New is the operative word when looking at the latest incarnation of Selfridges’ ongoing Bright Young Things project. Last year, the word ‘Young’ was replaced by ‘Old’ to celebrate an older generation of maverick creatives. This year, we’re making way for the ‘new’ – because Selfridges aren’t merely celebrating burgeoning fashion talent that is ‘young’ but they’re focusing on a ‘new’ approach in fashion. Well perhaps, it’s not so ‘new’ to those that have been involved in the conversation of sustainable fashion, but in the context of the industry at large, the steps to overturn some of the grave atrocities committed in the name of style (raw material waste, fast fashion labour, damage on environment from the way fabrics are produced etc etc), are only baby ones. Introducing these ‘new’ approaches to the general public is still in its wee wee infancy. Weighing up the product that is sustainable and ethically made versus the stuff that isn’t, the balance falls firmly to the ground in favour of the latter. Change is still very much in progress. Hell, the conversation about instilling change is just beginning to get off the ground.
My personal interest in sustainable fashion of course stems from the ‘new’ burst of creativity that is coming from a generation of designers that acknowledge the problems and are contributing in their small but significant way, by working differently, creating with alternative material and production sources and in the end, the clothing stands up to the age-old litmus test of “Hey, this looks really really great!” No, they’re not crusading to save the planet all by themselves but they offer pieces to a jigsaw puzzle that collectively presents us, the fashion lovers and shoppers and they, the industry on a creative solution.
Selfridges has placed its focus firmly on these solution conduits and have chosen nine designers that each embody this new wave of sustainably minded designers (even if some of them don’t label themselves as such). In addition to promoting talent that deserve attention, regardless of their ethical stance, the value of having windows that scream out with slogans such as “The Human Face of Fashion” being seen by thousands and thousands of people passing by on Oxford Street, can’t be underestimated. Selfridges add credence to the project by working directly with the esteemable Centre for Sustainable Fashion in a pledge to “Buy Better” in their own stores and making sure the brands they buy in meeting standards on ethical trade.
The majority of this year’s BNT’s are very familiar to me. A few weren’t. Going in to see the windows being installed last week gave me an opportunity to find out more as well as learn new facets about the production process of the designers that I do know. Their windows are of course, eye-catching affairs. The hope is that if your head is turned by say Katie Jones’ confetti covered donkey or Cloth Surgeon’s sterile toile-filled operating theatre, you’ll also be interested in #WearAware conversation that Selfridges are promoting. “Be curious. Be knowledgeable. Be part of our journey.” The last part of that anaphora is perhaps, a tad cheesy but the first two sentences are certainly sound calls to action.
Ah Katie. Her window is a self-explanatory ode to her love of colour, crochet and craft. You’d have to be pretty mean-spirited not to at least smile at her ode to Mexican cheer, based on her SS16 collection. Employing more of her resourceful material reclaiming skills, denim and ribbon, inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, run riot with cotton thread crochet and summer vibes amped up with customised Juju sandals and pom poms. Jones’ quirky way of patching the unwanted up into real labours of love, isn’t for everyone but it is by far one of the most uplifting iterations of upcycled fashion around today. Her signature crocheted Aran knits are currently on sale in Selfridges as part of their shop floor support of their BNT’s.
Photos of Faustine Steinmetz’s studio from Yahoo Style
Walk into Faustine Steinmetz’s current studio (which happens to be very close to my house) and you’re confronted by a giant loom. Her painstakingly hand woven textiles are what brought her to the attention of the fashion world, with continuous support of NewGen as well as being one of the finalists of last year’s LVMH prize. For S/S 16, she worked with a Spanish denim mill called Royo, who create their fabrics out of recycled old jeans, as her first venture towards outsourcing textiles. Steinmetz is still all about hand crafting of course but she’s also quick to realise that to meet retailer demand, she’ll have to look at alternative options that also share her interest in sustainable and storied fabrics. The best thing about Steinmetz’s clothes of course is the way she’s recontextualising familiar garments such as a white t-shirt, a pair of jeans or a denim jacket. Nestled in amongst Thomas Petherick’s set of curved white blocks are the curves of Steintmetz’s clothes because we should see fashion from all angles.
Alex Noble of EMG
Alex Noble was actually part of Selfridges’ first round of Bright Young Things back in 2009 and since then, his path has taken a more, well… noble… nature as he started up the EMG Initiative to highlight environmental and social problems within the fashion industry. They primarily create Salvage T’s out of surplus fabrics from London designers like Agi & Sam, Henry Holland and Giles Deacon. The proceeds then go towards a TRAID and ChildHope project to assist daycare centres for children of factory workers in Bangladesh. EMG’s window mashes up videos collated on Noble’s travels with neon-laced messaging paired with mannequins that feature the prints of their Salvage T’s contrasted with white-washed corporate suiting. I liked what Noble said when he likened sustainable fashion to punk – that it’s about ripping up the rules and starting again. It’s this attitude that will spur others to think up ‘new’ ways of working rather than sticking to the status quo.
I’ve worn Mich Dulce’s hats before in the very early days of Style Bubble but haven’t had the chance to catch up with what she has been up to lately until now. After garnering all-important experience at Maison Michele, Dulce’s collections have gone from strength to strength and have recently taken on a personal slant, when she began to source straw from her native Philippines from local communities, who use banana, pineapple and buri palm leaves to weave the finest of materials. She’s gone one step further and together with the Philippine Textile Research Institute, she has sourced a very hardwearing, multi-faceted and ultrafine straw called T’palak, handwoven by the T’boli tribe. These fibres hang in the window in shades of dusky pink and natural straw. Behind Dulce’s neat fedoras and more fanciful fascinators, there’s rhyme and reason to why they cost what they do. The price is set by the Filipino craftsmen, who initially didn’t want to weave straw because it was so time consuming and labour-intensive. The results though are indeed special and it’s a story that definitely needs to be communicated to more undiscerning eyes.
Photos of Martina Spetlova’s studio from 1Granary
I was more than familiar with Martina Spetlova’s instantly recognisable woven leather pieces, which has been her signature since her MA Central Saint Martins collection back in 2011. However, I wasn’t aware that Spetlova now sources her leather from an ECCO leather tannery – one that has very strict water and fuel policies, in order to cut-and-weave her distinctive pieces. These woven checkerboards are currently draped across her window like colourful kites.
One way of combatting fast fashion is of course to slow things right down so that it comes back to the traditional idea of a tailor, a pair of scissors and a measuring tape. Clothsurgeon aren’t strictly speaking a fully sustainable label but head designer Rav Matharu’s processes encourage customers to rethink their wardrobe by offering bespoke customisation services, which happens to be the mainstay of their business. People can upcycle existing garments that they have and combine them with new fabrics to create unique pieces. Hence why their products consist of patchwork plaid shirts and repurposed bomber jackets. In their “operating theatre”, they dissect garments by their patterns and origins and bring them to a new place.
I’ve overworn my favourite rainbow-hued swimsuit, which happens to be by sustainable swimwear line Auria, designed and conceived by Diana Auria and Margot Bowman. They happen upon a sustainably sourced nylon, made out of old fishing nets, and have since been creating fun and cheeky swimwear, that sums up the bright-eyed optimism of sustainable fashion today. As opposed to selling product, Selfridges together with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, will be mentoring Auria to help them grow and develop for the future.
Hiut Denim & Co
Hiut Denim Co’s story is an extraordinary one. Husband-and-wife team David and Claire Hieatt were inspired to resurrect the denim manufacturing industry in their hometown of Cardigan in Wales, when Marks & Spencer decided to offshore their jeans production. In swooped the Hieatt’s to breathe new life into Cardigan’s denim craftsmen as Hiut now creates high-end jeans made out of Turkish organic or Japanese selvedge denim. One click on their website, and you might look at your existing pile of jeans with a wincing eye. With Selfridges, Hiut are currently encouraging people to join the No Wash Club, going six months without washing your jeans to save water. An easy order for myself, who rarely wears jeans but perhaps taller for denim nuts.
The most impressive of shop floor participation by a BNT perhaps belongs to Unmade, a really exciting and innovative collective that are changing the face of knitwear with their made-to-order creation process. Using the most high-tech of programmable Stoll machines, Unmade allow the customer to choose from a curated variety of patterns (created by the likes of Kate Moross and Christopher Raeburn). On their site, you can interact with the pattern – shifting them and changing their size – and choose the colours to create a unique jumper or scarf. It’s hard to explain this process properly unless you have a play with it yourself. No wonder peeps on Instagram were blown away by this bit of coding jiggery…
Once you’ve committed to buy, Unmade’s Stoll machines get to work and within as little as an hour, your design in fine Australian Merino wool or high-grade Italian cashmere, can be made with the utmost precision and quality. An in-house team then finishes off these fully fashioned knits and along with a personalised garment label, you end up with something that you can call your own. A two week waiting time for all of that seems like nothing. The important thing is the fact that everything is made to order and so you don’t have stock that sits there gathering dust, that might eventually contribute to landfill.
A smaller version of Unmade’s Stoll knitting machines as well as a full display of their designs and website interface, have currently taken over a chunk of Selfridges’ third floor. Go get to grips with Unmade’s pattern-warped knits and be a part of the making process. I in turn definitely want to visit their Somerset House setup to find out more, given that I’m trying to be more curious and all.