Before the interview we were chatting about different ways of production, like block chain and circular, I wondered if you could tell us a little about these and your thoughts on them?
The thing with sustainability is that when I speak to a brand who says that their product is made sustainably, I don’t completely trust it. Especially if it’s a high street store that hasn’t worked like that before and now they suddenly do. It’s that idea of greenwashing. Block chain production would allow you to have transparency, as it could be encrypted that every step of the chain would have to be transparent. It’d also allow you to tell the story of a garment, which helps from a marketing perspective. I think in the future you’ll be able to go into a store and scan a tag and you’d have visuals of how it’s made and where it’s come from. It’ll allow people to connect with your garment. I think that’s what block chain will do.
From the circular and sharing economy perspective, it’s about re-thinking ownership. As a customer you may barely use a garment, so rental services, (which seems like an obvious idea, but how do you make them convenient for people?) could be an alternative. I love Higher Studios. They do a subscription service because they figured out that when people rent a garment, there’s an issue of how much it’ll cost them to buy verses renting it. When you do the subscription, you maybe pay £100 a month (which might seem like a lot, but in certain cases it’s not) and you get access to garments that you can change as often as you like. It’s an alternative to fast fashion where you feel you have to have new things all the time. You can show off by wearing these crazy designs, instead of wearing black and white. You can change what you have more often, but the garment is of higher quality because it’s rented, and you get the feeling of having something new without the environmental damage. The founder, Sara Arnold, told me that when she was experimenting with it to see how people would react, there was one girl who said that each month she started to become more and more creative in how she dressed—I loved that. She didn’t need to buy the black garment because she’d have it all her life. She could wear these more creative designs instead. It also allows a designer to be more creative. Usually, as a designer, you have to think about what is sellable, but if you have a rental service where people only keep your garment for a short amount of time, you can move away from that.
For the circular economy, you think about how the garment can be altered so that, once it’s used, it can be made into the same product again or can go through more cycles. It’s not thrown out and left in a landfill somewhere. That’s another thing you need to think about as a designer when you create a product, what fabrics do you use? There’s a lot of different technologies available now and how you make recycled fabrics is improving, so it’s not the worst choice anymore. I’ve seen amazing recycled fabrics and you could never tell. I think that’s another super exciting thing.
Are there any particular brands you know that are incorporating this at the moment?
One brand I really love is Swedish Stockings. I met them a year and a half ago and they told me how they started their brand because they knew that most stockings were purposefully made to rip. They were like, “that’s crazy, why would you do that?!” The first thing they did was make stockings that’d last a long time. Now they’re trying to close the loop, so that they’re able to recycle the stockings and make new fabric. They’re not currently able to do that, so at the moment they down-cycle them (you can send any brand of stockings back to them for that). Also, their factories are solar-panelled and their production is great. It’s super exciting. When I talked to them, it felt like I was talking to a tech company. They have so much research behind what they do. It’s not just design, it’s both of those things.
Do you have any tips for shoppers who want to invest in more sustainable and ethical fashion?
Yeah, come to What’s Your Legacy! [laughs] There are a lot of amazing brands out there, and we want to give them exposure. I would say start slowly, because otherwise it’ll just be overwhelming. Start with one thing. The easiest things are your t-shirts and underwear, as it’s easy to find styles made sustainably with organic cotton and ethical production. Start with those things and don’t feel that you suddenly have to change everything! Don’t throw out all your high street things! I still wear some things that I bought on the high street seven years ago. I approach shopping by trying to find a sustainable alternative every time I need something new. At What’s Your Legacy we have a list of different brands that have one or another thing that’s sustainable about their products and have a unique style. It’s fun to go out in something and if people ask where it’s from, you’re able to tell them about a brand they don’t know. It gives you a good feeling. Do that, take it slowly, one thing at a time, and you’ll get there. In this world it’s easy to focus on all of the problems and to want this crazy big solution for everything, but it’s actually small steps that get you there and you just have to be patient. Do the best you can at the point that you’re at—if you’re a student then buying some of these sustainable brands may be way too expensive for you, so just figure out what you can afford. When you have more capital, do something better and go on like that!