New York's Young Designers Can't Stop Thinking About Climate Change

Collina Strada and Chromat used their Fall 2019 shows to communicate the idea that we’re facing a genuine environmental crisis.

A look from Chromat’s Fall 2019 collection. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

Though New York Fashion Week isn’t exactly known for championing sustainability, it’s not uncommon for a designer or two to comment on the environment, and ethics-centric labels like Rachel Comey and Studio 189 regularly incorporate eco-friendly fabrics into their collections. But this season, the commentary turned up a notch, with both Chromat and Collina Strada basing their whole runway shows around the idea of climate change.

First came Collina Strada, which showed on Thursday. Designer and founder of the brand Hillary Taymour named her Fall 2019 collection "Low Carbon Diet," and the idea of doing better by the planet permeated the presentation on a number of levels.

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"I will be the first to admit that I buy a plastic water bottle at the airport when I travel," Taymour wrote in the show notes. "I am an avid Amazon user, when I could be shopping locally. But this year I am vowing to stop. I want to make choices with an environmentally conscious mindset and realize that every purchase we make affects our future."

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She went on to explain that though Collina Strada’s far from "completely sustainable," she’s pushing to make it more eco-friendly. The collection itself was made of 75 percent deadstock fabrics and recycled ocean plastic beads in partnership with 4 Ocean, an organization that removes trash from the sea. On the runway, models walked with reusable bottles and glass containers full of food in their hands (some of which they noshed on mid-walk) to make a point about bringing your own containers and thereby avoiding single-use plastic. And the show notes themselves were full of recycling tips to get showgoers thinking even before the models appeared.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the whole show was the presence of indigenous teen climate activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, who gave a moving talk that served as the soundtrack. To hear the 18-year-old discuss how he’s addressed the UN General Assembly and sued the government over fracking laws while a pregnant model and a model with a baby on her shoulders walked the runway underscored one thing: the future belongs to the young, and the planet we abuse — or save — will ultimately be their inheritance. The effect was somehow convicting and hopeful at the same time.

The very next day, Chromat unveiled a collection entitled "Climatic," which designer Becca McCharen-Tran said was inspired by Miami, a city where she’s been spending more and more time since opening a Chromat studio there.

"Miami is on the front lines of climate change with rising water and increased flooding," she said in the show notes. "As I’ve been living in Miami longer, I’ve become more interested in climate change and global warming and how we (as a part of the fashion industry) are contributing to environmental devastation."

She went on to note that Chromat has actually been using a sustainable Lycra made from discarded fishing nets since it first began producing swimwear five years ago, in addition to relying on upcycled and deadstock fabrics and working with factories that have been vetted for fair labor practices.

"I’ve never really talked about our own sustainability because we had so many things to deconstruct and I kinda thought our customer didn’t care," she continued. "But now I see how important it is, and I want to make sustainability a bigger part of our messaging."

Flora as accessory on the Chromat Fall 2019 runway. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Flora as accessory on the Chromat Fall 2019 runway. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

To that end, each showgoer received a booklet that featured both sexy Chromat imagery and a smattering of thought-provoking questions and facts about environmentalism and overconsumption. And the collection itself was accessorized in a very particular way: Models in the first half of the show wore or carried bright tropical vegetation, but as the show progressed, the accessories morphed to feature "flowers" made of plastic cups and dress trains fashioned from what looked like fish nets. The transition was subtle, but the message about where we’re headed — from a world filled with greenery to one filled with trash – was clear.

With phrases like "the edge of a dying world" and "more plastic in the ocean than fish" in their show notes, it was clear that both McCharen-Tran and Taymour see the potential for real global disaster if we continue on our current trajectory, and saw fit to use NYFW as a platform to raise awareness of that. But through the presence of impossibly bright clothes, upbeat music and happy baby models, they also managed to cast a vision in which human creativity and ingenuity provide reason to hope that we can come up with real solutions to the problems we’ve created.

As Martinez said during his talk at Collina Strada: "A crisis this critical can only be overcome by a movement founded in love."

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