In this second article on environmental advocacy in fashion, I shine the light on British designer, Gary Harvey, renowned for his upcycling in haute couture designs. His 2007 designs caused a storm in challenging prevailing attitudes of limitless production and disposability in fashion. His disruptive influence on the fashion status quo set a fine example for fledgling ethical brands, including my brand Ally Bee Knitwear, to follow. My commitment to designing sustainable knitwear collections can thank Gary Harvey in part for showing us fashion can be smarter, cleaner and a driver in our move towards a circular economy.
Gary Harvey, now Head of Design at True Religion in California, pursued his interest in sustainability while Creative Director at Levi’s Europe. He launched his stunning eco-couture collection to raise awareness of excessive consumption and environmental issues of fashion landfill and to help generate respect for the craftsmanship involved in design.
What started out with a line of dresses made from transformed Levi’s 501s, then evolved to a corset dress crafted from Burberry macs, and recycled military uniforms, baseball jackets and discarded wedding dresses reclaimed and crafted into elegant gowns. Each new garment re-contextualises iconic garments into dramatic and beautiful transformative creations. Think John Galliano or Vivienne Westwood iconic couture made from recycled garments and a collection which wouldn’t look out-of-place on a Paris catwalk.
Estetica at London Fashion Week
Gary Harvey showed his first collection of recycled dresses at Estetica at London Fashion Week in 2007, highlighting what can be achieved when vintage meets high fashion and challenging the received perception that eco-credentials compromise fashion aesthetics. Commenting on the collection, Gary Harvey says it is,
“…a comment about thinking about the real cost of the garment that you buy, about the cost being natural resources, exploitation of labour, the biodegradable nature of garments.”
The showstopper is the Financial Times dress, made from 30 FT newspapers and attached to a salmon pink corset and the denim dress made from 42 pairs of Levi 501s. Harvey’s dresses can take up to three weeks to make and Gary spends time scouring the flea markets of London and Paris in search of vintage garments to be transformed into a stunning dress.
Gary Harvey’s upcycled eco couture has received full artistic merit with pieces displayed in various exhibitions around the world including the Victoria and Albert Museum and ICA in London, MoMA and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Korea, in addition to a window display for Bloomingdales in New York when he opened for the Green Show, and closer to home at the Eden Project.
Eco-Couture – Personal Commissions
Gary Harvey’s eco couture also includes personal commissions. Harvey says:
“The people who buy the dresses are doing so in line with their politics and because they want a beautiful dress.”
Olivia Firth, advocate for the Green Carpet Challenge, and choosing to attend all red carpet events in sustainable fashion, commissioned Gary Harvey to design her dress for the 2011 Oscars when Colin Firth picked up his award for Best Actor in ‘The King’s Speech’. Other celebrity commissions include Beth Ditto and Alicia Silverstone.
Gary Harvey’s wildly successful eco-couture design is clear proof that adhering to a set of sustainable values in design does not have to place a constraint on a designer’s creativity. A truly inspiring designer making his mark in an ethical fashion revolution.
When I launched Ally Bee Knitwear in 2014, Gary Harvey’s philosophy of challenging the status quo of the fashion industry was hugely influential in forming the brand’s mission to be an ethical knitwear brand. Using Gary Harvey’s example when developing an ethical knitwear collection, I formed a deep conviction that materials used in knitwear construction must be natural, ethically sourced, have a low impact on the land on which it was produced, and contain no polyester so as to be returned to the earth in full at the end of a long life of wear. The brand began using small batches of British alpaca and British wool, sourced from the south of England. In 2017 the collection now contains a Cradle to Cradle ® certified cashmere merino yarn, produced to one of the the highest specifications of ethical sourcing and clean processing in the world.