May 6th, 2019, 12:55 PM

Exploring Sustainable Fashion with Miranda Bennett

By Katie Zambrano
Inside the Miranda Bennett Studio flagship store in Austin, Texas. Image credit: Katie Zambrano
Discovering what it means to run a sustainable and ethical brand with the designer herself

Trends and movements come and go in the fashion industry like there is no tomorrow and as a consumer, it can be hard to keep up. What is the latest phenomena you ask? Sustainability.

Sustainable fashion is slowly making its mark on the industry, asking corporations and consumers to do better for the sake of our environment. Although sustainable fashion is outgrowing its tagline as a mere trend, it can still be tricky to put recognizable faces to the movement.

Recently, I had the pleasure of encountering a brand that embodies the sustainable movement and is hoping to change the way we consume fashion. Miranda Bennett Studio occupies a beautifully bright, clean, spacious store in Austin, Texas. Racks of clothes are neatly color-coordinated, cascading from muted peaches to rich indigos. Despite being located in a relatively modern space, the store is filled with natural, raw materials which seem to be the brand’s anchor, its identity.

Inside the MBS Flagship store. Image credit: Courtesy of Miranda Bennett Studio

After an unpretentious, effortless conversation with a sales associate on the Miranda Bennett Studio approach, I was hooked. I knew I had to speak to the woman herself.

Austin-born Miranda Bennett found herself studying Fashion at Parsons School of Design and Art History at Eugene Lang College  in New York City at the age of 17. After graduating, Bennett was immediately immersed in the fashion industry. Fresh out of college she sold-out her debut trunk show, making an established name for herself. After her 12-year stint in NYC, Bennett grew weary of the “constant grind that New York demands” and sought more “balance and ease” in life. So, she packed up and returned home to Austin to focus on a more meaningful and sustainable approach to fashion. However, Bennett recalls NYC fondly, appreciating her time there and feeling “grateful for the work ethic that developed in [her]”.

Miranda Bennett in her office. Image credit: Courtesy of Miranda Bennett Studio

Once back in the Lone Star State, Bennett explored what it meant to be a sustainable and ethical brand in an industry that merely viewed the movement as temporary. Getting past buzzwords and flashy marketing tactics, we discussed the meaning behind “sustainable” and “ethical”, their importance and why there’s a difference.

Katie Zambrano: How would you define those terms, “sustainable” and “ethical”? Especially because they’re definitely hot topics in the industry right now and they can sometimes just be buzzwords.

Miranda Bennett: Absolutely they can be. I think that the two can obviously both be present and work hand in hand, but I think that they do speak to two different aspects of the production process. Ethics to me speaks to your workforce whereas sustainability speaks more to the environment. Sustainable means a mindfulness of the resources that you’re utilizing and the waste that you’re creating. Also, the footprint that you’re leaving as a business. That reaches everything from the type of packaging that you use: Is there recycling available? Are you using or interacting with dyes that are leading to water contamination or pollution? What is the carbon-footprint of the actual travel of that garment if you’re producing it overseas and how much packaging that generates. Sustainable speaks a lot more to the environmental implications as a whole. Ethical speaks to your production practices and the treatment of the employees and the workers that interact with your product all the way across the supply chain. Ethics does overlap with sustainability because I think we have to be ethical with our treatment of the earth. I think that’s when some of those phrases can become interchangeable.

Some of the team behind Miranda Bennett Studio. Image credit: Courtesy of Miranda Bennett Studio

After defining the basics, I was curious to know more about how Bennett applies those meanings to her own brand.

KZ: Could you explain what makes your brand sustainable and the practices you take in order to achieve that?

MB: The things that make our brand sustainable are first and foremost our use of plant-based dyes which has been a key tenet of the Studio since I’ve relocated back to Austin. Furthering that, even within that use of plant-based dyes we’re speaking to the idea of what is sustainable and how it can be an evolving concept. Initially, that motivation was two-fold: on the aesthetic side the beauty of those colors and then on the sustainable side the fact that that meant not interacting with the kind of pollution that traditional, conventional dyes create. Our sourcing initiatives for that dye are the newest outlet of our sustainability that I’m the most excited about. Previously we’d been primarily purchasing pre-processed extracts of the natural dye. We’re now transitioning to cultivating our own dyes here in Austin with a non-profit that employs refugees. That transparency and that supply chain means we also know the conditions under which the goods are being cultivated. We know that it’s not leading to depletion of the land that it’s being grown on but rather it’s actually helping to rebuild the nutritional integrity of the soil that it’s being grown on.

A look behind the scenes at how plant-based dyes are used on fabrics. Image credit: Courtesy of Miranda Bennett Studio

In addition to Bennett’s efforts to remain an authentically sustainable and ethical brand and business, she takes it a step further with a zero-waste initiative.

MB: We are also a zero-waste studio. We do not landfill or dispose of any of our textile waste. It’s all utilized for new products that we’re selling. And that’s something that’s ever-evolving. We’re always coming up with new things that we can do. From those extra materials [we] make pillows, pouches, scrunchies and ribbons. Anything that can’t be used in those channels, we recycle with a local textile recycler. We also compost all of our dye waste.

As we got deeper into our conversation about sustainability, we reached the topic of sustainability’s longevity and relevance in the industry.

KZ: For those who aren’t necessarily into the fashion industry, it’s hard for people to grasp the idea of sustainable fashion or understand what it means. Can you explain why sustainable fashion isn’t just a trend and why it should be taken more seriously?

MB: For people that are outside of the fashion industry how do you explain this as something that’s relevant? I think with that in mind you can really look at it in the same way as why would people want to have organic produce or why would they want to understand the supply chain of anything that they interact with. That’s really the key. We’re in an age right now where the consumer has this really incredible gift of choice. The way that [consumers] utilize their spending and they way that they choose to interact with any of the goods that they’re consuming puts them in a position to be incredibly empowered and educated in what those choices are. It does put a lot more on the customer to clearly own and understand the things that they interact with. I think that that’s kind of an exciting thing. In that way it becomes a really beautiful symbiotic relationship. The more a customer is educated, the more encouraged we are to keep doing things the way that we are, which is not the easiest or the cheapest way. That idea of efficient and value really dominated the marketplace for everything. If that’s always your goal, faster, cheaper, more then there’s a ton of stuff that falls by the wayside. Among them is quality. I think that’s on the other side of what could encourage people to engage with sustainable fashion is this idea that these were goods that were made because of a commitment to a lot more principles than just the idea of giving something cheap and cheerful to the customer. But instead to offer them something that some serious thought and consideration went into.

A garment being measured and cut. Image credit: Courtesy of Miranda Bennet Studio

Before the interview was came to close, I wanted to know more about what Bennett thought the future held for sustainable fashion.

KZ: What do you think sustainable fashion will look like in the next five or even ten years?

MB: I have not honestly thought about what the marketplace will look like in general. But I think that it will probably end up being—or what I would like to see—is that these concepts are more broadly integrated into a diverse array of line. I would love to see that some of the larger mass market firms are actually committing to a long-term endeavor towards more sustainable and ethical practices. I would like to see more diversity and representation in the types of ownership of these different brands that are ethical and sustainable. Showing more representation across gender and ethnic lines. I also think more support and representation of whether it’s the influencers or harbingers of what the face of the ethical/sustainable movement looks like. I would love to see that there be a bigger move towards inclusion and representation of everyone that’s interacting with apparel. It’s exciting to think about the possibility of what it could look like, in the sense of having more time to really sink in for the buying public. But also, for everyone to understand that they can have access to this sort of way of thinking. I don’t think we’re done yet. I think there’s always more that we can do and keep pushing and reexamining how we’re doing things. It keeps the work from ever being dull.

To learn more about the brand and the team behind it, click here.

MBS ships international. To browse or shop the collections, click here.