Last week Hackney’s new creative workspace played host to brothers Christopher and Graeme Raeburn for an informal discussion on their ventures in fashion and sportswear. The intimate upper floor was packed with creatives keen to participate in conversation and reflect on the success of this cutting edge design duo.
A pioneer in his field Christopher Raeburn has sought to raise the profile of sustainable design with his eponymous label. Since its launch in 2008, the brand has been involved in numerous high profile collaborations including Victorinox, Fred Perry and Moncler. In 2011, US Vogue highlighted Raeburn’s achievement in bringing sustainability into the mainstream with the advice “Remember the four R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Ræburn”. The brand currently has over sixty international stockists and has won a host of fashion awards, most notably Best Emerging Designer at the GQ Men of the Year Awards last year.
Older brother, Graeme Raeburn is currently lead designer at innovative cycling brand Rapha. After joining as the thirteenth employee, Graeme has overseen partnerships with Team Sky, collaborations with Liberty London and has watched the brand develop from a single warehouse space to an international cult label. More than just a clothing company, Rapha invests in innovation and runs an exclusive cycling club with a global following.
A ‘curious’ upbringing
The brothers began by describing a wholesome childhood in the Kentish countryside. While, ‘culturally isolated’ the family enjoyed a simplistic and self-sufficient way of life, which involved time spent outdoors and at air cadets. Encouraged to think practically, Christopher fondly remembered drawing inventions to make with his father during weekends. Both brothers site this nourishing environment as inspiration in their respective careers. For Graeme the irregularity of the country bus led him to a keen interest in cycling. While for Christopher an early fascination with items such as his dad’s old military sleeping bag kick-started his admiration for functional yet ‘fun’ and experimental design.
Keeping it in the family
First Graeme, then Christopher began by studying design at Middlesex University and later completed masters at The Royal College of Art. Following in the footsteps of his brother allowed Christopher to better understand the industry. The pair originally set up Christopher Raeburn together and have since worked on collaborative projects between their respective brands, including The Rapha and Raeburn capsule for AW13. According to Graeme the success of their partnership boils down to a balance in personalities ‘ we cover each others blind spots’. While Christopher is more of a dreamer, Graeme is naturally more down to earth and business minded. The balance of humour, fun and more serious work is key to their symbiotic relationship.
With the help of Graeme, Christopher’s brand was born on the top floor of a friend’s factory in Luton. While the town offered little inspiration, money saved on rent in the early days was key to the viability of the business. The discovery of a team of skilled seamstresses from the recently closed Lutton Hatter’s provided the basis of the workforce and marked the beginning of the brand’s Made in England strategy. Surplus fabrics found in nearby factories helped instil the use of reclaimed materials in Raeburn’s design ethos. Today the brand operates from a newly converted studio in Hackney with a dedicated team of design professionals. While many sustainable brands have struggled to achieve design-led status, Raeburn’s following continues to increase. The combination of intuitive design, creative direction and innovative fabrics has set the label apart from its competitors.
Its ‘Only f***ing frocks’
Christopher attributes his down to earth attitude to fashion to his friends; people he has known in some cases since primary school. He stressed the importance of getting perspective on the industry and finding a work-life balance. Unlike many brands he does not believe in keeping interns late into the night, instead working to a more resonable 9 – 6:30 schedule.
Not a trend; the future of sustainability
The final topic of conversation was sustainability; a concept Christopher reminded the audience was ‘in no way new’. The act of preserving garments and minimising waste can be seen in the make-do and mend attitude of the war years and ‘well beyond that’. Often sustainable merits are let down by bad design yet for Raeburn it is the designer’s obligation to provide the audience with a better choice. Christopher expressed hope that in the future sustainability will underpin fashion and come to be synonymous with good design; a feature not necessarily promoted ‘but there’. For Graeme function and beauty are core design values while transparency and honesty remain central to Christopher’s ethos. As resources diminish, the fashion industry is set to go through a cultural transition, with agility and innovation being central to success. Christopher’s final words ‘fabrics, technology and local skill’ need to be harnessed in a new ‘slow fashion’ system.