When someone uses the phrase "sustainable fashion," what comes to mind first? If what initially pops into your head is a far cry from what you'd be teeming with excitement to wear, well, you're definitely not alone.
Rachael Wang is working on changing people's minds about sustainable fashion. "It was important to me to demonstrate that wearing un-bleached hemp tunics aren't the only options for people who want to shop in a way that represents their values," she tells me. She's referencing, of course, the persistent stereotype that shrouds the sustainable fashion movement in an image of clothing that's frumpy and decidedly anti-trend. That's because for way too long, it was pretty much a given that shopping according to ethical and sustainable standards meant sacrificing a lot of options—and, consequently, a certain level of style.
For the New York–based stylist, there's no reason those two should be mutually exclusive anymore. Considering the plethora of new sustainable brands flooding the market and the many established names now making it a top priority, Wang has made it her project to bring an elevated approach to ethical fashion and transform the relationship between the two (often disparate) worlds.
Naturally, when we had the opportunity to shoot actress-slash-activist Shailene Woodley as our next monthly cover star, Who What Wear tapped Wang to style the shoot and bring to the table her vast encyclopedia of the coolest sustainable brands in existence. "I wanted to honor Shailene's advocacy for social and environmental change by making thoughtful, transparent, ethical, and sustainable brands the rule and not the exception at her cover shoot," she shared.
Photo: Rebekah Campbell; On Shailene Woodley: Stella McCartney Off-White Floral Monogram Jumpsuit ($1235); Diana LeCompte Perlita Necklace ($480); Robin Mollicone Aventurine Pendulum Necklace ($320); BaYou with Love Soleil Necklace ($222); Rafa the Simple Sandals ($350)
As for the Big Little Lies star, clothes always held meaning beyond just the fabric and thread that composed them—they were deeply personal, a way to tell her story long before acting became that outlet. "When I was in high school," she told Who What Wear, "I was the girl who would scour for hours through thrift stores, buying things that fit or didn’t fit and then would take them home, cut them up, and re-sew them. I taught myself how to use a sewing machine and basically became my own tailor. Clothing was always something that was really exciting to me."
These days, Woodley's closet may be a far cry from the thrifted and DIY-ed pieces it used to house, but her passion for the environment is still a driving force in her how she approaches getting dressed. In other words, all the fame in the world couldn't take the resourceful 13-year-old girl out of her.
"Sustainability and fashion still have a long way to go," she admits. "I mean, when we talk about recycled materials, we also have to look at the amount of water consumption infused in order to clean those materials to then repurpose them into a brand-new product. So, it’s kind of a convoluted and tricky conversation."
Tricky as that conversation may be, both Wang and Woodley are actively using their platforms to support what they believe in—and we're here to show you just how stylish those values can be. Below, see the sustainable fashion brands Rachael Wang styled Shailene Woodley in for our exclusive shoot with the actress, discover what makes each brand earth-friendly, and shop pieces from each.
Photo: Rebekah Campbell; On Shailene Woodley: Stella McCartney Off-White Floral Monogram Jumpsuit ($1,235); Diana LeCompte Perlita Necklace ($480); Robin Mollicone Aventurine Pendulum Necklace ($320); BaYou with Love Soleil Necklace ($222)
Each piece of jewelry from Robin Mollicone is one of a kind and made to order to prevent overproduction. The brand uses semi-precious stones that are hand-selected from small, local, family-owned businesses.
Photo: Rebekah Campbell; On Shailene Woodley: Mara Hoffman Marla Top ($325); Slow Factory Bali Tiger Silk Scarf by Isabel ($150); Araks Mallory Hipster Swim Bottoms ($125) in Dandelion; De Cosmi Oskar Earrings ($2850)
Mara Hoffman is a familiar name in conversations around sustainability since the designer has been a leader in the space for years now. The brand shares the sustainable fabrics it uses like 100% Tencel Modal, which it says is "a brand of soft rayon made from Beechwood trees, grown mainly in Austria. As Beechwood trees grow, they naturally breed, eliminating the need for artificial irrigation and planting, thus resulting in a self-sustainable forest. The Tencel Modal production process also recycles 95% of the production materials back into its manufacturing system."
The silk scarves from Slow Factory are made in Italy from sustainably sourced cotton and silk and pigmented with vegetable-based dye.
Photo: Rebekah Campbell; On Shailene Woodley: Mara Hoffman Marla Top ($325); Slow Factory Bali Tiger Silk Scarf by Isabel ($150); Araks Mallory Hipster Swim Bottoms ($125) in Dandelion; De Cosmi Oskar Earrings ($2,850); Brother Vellies Butter Yellow Palms Pumps ($630)
Stocking minimalistic swimsuits and lingerie in an array of refreshing color palettes, Araks is committed to making swimsuits, in particular, that are "made from 78% Italian Econyl fiber. Econyl utilizes 100% recycled nylon materials including abandoned fishing nets and other discarded nylon waste and can be recycled endlessly without any loss of quality," the brand shares. "The use of this fabric helps to clean up the oceans and lessen our environmental impact."
Photo: Rebekah Campbell; On Shailene Woodley: Born Native Jess Top ($98) in Brown Polka Dot; Oori Ott Lucky Double Layer Frill Shorts ($145); Diana LeCompte Perlita Necklace ($480); Robin Mollicone Aventurine Pendulum Necklace ($320); BaYou with Love Soleil Necklace ($222)
Ooriott's mind-blowingly cool basics like the Frill Shorts that Wang styled Woodley in for the shoot are made in limited quantities to prevent over-production and constructed from domestically milled fabric by independently contracted sewers who named their own price.
Photo: Rebekah Campbell; On Shailene Woodley: Cienne The Stella Dress ($1,140); Swedish Stockings Lovisa Innovation Tights ($31) in Ivory; De Cosmi Riviera Earrings ($500)
NYC-based ready-to-wear line Cienne is made in small batches with deadstock fabric to reduce material and inventory waste. The brand shares that it donates unused fabrics to FabScrap, uses compostable packaging, and partners with DHL to evaluate the CO2 emissions footprint of its shipping.
Photo: Rebekah Campbell; On Shailene Woodley: Rentrayage coat; Jordache Rinse Diagonal Logo Print High-Rise Shorts ($195); PH5 Ivy Logo Embroidered Rib Polo Shirt ($215); De Cosmi Maxima Earrings ($2,475); Rombaut Socks ($28) in Acid
Retro, cool-girl denim shapes can be found at Jordache. The denim is produced in mills that use 75% less water in the mill process from fabrics that require less water use to launder.