Bethany Williams’ Fashion is Sustainable From The Core

Bethany Williams’s London Fashion Week Mens presentation was set in the Charing Cross Library, forming the foundation of her brand’s seasonal message in the community mainstay of the local library.  Free to all for intellectual enrichment regardless of background or beliefs, the library set the perfect tone for the presentation of the SS19 collection entitled “No Address Needed to Join”.

   

The presentation unravelled as stories within stories to a soundtrack of The Gingerbread man audiobook.  The brand’s social and sustainability story was visually expressed through garments that appeared to have been crafted from sheets of compressed book pulp, cut into strips then hand-woven.  Comprising of half a dozen looks representative of a materials re-appropriation design language, the textile-led designs mixed materials rich in text, texture and colour – exuberant and bold – as you would expect from a collection with such a strong social message.

   

A true team effort, Bethany’s collections rely upon co-operation and collaboration, which must involve vast planning, negotiations and partnership agreements.  Her business model goes way beyond simply ordering fabrics from suppliers and working with garment manufacturers to sample and produce her collections.  This season Bethany and her team worked with The Quaker Mobile Library, which makes literature available for borrowing to marginalised members of society who have no fixed abode (who are unable to register for public library services) and British publishing house Hachette UK.  She obtained waste materials from Clay’s book manufacturing facility in Suffolk and took it to San Patrignano in Italy and worked alongside the community there to weave fabrics mixed from the book waste, waste from San Patrignano itself and donated pre-production waste from textile mills in Italy.

   

On the garment construction side, Bethany has continued the previous season’s partnership with the London College of Fashion’s ‘Making for Change’ programme, which supports the training of women in Downview Prison. Women on the programme will be constructing the jersey pieces for production orders of the collection. The production focuses on working closely with innovative rehabilitation programmes including San Patrignano, Making For Change at HMP Downview and Manx Workshop for the disabled (button production), providing skills and meaningful employment.

   

Making up a considerable portion of the collection were oversized hand-knitted jumpsuits, sweaters and trousers created in collaboration with Wool and Gang’s Heal the Wool yarn (made from 100% recycled Peruvian wool fibre with 30% of the yarn price donated to Friends of the Earth.  Recycled wool was sourced from Kent for the hand embroidery on the knitwear pieces. All the sampling was hand-knitted by Bethany’s mother on the Isle of Man where she grew up. Yarns were also sourced from Chris Carney Collections, a recycling and sorting facility, where knitwear is washed and unravelled before being hand-knitting into pieces for the collection. The denim elements within the collection were also sourced in the same manner and unpicked before being reconstituted and hand-printed into new garments.

   What transpires from this overview of the extensive collaborations and partnerships Bethany Williams forges is that sustainability is impressively integrated and fundamental to her brand, not a token afterthought or a simple matter of ordering organic or recycled materials for use in the collection – it is the very foundation of her creativity and modus operandi while celebrating inclusion, social mobility and community. 

Here, fashion is a vehicle for good with her inspiring roster of collaborators for the creation of her collections and their delivery, which was achieved through a presentation in collaboration with social and environmental activists and TIH Models, a niche, socially engaged modelling agency exclusively featuring individuals in unique living conditions.

Of course working at a ‘grass-roots’ level reclaiming and re-appropriating materials from waste can make for difficulties in ensuring required quantities for production and potentially in consistency of material quality.  The manual nature of many of the processes may also be challenging to scale up for larger production quantities.  Both these factors mean this is not a business model that can scale easily, but maybe that’s not the point here.  Speaking of fashion as a vehicle for positivity and change, Bethany Williams states “we provide an alternative system for fashion production, as we believe fashion’s reflection upon the world can create positive change.”  Job done. 

As part of this season’s community commitment, Bethany is donating 20% of the profits from this collection to The Quaker Mobile Library.  Bethany Williams is available now at 50m, Ecclestone Yard, London.

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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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Copenhagen Fashion Summit Sets the Tone for Global Sustainability Agenda

On the eve of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, 2017, Eva Kruse, CEO & President of Global Fashion Agenda, the driving force behind the now annual summit, spoke of the challenges and opportunities facing the global fashion industry in tackling sustainability issues.

The world’s second most polluting industry after oil and gas, fashion faces the stark reality that by 2030 global garment production will increase by 63%, in response to the planet’s growing population, expected by then to exceed 8.5 billion – an unsustainable quantity that has sparked tomorrow’s summit’s call to action: appealing to fashion brands and retailers to adopt circular systems.  The crux of circular systems is collection, reuse and recycling of garments, feeding them back into the manufacturing process so that the majority of garments no longer go into landfill, ultimately making the existing linear model of “take, make, dispose” obsolete.  By 2030 retailer H&M aims to operate under a fully circular model – that is, only using recycled materials in its garment production.

Important points arising from pre-summit discussions today at the Hotel Skt Petri, a fitting venue, being that the hotel is powered by 100% offshore wind energy, included the need for innovation and collaboration between stakeholders across the fashion industry.  The Pulse of the Fashion Industry report compiled by The Boston Consulting Group and the Global Fashion Agenda will be formally launched and discussed at tomorrow’s summit and will outline where the fashion industry is in terms of sustainability efforts today, and where it needs to be to avoid environmental and humanitarian crises in the future.

Jason Kibbey, CEO of Sustainable Apparel Coalition, underpinned the importance of the Global Fashion Agenda by explaining that it could provide a unified focus amongst hundreds of splintered initiatives on sustainability across the industry.  He went on to say that recycling garments is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry currently, echoing the call for circularity mentioned earlier.

An encouraging discourse was led by Marco Lucietti, Global Marketing Director of ISKO, who outlined the denim manufacturer’s ‘long journey’ towards being fully responsible in manufacturing and sustainability terms, which has led to innovations such as indigo dyeing without the use of water and their Earth Fit collection, which has been created from organic cotton, post-recycled polyester and Lenzing fibres (which are manufactured under a circular business model).  Marco was clear in outlining the role ISKO has in shaping the textile offering to brands and guiding them to make sustainable textile choices.

Marco cited one of the biggest challenges for the sustainability agenda currently as being consumer attitudes towards ‘sustainable garments’ and the false impression that sustainability means a compromise on design and/or quality.  He is calling for a drive to help convince customers of the superiority of sustainable fashion and make it a major purchasing driver for consumers.

Eva Kruse and Marco Lucietti – Image: Techstyler

ISKO’s I-Skool initiative gives fashion students access to their sustainable denim and affords them the knowledge and understanding of how these materials can be integral to the design process, rather than an optional alternative to more polluting ones.  I-Skool is a denim award held in collaboration with Copenhagen Fashion Summit.  It showcased the work of ten fashion students with the eventual winner, Farah Sherif Wali, being chosen by an International judging panel including previous creative director of Oscar De La Renta, Peter Copping and Bandana Tewari, fashion features director at Vogue India.

I-Skool finalist designers included, from top – Annie Ansell (UAL, Chelsea), Quinton Lovelace (FIDM, LA), Elena Turkhina (ESMOD, Berlin), and winner, Farah Sherif Wali (Polimoda, Florence)- Images: Techstyler

Rounding off this pre-summit piece is a brief overview of the two day Youth Fashion Summit which ends today, from which a draft of the first ever UN resolution on fashion will be formed.  In partnership with Swarovski, the collaboration between the Global Fashion Agenda and the Copenhagen School of Design Technology (KEA) has given students the platform to discuss and produce the draft resolution in order to shape the future of the fashion industry and lead the fight for sustainable practices.  Expanding on this, Dax Lovegrove, Global Vice President of Corporate Sustainability and Social Responsibility at Swarovski, stated that the three key topics coming out of the two day Youth Summit had been climate change, a fair deal in the supply chain for all and circular economy.  Dax summarised by saying that solving societal problems and ‘eradicating forced labour’ were also key discussion points.  A promising start to a global summit promising to prove that sustainability is not only an environmental and societal issue, but a business issue too.

Youth Fashion Summit 2017 – Images: Copenhagen Fashion Summit 

Stay tuned for more fashion and sustainability news and interviews from the Copenhagen Fashion Summit and follow me Techstyler on Twitter and Instagram.

Header Image:  Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2016