“Buy less, choose well, make it last” - these are the words of Vivienne Westwood, in opposition to British high-street fashion shops churning out mass-produced clothing fast, at the expense of their workers and the earth. H&M have been broadly criticised for their ‘sustainable’ ranges, where some materials may be better-sourced, but at their core they are still the same: still part of a toxic system, looking after their workers badly, producing other plastic-based clothing, still pushing a narrative that tells us to buy more and dictates that our sense of self-worth should be linked to what we wear.
These nine clothing makers are the antithesis to that idea. Not only are their wares beautiful, they share certain guiding principles; their clothes are made to last and to be repaired, and are light on resources (using waste materials and locally sourced where possible). They’re slow - no seasons and mid-seasons - and they’re generative - positive action is baked into their business model. Many are also made-to-order, which reduces needless waste.
FOR EMPOWERING WOMEN
Jaggery sells beautiful hand-knitted tops and jumpers, and light cotton garments, made in India in a workshop of women. Theresa, its founder, tells us the story:
“I was born in Germany, and when I was little, my mother and I moved to a little township called Auroville in south India near Pondicherry. I grew up there - so India and its people are my soul and my home. I left India to travel and finally settled in London when I was around 18.
I wanted to set up a business that produces in a slow respectful way and support our local people and this land that is my home. So I set up Jaggery with the help of my first boyfriend’s mother who has run an amazing women’s project there since 1980 teaching and training local ladies how to knit. They have around 50-70 women working at the workshop and around 300 women in total across the surrounding villages.
The workshop is not a commercial business but more of a social enterprise, paying living wages, covering healthcare for the women and their whole families, paying her retirement fund, reading glasses and many other benefits.”
MADE MY WARDROBE
FOR MAKING YOUR OWN
Lydia Higginson teaches clothes making. She runs workshops, teaching her students how to make clothes that will last and be loved; everything from jumpers and trousers to knickers and bras, helping people to reconnect people with their bodies and their creative power.
The survivor of a traumatic sexual assault, Lydia took to clothes-making in 2016 as a way to reclaim her body. Within a year she had sewn a whole new wardrobe and since January 2017 has only worn clothes that she has made.
We have long been followers of her work, and a highlight was when she took to our stage, The Imaginarium at Shambala Festival in 2017, to tell her story and to teach.
ALICE V ROBINSON
FOR SYSTEMS CHANGE IN LEATHER
Although you can’t buy Alice Robinson’s clothes at the moment, you should know about her work.
While it’s generally easy to find out which farm your meat came from, it’s not usually possible to trace leather back to the animal: when the hide is taken from the animal at the abattoir, that information is lost - and largely because fashion brands don’t currently demand it. So the farm and the conditions that the animal lived under remain a mystery and more ethical leather is difficult to trace.
Alice’s most recent collection, ‘374’ was made from a single hide, from a bullock tagged with that number. The hide represented the many that are surplus from the meat industry and it was going to be incinerated. Alice followed the bullock all the way from its farm to the butchers to her leatherwork studio. The hide was turned into a set of accessories, including a sleek, tan knee-high leather boots, belt and cowhide leather jacket and the beef was served at events throughout the exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
With her partner Sara Grady, Alice is now creating a new supply of leather made from the hides of animals raised on ecological and high animal welfare farms certified by Pasture for Life and others. They are working with a vegetable tannery and the first trial of hides will be available for sale to brands, designers and artisans this summer.
Alice tells us: “People see hides simply as a commodity, existing for our use, rather than the skin of an animal. We want to shift perspectives of what leather is and honour the animal and farming practices at its source.”
FOR SILK SCARVES & MAGIC CAPES
Our friend Lou Gardiner makes beautiful silk scarves inspired by natural forms like lichen and tree bark, with an assortment of colours and shapes that abstract and draw attention to the simple magic of the everyday life-forms that surround us.
There is a beautifully human element to her work too: the incredible ‘Cape of Empowerment’ commissioned by Pukka Herbs was designed to celebrate womankind, giving the wearer a sense of empowerment, majesty and ceremony. The subsequent Cape of Clouds was a collaboration between women all over the world, who sent their pearls of wisdom - words, pictures and symbols - to Lou, embroidered on a simple felt cloud she’d posted to them.
Having spent the past year battling cancer, she is now making the Cape of Creativity, commissioned by Hugo Burge at Marchmont House, and forming a part of her healing journey. We look forward to seeing this beautiful piece with so much heart behind it come to life.
FOR NO COMPROMISE WEARABLE ART
We first met Phoebe at the first Regenerative Agriculture Gathering in Cornwall. She was speaking in a farming-fashion talk, programmed by Sarah Mower of the British Fashion Council and lecturer at Central Saint Martins: Phoebe was one of her students. As Sarah said at the start - to explain the seemingly incongruous appearance of fashion at a farming event - everything we wear comes out of the ground. Whether that’s oil-based plastic fabrics, or plant/animal based fibres, it all begins with the soil.
A combination of her no compromise stance on sustainability and creative ingenuity has led her to produce fabric from nettles, our abundant weed, and buttons from leftover milk products.
From initial design concept, collections are built and based around the raw materials that go into them. They are made-to order and packed in entirely plastic-free easily home compostable packaging.
FOR SHOES MADE TO LAST A LIFETIME
Ottowin design for longevity, the most important first step. The styles are timeless and the materials hardwearing, mostly industry leather waste as far as possible.
Their vegetable-tanned leather is sourced from Thomas Wares, a traditional vegetable tannery in Bristol, just a bike ride away from their studio, and their industry waste leather comes from the stacks produced by the Northampton shoe trade. They actively hunt out the best leather, sometimes found deep in the tallest stacks.
“We might spend a whole day searching through mountains of leather to find a select few, choosing only 5 - 10 new hides per season. This means every colour we make is a limited run: we can normally only cut 10-15 pairs of shoes out of each hide, and once they have used it up, that colour has gone for good.”
As well as making shoes to sell, they run a shop in Bristol (and online) stocking lots of small makers, and host shoe-making workshops.
FOR HARDWEARING ACCESSORIES
Ali, founder of Francli, thinks about waste more than anyone we’ve ever met. Materials sourced incredibly carefully, often from salvaged sources - or in the case of the above rucksack, in collaboration with Cloud People keeping weaving alive on a native farm in Oaxaca. Their products are made with zero waste in mind - no scrap will be wasted if another use can be found for it.
Their beautiful products - aprons, phone cases, rucksacks and rugs - are made to last a lifetime, and so it’s seemingly apt that they’re made slowly. See their Slow Made Goods store.
📷images from Francli website, @jamesbannist & @tor_harrison
FOR HAND-MADE, HAND-DYED INSPIRATION
Sarah Johnson designs and hand-makes garments using natural cloth and natural dyes from her studio at Cast in Cornwall. They are made for everyday, to be in her own words ‘long term companions throughout our lives’. She makes her own dye from indigo plants that she grows in her greenhouse, which are chopped down and go through a fermentation and oxidation process. Each month, Sarah releases a new design in small batches, a process of pre-ordering that avoids needless waste.
Sarah says: "I didn’t fit into the world of fashion, in fact I was disgusted by it. So much waste, around 100 billion garments per year go straight into landfill. I make small batches of natural clothing, designed and made with a human in mind, a human that will keep their garment for tens of years, maybe even a lifetime.
"I want to drive a connection and awareness of the clothes we wear. I want the things you wear on your body to have a story, to be grounded, to have a good and honest energy. I will be here in 20 years to patch your Sarah Johnson garment, re dip it in the dye bath to give it another layer of blue, and replace a button so your clothes can grow with you, a celebration of age."
📷@jamesbannist for @thelissome & @lucylaught
Emily Settle is former repair specialist of Toast and the designer, maker at Settle. Her work includes both the construction and reconstruction of garments, which are made to be practical and easy-to-repair. Her newest collection is inspired by the clothes of explorers, adventurers and crafts-people.
"Mending and and making things last feels very natural to me; it was inevitable coming from a family of fixers who would rarely throw anything away. Mending makes so much sense and the act of choosing to give more life to a torn or discarded garment bestows something beautifully precious onto it for everyone to notice. As a designer and pattern cutter, all of my work is informed by how simple it will be to repair in the future. For me, designing mendable clothes is a fundamental part of the process".