Sustainability and responsible living is everywhere right now, but what does it really mean? Hollie-Ella looks at what makes a brand and its products sustainable.
With British brands such as James Purdey & Sons, Holland & Holland and Farlows proudly flying the Made in Britain flag for some time, it’s safe to say our humble isle boasts some of the most sustainable country style in the world.
It’s no secret that the country clothing industry offers some of the highest quality products on the market, rivalling those of top end luxury labels, but the reassurance of durable, ethically-made pieces can come with a hefty price tag. With noise rising around the issue of fast fashion, I was keen to explore how our homegrown labels really fare in the sustainability stakes and was delighted to find they are, sometimes unintentionally, leading the slow-fashion movement.
In Scotland, the Harris Tweed Authority – the history and role of which we explored in our Winter edition, which you can read here – is on a mission to promote and preserve the hailed name of Harris Tweed to ensure it maintains its status from one generation to the next. Sought after amongst the country scene, many of us will doubtless have a staple blazer or lapelled jacket made from Harris Tweed hanging in our wardrobes.
Based in The Cotswolds Holland Cooper is a brand that has become synonymous with British luxury and whose founder Jade Holland-Cooper is a proud supporter of British manufacturing. Despite the brand’s rapid growth into an international market, Jade has remained supportive of the the UK industry; with each tweed garment being hand cut and made in England from wool and tweed woven in Scotland and Yorkshire.
Consumers are becoming increasingly selective about what we buy, taking time to consider each purchase and the impact that purchase may have both on the planet and those who were involved in its creation. That said, whilst hugely in favour of the work of British Made brands within our countryside, in a number of cases, where I would like to buy British, it cannot be denied that garments are priced too high for me to comfortably afford, and high-street giants sometimes feel like the easy fallback.
Supermarkets are cottoning onto this too and offering increasingly affordable fashion whilst picking up your weekly shop. Aldi is a prime example having launched a collection of mass-produced gilets and full-zip jumpers that closely resemble the much-loved country favourite style of Schöffel, at a fraction of the price – and no doubt, quality – of the real thing.
An understandably attractive option to many, the appeal of spending £30-£40 rather than £100 on a jumper, or £400 on a leather bag is all-too real, but we now know that the true cost of cheaper items often goes unseen in terms of dyes polluting waterways, plastic waste going into oceans and clothes made from cheaper fabrics not biodegrading once discarded: the human cost of poor worker conditions is also something difficult to ignore.
For clothes to be made within the UK with all the assurances that brings sadly, for now, means that production costs are inevitably higher. However, as a consumer, I cannot help but hope there will soon be a happy medium to achieve real, significant change.
There are supposedly seven forms of sustainable fashion:
- On demand and custom-made (including tailor-made, bespoke and DIY garments)
- Green and clean (products made in a eco-friendly way throughout all phases of their lifecycle)
- High quality and timeless design (often found at designer labels)
- Fair and ethical (traditional production e.g Harris Tweed Cloth, animal rights considered, artisan crafting)
- Repair, redesign and up-cycle (read our Make do & Mend article for tips on this)
- Rent, lease and swap (dubbed the future of fashion by some high-profile designers)
- Pre-loved and vintage (charity shop buys, eBay, Depop and sites such as Cudoni or Vestiaire)
Stella McCartney is widely known for her global fashion label, but also for her passionate campaigning for sustainability within the sector. Whether you agree with all of her campaigns, it cannot be denied that she is making a positive impact in the fight for a more responsible and sustainable world.
The bottom line is, we all must play a part for sustainable fashion to go full circle in the long term. In order to do that, there has to be industry-wide change and whilst we entrust designers, producers and retailers to do their bit, we as consumers must also hold them accountable by spending with those brands whose credentials we can comfortably support.
‘Business costs the earth’ is a phrase that really resonates with me, but for how long must this be the case?
Fashion Revolution is a not-for-profit, global movement that campaigns for the need for greater transparency in the fashion supply chain.
Photograph above, featuring Ginger & Jardine garments.
In recent years, an array of new independent British fashion brands have popped up, such as Touch of Tweed, Vantage Atellier, and Mackenzie & George, with other exciting launches in the pipeline. 2019 alone saw the arrival of sustainable country brands Harris Rae, Sprawling and Osborne and Ginger & Jardine, just to name a few. Many of these brands of lean teams – some of one or two individuals in-house, creating beautiful, handmade garments.
In terms of the wider fashion industry, British country fashion might be considered a small portion of the whole, but for historically has carved the way in terms of sustainability. Take shooting attire: field sports, whilst considered by many to be a niche activity, could not be further from fast fashion.
Photograph above featuring Emma Brown Tweed garments.
Embedded in tradition, clothing worn in the field reflects an ethos of longevity and heritage with beautifully-made garments being handed-down. Today, independent home-grown brands such as Butler Stewart (featured image), Bella Hoskyns, Emma Brown Tweed, Olivia Tullett or Miller and Drake continue to create timeless women’s clothing of real quality that not only stand out in the field, but also stand the test of time.
Supporting these brands is one way to uphold individual sustainable values, whilst also ensuring to the future of British businesses and the wider UK economy – killing three birds with one stone (or shot).
Mainstream fashion labels and catwalk giants really, in my opinion ought to take inspiration from the countryside and what our brands are already doing. And no – I don’t mean dressing catwalk models in equine travel boots – I’m sure you’ve all seen that meme!
Photograph above featuring Teddy Edward garments.
Teddy Edward are one independent who have made a conscious effort to step back and re-evaluate how they can become truly sustainable. Talking to me at Olympia back in December 2019, founder Stephen Reeds ethos is simple: ‘Our brand is based entirely on provenance, meaning that we design, source and manufacture all our luxury clothing and accessories right here in Great Britain. No exceptions.’ From tops manufactured in Birmingham to luxurious fine velvet and special stretch moleskin sourced from the red rose country of Lancashire. Embroidery, buttons and lace are crafted by skilled workers in Nottinghamshire and all of Teddy Edward’s shirts are made in London, with my own favourite – those infamously cosy alpaca socks hailing from Leicestershire.
Stephen’s passion for British craftsmanship and his determination to tackle the issue of fast fashion head on is hugely inspiring and serves as an important reminder that if independent British brands are able to work this way then there really is no excuse for the larger outfits, so as consumers it is time to show them we expect better.
As actress and ethical fashion advocate Emma Watson puts it: ‘As consumers we have so much power to change the world by just being careful what we buy.’