By Chere Di Boscio and Sara Darling
The UK has long been known for its kindness to animals, more so any other country in Europe. You’ll never find bullfights or horse meat here, and apparently Britain is one of the top 5 countries to travel to for vegans and vegetarians. So it’s no wonder there are plenty of vegan designers here.
But British Sustainable Fashion is also a growing niche, and we are proud of the home-grown pioneers in this field, including Common Objective, Fashion Revolution, and some incredible designers who have been shouting from the rooftops about ethical fashion for some time.
Here are three pioneering sustainable fashion icons you need to know, all of whom hail from the UK, but who have taken their message – and their designs – to conscious consumers around the globe.
British designer Stella McCartney is known for many things: being the daughter of a Beatle, having loads of celebrity friends, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Moss, and of course, being a leading vegan designer.
A lifelong vegetarian, she has been proudly creating sustainable luxury fashion for almost two decades.
She’s a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and unlike that other British designer who claims to be ‘eco-friendly’, Stella consistently uses earth-friendly materials like recycled polyester, organic cotton, and regenerated cashmere.
But in addition to such well-chosen fabrics, Stella’s brand also has many waste-reduction strategies in place across her entire supply chain, and her company measures and reports on their direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions, as well as on their water use – they have some serious water reduction targets in place, and a solid treatment and discharge practice for wastewater.
As many people know, animal-lover Stella has always been very aware of animal welfare, and has sworn to never use leather, angora, shearling or fur in any of her collections. She has also partnered with PETA on various projects, but she does use wool (from her own ethical sheep farm) and regenerated cashmere in her work.
Some have criticised Stella for using wool, though she insists that she ‘knows’ each sheep on her farm and can guarantee they are never treated badly in any way. Nonetheless, she has partnered with PETA this year to co-sponsor a prize for the Biodesign Challenge which encourages college students worldwide to develop bio-fabricated vegan wool.
Images and main image: Stella McCartney
The 80s were all about Katharine Hamnett. Her Choose Life and Frankie Says Relax tee shirts were pretty much ubiquitous, seen on everyone from pop stars to housewives, and they truly defined the era. As a passionate activist, Hamnett has always worn her political beliefs on her organic cotton tees.
Most recently, Katharine took to the main stage at Pure London and called out Government, policy makers and big businesses for being complicit in contributing to the poverty of millions of farmers and workers worldwide. Her solution…to insist on the same standard for all products created outside the EU as inside, and to reinvent British manufacturing.
“In the 1980s no-one knew there was anything wrong with the fashion industry. That has changed now, a lot of brands are changing – but a lot aren’t. Brands are unwilling because it puts up their costs. But consumer power is forcing the issue now,” she stated. “My overall solution is to insist on the same standards from goods outside the EU as the standards set inside the EU or they aren’t allowed in. It would create a level playing field, help clean up the environment, would mean the same health and safety and labour standards, and also make the EU more competitive.”
She added that more needs to be done to re-industrialise the UK citing that our natural resources, renewable energy and embracing new technology could make Britain great again.
She insists that “we can start again as a manufacturing country. We need to start from scratch but do it completely sustainably, change the old business model and unnecessary profit making. But this must come from the top, it is the responsibility of the CEO’s and boards of directors to make the changes. Businesses need to be arm-wrestled by legislation, we’ve had 30 years of choice and now we need laws.”
A strict Buddhist, Katharine tries to ensure everything she does–be it in work or her personal life–is aligned with her beliefs. This dedication to morality has not made her popular with everyone, and she’s been quoted as saying: “I know for a fact that certain glossy sections of the fashion publishing world would rather that I disappear.” Given the support for toxic, unethical fashion by the mainstream media, this can only be a huge compliment.
The 80s may be long gone, but Katharine’s passion for politics hasn’t abated – and somehow, those slogan tee shirts seem more necessary now than ever before.
Images: Pure London, Katharine Hamnett
Fashion designer Christopher Raeburn is celebrating a decade in the fashion industry, and for the past ten years has pioneered sustainable fashion; But he doesn’t just want to be seen as a green designer- the fact his fashion is ethical should be a by-product of the innovative, wearable designs.
Working on the assumption of making clothes that will stand the test of time and provide lifelong memories, his clothes are an investment. Backed up with evidence that if you wear a single garment for nine months longer than any throway item, it will prolong it’s lifespan by 20% -which is quite remarkable when you think how quickly you disregard any fast fashion items.
Making fashionable clothes that last, is a conundrum in the fashion industry. People need affordable clothing, and are often tempted by a quick fix. Raeburn would like to see the Government confront manufacturers, designers and educators and work with them to enable access to more recyclable materials, working practises which provide long lasting benefits. With backing, the ripple that is slowly starting to build, will multiply, and the more voices are talking about it will bring on a demographic call to attention.
With media coverage and celebrity support starting to build momentum in addressing manufacturing issues, there are seeds of a slow movement which is constantly evolving. Even Veganuary is bringing the idea of alternatives to the mainstream, and people are embracing this.
Raeburn himself knows that there are pitfalls in being totally sustainable. Starting out, his first collections were only re-made from already used materials. However, when his business was developing, it grew too quickly and his team could not keep up with the demand. It was only a fortuitous decline in wholesale, that made him rethink his model and get into recycling, reselling and reducing his output, so he could stay loyal to his beliefs.
This lucidity is shared with his customers, and his loyal patrons have been with him since the start. Offering free repairs, his designs become timeless investment pieces, and he is accountable to the community he wants to educate.
By creating transparently, Raeburn’s clients are exposed to the full cycle of his collections, which have a proud providence; He is happy to share the story behind the label and where the materials and manufacturing are established, and by keeping his finger on the pulse of current trends, he can create products organically which represent his beliefs.
With an aim to create a cool product which looks great, not just a sustainable product, it is good news that natural materials are proving to be more and more popular with consumers, and stores and designers are listening to the demand. Knowing that you might have to invest a little more in something that has been designed with the future of the planet in mind, is an empowering choice for customers and designers alike.
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