Co-learning with and mentoring of start-ups to uncover and evolve design-led professional practice based on principles of sustainability.
We are great believers that small is beautiful, it’s not that we are anti-growth, but we recognise that the fashion ecosystem should be diverse and varied, promoting many different ideals and views of the world. This is why we have always made support for small business a core aspect of our ethos and our work.
There’s no doubt it’s very hard to be small in the current economy; the production of all ‘commodities’, including fashion is modelled on reducing cost by increasing volume. Recognising the challenges of the industry as is, we encourage start up design businesses to clarify the unique nature of their proposition by focusing on what they truly value; we help them to establish effective partnerships and we encourage them to re-evaluate how they interact with their customer; we celebrate those who are willing to challenge and disrupt the current system, whilst sustaining themselves and the people and planetary resources upon which we all depend.
We have mentored a diverse range of start ups including: Ada + Nik, Allumer, Beau Homme, Edie Mac, Delight Lonon, Claire Todd, Clover Lewis, Code le Vush, Frida larsen, Here Today Here Tomorrow, Holloway Smith Noir, Iris, Kapdaa, Katie Jones, Kipper Bespoke, Kitty Ferreira, Kitty Joseph, Martine Jarlgaard, Nadine Peters, Rosalie McMillan, Rutherford, Shake the Dust, She’s Lost Control, Soloman Appollo, Tengri.
We saw a new set of values emerging from this work, designers who are able to connect their personal principles with their business practice. It is this human centred approach to design that we feel sure will contribute to a world where fashion and sustainability is no longer seen as an oxymoron.
We celebrate those who celebrate diversity both social and environmental. The supply chain that Tengri has created challenges the notion that any one fibre should dominate the luxury market. Not only does the Tengri model support and maintain the traditions of nomadic culture but Yak herding also relieves the massive environmental stresses caused by the over grazing of cashmere goats. There are major logistical and cultural challenges involved in establishing Yak as a viable alternative to cashmere but Tengri are pioneers and their capacity to leverage support at every stage of the process is seeing results.
Developing something that is genuinely new requires experimentation and risk. You need to test the market, the message, the products and the processes. Finding what works and what doesn’t is a quintessential part of establishing a unique identity. It can be a frustrating – not to mention costly – journey, and many of the brands we are currently working with are navigating this path. Recognising that mistakes and failures are part of developing a sustainable and resilient business is key to embedding more innovative thinking in the fashion industry.
Rosalie McMillan is a new jewellery brand, inspired by the unique properties of unexpected materials, most notably coffee grounds. The experimentation process for Rosalie starts with the raw materials and runs throughout the design and business concept.
Fashion businesses can be a force for social change, challenging ideas, assumptions, hierarchies and prejudices. The problem is that the activist is often at odds with the capitalist and so we see politics consigned, like so many other vital aspects of a thriving culture to the realms of the niche or the ‘uneconomic’.
Sophie Holloway uses her brand to challenge attitudes and social norms related to female sexuality. Her product is just one part of the picture; she also runs awareness-raising campaigns on female sexuality, gender relations and promotes the importance of slow sex.
Our capacity for empathy is what makes us human. Business can foster empathy between people and cultures, acknowledging the struggle to survive that is still the story of many people’s lives globally and fostering ways of working that support this struggle.
Here Today Here Tomorrow design and make their collection in a highly empathetic and collaborative way, four women in the UK have set up a brand that supports the livelihoods of many women in Nepal, The product is reflective of a collaborative design process respecting the skills but also the limitations of their supply chain and working in a slow and systematic way to evolve and develop the business.
We’re not here to advocate protectionism but we do believe that thinking local can promote greater connection and consideration; there is an inherent value in supporting the communities that surround us, utilising readily available resources be they new or re-appropriated and creating networks that can grow and flourish, Localism can be very challenging in a free market economy often sitting at odds with the prevailing trends, this is all the more reason to support those who show commitment and determination to this value system. Martine Jaarlgard is one of the brands we have been working with who produces her collection in London.
London Style culminated in i-Sustain, a 12-month story with i-D magazine. Led by Alex McIntosh, with Kerry Dean, these highly creative, visually arresting narratives of fashion and sustainability challenged prominent myths around the aesthetic of sustainability, prevalent at the time.
Small businesses are the life-blood of the British fashion sector, their creativity and diversity gives our industry it’s unique and internationally celebrated identity. CSF has long recognised the vital importance of working with pioneering start ups to uncover and evolve creativity and innovation, whilst developing strategies that allow resilience in a challenging economic climate.
i-Sustain was first conceived in early 2011 by Alex McIntosh, the project, a year long collaboration with i-D magazine had three main objectives:
To showcase the unique network of creative small businesses who have been supported by CSF and who have contributed to our work.
To explore and communicate the diverse ways in which sustainability manifests itself in business and behaviour, amplify best practice, and promote considered consumption.
To challenge the conventional aesthetics associated with fashion and sustainability
The project developed a symbiotic relationship between image and word, creating interlinked visual and verbal narratives that offer alternative perspectives on the economic and cultural role of fashion.
2009 – London Style
CSF develops a collaborative business development programme. partnering with Newham College of Further Education, Holts Jewellery Academy and East London Design Show. London Style launches in July supported by the European Regional Development Fund. CSF provide training, support and showcasing for 100 London based fashion businesses over two years, offering insight and practical advice through workshops and one-to-one sessions.
2010 – London Fashion Week
Some of the most creative and innovative businesses enrolled on the London Style Programme are selected for showcasing as part of Estethica at London Fashion Week in February and September. The chosen businesses include:
The design and curation of installations at London Fashion Week for Autumn/Winter 2010 and Spring/Summer 2011 begins a process of engaging press and media with a diverse range of approaches and aesthetics in relation to fashion and sustainability.
January – i-Sustain
A proposal was submitted to iconic fashion publication i-D magazine and i-D online to develop a year-long series of editorial features. Photographer Kerry Dean and stylist Sam Willoughby sign up to work with Alex McIntosh on the project. Each feature will be inspired by the work of a different designer and set in a unique and evocative UK landscape. The series questions the way we think about, design, purchase and wear fashion, highlighting the connections between products, people, place and time.
May – Borders and Frontiers
Extract from i-Sustain I – “This is how it’s going to go; each month we’ll showcase a different designer and then use their work, as a platform to explore how clothing and accessories can be created acquired and worn in a way that ensures our “passion for fashion” doesn’t come at too high a cost. Some of these designers are very conceptual, some are very commercial, some are very committed to ‘the cause’ and others are just trying to make a decent living and do what they love but collectively they have all engaged in a process of re-thinking the way they work. That process deserves recognition and it also presents a real opportunity to show everyone who reads this that there are people out there, who can credibly combine substance, style and of course sustainability. It may seem incredible but it is not impossible to design clothes and run a business in a way that is creatively inspiring and responsible.”
June – Partimi
Extract from i-Sustain II – “It’s ironic that fashion, an art form and industry that depends on a multitude of skills and draws influence from so many diverse cultures and communities, thrives on celebrating a tiny number of individual egos. The concept of applying a collective set of values that look beyond aesthetic concerns, seems to be an unacceptable limitation but who made the rule that brilliance can’t thrive within boundaries. Adhering to the slavish belief that creativity has to be spontaneous and unconfined leaves us with what; a message on a t-shirt, a film about climate change, a photograph with impoverished children in Africa, all worthwhile endeavours but safely contained in a box marked ethics and as for the rest, its business as usual?”
July – Olga Olsson
Extract from i-Sustain III – “Part of the problem is that the people and processes involved in the regular replenishment of our heaving wardrobes have, in the main, been made deliberately invisible to us; this is probably because if we truly understood the skill, time and effort that goes into making many of the things we wear, we would come to our senses and realise that the prices we expect to pay are totally unrealistic and distorted. Suffice to say when it comes to clothing we buy considerably more and spend considerably less than we did thirty years ago and yet the cost of raw materials is at an all time high, so who is losing out? Certainly not the chairmen and chief executives!”
August – Michelle Lowe-Holder
Extract from i-Sustain IV – “Perhaps rather than looking at branding, advertising and celebrity endorsement to help us shape our taste we should understand and respect the specialism and skills of individuals or groups of individuals. Niche does not have to mean irrelevant or insignificant, a successful industry can be formed of many small components that operate effectively, efficiently and creatively within their own area; a network of designer makers providing us with the artistry and the industry that can fulfil everything from our need for wearable clothing to our very human desire for flamboyant self expression.”
September – Tender
Extract from i-Sustain V – “Take a tour round our fair isles and as you pass through the eastern counties and the Midlands you’ll come across an abundance of beautiful churches and historic buildings; these remnants of past prosperity are indicative of the wealth generated through the wool trade in the 17th and 18th century. Move further north and in Derbyshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire, you’ll notice the abundance of mill towns, bearing witness to the age of industrialisation, driven by cotton production. All in all it’s safe to say that textiles are woven in to the history of our economic success and yet today less than one fifth of the clothing we wear is manufactured in the UK.”
October – Martina Spetlova
Extract from i-Sustain VI – “In the 1955 Life magazine announced that throw-away living would liberate house wives from the drudgery of daily chores and lead to a better world and so began a plastic revolution that quickly took hold, infiltrating every part of our day-to-day lives. In fashion and clothing the development of polyester, nylon and acrylic offered cheap alternatives to natural fibres and similarly plastic zips and buttons replaced wood, bone, horn, shell and the many other readily available materials used for fastenings. Look around you plastic is every where and in everything, even the seemingly natural cotton t-shirt you’re wearing is held together with stronger, cheaper polyester threads. Plastics may have many benefits and a multitude of amazing applications but the fact remains that, we have become the first and only species on the planet to produce mountains, quite literally, of non-biodegradable waste.”
November – White Tent
Extract from i-Sustain VII – “In essence i-Sustain is both a demonstration and a celebration of effective collaboration; a recognition that the best intentions, the greatest intellect, or the most prodigious talent is not always enough without the support and guidance of others. The ultimate goal is to re-contextualise our relationship with what we wear, which requires a cultural shift right across the spectrum. We need designers and makers who can drive real innovation, whilst still offering desirable and relevant product. We need journalists who can be more rigorous and questioning but still tell a great story, and of course each of us as fashion consumers need to use our buying power to support the people who give us a better product and spin us a more honest yarn. If we all play our role in the partnership, things start to transform and real transformation is exciting, shocking, exhilarating….. all the things that fashion is supposed to be.”
December – Winter Issue
The i-Sustain team develops a special for the Winter issue of the magazine focusing on diversity. The shoot features Paralympic hopefuls Jonny Peacock and Stefanie Reid and is the only element of the series shot in the studio.
Extract from Winter Issue – “Adaptability, determination and a healthy dose of innovative creativity can overcome even seemingly insurmountable obstacles; Jonnie Peacock and Stefanie Reid are testament to that! Spending a few hours in a room with these two, calls into question every pre-conception of what it means to be able bodied. Far from inducing discomfort or sympathy, the ingenuity and sleek simplicity of the running blade is surprisingly compelling and its hard technological aesthetic highlights and complements the fluid athleticism of their physique. Watch the focus and power of sprinter Jonnie in full flight or the burst of energy as Stef launches into a long jump and the first word that springs to mind isn’t disabled.”
January –William Richard Green
Extract from i-Sustain VII – “There are so many ways that this clothes sharing concept can be communicated and integrated into our day to day lives, Channel 4 have just launched an app called Closet Swap and in many ways it has never been easier to embrace the notion that clothes have the potential to be handed back and forward, crossing age and gender and even owned by more than one person at the same time. We should celebrate designers and garments that easily and impressively serve multiple users; durable well-made clothing that effortlessly embodies style rather than trend focused fashion. We’re not suggesting a world in which one-size fits all, just that, where appropriate, we take the opportunity to derive pleasure from sharing both our stuff and our style. If the stuff is good enough, the identity of the wearer will always redefine the style.”
February – Lu Flux
Extract from i-Sustain IX – “There is no getting away from the fact that sustainability has the capacity to scramble the mind; it can feel like a set of ever changing rules and this sense of shifting sands can leave you longing for the safety and security of the high street. Just remember confusion is an inevitable part of reflection and reflection is the route to active and informed choices; whilst it may sometimes feel easier to put the blinkers on and keep going as you are, as Socrates once said “the unexamined life is not worth living!”
March – Soko
Extract from i-Sustain X – “So how do we bridge this daunting gap between our awareness of issues such as global poverty and our ability to take action that makes a positive change? Of course that monthly direct debit to a charity of choice is one route but in the end we all know that its trade not aid that has the potential to lift a crippled economy or re-invigorate a community. Here’s where the possibilities of fashion become apparent; in an industry that is still largely reliant on hand based skills making clothes can be a route to individual and community empowerment; economic development can happen at a local level, offering livelihoods whilst preserving culture and regional identity. There are many challenges when working in deprived communities but commitment and dedication can make an amazing difference.”
April – Angela Cassidy
Extract from i-Sustain XI – “So how can we put in the hard work to re-position our relationship with fashion? Firstly we have to be willing to question our own motivations and to search harder for the things we really want and will cherish; sometimes we have to be willing to save up and make an investment rather than relying on the quick cheap fix. We’re not denying that starting from a place of unbridled passion is exciting and fulfilling but we also need to look for passion that can deepen. In the end it’s all about connection, the things we buy and own should be connected to who we are and what we value, not define who we are and how we value ourselves.”
May – The Final Instalment
Extract from i-Sustain XII
“Do you ever question the people from whom you’re purchasing; wouldn’t you expect them to know where the things they’re selling came from and how they were made? Start asking and people will have to start answering.
Look at your clothes, hundreds of people’s lives and livelihoods are contained in every garment; the farmer, the spinner, the weaver, the knitter, the dyer, the printer, the seamstress, and the list goes on. Would you want to share their lives or survive on their livelihoods?
What do you value – quality, detail, heritage, performance, durability, uniqueness, flamboyance, frivolity? Take the time to seek out designers and brands whose work aligns with your sensibilities and support them.
Here’s an irony, whilst millions of clothes are discarded each day, the fashion industry expends vast amounts of energy and resources on making new things look old. How about this; if you want something that looks worn, buy something worn, there’s plenty to choose from! If you want something ‘NEW’ buy something new and wear it in yourself!
Acquiring something ‘NEW’ should be a mutual commitment; the seller/giver should be promising you the best experience possible and you should promise to live that experience to the full; look at what you own, has everything been lived in to the full, if not why not?
Too much stuff just clutters up your life and overwhelms your head, have a physical and emotional clear out, not so you can buy more but so you can see what you have and what you really care about.
Ask yourself why certain things are precious to you? Is it because the thing itself is particularly beautiful or functional? Is it because of the time or place you were in or the person you were with when you were given/bought it? Understanding why you treasure the things you do might help you to choose and use with more care.
Be part of a new fashion tribe, one that respects balance as well as excess; one that acknowledges collective responsibility alongside individual freedom and one that seeks out and celebrates fashion that truly challenges the status quo.”
2012 – 2013
i-Sustain received some of the highest levels of unique visitors on i-d online and the average reader spends nearly twice as long on the pages as they do on any other part of the site. i-Sustain was presented as part of Fashion Colloquia during London Fashion Week.
Jonny Peacock and Stefanie Reid won gold and silver medals respectively at the Paralympic Games and to celebrate an exhibition of images and text from i-Sustain was held in the Mother Art Space in Shoreditch.
Professor Dilys Williams
Contact for the project
Professor Dilys Williams, Fashion Design for Sustainability at UAL
We were able to offer this support by partnering with other organisations such as the Fashion and Textiles Museum on the Creative Hub project. These partnerships allow us to access funding which subsidises both group workshops and one-to-one mentoring.
The i-Sustain project marked the culmination of a two-year European funded business development programme London Style, through which CSF supported a broad spectrum of London based fashion design SMEs.