NYFW’s Designer Carbon Footprint

If you did not see it on Instagram, New York Fashion Week (NYFW) ended last Wednesday, leaving fashion lovers everywhere with new outfit inspiration. While this show is a wonderful canvas for artists and designers to express their creativity, the concept of it seems somewhat wasteful. Having millions of people fly in from all over the world to view outfits that will be worn once and locked up in a museum does not seem to be the most sustainable thing the fashion industry has done. So, the question must be asked — how big is NYFW’s carbon (and designer) footprint?

Historically, NYFW has gained a reputation for leaving quite the carbon footprint. This year, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CDFA) created a report to quantify this footprint and tried to come up with ideas on how to change their ways. The CDFA report revealed that before COVID-19, each New York Fashion week produced between forty and forty-eight thousand tons of carbon dioxide over a one week period. 

The report also found that about ten thousand of those tons come from people who fly from around the world to attend the event. Another large factor is the energy it takes to create the sets and props, which emit both carbon dioxide and physical waste into the environment. 

The fashion industry’s attitude surrounding sustainability has historically been quite harmful to the environment, rarely thinking about ways to implement sustainability into their brands. As a whole, the fashion industry emits about 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gasses every year. This number does not come as much of a shock, as FashionUnited indicates that the production of a single cotton t-shirt takes about 2,700 liters of water to produce. Imagine what this must mean for all the groutfits we wear! 

In a positive turn of events, New York State lawmakers actually pushed to set limits on the amount of emissions that NYFW can produce. The New York Times reports that the Fashion Act, proposed in early January, would require big fashion companies to map out most of their fashion supply chain, pinpoint the sections of the chain that produce the greatest social and environmental impact, and make concrete plans to reduce such impact. In addition, all companies’ information regarding the amount of materials (cotton, polyester, leather) they use in their clothing would have to be made available online. In January, the Times reported that the bill is currently being discussed in the Senate. 

The creation of this bill can be credited to Kathy Hochul, the governor of New York, who sat front row at NYFW in 2021. Hochul was able to see the beautiful outfits and environmental impacts firsthand, and wished for her lawmaker counterparts to make a change.

Even though the bill is still in the works, many visible and eco-friendly changes were brought to the runway this season. As reported by Style for Sustainability, designer Gabriela Hearst made almost forty percent of her collection from “deadstock” material, or old material that has not been sold or used. Hearst took her efforts even further and introduced sustainable footwear made from rubber and cork into her 2022 collection. 

Jason Wu partnered with Cara Marie Piazza to make a collection entirely out of natural dyes. This is a significant change, as the synthetic dyes typically used to make clothing prove to be harmful to the environment, as well as to those who make the actual clothing. These dyes have toxic chemicals connected to respiratory issues for those who work with it. Wu and Piazza’s decision to use natural dyes therefore helped both the environment and their employees. 

Many new designers made their mark strong in the sustainability department. New designer Olivia Gage made her collection out of hemp, cotton and recycled fabrics, and newcomer Olivia Chen took the idea of eco-friendly fashion to the next level, making her 2022 jewelry and outfits from real flowers, according to FashionUnited

This season was a special one for fashion lovers everywhere — it was the first in-person show since COVID-19, so naturally everyone was excited to see what the show would bring. The show also proves hopeful for the relationship between fashion and the environment, showing that real change does have real impacts.