in which 70 percent of the materials used are recycled.

A vegan bag by Stella McCartney

Bottletop, the luxury accessories brand under Bottletop Foundation, an organization tackling sensitive issues such as the prevention of HIV/AIDS, unplanned teenage pregnancy, substance abuse and gender inequality. The label was founded through a design collaboration with Mulberry, using recycled bottle tops and supporting artisan makers in Brazil.

Bottle top bag by Bottletop

Indigenous, an American brand offering organic products. It aims to go “beyond fair trade” by providing microfinance to the Peruvian artisans they work with, so they can build entrepreneurial skills and sustainable livelihoods.

Organic sweater by Indigenous

Mayamiko, a UK-based brand aiming to bring “Made in Africa” to the masses. It sells clothing, accessories and home goods ethically made in Malawi using traditional African printed cotton, or Chitenje. The company also provides skills-training to local garment workers.

Pants from traditional African fabric by Mayamiko

Ethical Apparel Africa (EAA), a network of production facilities throughout Africa ensuring products are manufactured in an environment which improves the workers’ lives, going beyond compliance. It aims to enable international companies to access African production with high quality and timely delivery while building capacity in developing communities.

The Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills, the world’s first vertically integrated Fairtrade organic cotton supplier, from yarn to finished product, located in Kolkata, India. Rajlakshmi has been at the forefront of organic cotton production and manufacturing since 1934. Today, the company has an annual turnover of over 10 million US dollars.

Sonica Sarna Design, an ethical design and production company from New Delhi, India. It engages over 40 artisan communities, certified organic fabrics and inhouse compliant production to create hi-fashion products for the global marketplace. Clients include Mara Hoffman, VF Corp and Whistles.

Looking for a job at Ethical Apparel Africa? Click here >>

Images: Facebook pages of the brands

Christopher Raeburn
CO Leadership Awards
Common Objective
Outland Denim
Stella McCartney