Public School Takes Top Honors in the CFDA/Lexus Fashion Initiative

The New York-based brand has a plan to bring sustainable practices to streetwear.

The New York-based brand has a plan to bring sustainable practices to streetwear.

Public School’s Maxwell Osborne expressed his shock after winning the 2019 edition of the CFDA/Lexus Fashion Initiative, an annual prize that grants $100,000 to a fashion brand with the best program geared toward innovation in sustainability. “I was talking to another designer about what they came up with, and I thought that was fucking genius,” Osborne says, standing next to his co-designer, Dao-Yi Chow. The duo was contending with four other labels—Tracy Reese, Abasi Rosborough, Araks, and Jonathan Cohen Studio—in a nine-month virtual residency.

For Public School, the conservation around sustainability is a relatively recent cause. The brand’s plans, however, are loftier than simply transforming their own label into a green company—they want to provide a solution for the entire industry. “When we talk about sustainability, it’s not limited to how we produce garments,” Chow says. “It’s more about social consciousness. Sustainability, as it relates to how we develop and produce our products, has been relatively new for us, within the last two years. But from a social conscious [standpoint], using our brand for social change is at the heart of what we do.”

Abdul Abasi, Greg Rosborough, Araks Yeramyan, Tracy Reese, Sarah Leff, Jonathan Cohen, Maxwell Osborne, Rachel Espersen, Steven Kolb, Dao-Yi Chow, Alan Mak. Photo courtesy of Angela Pham/

Enter their new V-to platform, which will make sustainable fabrics accessible to other brands, with the intention of stemming the wasteful practices of fast fashion such as the mass production of logo-less tees. “The program is made using the majority of recycled cotton, blended with organic cotton,” managing partner Alan Mak says. “In addition to using a fabric that can be recycled, what we’ve done is taken that next step to create a turnpiece solution for others brands to come onto the platform and buy existing garments from us.”

Founded in 2008, the company has garnered a number of accolades, including the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award in 2013, CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year award in 2014, and the International Woolmark Prize in 2015. Its designers are celebrated for promoting street styles in high fashion—a trend that has been adopted by almost every major brand since. Now, they hope to lead a movement toward eco-consciousness.

“Public School is uniquely positioned to impact that streetwear industry,” says Rachel Espersen, head of creative programming and partnerships at Lexus. “Sustainability is not known for being in the streetwear industry, which is what really intrigued us. It showed potential for being really impactful.”

Lead image: Photo courtesy of Angela Pham/

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