Long before it was fashionable, designer Maria Cornejo focused on environmental responsibility in her designs. In the 20 years since launching her coveted ready-to-wear label, Zero + Maria Cornejo, the Chilean-born designer has worked with upcycled cashmere and wood-derived viscose to produce her iconic cocoon silhouettes and signature fluid styles.
In 2017, the global textile show Première Vision and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) chose Cornejo to be the brand ambassador for this year’s Première Vision New York show, which emphasized environmentally responsible fashion. Cornejo seized the opportunity to feature innovative, sustainably produced fabric by Swiss textile company Schoeller Textiles in her collection. The prize-winning fabric is spun from ECONYL® yarn, whose fibers come from discarded fishing nets and other plastic debris found in the ocean. The yarn is paired with insulating biofoam, a tech material created from renewable raw materials, to create the parkas and outwear shells in Cornejo’s collection.
The five-piece capsule, found exclusively at Barneys New York, includes a windbreaker, parka, hooded shrug, coat, and pants. Cut with the designer’s hallmark easy fit, and accented with silver reflective tape, the looks present a more rugged, outdoors feel than the typical Zero + creation. We talked with the designer about the capsule and why responsible fashion is so important to her.
The Window: The materials you work with in this collection are different than the fluid ones we are used to seeing from you. What is unique about these fabrics?
Maria Cornejo: I was really excited to discover this material. As the Première Vision brand ambassador, I was able to work with Schoeller Textiles, a company that creates material from recycled nylons. The opportunity was amazing. As with any new fabric, it takes a while to experiment and see how it will look and drape. The fabric really dictates the shape of the garment. Once I have that, then I look at colors. Also, these styles are accented with reflective tape, which can look quite chic and evening when you use it in a certain way.
You have long been known for your focus on eco-friendly design. Why is this so important to you?
I did it long before it was trendy! From early on in my career, in my traveling I saw how much waste there is in our industry. I am also conscious of the planet and what we’re doing to it. I want people to be aware they have the power to change things through the choices they make. Our client is very educated and wants to know that she is wearing something responsibly made. She wants to get dressed and feel good about what she is putting on, not guilty.
What is unique about the ECONYL yarn used in some styles?
The company that makes the yarn focuses on pulling out discarded materials from the sea and reconfiguring them in a way that gives them a new life. We’re saving tons on fossil fuels this way, as well as protecting the ocean.
What is the significance of being Bluesign-approved for sustainable production?
Bluesign means there are no toxic dyes in our garments. It is so important, because our skin is our largest organ and everything it comes in contact with, we absorb into our bodies, including chemicals that are used to produce certain dyes. Yes, it’s more expensive to work within these parameters, but the payoff is worth it. It’s about consuming in a better way, not disposable fashion. I hope that the clothes I make will become heirlooms and great vintage pieces.
Beyond the eco-conscious aspect, is there a particular inspiration for the capsule?
This collection is all about transitional-weight clothes for traveling. People are traveling more and more, and they want to look good and feel comfortable doing it. I wanted to show that you can put my shapes into a sportswear fabric, and you get comfortable pieces that work perfectly when you’re on the go from one place to the next. This capsule is all about the carry-on life: clothes that can go day-to-night, can be worn in different climates, and in different cultures.
How would you describe this collection?
It’s a bit more outdoors. It’s wearable and easy—you don’t have to overthink it. My collections are always looks I can relate to. I am a lazy dresser: I want to look put together, and I want to feel comfortable. I think restrictive clothing is incredibly old-fashioned. Women need to feel confident, and they want be comfortable. I try to give them both.