Cocktail hour began earlier than usual Wednesday morning when the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Lexus (yes, the auto-maker) announced the 10 inaugural finalists of the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative (née the CFDA/Lexus Eco-Fashion Challenge at Le Turtle on Chrystie St. in New York City. Ready to embark on their 17-month virtual residency, during which they will hone their environmentally friendly business practices through workshops, mentoring, and field visits, are Aurora James of Brother Vellies, a line of handcrafted African shoes; Sara Beltran of the jewelry firm Dezso; Erin Isakov of Erin Snow, which traffics in activewear; Britt Cosgrove and Marina Polo of apparel label Svilu; Nicholas and Christopher Kunz of luxury brand Nicholas K; Katie DeGuzman and Michael Miller of K/ller, winner of the 2014 CFDA/Lexus Eco-Fashion Challenge; Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin of Tome, which traffics in womenswear; Wing Yin Yau of fine jeweler Wwake, and, despite appearing more mentor than mentee, Prabal Gurung and Maria Cornejo of Zero + Maria Cornejo.

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Gurung (right) with actress-activist Olivia Wilde


Other attendees included members of the advisory board, including Jason Kibbey from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Barbara Burchfield and Olivia Wilde from href=””>Conscious Commerce, Maiyet’s Kristy Caylor, designer Natalie “Alabama” Chanin, jeweler Melissa Joy Manning, and Parsons The New School for Design’s new fashion dean, Burak Cakmak. Also toasting their congratulations were Andrea Lim from Lexus and Lisa Smilor and Sara Kozlowski from the CFDA.

The CFDA and Lexus established the initiative this year as a way to “elevate sustainability” in apparel, jewelry, and accessories. “This includes responsible sourcing, ethical manufacturing, supply chain transparency, scalable business strategies, and consumer literacies,” they said.

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At the end of the program, three brands that have “most significantly evolved their companies’ ethos to a higher standard of sustainability and social responsibility” will receive a grand prize of $150,000 and two $50,000 runner-up prizes.

“I am so excited; I feel like I am graduating from elementary to high school,” finalist Beltran, who is currently part of the CFDA Fashion Incubator, as well as a newly christened CFDA member, said later in a statement. “I am responsible not only the product but also the message.”

Although the event was the first time the 10 finalists gathered as a group, DeGuzman of K/ller expressed a certain kinship with her fellow designers.

“I love that it’s a 17-month program and how much we can learn from each other,” she said.

+ CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative