WORDS BY ASHLEIGH GRIBBON
As sustainability steadily makes its way to the forefront of luxury fashion, many of the world’s leading labels are focusing their efforts on consciously made design – a new ethical emphasis that brings with it a whole host of alternative eco-friendly materials. With its transparent production process, Econyl has quickly become the frontrunner, with the likes of Gucci and Burberry utilizing the upcycled nylon substitute when creating their collections, and Prada planning to replace all of its nylon with recycled materials like Econyl – often dubbed eco-nylon – by the end of 2021. So what is Econyl and how is it environmentally friendly? Consider this your guide to fashion’s new favourite fabric.
The Econyl Lowdown
Developed by Italian textile mill Aquafil and launched in 2011, Econyl is a nylon fabric made from upcycling waste, such as fishing nets and textile production scraps destined for disposal. Essentially, it has the same characteristics and physical resemblance to traditional nylon but has biodegradable properties, meaning it can be broken down and recreated into new materials repeatedly, diverting waste from landfills and offering significant reductions in CO2 emissions. ‘As a fabric that reduces waste and the need to extract raw materials such as oil, Econyl gets a sustainability tick from us,’ notes Mhairi McClymont, head of content and community at Good On You, the world’s leading source for ethical brand ratings. ‘It allows brands to create something new and beautiful out of items that would otherwise be thrown away. And it’s also a practical material providing durable, stretchy comfort for sportswear, outerwear and swimwear – unlike some other sustainable fabrics which may not perform as well,’ she adds. Econyl has quickly become fundamental in many ready-to-wear and accessory collections too – the latest of which is Gucci Off The Grid.
Gucci's Off The Grid Collection
‘Off the grid means to live in a way that is unrecorded: behaving independently, in tune with the natural surroundings and away from the mainstream,’ explains Gucci of the idea behind the name of its Pre-Fall 2020 collection – the House’s new conscious edit. Designed in support of Gucci Circular Lines – an initiative that’s been created to champion the brand’s vision for circular production – the collection is brought to life using recycled, organic, bio-based and sustainably sourced materials. One of these is Econyl, which makes use of nylon leftovers from the House’s manufacturing processes, as well as pre- and post-consumer waste like abandoned fishing nets and carpets. ‘Gucci Off The Grid has been conceived to enhance respect for, and responsibility towards, the environment,’ the brand says of the gender-fluid line. Comprising footwear, luggage, accessories and ready-to-wear, every detail is considered and designed to lighten our environmental footprint.
Mindful, conscious practices are central to New York designer Mara Hoffman’s eponymous label. Some of the most influential people on the planet – from artists to models, actors to jewelers – are falling for the designer’s sustainably focused collections. Each summery edit uses eco-friendly materials and is made in socially responsible conditions – including the designer’s much-loved swimwear pieces, crafted from Econyl yarns. ‘Bikinis and one-pieces need to be made from a material that isn’t going to soak up water and get weighed down,’ notes Mhairi McClymont. ‘So Econyl and other recycled plastics are a good choice.’ Since 2017, Mara Hoffman’s use of Econyl fabric has diverted more than 17,767lb of waste from landfill, including 4,442lb of fishing nets. ‘One concern with swimwear is the release of microplastics during the wash,’ says McClymont. ‘It’s thought that cool hand-washing these pieces can help reduce the shedding of microplastics – and will also make vibrant colors last longer.’
Stella McCartney – a brand that scores highly with Good On You, the world’s leading source for ethical brand ratings – is a pioneer in sustainable substitutes. So it’s unsurprising the British favourite was one of the first to incorporate Econyl into its collections – it features not only in the sportswear line, but throughout many of the ready-to-wear collections too. ‘The world is full of raw materials that are already in use, or in landfill, where it will take centuries to decompose. The most logical and exciting next step is to reuse what we already have. To turn ‘waste’ materials into something luxurious, creating a truly circular, restorative system,’ says the brand on the thinking behind its conscious approach. Stella McCartney’s vision is to stop using virgin nylon entirely, swapping it for Econyl substitutes. All of the brand’s outerwear pieces are now created using Econyl, as are the Falabella Go bags. ‘You can find Econyl in many of Stella McCartney’s pieces including bags, outerwear and shoes,’ says McClymont. ‘The great thing about using Econyl for accessories is it’s a long-lasting, waterproof material, but there’s no issue with microplastics escaping into waterways in the wash.’
Burberry's ReBurberry Edit
As part of its SS20 collection, Burberry has released the ReBurberry Edit – 26 ethically made pieces reimagining some of the British heritage brand’s most iconic designs, including parkas, capes, accessories and the perennial trench coat, in sustainable materials including Econyl. The pieces are made at facilities that support energy and water reduction, textile recycling and chemical management through sustainability programmes. ‘We strongly believe that driving positive change through all of our products at every stage of the value chain is crucial to building a more sustainable future for our whole industry,’ notes Pam Batty, Burberry’s vice president of corporate responsibility, on the ReBurberry Edit. As part of a wider sustainability program, two thirds of Burberry’s products currently bear more than one ‘positive attribute’. These include the amount of organic content or recycled natural fibres used in materials, delivery against carbon emissions standards, and social initiatives such as workers being paid a living wage, with a goal of ensuring all products meet the criteria by 2022.