Another day, another ho-hum panel on sustainable fashion? Not when you’re presented with the likes of Julie Gilhart, Barneys New York’s fashionista-in-chief, Caroline Priebe, the designer behind Uluru, and Mary Ping, founder of Slow and Steady Wins the Race. Held at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery in New York City on Tuesday—and moderated by curators Francesca Granata and Sarah Scaturro—”The Sustainability Equation: Ethics and Aesthetics in Contemporary Fashion” was far from academic. We even caught Gilhart on camera dishing advice to designers looking to launch their own sustainable collections, as well as how they can land on the radar of high-profile stores like Barneys.

Uluru

Photo by Uluru

THINK FORMAL WEAR

Demand for sustainable evening gowns is outstripping supply, and Gilhart reported that Barneys received a ton of requests for eco-friendly formalwear this past year that it wasn’t able to fulfill. “We failed,” she admitted, since it can’t sell product it doesn’t have. What this means for designers, however, is that a gaping hole in the market is ready and waiting for you to start a sustainable evening gown business—and fill it.

Uluru

Photo by Uluru

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE

Cooperation, not competition, will work out to everyone’s benefit, noted Priebe of her fellow sustainable designers. “We are the underdogs,” she said. “There is a team mentality. I want everyone to win because when they win, I win.” Priebe added that she shares all her fabric sources and techniques with her industry colleagues, a trend that seems unique in the eco-fashion business and one we hope has staying power.

Uluru

Photo by Uluru

BE YOUR UNIQUE SELF

People want things no one else has, Gilhart said, even if it means moving away from marquee names like Lanvin and Chanel to some small guy no one’s ever heard of. Coming from someone who has direct insight into the wants of some of the world’s most influential consumers, her observation means that the old model of fast-fashion purveyors stealing looks straight from the runway and pages of Vogue is no longer attractive. “By the time it comes in the store, I’m so sick of it, I don’t want to look at it,” joked Gilhart.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Photo by Slow and Steady Wins the Race

TAKE IT SLOW

Slow and Steady Wins the Race, along with other green labels like SANS and Loyale, doesn’t create new lines every season. On the contrary, it operates under the motto, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Do we really need to overhaul our wardrobe every time a leaf falls or temps hit 70 degrees? Part of making fashion more sustainable is teaching people that it’s okay to wear something from three seasons or even 50 seasons ago. Brands like Slow and Steady Wins the Race sell its clothes as part of a “living archive,” where each piece continues to be available to customers no matter what the season.

DESIGN CLOTHES FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS’ GRANDDAUGHTERS

…even if your customers are in their 20s! “I hope that I’m designing something that someone might potentially give to their granddaughter,” said Priebe. And it’s true. With consumers tightening their belts and looking for quality over quantity, it seems like heirloom pieces that will stand the test of time (and wash cycles) are the ones that will sell, more so than that $5 tank top from Forever 21.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Photo by Slow and Steady Wins the Race

CREATE GOOD DESIGN

This might be a no brainer but it still needs to be said: No matter how much money you spend on expensive eco-fabrics or time you spend on finding incorporating recycled trash into your clothes, if they don’t look good, all your efforts are in vain.

Eager for more sage advice? Check out Gilhart’s tips for aspiring eco-designers in our exclusive video below.

And if you’re in the NYC area, don’t forget to check out Pratt’s ongoing “Ethics + Aesthetics = Sustainable Fashion” exhibition.

+ Pratt Design and Sustainability