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Hey, Quick Question: Is Kanye West Turning Yeezy Into a Sustainable Fashion Brand?

The designer and entertainer talked about going "seed to sew" and says he's investing in fiber farming on his property in Wyoming.
Kanye West performs onstage during his "Jesus Is King" album and film experience at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Kanye West performs onstage during his "Jesus Is King" album and film experience at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

When Kanye West dropped his latest album, "Jesus is King," on Friday, much of the buzz it generated remarked on West's newfound enthusiasm for Christianity. But it seems his spirituality isn't the only thing undergoing a kind of transformation. In an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music, West shared about the ways he plans to transform his apparel line Yeezy, too — and from the sound of it, the new direction has a lot to do with sustainability.

"We're building farms here, because of the climate and because of the soil, that have hydroponic cotton, wheat, hemp," West said in the interview, which took place on West's recently-purchased property in rural Wyoming. "We're developing our own fabrics and we're gonna go from 'seed to sew,' from farm to table so we can see the entire process... We gotta sustain, right?"

West's line has historically been known more for its hypebeast appeal than its environmental consciousness. But the rest of the conversation did seem to indicate a genuine interest in sustainability on West's part: he talked about trying to grow cotton strains that are naturally colored so that dye becomes unnecessary, something that sustainability experts have been increasingly interested in in recent years. He described nylon as a "five story building" and claimed "we need to have fabrics that don't take five-story buildings," perhaps in reference to how overly complicated supply chains for synthetics like nylon can be. 

He also talked about bringing fashion manufacturing back to the United States, claiming that he's "creating factories where... we'll have injection-molded shoes" and noting that he plans to employ former inmates, who he calls "second chance people." Though West seemed more focused on the ways that reshoring fashion manufacturing could shorten prototyping timelines, it's a move that may resonate with ethical fashion advocates who tend to like that factories in the U.S., though not totally safeguarded against human rights abuses, can be easier to regulate than factories overseas.

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Of course, in light of West's support for Donald Trump in the past, others will likely hear the echoes of Trump's claim to "bring American jobs back" in West's words, which isn't going to be a point in his favor in the minds of many. Plus, some may note that he hasn't reliably manifested all the visions he's talked about in previous interviews.

Still, it's interesting to note that if West really can carry out these plans, Yeezy will end up checking many of the boxes that popular "ethical" or "sustainable" fashion brands check today — and on a deeper level than many of the designer labels that made headlines this fashion month for their (too often surface-level) nods to sustainability. 

For those who have felt limited by the prevailing aesthetic of "sustainable fashion," or who have worried that it could never truly move into the mainstream, West's foregrounding of sustainability could seem like a real boon. If nothing else, it's good to see him making the connection between fashion manufacturing and the environment. Here's hoping it's more than just a passing phase.

"[We need to be] working for a renewal of the planet," West said, "and a humility in humanity to understand that we will not destroy the earth — we could destroy the resources and we could destroy ourselves."

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