Sunday, February 5, 2023

Turning the Red Carpet Green: A Sustainable Dress Guide Comes to the Oscars

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Sustainable fashion may make its biggest appearance yet at next spring’s Oscars. But is it enough to sway the film and television industry toward more eco practices?

While The Slap may still be top of mind for Oscar attendees, a new partnership aims to put something else front and center: ethical fashion.

Sustainability isn’t new to Hollywood’s elite. Before Leonardo DiCaprio routinely lent his platform to a myriad of environmental causes, the 1970s saw Robert Redford protest coal plants and Jane Fonda fight for Indigenous rights.

Jane Fonda Climate PAC
Courtesy Jane Fonda

Scores of other celebrities in the decades since, including Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Jane Fonda, Lupita Nyong’o, Charlize Theron, and Cate Blanchett have also used their platforms to support a wide range of environmental and social justice issues. Winning the Best Actor Oscar in 2020, Joaquin Phoenix used his speech to highlight animal suffering and the environmental impact of our dietary choices.

A sustainable future for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been steadily moving to take the lead on sustainability. The Academy’s Museum of Motion Pictures, which opened last year, achieved LEED Gold certification.

The organization has a plastic-free ethos for all Academy events and has introduced plant-based meals to reduce its carbon footprint. It also recently stopped mailing out screeners for consideration, pivoting its members toward an online screening room instead in order to reduce the impact of packaging and shipping.

The industry at large is increasing its efforts with carbon-reducing commitments from some of the biggest studios in place. Streaming platform Netflix says it’s on track to cut 45 percent of its Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030. It also put out the Adam McKay satire Don’t Look Up last year. The wry commentary on climate denialism was a runaway hit.

Just this week, Nope and Get Out filmmaker Jordan Peele and Sound of Metal’s Riz Ahmed announced they were backing a short live-action horror film about climate change.

Jordan Peele is backing a new short film on climate change
Jordan Peele is backing a new short film on climate change | Courtesy @markseliger

Now, the Academy is bringing the focus deeper, with its first Sustainability Evenings dinner series, which happened last month. The next dinner will happen in March, following the 95th Academy Awards.

Ahead of next spring’s Oscars, the Academy announced a formal partnership with Red Carpet Green Dress Global (RCGD Global), the organization founded by activist and Titanic star Suzy Amis Cameron that spotlights sustainable designers, designs, and the celebrities who wear them.

Amis Cameron came up with the idea while supporting her husband, filmmaker James Cameron, during the press tour for his 2009 blockbuster, Avatar. The two have become outspoken advocates for sustainability and animal welfare in recent years and even turned their Los Angeles school plant-based. Cameron brought plant-based food and sustainability to the production of the Avatar sequels.

The Academy and RCGD Global have worked together since 2011, but through a new partnership, they will elevate the conversation surrounding sustainability on and off the screen.

muse-school-suzy-james-cameron
Suzy and James Cameron, courtesy Muse School

“It’s a true honor for us at RCGD Global to partner with the Academy and to be surrounded by change-makers at all stages of their journey,” said RCGD Global founder Suzy Amis Cameron. “CEO Samata Pattinson and I recognize the influential role the entertainment industry can play in bringing topics related to sustainability to the front of people’s minds. Partnerships like these help us all to move forward by presenting solutions and, ultimately, to drive change.”

“While the Academy remains consistent in our commitment to operating as a socially responsible organization with sustainability at our core, we acknowledge that there is always more we can do. We are proud to partner with RCGD Global,” Academy executive vice president of impact and inclusion, Jeanell English said of the event. “Its thought leadership and expertise, along with the active engagement of Academy members, will continue to support our forward and necessary momentum.”

Sustainable red carpet style

Ahead of next year’s Oscars, the Academy will, for the first time, distribute the RCGD Global style guide to all attendees in an effort to encourage sustainable fashion choices for Hollywood’s biggest night. The guide includes sustainable style recommendations as well as nods to past red carpet outfits made with sustainable materials. RCGD is in its third-year partnership with Lenzing, the producer of the sustainable material Tencel, which provides its fabric for designers to create sustainable designs. The guide will also advocate for re-wearing items, a once-taboo trend that has recently picked up momentum among Hollywood’s conscious celebrities.

“I think this partnership is incredible,” Debbie Levin CEO of the Environmental Media Association (EMA) told Ethos via email. She says the RCGD Global and Academy joining forces for one of the biggest television events sends a strong message.

baird / eilish ema awards
(L-R) Maggie Baird and Billie Eilish pose with award during the 32nd Annual EMA Awards Gala (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Environmental Media Association)

The EMA plays an instrumental role in steering film and television production toward more sustainable practices. It has been the voice for action and accountability in the industry for more than 30 years.

Earlier this year, EMA announced the launch of a Gen Z-led activist board that’s seeing its members help the industry better understand the concerns of younger audiences. They’re not just looking for carbon offsets or the removal of single-use plastic behind the scenes — although they want that, too. They’re keen on seeing forward-facing narratives happen in productions as well as seeing celebrities walking the red carpets in sustainable designs and talking more openly about their choices.  

“Overall, there needs to be a huge commitment from the actors to arrive in authentically sustainable fashion to make this a success,” Levin says. “Rewearing beautiful designs should be valued and not criticized.”  

RCGD Global has had a number of high-profile ambassadors over the years including Billie Eilish, Sophie Turner, Tati Gabrielle, Paloma Garcia Lee, and Marlee Matlin. At the EMA awards in October, Eilish and her mother, who were recognized at the event for their environmental work, both recycled garments for the green carpet. “Reuse is an important step in the film and TV industry in general,” Levin says. “When possible, things can be reworked and re-worn for decades.”

Thrifting and secondhand shopping has long been a go-to for wardrobe departments. Last December And Just Like That costume designers Molly Rogers and Danny Santiago partnered with secondhand platform ThredUp on a curated collection inspired by the Sex and the City spinoff’s stars. The Nanny star Fran Drescher just partnered with ThredUp on its first collection made entirely from upcycled garments.

At the 2021 Met Gala, Eilish leveraged her appearance to bring about a sustainable and ethical change to one of the red carpet’s biggest names. She secured a commitment from Oscar de la Renta to permanently remove fur from its collection in exchange for her wearing a gown by the label to the event.

billie eilish met gala
Billie Eilish wore Oscar de la Renta to the 2021 Met Gala in order to get a fur ban commitment from the label | Courtesy

“Employing fashion houses that work with sustainable fabrics that are ethically produced is something the industry should always be conscious of,” Levin says.

There are more sustainable gown options than ever before; labels including Stella McCartney, Chloé, Gucci, Prada, and Valentino, among others, are all steadily increasing their use of responsible fabrics and materials. And scores of others are beginning to experiment. Alexander McQueen recently announced it was exploring upcycled fabrics and sustainable materials like mycelium. LVMH’s Nona Source, which sells off its Maisons’ deadstock, is enabling smaller designers to secure high-quality materials in smaller quantities, which could decrease waste and increase sustainable options for high-profile events like the Oscars.

Many labels are looking at additional ways to bring sustainability into their production processes and better manage those harder-to-control Scope 3 emissions. Earlier this week, Danish luxury label Ganni announced it was pivoting from carbon offset schemes to carbon insetting, including the addition of solar panels and other renewable energy sources at its Portuguese suppliers.

How all of this plays out at next year’s Oscars is yet to be seen. But the best-case scenario for the Academy and RCGD Global is that all anyone notices are the gorgeous red carpet outfits and celebrities using their platforms to champion a better world.

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