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  She expressed concern in the lack of flexibility and growth within the industry which relies heavily on ‘outdated’ design practices.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.

 

Offset Warehouse

Offset Warehouse is the first fabric supplier to exclusively produce and sell ethically sourced fabrics in the UK. Last week I was lucky enough to hear Charlie Ross, founder and director of the business speaking first hand about her journey into the world ethical trading at Stroud Atelier.

Charlie began by explaining the conception of Offset Warehouse. As a design student herself, she was appalled to learn about the harmful impact the industry has on both people and the planet. Documentaries such as China Blue, which highlight the sweatshop conditions of garment workers in Chinese jeans factories, motivated her to question why this form of modern slavery was tolerated and under whose authority. Environmental disasters such as the loss of the Aral Sea to cotton irrigation and news of farmer suicides caused by mounting fears over debt and pressure from suppliers similarly inspired Charlie to create change in the fashion industry. However, as a designer she struggled to find materials and fabrics that complied with her morals. As a result Offset Warehouse was born; a social enterprise that supplies the UK and abroad with ‘the most beautiful, hand-crafted and fairly-sourced fabric, trims and threads from across the globe’ at fair yet affordable prices.

The online shop offers a wide range of fabrics from cotton to silk and even some more unusual eco fabrics such as recycled polyester and is also stocked in Fabrications on Broadway Market, London. Unlike other sustainable fabric suppliers, which focus on natural and undyed cloth, Offset Warehouse has a variety of truly desirable printed and plain fabrics. Rather than sticking to a single trade certification the warehouse stocks certified and uncertified organic, fair trade, recycled, by-product, reclaimed, sustainable, co-operative, naturally dyed, azo-free and naturally bleached fabrics to cater for all audiences. Each fabric comes with its own identity tag giving information on the composition, country of origin, eco credentials and accreditors.

The success of Offset Warehouse is a testament to the dedication and passion of Charlie Ross who ended her presentation with the reminder “always do the right thing even when the right thing is the hard thing”. It is vital to support businesses such as this in order to drive further change in the industry. As designers and makers we are responsible for the fabrics we source and to encourage our employers to do the same. Transparency within the supply chain is essential to understanding and communicating the impact the fashion industry has and it is something we should push for as consumers of fabrics and as well clothes.

 

Denim as a resource

Denim jeans are a global staple with more than 1bn pairs being sold worldwide each year. Jeans are bought by 96% of American consumers with an average ownership of 7 pairs for women and 6 for men*. Documentaries such as China Blue have exposed the harsh conditions garment workers face in the denim industry often working more than 12 hours a day, in compromising conditions for less than a dollar a day.

Jeans are made almost exclusively from cotton, a fibre that uses vast amounts of water, land and pesticides to produce. Including the growing, dying and treating process, 11,000 litres of water is required to make a single pair of jeans. Further more the trend for pre-worn looking denim requires a method called sandblasting which according to War on Want is ‘often performed without proper ventilation, safety equipment or training’ and ‘exposes workers to serious risk of silicosis, the deadly lung disease caused by inhalation of silica dust’.

While the process of making denim raises many ethical and environmental questions, the fabric itself is particularly hardwearing and practical for everyday use. Furthermore, the vast quantity of denim on the second hand market makes it a great resource for upcycling and resale in vintage stores. Companies such as Re/done successfully take apart quality vintage denim to refashion into new jeans that are in keeping with modern styles. In contrast to the sterile nature of mass produced trousers, the faded patches and old stitch lines on Re/done’s individually crafted pieces celebrate the longevity of the fabric and  create a narrative making them desirable on another level.

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Re/Done

Swedish denim label Nudie Jeans is similarly transforming the way consumers view their denim items. The brand encourages customers to take care of their garments with a free repair service at satellite mending stations around the world and even offers to recycle your jeans when they are no longer wearable. While they admit that process of making their denim is still highly water intensive, they recommend new trousers are not washed for at least six months in order to properly ‘break them in’. A process they encourage to give the jeans a ‘worn look’ which tells the story of the wearer and gives an improved, personal fit. They also recommend hanging jeans outside to air rather than washing them unless significantly stained, saving water in the consumer stage of jeans life cycle.

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Nudie Jeans

Exploring the practicalities of using second hand denim.

Inspired by visual and sound artist Cibelle Cavalli Bastos, who creatively uses found objects in her art installations, I created a denim look with materials sourced entirely from charity shops and kilo sales. Elements such as the buckles from a pair of dungarees and buttons from fly fastenings were utilised in new and creative ways, serving both practical functions and as a reminder of the garments previous lives.

See the results below;

*statistics from: http://www.statisticbrain.com/denim-jeans-industry-statistics/

Vivienne Westwood at Cheltenham Literature Festival

Self proclaimed Queen of Punk, Dame Vivienne Westwood did not disappoint in bringing rebellious views to the table at this years Cheltenham Literature Festival. Here to promote her new book Get a Life, a diary style biography compiled of blog posts she began in 2010. The book entwines her deep interest in fashion, climate change and activism.

Political from the first Westwood began by asking for our help. She reminded the audience that climate change is each of our responsibility and as a collective we can begin a climate revolution. The first step, according to the dame herself is to fill out a letter to Theresa May (handed out pre-show) with advice on how she could be more environmental in her daily life.

Westwood’s main priority has been communicating the threat of climate change with fashion shows becoming an avenue to creatively express frustrations. Her talk similarly centred on her views of the ‘rotten financial system’ and the injustice of 1m controlling a population of 7bn. Focusing on the selfish nature of ‘rotten’ politicians who ‘serve central banks and promote big business’ at the expense of the tax payer and corrupt foreign policy which says ‘fuck everybody but us’.

Westwood urged her audience to go home and switch to green energy, highlighting in a slick info graphic the impact rising temperature will have on the level of inhabitable land. She claimed ‘once the rising temperature goes beyond the tipping point it will run away to +5°, there will be only 1 bn people left by the 21st century’.

Provocative and outspoken as always Vivienne Westwood conveyed her passion for the planet and the people in it. While it is difficult to agree with all of her hard lined views on the ‘wasted lives’ of politicians, hearing her talk with such vigour and energy after five decades in the fashion industry was a good reminder of the capacity each of us has to make a difference. As Kirsty Wark eloquently put it ‘there’s nothing like a dame and certainly not this one’.

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Copenhagen Youth Fashion Summit

On the 9th of May, I met with 100 other international students at the Royal Danish Institute of Fine Art in Copenhagen to discuss the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN general assembly last year.
Our task; to create a manifesto, detailing our demands to the fashion industry related to each of the 17 SDGs to present at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit by the end of the week. After inspiring talks about sustainable leadership from Rick Ridgeway of Patagonia, Eva Kruse, CEO of the Danish Fashion Institute and Dilys Williams from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, we were divided in to groups to discuss our allocated SDGs. As part of the ‘Flourishing’ group, I worked with Goals 13, 14 and 15 regarding Climate Action, Life Below Water and Life on Land. It was an ambitious task to integrate 3 such important goals  in to a single paragraph and we struggled to find a balance between specific criteria and overarching themes however the final result after two days of furious discussion, mind mapping and reflection was a success;

As inheritors of your roles, we demand that by 2030 fashion is no longer the second-largest polluting industry in the world.

You — global policy makers — must work together with NGOs, brands and corporations to create and implement legislation for no more land abuse. Invest in research and innovation.

It is vital that we take responsibility in restoring the air, water and land that we have altered.

Furthermore, we must create more opportunities for life. To let this world flourish, we must stop taking that which we cannot restore.

We are running out of resources.

H&M’s JustFashion Lab

Along with six other students selected from across the UK, I spent the week at Hay on Wye Festival discussing sustainable fashion with representatives from H&M, the Centre for Sustainable Fashion and the Environmental Justice Foundation. We explored the possibilities of second hand clothing as a resource and looked into ways of making clothes last longer through clever transeasonal design and attention to detail and comfort.
H&M supplied items of used clothing from their garment collecting initiative; a scheme which encourages costumers to drop off unwanted garments to H&M stores in return for a money off voucher. We used this clothing as a starting point for new designs. Inspired by the idea of endurance, I created a transeasonal look consisting of a vest, blouse, a pair of trousers and a bag which could be worn together or separately depending on the weather. Made from a jumper, suit and pjama bottoms, I was keen to create a look that utilised all parts of the old garments I found in order ‘to close the loop’ on the use of these resources. After learning from Catarina Midby (H&M) about the difficulties of recycling mixed fibres I also decided to work only with garments made of pure fibres. In particular I selected garments made from natural fibres; wool, silk and cotton as the properties of these fibres make them particularly comfortable and hard wearing. See below for images of my work.
The week culiminated in a lively discussion between Catarina Midby from H&M, Orsola de Castro, Jessica Bumpus, Vogue and Margareta van den Bosch, chaired by CSF’s Dilys Williams at Hay Festival.

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