Bonnie Young, who spent 20 years working for Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and other fashion companies, has a thorough understanding of the fashion industry. She is also a descendant of environmentalists and acutely aware of the mistakes made by the fashion industry. Donna Karan’s first job was as head of fabric development in Milan. She then became Creative Director of Collection in the mid-00s. There, she developed a luxurious aesthetic and traveled the globe looking for inspiration. Those were very different times. Today, as the founder of BY, Bonnie Young’s decision to only use deadstock fabric and other existing materials in all future collections is a sign of how she has come full circle.
Young doesn’t seek out the latest and greatest, but rather sifts through the past with a view for renewal. Her gaze is fixed on the future and the generations that will come. “My husband and my children have had a tremendous influence on me. All of them are environmentalists and very aware of the current issues.” Young says that they are shocked at the amount of waste produced by the fashion industry. “The conversation is about ‘save our planet’, but the planet will adapt to survive. The real question is whether the human race will survive. This is what I can do to help the future.”
The complex relationship between sustainability and fashion industry
The word sustainability no longer resonates with Young as, like many, she has come to question its meaning and the authenticity of its use in our industry. Young’s calm, assured collections have been a favorite for clients who seek luxe without logos. However, her decision not to buy new fabrics will require significant changes to the business she has already built. Young puts it simply: “Sometimes, I am forced to compromise [my vision].” Sustainability is a guiding principle and not an afterthought.”
It is not eternally sustainable to re-use deadstock as a source of fashion industry waste. As a resource, existing materials will eventually run out and discarded garments end up in the landfill. Young believes that the measure is a way to move forward in the global sustainability quest. We are all in this together, but each business owner must determine their own course. It may be enough that we are heading in the same direction.
Brands are reporting quarterly profits as we recover from the pandemic and the industry rallies for a recoup of its losses. This is the first time in many years that brands have posted quarterly profits. Early indicators suggest that it is unlikely that fashion consumers will make a commitment to drastically reduce their fashion spending. Young, the owner and creative brain behind a small business with a manageable size, believes her decision to be a positive one. However, she is open to re-orienting when new opportunities for meeting our collective sustainability goals are revealed. It will take time for the existing materials to run out. Young says that this will only occur when the majority of the industry goes through upcycling. “Eventually, all businesses will need to adapt. Because my business is small, I don’t feel pressured to produce large collections.”