Antiform; The Attraction of Opposites

Sustainable fashion is a perplexing subject, for some even an oxymoron. However, as pioneering brands like Antiform prove, this does not have to be the case.

The notion of fashion appears to rely on a framework of aesthetic obsolescence that is at odds with the principles of sustainability. Designers consistently rework and update styles in order to promote fresh sales, causing older garments to become undesirable despite being perfectly fit for purpose. At the heart of the fashion industry, this unsustainable rate of growth and renewal is entirely wasteful, transient and somewhat superficial. Sustainability by contrast is based on concepts of longevity, increased usefulness and the dramatic reduction of waste. Yet if approached in right way, fashion does not need to be unsustainable.

The term fashion revolves around the notion of popularity and time; styles go in and out of fashion, trends appear and die down. Ultimately fashion is about change, which is not an inherently negative or positive concept. In fact, as Stuart Walker puts it “fashion in design fosters creativity and the exploration of new, untried solutions”and thus has great potential to adapt to sustainable principles.

Antiform, founded by Lizzie Harrison in Leeds almost 10 years ago is an excellent example of the versatility of fashion. The brand addresses many of the conflicting issues of sustainability through creative designs and an forward thinking approach to business. Using my experience as a freelance production assistant for Antiform over the last few months, I hope to convince you to buy more sustainably in the future.

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Design Innovation

The traditional role of the designer does not usually involve consideration of the waste created through the design process. Designer’s sketches are often sampled in a separate department by garment technologists employed to recreate the design to strict specifications. This method leaves little margin for increasing the efficiency of the materials used and leads to the creation of waste throughout the supply chain. In contrast, Antiform’s holistic approach to design balances stylistic elements with inventive, waste saving techniques; from zero waste pattern cutting to utilizing remnants in patchworked garments.

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Locally available and reclaimed materials

Most commercial fashion companies conduct their supply chain around the most economical production route on a global scale. For commercial businesses while quality, service and reliability are important factors to consider when choosing suppliers, in this system the direct cost of production and distribution is the main motivating factor. This causes a race to the bottom effect whereby the environmental and human cost is often forgotten about or waylaid in favour of profit.

Small, local level production by contrast enables designers to directly feel and respond to the effects of their business while fostering relationships between communities and materials. Antiform works with reclaimed materials sourced from British Mills and produces each collection in Bristol. Short production runs mean the business can respond quickly to demand and even create unique made-to-order pieces via ‘Antiform x You’; an innovative, bespoke service enabling the customer to take part in the design process by supplying a personal piece of fabric or design idea.

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 A skilled, flexible and diverse team

For most brands success means a commercial agenda that revolves around a continual increase in production, consumption and sales. Alone commercial success in the private sector is not enough to combat the vast, multidisciplinary issues of sustainability. In order to most effectively innovate the industry designers need to diversify and take on new roles across economic sectors. Antiform is run by a team of local designers, researchers and communicators who offer research, consultancy and lecturing work as well as freelance design, sampling and ethical production services. This level of flexibility means the brand does not rely solely on selling product; Antiform has the capacity to teach, facilitate and encourage a more sustainable fashion system as a whole.

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 Community

Antiform is based in a shared studio space with the Bristol Textile Quarter. The room is divided in to small individual workshops that bring together a diverse mix of local artisans and designers working in similarly ethical and environmentally conscious ways. While each business is independently run, there is a sense of the importance of collective success and wellbeing. Ideas are brought together over communal lunches and there is an open approach to the sharing of knowledge, materials, contacts and expertise. In some cases even waste is shared.

This sense of community is essential for creating a new fashion system. It is time to move away from precisely measured systems, based on self-interest and impersonal, anonymous transactions.

Please follow the links to see a few of the incredible artists and brands operating from BTQ;  Tamay and Me, MademyWardrobe, Naomi Wood Photography.

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Vivienne Westwood says SWITCH! at Fabric

As part of her continued environmental activism, last Monday Vivienne Westwood launched SWITCH! at Fabric; a club night for the environmentally conscious, fashion crowd.

Vivienne’s social enterprise Climate Revolution teamed up with Ecotricity to host the event with a clear message; it’s time to switch to GREEN ENERGY!

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On entering the club we were reminded what it was all about; A Climate Revolution.

Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, Britain’s largest green energy supplier, opened the night with a video. He spoke about his former life on the road as new age traveller and the lessons he learnt from being self reliant. The idea of Ecotricity was born through the experience of making his own energy via a windmill on the roof of his van. He explained how a connection to nature and concern for the unsustainability of life as we know it has been the driving force throughout his life. Since burning of fossil fuels for electricity forms the biggest single cause of climate change, switching to green energy is perhaps the most significant change we can make as individuals.

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Next, Dame Viv herself graced the stage with an entourage of models sporting her latest collection titled ‘Ecotricity’ in tribute to the energy supplier. She reminded us of our power as active citizens to shape our economy, our future and our planet. The paper crowns served as metaphor for taking back power from the “rotten financial system” and richest 1%. She explained the imminent risk posed by climate change using the world map behind her. The red area indicates uninhabitable land if the sea level were to rise by just 5%. She urged the 900 strong crowd to “stop the demand for fossil fuels and further fracking and make choices that stop climate change”.

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After the speeches, guest DJ ‘A Guy Called Gerald’ provided the soundtrack to night with a little help from Eli Li who owned the stage (in Vivienne Westwood of course).

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Embracing the post apocalyptic, Mad Max theme.
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Guests wore Vivienne’s latest collection ‘Ecotricity’

Switching to green energy is the “one truly political act you can make as an individual”.

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“Paper crowns mean people power!”

Instructions on how to make you crown at Climate Revolution.

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In a truly sustainable fashion, guests were encouraged to reuse their cups.

While a club night during Fashion Week -one of the most highly consumption driven events in the year – might not seem an appropriate place to discuss climate change, this is where action is needed the most. It is essential to engage with fashion enthusiasts in order to generate change from within.  The resounding message of the night was people power and if the Climate Revolution starts now, what a way better to welcome it than through dancing.

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Finally, a couple of photos of me and my great friend Ffi. I didn’t get the memo about the dress code so went for a piece from my final collection teamed with sash made by Susanna Molla, an amazing craftivist and member of Sisters Uncut. Check out her online shop here.

Fashion ethics, a Feminist issue

A reflection on the responsibility of consumers to uphold women’s rights in the fashion industry

The subject of fashion in relation to feminism has been heavily debated throughout the 21st century. Many have fought against the stifling and oppressive elements of the socially constructed notion of fashion while others have embraced its empowering qualities as a means self-expression. The question of whether ‘the woman of fashion’, as Simone De Beauvoir puts it, has ‘chosen to make herself a thing’, an object to be admired or has liberated herself through her creative choices occupies much of the feminist literature surrounding fashion. Many feminists actively protest against the unattainable beauty ideals set by fashion magazines as well as the lack of diversity in the shape, size, age and creed of models in mainstream media. In recent years movements such as the ‘Slut Walk’ in Europe and North America has sought to empower women through their choice of clothing and remove the stigma associated with dressing ‘provocatively’. While many feminists are vocal about the sexism inherent within the consumption of fashion, the issues behind the production of fashion remain largely unexplored.

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Illustration: Abigail Garbett

Action Aid’s study ‘The Cost of Inequality in Women’s Work’ shows that at least 80% of all garment workers in developing countries are women. They are employed with no basic labour rights, often in dangerous conditions and at risk of violence or sexual abuse. Female garment workers will, on average, earn 10% to 30% less than men for the same job. Despite this, women are also responsible for a disproportionate share of unpaid domestic duties including child rearing, caring for the elderly, tending the home and feeding their families. A distinct lack of solidarity becomes apparent in light of the fact that, according to Forbes, women in rich nations also make up 85% of all consumer purchases.

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Image source: The Independant

In 2014, Whistles collaborated with The Fawcett Society, a charity for women’s rights to create T-shirt’s bearing the slogan ‘This is What A Feminist Looks Like’. While initially successful, the revelation that the T-shirt’s were made by women earning just 62p an hour scandalised the venture. ‘Commodity Feminism’ is a term used by Laura Harvey (lecturer from the University of Surrey) to describe the way in which the language and aspirations of feminism are being used by big corporations in an attempt to sell goods. By turning feminism into a commodity, the movement risks loosing its political power and becoming a ‘trend’ rather than a vehicle for social activism.

While the popularisation of Feminism through slogan t-shirts and merchandise highlight a positive shift towards mainstream acceptance, an understanding of the workings of the global chain of goods and it’s implications cannot be understated. Not only does the fashion industry rely on women to produce clothing, retailers also employ a female majority and target women as the main consumers of fashion. While men still dominate positions of power within the industry, women occupy the majority of junior positions and are most vulnerable to exploitation and low pay.

Any company outsourcing production to developing countries such as Bangladesh is likely to encounter some form of exploitation. Rather than create specific boycotts, consumers are advised by Bangladesh’s National Garment Workers Federation to lobby brands to take responsibility for their supply chain and offer greater transparency. The garment production industry is the largest employer of women in Bangladesh and many parts of Asia and as such is an essential part of the economy. In her article Primark ‘cry for help’ labels have painted Bangladeshi women as helpless’ Tansy Hoskins suggests that instead of viewing these women as ‘passive and in need of saving by western people’, it is important that we empower them through support of trade unions and active conversations with the brands we admire.

Hoskins sites Lilla Watson of the Aboriginal Activists Group, Queensland, 1970, “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” It is essential not to shy away from our responsibility as part of a global elite to take into account suffering on a global level. The Women’s March protests, which recently swept across much of the world including North America, Europe, Mexico and Australia was the largest single demonstration in US history. Events such as these illustrate our collective power. Feminism cannot focus only on a certain society, or group if it truly wishes to stand for women’s rights.

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Design: Abigail Garbett Model: Freya Tate

 

 

Britain’s Cheap Clothes

British highstreet exposed for outsourcing production to factories paying workers just £3 per hour in the UK.

In the late 1980s, growing concern for worker welfare led to the creation of the Clean Clothes Campaign. The NGO was founded to help empower and protect labour rights in the globalised apparel industry and kick started the anti-sweatshop movement. Since then, the mobilisation of citizens across Europe and North America has marked a growing awareness of the exploitation inherent within the fashion industry. Particular attention has been placed on the treatment of the labour force in developing countries.

In 2013, the disastrous Rana Plaza collapse – widely considered the deadliest garment factory accident in history – sparked a fresh out cry from the global press. The disaster exposed many high street brands including Primark, Walmart, Bonmarche, Bennetton and Mango who out sourced production to Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In the course of the investigation it was revealed that the factory workers were being paid less than 38 Euros a month and had expressed concern about the safety of the building within days of the disaster taking place.

Protests outside Primark and Benetton in Oxford Circus, London, sought to pressure brands into taking responsibility for the event and the future welfare of their work force. A new accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh was created to improve conditions for workers though several brands refused to sign, since it meant paying more for their stock. In the UK, MPs sought to push new legislation forcing high street brands to audit their supply chains and ensure slave labour was not used.

Despite this tragic history and new legislation, last week Dispatches exposed garment factories in Leicester paying staff as little as £3 an hour to supply high street chains. While there is a general awareness that poor labour practice occurs in countries where federal law is not as strong, what is particularly shocking in this case is the location. The UK purports a minimum charter of employment rights which should be provided by law; paid holidays, breaks from work, limits to excessively long working hours, enrolment to a basic pension fund and a minimum wage of £7.20 per hour for over 25 year olds.

Undercover reporter, Belal worked for two days labelling River Island dresses at Fashion Square Ltd before being told his salary. After a weeks work he received £110, less than half the minimum wage per hour. When confronted about the low wages one factory manager revealed he considered himself in direct competition with other countries to meet orders at a minimum cost.

“we don’t get paid much for our clothes, and we need to compete with China and Bangladesh….if we pay everyone £10 or £6 then we will make a loss”

This statement is in stark contrast with River Island’s most recent accounts that show an operating profit of £144 million in 2014.

An investigation in 2010 discovered high street chain, New Look were associated with a factory paying workers just £2 an hour, the brand promised all its suppliers were required to pay a living wage. Yet despite this, in 2016 New Look was again found to be using a factory paying staff less than half the minimum wage; just £3.50 per hour. This figure seems to directly contradict the statement on New Look’s website which claims to protect workers in its supply chain and is at odds with their pre-tax profit which rose to £59.1 million last year.

Benefitting from a huge boom in online retail, brands such as BooHoo and Missguided show similarly staggering growth. Nitin Passi, founder of Missguided has a net worth of £65 million while Boohoo has seen profit rise from £260,000 to £15.3 million in four years. Meanwhile workers in United Creations, a Leister based factory are paid £3.25 per hour to produce items for these brands. Furthermore, the Dispatches reporter discovered serious violations in health and safety in the premise, with blocked fire exits, piles of rubbish and workers smoking on the factory floor.

The brands exposed in the programme responded in various ways including terminating contracts with the suspect factories, claiming they were unaware of the slip in standards or that the work was subcontracted without their consent. Missguided responded with the following statement;

“We take the allegations … very seriously and demand the highest standards of safety, working conditions and pay from all of our suppliers and subcontractors. We are committed to achieving the standards set by the Ethical Trading Initiative and conduct regular audits and spot-checks of our supply chain.”

Like many High Street shops River Island, New Look and Missguided are part of the Ethical Trading Initiative; a UK based organisation, founded to promote and support ethical trade in global supply chains. Yet inspite of such apparent concern for worker rights, the fashion industry’s consistent lack of action towards improving welfare in supply chains is deeply worrying. Terminating contracts not only leaves employees in a potentially worse position, it fails to address the root of the problem. In the current system the price of clothing is not equal to the time and effort necessary to produce it fairly. The result is exploitation at the bottom of the supply chain. I believe it is the responsibility of individual brands to ensure workers at every stage of production are paid fairly, even if this means rising the price of their apparel.

However, it is also important that change stems from consumers themselves. The individuals interviewed on Dispatches highlighted the prevailing attitude of today- “I won’t think where its come from or how its been made…I’m just looking at what I’m going to look good in”. In order for the customer to except a higher price for their goods, re-education is key. Understanding the value of production and clothing beyond trend based, seasonal wear is an imperative step towards a fairer fashion system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In conversation: Christopher Raeburn and Graeme Raeburn at Today Studios.

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.

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.

 Humble beginnings

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.

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Christopher Raeburn X Disney
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Christopher and Graeme Raeburn at Today Studios

 

Regeneration Cafe, fixing it for free

Organised by Vision 21, the Gloucestershire Joint Waste Team and product design students from the University of Gloucestershire, the Cafe offers a fresh approach to the mending of everyday items.

Organised by Vision 21, the Gloucestershire Joint Waste Team and product design students from the University of Gloucestershire, the Cafe offers a fresh approach to the mending of everyday items.

Participants are invited to bring anything from small electrical items to textiles and bikes to be repaired by a team of committed and skilled volunteers. By sitting together over a cup of tea and a slice of cake, the event encourages discourse and the sharing of knowledge between members. In a world full of throwaway products, planned obsolescence and a decline in practical skills, the cafe aims to create a community around the fixing of items that might otherwise be thrown away.

A hum of activity filled the Cafe this Saturday with various desks set up for electrical items, textiles and sharpening. Small groups gathered to watch the volunteers investigate problems and begin the repair process while others joined the product design students dissecting electricals. Among the possessions being fixed were a printer, radio, dress strap, coat hem, an electric blanket and even a stapler.

Mandy one of the menders at the textiles table explained how her dislike of ‘throwing stuff away’ motivated her to volunteer at the Cafe. She enjoyed working with different textiles each week and ‘not knowing what’s coming through the door’. The diversity of repairs from broken zips to holes and rips call for a different approach each time. She explained how some clients are happy with a cheerful, obvious fix while others prefered ‘an invisible mend’; a challenge she relishes. She described the ‘privilege’ she felt when repairing a ‘ beautiful Russian, pre-war coat with a shredded shoulder’ though seemed equally happy to teach an inexperienced sewer how to attach a button. Rather buying supplies new, in a truly sustainable fashion Mandy explained how local charity shops put haberdashery items such as odd buttons and zips aside for her to bring to the cafe. With such an excellent service it is unsurprising demand has been so high that the volunteers have been taking extra work home to repair for the following session.

While the progression of technology has heralded major advancements in the efficiency of products, design and manufacture, it has also brought a decline in mending skills. University courses are offering less workshop time and more computer classes as production becomes increasingly digitised. Further, planned obsolescence means many products have an artificially limited useful life and are no longer designed to be fixed. At the electronics table for example, a controller for an electric blanket was fitted with concealed screws, a feature arguably devised to deter DIY. One volunteer explained how the older items such as a fifty-year-old mixer were ironically easier to fix than much newer products.

Places like Regeneration cafe have the potential to change attitudes towards repair and essentially reduce the number of items being discarded as useless. They act as antidote to throwaway culture and combat the ecological impact of broken goods one item at a time. More than that they bring people together in the spirit of communal endeavour, help keep old skills alive and create new ones.

dsc05422eThe cafe is based in St Andrews Church, Cheltenham and is open on the first Saturday of every month 10am-1:30pm (excluding January). Find out more here

Invest Love; Stella McCartney talks sustainability at LCF.

For Kering’s third annual talk at London College of Fashion, Frances Corner welcomed the ‘effortlessly cool’ sustainable fashion role model, Stella McCartney to the stage. In conversation with Lucy Siegle, they discussed the responsibility of both designers and consumers in bringing change to the industry.

For Kering’s third annual talk at London College of Fashion, Frances Corner welcomed the ‘effortlessly cool’ sustainable fashion role model, Stella McCartney to the stage. In conversation with Lucy Siegle, they discussed the responsibility of both designers and consumers in bringing change to the industry.

Stella began by sharing her latest innovation; viscose produced sustainably from forests in Sweden. In a short, introductory video we watched Carmen Kass, dressed in an array of luxurious designs tackle the issue of deforestation and make a case for forest conservation. This playful and informative video surmises McCartney’s approach to fashion. Trained at Central Saint Martins, she is first a designer driven by a desire to create the stylish, sharp, sexy and sporty and secondly an activist with a strong commitment to people and the environment. For Stella, ‘the fashionable side has to go hand in hand with the ethical side’. While many sustainable brand’s fastidious attention to environmental standards has led to a compromise in design, the success of Stella can be attributed to her tenacious ability of remaining both desirable and relevant to the fashion elite. She stressed the importance of investing love in the supply chain and being mindful of the challenges fashion production poses while staying true to a design philosophy.

How to prioritise

As a market leader, she explained the difficulties her company face when sourcing materials which are only just becoming available. Stella stressed the importance of prioritising the development of materials which replace those with the most significant environmental impact first. An ethos which placed the use of animal products at top of the agenda. When the brand launched as a vegetarian company the industry laughed and deemed she could never build an accessories line without leather. Even today her non-leather goods incur the same taxes as leather items and cost significantly more to produce.  She expressed concern in the lack of flexibility and growth within the industry which relies heavily on ‘outdated’ design practices. Unlike the food industry which has seen significant growth in ethical and biological markets, fashion remains woefully behind the times. She encouraged brands to ‘think differently’ and to be open to the positive changes innovation and technology can bring. The development of products such as Stella’s line of fake fur jackets are so realistic, in theory, they could eliminate the need for real fur.  Rather than making consumers feel guilty about their purchases, Stella aims to ‘infiltrate from within’ by offering sustainable products so desirable the consumer does not even notice.

53% of Stella McCartney womenswear and 45% of menswear is currently made from sustainable materials, a figure which is set to reach 100% during the lifespan of the brand.

Fast fashion

Stella’s gentle approach to the subject of fast fashion showed an understanding of the difficulties many consumers face when wishing to engage with fashion on a limited budget. She encouraged consumers to ‘come at fashion from a different point of view’, to invest more in a longer period of time and to spend mindfully and responsibly. She invited consumers to ‘challenge the people who make your clothes’ and demand that fashion no longer ‘gets away with murder’. She heralded a shift towards greater product awareness and transparency. As with the food industry, Stella called for clothing to be set to sustainable standards with an ‘ingredients list’.

Dilys Williams summed up Stella McCartney’s mindful approach to fashion with the phrase ‘standing up can be a principle as well as a style’. The event culminated with the announcement of the winners of The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion 2016; Irene-Marie Seelig, Iciar Bravo Tomboly, Ana Pasalic, Agraj Jain and Elise Comrie. The resounding message for the next generation of designers was; be courageous, be responsible and say something from the heart.