Recently, there has been a marked shift within the arena of sustainable fashion: it has evolved from its previous singular dependence on ethical morality into a commonplace factor in a brand’s design process, no longer confined to the wardrobes of hemp-wearing acolytes or those who favour a Birkenstock above all else. Modern fashion – and, in fact, the modern world itself – depends on all of us taking a slightly more equitable stance when it comes to sourcing and producing our garments and Selfridges’ new initiative, Bright New Things, is a celebration of those who do. An evolution of their Bright Young Things platform (which has, over the past five years, supported an assortment of emerging creative talents including Simone Rocha and Anna Lomax), 2016 is dedicated to championing those “who put sustainability and innovative design side by side at the heart of their practice”.
As Selfridges’ Creative Director Linda Hewson explained, “For a long time, we’ve been thinking about what we can do differently and better, and how we can engage the conversation and explore the opportunities around ideas of sustainable, ethical retail. What we’ve found is these brilliant designers creating innovative products and doing it in a new way.” So, in honour of the launch of the ten-week campaign and accompanying video showcasing the works of the ten designers, we spoke to some of our favourites about the role that sustainability plays in their practice.
“As an individual and a customer I was never too worried about sustainability,” explains Faustine Steinmetz, whose signature denims and intricately crafted fabrications have quickly established her eponymous label as one of London Fashion Week’s most notable new additions. “But the day I decided to start my own label I felt like I had the responsibility to do things right.” While creating her pieces without the use of leather and looming each piece by hand “makes everything more complicated than it should be on a daily basis” (as a young independent with razor-fine margins, presumably the lure of a cut-price production line is fairly magnetic), Steinmetz’s determination to avoid the unsustainable human cost of cheap factory labour is resolute. “I am personally concerned the most about animal and human rights and the protection of the environment, and I think that the biggest obstacle to those is over-consumption,” she states. “And I think if we manage to inspire customers to get excited about minimal buying (collecting quality items rather than binging on quantity) and ban leather from their wardrobe, then this industry’s impact would be considerably lessened.”
“Sustainability has always been a key focus for us,” says Ben Alun-Jones, the Royal College of Art graduate who makes up a third of UnMADE: a company which creates machine-produced bespoke knitwear. “We believe that there is a massive opportunity to make industrial production more relevant, removing waste whilst unlocking new opportunities by involving individuals in what is made for them.” By engaging their consumers in the creation of their designs (one can adjust, or ‘unmake’, the patterns and colourways of their Merino wool pieces), they hope to invest them in the end product – and, with each of their products made-to-order, there is no surplus stock at the end of a run. “We fully believe that fashion designers need to put sustainability at the core of what they do,” he continues. “It just requires more awareness of the true cost of where materials or products come from beyond simply doing the cheapest or easiest option.”
When the denim factory located in Wales’ Cardigan Bay shut down, one of the area’s primary employers (the factory was responsible for 400 jobs and thus 10% of the local economy) was removed from the area. “There are cheaper places to make jeans than Cardigan Bay,” explains founder David Hieatt, whose company Hiut Denim has regenerated the area by reintroducing the industry to its idyllic shores and therefore re-employed its residents, “but the aim of the company is get the town making jeans again and keep this town a maker town.” Offering lifetime repairs on all of their products, Hiut Denim take a holistic approach to the term sustainability stating that, as a company, “We are responsible for the people who make our jeans, the land that grows the cotton, the quality of our products, the waste we make. Everything; we look at sustainability as the whole circle, not just a part of it.” Plus, good jeans last; it’s a win-win situation.