While Michelle Obama has done great things for emerging American designers during her tenure as first lady, one thing we wish she’d talk more about in her husband’s second term is sustainability and the environment in terms of fashion.
The average American makes a significant—and unnecessary—carbon footprint with his or her wardrobe. According to Earth Pledge, at least 8,000 chemicals are used to turn raw materials into the textiles we wear. Moreover, 25 percent of the world’s pesticides are used to grow non-organic cottons. On average, each of us throw roughly 54 pounds of clothes and shoes in the trash each year—together, we add 9 million tons of fashion detritus to the waste stream annually.
To help start a movement to change our bad habits, we propose that Michelle Obama wear a gown to the Inaugural Ball by a designer that highlights sustainability or biodegradability in their practice. Whether they produce locally, use non-processed materials, or insist on certain standards in manufacturing, the following designers create outfits that are gorgeous and cutting edge, while at the same time good for the environment.
London-based designer Stella McCartney is probably the most eco-conscious high fashion spokesperson out there—on the runway for Spring 2013, for instance, she debuted several styles of shoes with chunky, biodegradable plastic soles—but the first lady, given her position, will likely chose an American designer for her gown. If she wants to go with a major label, she could choose Calvin Klein or Michael Kors (who she wore election night), who have recently hired teams to investigate sustainable manufacturing practices.
But if the first lady really wants to do the environment a service, she can turn to emerging labels whose policies are rooted in sustainability from the get-go.
One such designer is Alabama Chanin, whose gorgeous, ethereal creations are all produced by talented artisans who live and work near Florence, Alabama. Not only does the label create jobs for Americans, it also uses a combination of new, organic and recycled materials to stress the importance of sustainability. The resulting gowns look like floaty, weightless American quilts—perfect for any first lady.
An even more lauded designer is Titania Inglis, a New York-based designer who won the 2012 Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation award in Sustainable Design. Her creations are all made in a small factory in New York using fabrics such as Japanese organic cotton, French vegetable-tanned leather and dead stock wool. Decidedly minimalist and avant-garde, we can definitely see the daring first lady rocking one of her creations.
Our final pick is M. Patmos, a label whose subtle beauty—they use lots of cascading, subtle sequins, and slouchy t-shirts in their formal wear—is perfect for our understated icon. Employing handmade materials from women’s collectives in Nepal and Bolivia—which provides such communities with income and independence—along with knitting technology from Japan, the brand proves that eco-fashion can be impossibly luxe and incredibly glamorous.
No matter what, we know that Michelle Obama will look great today during the inauguration. Even though we’re obviously biased, we think she’s the best dressed—and most beautiful—out of all of the fashion icons on the world stage. Fashionistas and activists alike, we’re proud that she’s our first lady.