Young Fashion Designers on Cusp of Industry’s Sustainability Shift

Lee Haskett modeling a handmade tulle gown with a patch that says, “Why look simple when you can look stunning,” on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

By: Yadira Gonzalez | November 15, 2021

Big-name designers often dominate conversations about issues in the fashion world, with high-profile appearances during events such as New York’s Fashion Week and the Met Gala. But the world is changing and the next generation of designers is leading the conversation when it comes to making fashion more ethical, inclusive, accessible, and sustainable.

Haskett modeling a handmade pink tulle gown outside of the Met Museum.

Lee Haskett, a design student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, finds monetary greed to be a leading factor in the lack of sustainable practices within the industry.

“As a whole global industry, it’s run by money. The cheaper you can get stuff put out, the more waste you have,” Haskett said. “If they actually did care, we would have seen more change.”

Isabel Yagerman, a senior at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), modeling a black handmade corset.

The fashion industry is responsible for ten percent of the world’s carbon emissions. It is also the second-highest user of water as of 2018, according to a report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

Isabel Yagerman, also majoring in fashion design at FIT, finds that a power shift may lead to solutions of environmental crises.

“We’re at a transitional period of the newer generation starting to push out the older generation,” said Yagerman. “And with that is this push for sustainability, this push for inclusivity, this push for ethics and human rights.”

A piece Yagerman made using muslin selvage and natural dyes.

Other FIT students, such as Ben Halunen and Parran Spivey, majoring in fashion design and fashion business management respectively, are learning more sustainable practices when it comes to design, including buying supplies second-hand.

“The corset Parran is wearing was a blanket I found in a thrift store,” said Halunen.

Ben Halunen (left) and Parran Spivey (right) in front of FIT, modeling pieces made by Halunen.

Large companies and their negative environmental impact have grown largely due to consumers wanting more options at an affordable price. This demand has encouraged the mass production of garments.

Clothing production has roughly doubled since the year 2000, according to McKinsey and Company. With the price of outsourced labor, and therefore clothing, being so cheap, it has never been easier for consumers to purchase the latest styles at affordable prices.

Corset made by Halunen from a blanket he bought from thrift store.

As young college students with little money, fast fashion is a quick solution to get trendy pieces for cheap.

“We’re young, we’re broke, and we want to look good,” said Spivey.

A handmade corset (top) and a top made using stretch material by Yagerman (bottom).

However, young people are becoming much more conscious of their choices.

“People are more focused on quantity rather than quality when they buy a lot of the time,” said Yagerman. “I learned that it’s so much better to save up your money and buy one or two quality pieces rather than going on SHEIN and buying 15 for the same price.”

Halunen modeling a set he created.

There have been some initiatives to include younger, deserving voices in the upper levels of the fashion world. For example, racing driver Lewis Hamilton purchased a table at the Met Gala this year for emerging Black designers, yet many young designers feel that smaller voices are what’s missing from the industry.

“There needs to be more help for smaller, independent designers because there are so many insane brands out there,” said Spivey. “They never get a chance or exposure.”

Yagerman’s sketchbook filled with her designs (top), inspirations and research (bottom) gathered over the years while enrolled at FIT.

“Those large brands are very overdone, very tired. Their stuff isn’t inspiring anymore,” said Yagerman. “It’s time to see some new people.”

Students like Yagerman and Haskett are among those ready to get their ideas out into the fashion world. FIT is one of the many fashion schools that offer foundational skills while also harnessing creativity.

Onlooker praising Haskett while modeling and for “embracing femininity.”
Haskett modeling a handmade pink tulle gown outside of the Met Museum.

Yagerman has been working on her senior thesis inspired by her family, loved ones, self-doubt, and insecurity. “I wouldn’t be here without them at all,” she said.

Haskett is working on several projects and plans on holding his own fashion show by Fall 2022.

Halunen modeling a denim jacket he made with shoulder cut-outs.

The mercuriality of the fashion industry is what makes it so fascinating and daunting at the same time. Among young designers, there is hope.

“We’re going to be the next people working in the industry,” said Halunen. “If we’re this young and feel this strongly about it already, I definitely feel that there’s good to come.”