Techstyler X Avant Habit: Sustainable Business Models Versus ‘Greenwashing’

Sustainability is an inescapable topic of discussion in the fashion industry, but what does it involve? Is it materials? Is it manufacturing processes? Is it recycling? Is it all of these things and more?

The Techstyler X Avat Habit panel discussion on 12th April sought to answer these questions by bringing together sustainable brand founders Sabinna Rachimova of SABINNA, Charlotte Instone of Know The Origin and Shope Delano, Marketing and Communications Manager of Common Objective – a platform providing industry-wide guidance on sustainable business principles and processes.  The audience spanned industry insiders from ASOS and Burberry to founders of fashion startups and sustainability enthusiasts.

Audience members, Techstyler X Avant Habit Sustainable Fashion For Real Business Models
Audience members, Techstyler X Avant Habit Sustainable Fashion For Real Business Models

Addressing the ‘what, how and why’ of holistic sustainable business models and how best to execute brand messaging, the panellists shared business and personal insights based on their experience within businesses that are both Europe and Asia-centric in terms of sourcing and manufacturing.

Know The Origin (KTO) is an online retail platform stocking 70 lifestyle brands that meet sustainability parameters set by founder Charlotte Instone and her team.  These parameters are based on 18 months of intensive ‘on the ground’ research into materials, manufacturing and ethics in Asia and Africa, conducted by Charlotte herself. She launched KTO with her own Fairtrade collection after building partnerships with ethical suppliers and manufacturers in India. This allowed her to put in place a fair and transparent business model for a core range of ‘essential’ clothing. The collections meet her aim of delivering quality and style that is sustainable in terms of people, planet and purpose. Charlotte warned the audience that consumers will not compromise on design or price when it comes to sustainability – “it has to be a given” she said. KTO is an entry point into sustainability and for many consumers it is their first ‘sustainable purchase’, with retail prices ranging from £15 – £55.

Charlotte Instone speaking about Know The Origin
Charlotte Instone speaking about Know The Origin

Charlotte’s in depth understanding of supply chain mechanics, certifications and trade organisations in Asia and Africa led her to create a 30 point sustainability and ethics charter. The brands she stocks on KTO must meet at least six points to qualify as a stocked brand on the retail platform. Recognising that brands must start somewhere when addressing sustainability and ethics, the charter acts as a motivational and transparency tool. Its aim is also to give consumers confidence that they are purchasing from brands with sustainable foundations and strong future intent to produce and sell sustainability and ethically.

Sabinna Rachimova is the founder and head designer at London-based womenswear brand SABINNA.  As a graduate of Central Saint Martins, she explained that her resulting view of establishing a fashion business meant “showing at London Fashion Week” and following the well-trodden route of chasing industry validation and a wholesale sales model.  Eventually, rejecting this traditional approach opened up opportunities to implement ethical and sustainable practices into her business incrementally over the course of the past four seasons, and in the process, an exponential rise in direct to consumer sales.

Sabinna Rachimova of SABINNA speaks about her transparent business model
Sabinna Rachimova of SABINNA speaks about her transparent business model

A great appreciator of craft, Sabinna has long recognised and shared the contributions of all the workers in her supply chain.  She has mapped the sourcing of her materials and the manufacturing locations of all garments in her collections for the past three seasons and transitioned to a direct to consumer business model via sales on her website and through Insta Stories. Whilst this might not sound immediately linked to sustainability, it underpins her ability to promote, sell and make her collections in a fair and transparent way across the entire supply chain.

Key to Sabinna’s business success has been Instagram-based sales campaigns featuring Influencers in place of a traditional London Fashion Week show, saving thousands of pounds on a London Fashion Week venue, show production, PR and models.  By working directly with Influencers to create and share sellable content on Insta Stories she connected directly with consumers in telling her brand’s story and sharing its ‘fair fashion’ values.  This strategy allows her to carefully track sales and manufacture only the quantities needed. Also, the money saved by implementing this campaign (instead of the London Fashion Week show) helped her balance the higher unit price she pays for her garments to be manufactured fairly and ethically in the UK.  This Influencer marketing model saw her sales double, and her sustainability credentials increase to boot.

Shope Delano explained that Common Objective advise and support brands to implement sustainability principles, materials and processes to address all areas of their business. Consideration of end-of-life at the initial stages of design and product development is a key focus, in order to aim for circularity – the ‘holy grail’ of sustainable business models.  Shope provided consumer sustainability insights, explaining that heritage brands with deep-rooted consumer sentiment are protected from long-term damage caused by shocking revelations, like the recent news that Burberry burnt millions of dollars worth of excess stock. On the flip side, lesser-known brands don’t hold such ‘mindset’ power, and an expose’ of this kind can be devastating to them.

Shope Delano of Common Objective speaks about sustainability solutions across the supply chain
Shope Delano of Common Objective speaks about sustainability solutions across the supply chain

An example Shope cites in a follow up conversation is Carcel, whose garments are produced by women in prison in a bid to equip them with skills and job opportunities. They came under fire recently for their ‘made in prison’ ad campaigns. Without context, this led to a big uproar on social media – the main argument being that they are glamourising slave labour. To see how this conversation played out between the brand and its followers check out Instagram and then a follow-up article in the New York Times.

‘Mindset Power’ poses both a risk and an opportunity. Agile brands can conduct in-depth due diligence and work directly with manufacturers to win on transparency and storytelling about how and where their products are made. Selling direct to consumer allows for further transparency over pricing and a greater margin for the brand and manufacturer, balancing the power across the supply chain and removing the traditional hierarchy that often leads to secrecy and exploitation. It’s clear though that the message has to be delivered carefully and authentically.

Audience members, Techstyler X Avant Habit Sustainable Fashion For Real Business Models
Audience members, Techstyler X Avant Habit Sustainable Fashion For Real Business Models

Emerging brands can control the narrative and change direction quickly, explained Shope. Sabinna shared an example of how she did this when she discovered that one of her suppliers in East London was forcing its staff to work under poor conditions without heating in the depths of winter.  When she questioned the manufacturer he protested “what do you expect? You want a cheap price…” She switched manufacturer immediately and adjusted her business model to incorporate the higher prices required to ensure fair conditions for workers.

Closing remarks from the panellists on their advice for initial steps brands and founders should take towards achieving sustainable business models included ‘pay everyone fairly – even interns’ from Sabinna. “Sign up to Common Objective for free advice, supplier contacts and sustainability templates’ was Shope’s advice. Lastly, Charlotte urged the audience to “do your research into trade unions and suppliers in Asia to source responsibly”, reminding us that ethically sourced clothing is not only about the price of the garment.

Noshua Watson of Avant Habit, Brooke Roberts-Islam of Techstyler and Shope Delano of Common Objective
Noshua Watson of Avant Habit, Brooke Roberts-Islam of Techstyler and Shope Delano of Common Objective

The Ethically Woven series by Avant Habit continues at The Ministry in May and June. More details can be found here.

Techstyler X BOTTLETOP: Designers Reshaping ‘Luxury’ Driven by Sustainability and Ethics

Rounding off our speaker series for 2018 was our panel discussion on the role of designers in shaping and influencing sustainable brands and changing definitions of ‘luxury’.  Much of what is discussed in the realm of sustainable fashion and lifestyle brands is in the context of materials, supply chain and waste management, but what of the impact designers have in making design  decisions that influence most aspects of the supply chain and the product life-cycle? Can brands achieve sustainability if their designers are oblivious, or have little visibility, of the impact their decisions make?

BOTLLETOP Regent Street Store.  Image: BOTTLETOP

The panel consisted of a cross-section of creatives from multiple backgrounds, spanning finance, textiles and music.  The thread linking them was a pioneering point of view and the fact that their design work and research has begun with identifying a problem to solve and harnessing design to do so.  Design as a tool for change.

Opening the conversation was Dr Kate Goldsworthy, Co-Director of the Centre for Circular Design at UAL where she oversees research and live industry projects that challenge current linear methods of design – that is where resources (including materials) are used to create objects that have a single lifecycle and are disposed of at end of life without recouping any of the resources/components of the product to re-use or recycle.  In order to challenge this linear system, designers work with all other members of the industry on projects that bring together all points of view – from retail to manufacturing to design to waste management, in order to redesign not just products in a circular manner, but the system itself. A striking example of how successful this can be was the case explained by Dr Goldsworthy where a team at Filippa K questioned the lifespan of garments and consumer appetite for longevity of garments. They hypothesised that the average white t-shirt is worn around 22 times before being thrown in landfill, a figure Kate deems generous.  

Dr Kate Goldsworthy, Cyclability Diagram

As a result, a concept for a paper t-shirt that looks and feels like a cotton one was devised.  The paper version could not be washed, but could be worn up to four times and then disposed of in household waste to decompose safely in landfill.  Analysing the total resource use and environmental impact across all areas of creation, delivery and consumption of the product, the disposable paper t-shirt had a fraction of the impact a t-shirt worn 22 times has, debunking the idea that simply wearing clothing more times reduces environmental impact.  The bigger picture here is that every action we take has an impact, including washing our clothes. Therefore a future wardrobe containing some clothing that is disposable by design may, in fact, be more sustainable.

Kresse Wesling MBE isn’t a designer.  She is the co-founder of lifestyle brand Elvis & Kresse and entered into their venture by way of a waste management consultancy career.  Reappropriating what is deemed ‘junk’ by many, Kresse and her partner Elvis set about turning waste into desirable goods by flexing their design approach and conducting ambitious research and development.  They conducted this R&D on whatever materials they could develop partnerships to rescue, diverting them from ending up in landfill. The design process, driven by Elvis, is reliant on the material inputs and strives to maintain the longest life possible of the goods by adopting modular design techniques that allow customisation and re-use of the component materials.  The most recent example of this is their partnership with the Burberry Foundation, from whom they take all of Burberry’s leather waste (which will amount to 120 tonnes over a five year period) and hand-weave it into new products, including wallets and cosmetic cases. Kresse explained that the core of their brand is the agreement to work with all stakeholders in the design, production and waste processes to ensure the work they do is beneficial to all involved, as well as the planet.

Elvis & Kresse, rescued fire hose. Image: Elvis & Kresse

Elvis & Kresse, rescued leather Image: Retail Gazette

Elvis & Kresse rescued firehose and leather products.  Images: Elvis & Kresse

This way of working started in 2005 when the discovery of the disposal of fire hose into landfill triggered their desire to make use of this beautiful material, but also to secure the waste input stream to ensure production requirements could be met. This bore an agreement for Elvis and Kresse to agree to take all the decommissioned fire hose “waste” generated by the London Fire Brigade and turn it into lifestyle products, donating 50% of profits to the Fire Fighter’s charity in the process.

Completing the panel was Oliver Wayman, Co-Director of BOTTLETOP, who unwittingly launched a sustainable brand during the promotional campaign of a record he was working on in Brazil.  The catalyst from a career in the music industry to fashion accessories and social enterprise was his mum. Visiting Oliver in Brazil, she bought a locally made bag made from disposed ring pulls, connected using a crochet technique.  To promote the record in his campaign, he had bags made using this hand craft technique, which, it turned out, generated more interest and sales than the record itself.

The original BOTTLETOP bag in collaboration with Mulberry. Image: Bukowskis

At that point, the power to harness a design technique that utilises local materials and generates income for local communities from waste was what drove Oliver to turn this process into a range of products fit for the global luxury accessories market in 2012.  BOTTLETOP now boasts a flagship store on Regent Street, London, a recent pop-up in Dallas, Texas, and has future sights on Asia.

 

The BOTTLETOP brand funds the Bottletop Foundation, which was founded by Co-Director Cameron Saul and his father Roger (Founder of British luxury fashion brand Mulberry) in 2002.  The foundation empowers young people with health education and technical skills training to enable them to make healthy choices and build their future.  It also supports musicians from around the globe to create collaborative work and showcase it through the ‘Sound Effects’ album series, poetically closing the creative loop on where it all began.

Bottletop Foundation.  Image: BOTTLETOP

In discussing the business models and design approaches of Elvis & Kresse and BOTTLETOP, alongside the design research driven by the Centre for Circular Design, new definitions of luxury emerged that encompass transparency and ethics.  The recent revelation that Burberry burnt millions of dollars worth of leather goods as a way of disposing of unsold stock caused a very public scandal, arguably threatening the image of luxury the brand aims to exude. This incineration is by no means limited to Burberry – it is common practice across the fashion industry at the value end right through to luxury.  In line with changing views of luxury from a new generation of consumers who value experiences at least as much as acquiring ‘stuff’, brands that create a community and engage in dialogue with consumers, including those on the panel, are increasingly valued and held in higher prestige than ‘faceless’, out of reach “luxury” brands, that in comparison, can feel out of step and dated.

Stay tuned for details of the next panel discussion during London Fashion Week in February, 2019.

Happy New Year!

More on Fillipa K’s sustainability efforts can be found here

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Techstyler X BOTTLETOP: Sustainable Materials for Design

Much is said about ‘sustainable materials’ in apparel and product design, but what makes a material sustainable? How can brands adopt sustainable materials without compromising on aesthetics and function? Why is adopting sustainable materials crucial to both the future of the design industries and commercial success of brands?  These questions formed the basis of the first in a series of panel discussions led by Techstyler in partnership with Bottletop, hosted at their flagship store in London’s Regent street. 

An inherently sustainable brand, Bottletop not only repurposes the tabs on aluminium cans to create its products, but uses only reclaimed and recycled materials in its flagship store interior, making it a fitting home for this speaker series unpacking a range of themes on fashion innovation, beginning with sustainable materials for design.  

Speaking to an audience spanning multiple industries, including fashion, furniture and interior design, the panel addressed common misconceptions around sustainable materials and highlighted opportunities for designers and businesses in adopting sustainable materials and practices.

Key takeaways from the event included insights from Oya Barlas Bingul on Lenzing’s Circular fibre, ‘Refibra’, which is created from 50% cotton off-cuts (pre-consumer waste) and 50% Tencel, creating a 100% virgin fibre that can be recycled in a circular manner using Lenzing’s closed loop process, which does not use harmful solvents and creates no toxic byproducts. 

Qiulae Wong enlightened the audience on brand opportunities and adoption of sustainable practices and materials.  She explained that sustainability efforts are unique to each brand and depend on the products being created, so there is no blueprint for becoming a ‘sustainable’ brand.  In doing so, she highlighted that the desire to become ‘sustainable’ but the confusing nature of ‘sustainability’ (does it mean using organic materials, or is it related to carbon footprint generated by the supply chain, for example) means many brands feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. 

To this end, Common Objective, where Qiulae is the Production and Marketing Manager, helps brands to assess their business on all levels and identify realistic changes they can make to become more sustainable.  This may mean a brand switching the raw materials of their best selling product to the most sustainable materials available, thereby maximising the positive impact in a targeted and manageable way.

Ronan Hayes is the Co-founder of Reflow, which creates sustainable materials for 3D printing from local waste streams, namely PET plastic bottles.  Ronan shared insights on how 3D printing was initially enthusiastically adopted by engineers and is now in widespread use by artists and designers.  As a result, there is now an appetite not just for the original PLA and ABS plastic filaments, but malleable filaments that 3D print soft, moveable objects.  These new filaments are being used to 3D print clothing and Ronan sees opportunities opening up to feed a wider range of polymer waste materials into the filament making process.  Interestingly, he also explained that Reflow are being approached by global brands to create 3D printing filaments from the brands’ single-use plastic waste and then utilise this filament within the business in place of other materials, thereby contributing towards the overall sustainability of the brand.

In defining sustainability, the panel discussed how everything we do as designers and brands creating products utilises resources (electricity, water, raw materials like cotton etc.) and therefore has an impact.  Being sustainable means minimising that impact and extending the life of materials and products or, better still, recycling them.  But how do brands quantify and qualify their sustainability?  How can sustainability be measured?  How can consumers understand which brands are more sustainable than others?

During the Q&A a question was posed by an audience member who had seen Primark on a ‘top sustainable brands’ list as one of the most sustainable brands in the UK.  A Google search didn’t unearth said list, but it did demonstrate very clearly that there is no benchmark or framework for declaring a brand as ‘sustainable’.  Sustainability is broadly used as a marketing and storytelling tool by brands spanning small artisan labels who cite ethical processes as their key pillar of sustainability, to high street giants who create one-off products or small ranges of products with enhanced sustainability credentials (made from recycled cotton, for example).  The reality that brands must start somewhere means it’s hard to criticise any efforts being made, however the greater effort would ideally come from the brands having the most negative environmental and social impact.

In terms of measuring a brand’s sustainability, unfortunately, as yet, there is no industry standard.  This is not to say there are not tools available  that assess sustainability of fashion companies. The Higg Index is one such tool.  It is, however, completely voluntary, self-reported and unverified externally, making it inherently subjective and therefore difficult to apply to the industry as a whole.  

For more insights on sustainable materials for design, listen to the full panel discussion and Q&A on our podcast.

The next panel discussion in this series, ‘Biomaterials and Biodesign – The Next Generation of Sustainable Materials’ takes place on October 8th at the Bottletop Store.  Tickets available here.

Achieving Sustainability Requires a Paradigm Shift, Says Kering’s Marie-Claire Daveu

As the driver of Kering’s global sustainability strategy, Marie-Claire Daveu is the company’s spokesperson on what amounts to a mammoth mandate to effect global change management across supply chains and drive education of students and designers to mindfully choose sustainable materials when making creative decisions.  Following the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, I spoke to her about how Kering is identifying, adopting and funding sustainable fashion solutions to mitigate environmental and ethical disasters within the industry.

The subject of sustainability in fashion is complex in that to understand its meaning and implications, designers must understand the technicalities of raw materials and the processes that grow and cultivate them – for example the links between climate change and cattle farming – in order to fully understand the role and importance of sustainable materials.  In luxury fashion, designers make the ultimate decisions about materials usage, so communicating the mechanics of sustainability to them is key.  During an enlightening and in-depth conversation with Marie-Claire Daveu, the complexity of the task became clear, as did the multi-pronged approach that Kering is taking to diagnose, develop and fund sustainable materials solutions.  It also became clear that in order to communicate this topic, Daveu’s engineering credentials (declaring herself an unlikely fashion person) are essential in making the connections between the mechanics and technicalities of the supply chain and the aesthetic and sensibilities of the design teams.

There were several key takeaways from the discussion with Daveu, during which she and I bonded over mutual previous careers in engineering and science respectively, before undertaking careers in the fashion industry.  Perhaps most potent was her assertion that a “with incremental progress you will not change a paradigm” and that disruption through innovation is needed in order to achieve transformation of supply chains to circular systems.  Specifically, she declared that incremental improvements (like using recycled textiles in capsule collections or isolated products, for example) were not sufficient.  Kering is firmly focused on finding disruptive technologies, and to do that they need to identify startups creating game-changing solutions.  Enter their Fashion For Good initiative in partnership with Plug and Play and the C&A Foundation, based in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Plug and Play incubates ideation and growth-stage startups in various industries – previous success stories include Dropbox and Paypal – to research, develop and test potential sustainable solutions for the fashion industry.  In partnering with C&A, Kering is demonstrating its belief that in terms of raw materials, a collaborative effort is required to create an industry-wide shift to more sustainable textiles.  Fashion brands spanning the high street and luxury sectors use cotton, for example, so a collaborative approach between brands increases buying power and provides the scale and volume to support the cost and change management required to transform materials supply chains into circular ones.

The key aim for Kering is to introduce sustainable materials and processes within the supply chain.  Marie-Claire Daveu is clear in her assertion that designers cannot add sustainability at the design stage – it has to be inherent in the raw materials and textiles.  She mentions current Fashion For Good incubee startups Pili-Bio, which uses micro-organisms to embed dye into materials in place of toxic and water-intensive dyeing processes, and Amadou mushroom leather, already product-tested by Irene-Marie Seelig and covered here in depth on the blog last year, when she was a recipient of the Kering Award for Sustainability.

Marie-Claire Daveu at the Kering Award for Sustainability, London College of Fashion – Image: Dave Bennett

Amadou is a potentially viable alternative to animal leathers and Daveu mentioned its promising development a number of times throughout our conversation, along with external innovators Bolt Threads, who have created a synthetic spider silk that she confirms is already a material being explored within the Kering group brands.  Given that Stella McCartney does not use animal skins, developments like Amadou mushroom leather have a clear opportunity to fulfil the brand ethos while maintaining the required levels of luxury and quality.

Irene-Marie Seelig’s Amadou mushroom leather shoe – Image:  Irene-Marie Seelig

Underlining Kering’s Sustainability drive are three pillars:  Care (reduce environmental impact by 40% and greenhouse gas by 50%); Collaborate (working with companies within the supply chain and other brands) and Create (launch disruptive innovations and link sustainability to a circular economy).  Innovation is the point pushed most heavily during our discussion, and it’s clear that the game-changing sustainable solutions will come from outside the brands themselves – most likely from startups (which Kering are investing in) and manufacturers within the supply chain.  Daveu explained that Kering are working very hard with NGOs in Mongolia, for example, to establish sustainable cashmere farming which respects biodiversity and supports animal welfare.  The foundation of this is transparency and traceability, as it is with all sustainable materials development.  Kering have also established programmes with suppliers in Italy and China to have a clear diagnosis of the usage of energy, water and other natural resources in order to analyse their consumption and begin to develop sustainable alternatives.  It’s when considering the complexity of changing entire factory manufacturing and processing systems in order to reduce natural resource consumption that the magnitude of this task to achieve sustainability becomes clear – we are not simply talking about choosing organic cotton in favour regular cotton – this is a deep, expensive and technical change needed to drastically reduce the demands the fashion industry is placing on the planet, across the entire industry. 

Sustainability in Motion – Kering.com

In addition to looking outside of their company for innovation, Kering has developed an in-house materials innovation lab based in Milan, headed up by Cecilia Takayama, who spoke at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit as part of the panel discussion on circular design.  Kering’s lab has been particularly successful in creating sustainable materials for its Gucci and Bottega Veneta brands, and Daveu reveals that they now want to apply this same focus to creating materials for their watch and jewellery brands.

Kering’s Cecilia Takayama on circular design – Image: Copenhagen Fashion Summit

Kering’s commitment to sustainability comes from the top – led by François Henri Pinault, who is active in the implementation of the sustainability strategy for each brand in the Kering stable.  He meets with executives and design teams across all brands to demonstrate the prioritisation of sustainability and the level of seriousness with which it is taken at Kering.  Marie-Claire Daveu also explained that formal KPI’s are in effect to ensure that sustainability remains a focus and targets are met.  

François-Henri Pinault receives the GCC Global Leaders of Change Awards 2015 at UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) – Image: Kering.com

Via Daveu, Kering’s message is that it wants to set the global standard in sustainable luxury by 2025, by delivering on targets within its three pillars.  Underlining their commitment, she said “the new generation will make the future”, and that Kering has a “360 degree approach” including sustainability education via university initiatives at London College of Fashion, Parsons, Central Saint Martins and Tsinghua, along with investments in startups and game-changing innovations.  This, combined with its EP&L and supply-chain efforts aimed at identifying and overhauling environmentally harmful processes, mean Kering are attacking sustainability challenges from all angles.  Keep an eye on Plug and Play Amsterdam and Kering’s Sustainability news to see how it all unfolds. 

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London College of Fashion Sustainability Initiatives “Fired Up” by Professor Sandy Black

Fashion’s future is about looking forward, however looking back with Sandy Black, Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology at London College of Fashion, serves up a timely lesson for right now on running a fashion business and sustainability.

Professor Black provides the privilege of reflection – of pausing and drawing on decades of analysis of craft and technology and designer fashion businesses through her academic research and practice and asking the question ‘why has so little changed for fashion designers in terms of barriers to growing a successful business’?  Many of the difficulties Professor Black, a maths graduate from UCL (more on that later), faced when running her knitwear business in the 70’s and 80’s still exist today, especially in terms of financing production whilst investing in new collections and finding manufacturers willing to work with emerging brands in a dynamic and affordable way.  The conversation and landscape is changing, though.

Professor Black completed a maths degree at UCL whilst exploring, informally, her interest in craft and knitting.  Upon graduation she became involved in an artistic knitting movement that saw an explosion of her knitwear across the globe.  Sandy Black Fashion knitwear was stocked in boutiques in the US, Japan, Australia and Europe.  Her hand and domestic machine knitted pieces were intricate and painterly, reflecting a new creative and artistic approach to knitwear that thrust itself into the fashion realm, beyond its reputation as a domestic craft.

img_2117Coat by Sandy Black  Photo: David McIntyre

“Digital knitting began in the 70’s” states Professor Black.  The current knitting technology is an extension of, rather than a re-invention of, that knitting technology.  She forged links with Stoll, a world-leading industrial knitting machine manufacturer to have a machine installed at London College of Fashion, enabling students to immerse themselves in industry techniques and adopt new technology in their practice.

The excitement in knitting arguably lies in its fusion of craft and technology and Professor Black’s publications, including Interrogating Fashion, Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox and The Sustainable Fashion Handbook explore the impact of this fusion on fashion, in terms of manufacturing, sustainability and aesthetics.  Her recent work, in collaboration with a number of London College of Fashion-based academics, is an online platform allowing the exchange of information between fashion academics and the designer fashion industry to promote insightful, sustainable and collaborative practice for better business and environmental outcomes.

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The platform, FIREup, has fuelled debate around changing business models for sustainability.  It intends to unlock the potential of industry and academic collaboration, and is designed to help designer-fashion businesses in London access knowledge based in the university’s research centres and academic staff across three prestigious colleges: Central Saint Martins, London College of Fashion and Chelsea College of Arts.  The FIREup initiative is now expanding across the UK. 

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Professor Sandy Black in discussion with Michelle Lowe-Holder, Martine Jarlgaard, Kiwy Huang and Ben Alun-Jones at the Creativeworks Festival, King’s College London – Photo: CSF

As part of the FIREup initiative, four projects were undertaken to allow designers to conduct research to inform their business decisions.  This research involved a sort of ‘forced reflection’ and contemplation.  Recent exits of high-profile designers from global fashion businesses (Raf Simons from Dior and Alber Elbaz from Lanvin) were allegedly, at least partly, the result of frustration at a lack of time and space to pause and reflect because of the relentless cycle of punishing product deadlines with no time for contemplation and development.  Although running a smaller business with fewer product categories is arguably less time-pressured, it is absolutely true that the pressures Professor Black faced whilst running her business and that often lead to added strain on small businesses have not yet been resolved.  It is the mandate of FIREup to allow designers space, time, academic support and funding to conduct reflective research and steer their business forward in a more successful and thoughtful way.  Christopher Raeburn is one such designer involved in the FireUp Catalyst Project.

Raeburn’s ‘REMADE’ products are crafted from re-appropriated military fabrics.  The jacket below was remade by deconstructing and shredding original German snow ponchos, the Schneetarn (German for ‘snow camouflage’) Parka.  A limited edition garment, it is one of a maximum of 50, proudly remade in Raeburn’s London studio.

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The women’s Ceremonial Biker Jacket is reworked from original British military ceremonial garments, traditional British military wear that have held the same design for the last century.  The jacket, typical of British cavalry, artillery and infantry, is also a limited edition piece (a maximum of 50) also remade in the Christopher Raeburn Studio.  Shop Christopher Raeburn here.

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Currently promoted on the FIREup platform, and being hosted by Professor Rebecca Earley and Dr. Kate Goldsworthy is the Mistra Fashion Future Conference on textile design and the circular economy which is part of their research aimed at creating the vision of designing for a circular future where materials are designed, produced, used and disposed of in radical new ways. “Circular Transitions will be the first global event to bring together academic and industry research concerned with designing fashion textiles for the circular economy.  The themes will explore the design of new materials for fashion with approaches ranging from emerging technology and social innovation to systems design and tools.”  For more information about the conference in London this November visit FIREup or Mistra Future Fashion.

It’s clear that Professor Black’s research and industry involvement, along with the work of her fellow academics at London College of Fashion, is helping shape the discourse around designer businesses and sustainability.  The broader discussion, encompassing the impact of our lifestyle choices (including fashion) on the environment has been explored by Professor Helen Storey in her recent Dress For Our Time project.  Developed in partnership with Holition, the dress digitally displayed data – extracted from a major study of the global risks of future shifts in ecosystems due to climate, which showed the impact of climate change on our physical world. It showed the planet as it will be, if we don’t do enough.  The film below demonstrates the shocking and compelling figures related to the refugee crises and displacement across across the globe projected onto the Dress For Our Time:

Professor Black and Professor Storey are both also instrumental team members at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) at the London College of Fashion – a Research Centre of the University of the Arts London based at London College of Fashion. Our work explores vital elements of Better Lives London College of Fashion’s commitment to using fashion to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live.  In 2014 the CSF announced a five-year partnership to work closely with Kering to support sustainable practices in education for the fashion industry. The partnership is a three-way approach to ensure new ways of thinking about sustainability in fashion: The Kering Talks, The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion and The Empowering Imagination module for MA students at LCF.  This year’s Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion will be announced on November 14th and I will be attending and writing about the finalists, so stay tuned!

To learn more about CSF initiatives, click here

To find out more about FIREup and see current opportunities here

Header Image:  Christopher Raeburn, who uses re-appropriated military materials in his collections

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