It’s been about three years since stylist Cassandra Dittmer noticed a shift in her work. “Clients started to ask more about brands they are wearing and how they can make choices that are more aligned with their values,” she says. Fast forward to her current job title: sustainable stylist. Perhaps this term is met with some amount of healthy skepticism. After all, countless brands — be it fast fashion or the most luxurious labels — have adopted the term “sustainable” (or “carbon neutral,” “eco-friendly,” “green,” etc.) to let consumers know they’re operating with the future of the planet in mind. Even when there hasn’t been a universal set of standards established for what that means, the demand for it persists. As does the need for stylists like Dittmer, whether or not they add the specific descriptor to their job titles.
“The biggest difference between traditional styling and sustainable styling is what is leading the collaboration,” explains Dittmer of how she sees her role. “With sustainable styling, the brands and what they stand for holds a lot of weight in our decision-making and is central to the conversation.” The L.A.-based creative works with celebrities including Bebe Rexha and Laura Dern, but in the last year, over the course of the global pandemic, she’s shifted her focus to include a sustainable e-styling service that works with clients to evaluate and overhaul their existing closets so they can move toward having a wardrobe that’s environmentally and ethically sound. “They are looking to me not only for styling advice to pull a look together, but also for small, unique, [and] ethical brands that aren't well known, and they are ultimately looking to me to be a quick resource in that space.”
Dittmer is not the only person in her field to feel as though clients — be they individuals, celebrities, or major publications — are looking for something new as far as sustainability know-how. Shibon Kennedy says she’s seen a welcome change, too. Kennedy is a stylist whose work is hard to miss if you follow the photoshoots for modern-day fashion icons such as Tracee Ellis Ross, Tessa Thompson, or Rosalía. But behind her beautiful portfolio, Kennedy says she’s consistently had a bigger purpose in mind. “Everything that I do, not just what shows up on the lens, is carefully considered in how it impacts the world,” she says.
For Kennedy, it’s her upbringing that’s informed her environmentally conscious approach to work and life. “We were a backpacking family so you carry in what you carry out,” she recalls. Along with her lifelong love of shopping vintage, she says, “There was something in my makeup that built the foundation to consider those things when I came into the space of styling.” While Kennedy doesn’t necessarily label her work as sustainable, she says the intention permeates everything she does and brings to set, be it recycled water bottles she tells her assistants to carry with them or prioritizing vintage pieces over the latest It item.
On a few occasions Kennedy’s been explicitly asked to style only with sustainable items, she says. This includes a shoot for Fader with a wardrobe curated by New York vintage purveyor James Veloria and one for Primary Paper with photographer Camila Falquez “where it was all either sustainable, upcycled, recycled brands.” But one of the biggest changes in Kennedy’s work is that brands and publications are listening to what she has to say, whether they’re asking for sustainability or — as has been often the case in 2020, she says — for a greater presence of Black designers within a photoshoot. Both have been Kennedy’s priorities from her career start. “When I send a passionate email that I won’t pull from a brand because of their practices — it can be environmental, it can be ethical — decision-makers are listening and not taken aback by emails from me, because I’ve always sent those,” she says. “I think people at this moment are more receptive to all of those considerations and to really having some merit behind what you stand for.”
Amy Sabel, the director of styling at The Wall Group, has a unique perspective on the growing demand for sustainable styling, as well. As the liaison between stylists and clients, as well as someone who helps shape and grow stylists’ careers, she says that sustainability is increasingly more important. “Now, to not be mindful of sustainability in your choices, is becoming taboo — at least among stylists and fashion designers,” she says. “There has been a desire from designers and stylists to bring this to the forefront and that has happened several different ways: through the talent that stylists dress, through their own social channels, and their relationships with designers.”
It’s worth noting that when designers and talent collaborate with a shared common goal of sustainability, it’s impactful and headline-making. One memorable example includes Emma Watson's press tour of Beauty and the Beast in 2017. The actor — who has worked with stylists Rebecca Corbin-Murray, Sarah Slutsky, and Laura Sophie Cox — created a dedicated Instagram account at the time to offer transparency behind her and her stylists' choices, such as utilizing jewelry sourced from recycled landmine metals, couture gowns created with leftover fabrics, and curating a slew of other brands that work with ethically sourced or organic textiles. More recent memorable celebrity partnerships include Stella McCartney who created a singular tuxedo for Joaquin Phoenix to wear exclusively for the entire 2020 awards season and stylist Elizabeth Stewart working with Cate Blanchette to revisit several past red carpet looks for this summer’s Venice Film Festival.
The Wall Group represents massive names in celebrity red carpet styling (Stewart, Corbin-Murray, Karla Welch, and Kate Young, for instance) and are positioned to see firsthand how the profession is evolving in the years to come. "I am constantly in conversations with platforms like The RealReal, Thredup, Rent The Runway, Chic Relief [created by Stewart], and I have had artists repurpose looks on the red carpet at events like the Cannes Film Festival," Sabel shares some of the day-to-day changes.
"Stylists have always pulled vintage — that is nothing new," she explains, "but with sustainability being a topic of conversation and something that brands and stylists want to bring attention to, there are many different ways to utilize this in their work (pulling from past seasons for editorial, revisiting a look on the red carpet, donating previously worn looks to causes, etc.) and we have seen the demand and attention to the cause grow.”
As it stands now, even more stylists, brands, and publications are set to become vocal and ardent champions of sustainable fashion — ideally in an intersectional way that addresses both environmental and social impact — given 2020’s near industry-wide call to slow down the fashion cycle. Perhaps not every stylist will adopt the specific sustainable title as Dittmer has, but the dedication and knowledge of those who do the work to create without leaving a footprint or excluding diverse points of view are needed. “I have no doubt that there is a shift towards a more sustainable future in fashion,” Dittmer says. “There is such increased transparency in the industry that there really is a microscope on every brand, whether they want it or not.”