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  • Dr. Mila Burcikova

Better Lives: Capping production and building in some downtime

interiors of a fashion design studio with pattern pieces hanging
Image courtesy of

The festive period is over and 2020 is right here, ahead of us. As we return to our day-to-day commitments, many of us feel the pressure to quickly get up to speed and make up for the idle days of Christmas. We may be asking ourselves how we can run faster to achieve all that we set out to do in the new year and perhaps more. But the leaders of the micro and small businesses who joined us for the second 2019 Better Lives event linked to our current AHRC funded project Fostering Sustainable Practices: Rethinking Fashion Design Entrepreneurship seem to propose a slightly different attitude.

During the evening of fascinating conversations, opened by CSF director Professor Dilys Williams and chaired by the project lead Professor Sandy Black, we asked how can micro and small businesses contribute to better lives and more sustainable futures? The speakers at Town Hall Hotel in East London included Raeburn director Graeme Raeburn, Patternity co-founder Anna Murray, Cute Circuit co-founder Francesca Rosella, Sabinna creative director Sabinna Rachimova, Riz Boardshorts co-founder Riz Smith, and creative innovator Martine Jarlgaard.

For Riz Smith, the key motivation in starting his own swimwear brand, as opposed to working for a larger company, was his desire for creative control and quality. The same is reflected in his determination not to grow the company, because staying “lean” enables him and his business partner to realise their vision at a scale that they both feel comfortable with. In fact, rather than trying to grow the business and produce more in the future, Riz Boardshorts are now thinking about how to do less, by capping the business and limiting their annual sales. The same sensibility resonated in Anna Murray’s comment that while we humans always seem to be in “go mode”, nature needs stillness, rest, and time for reflection. To build regenerative, flourishing culture that is more attuned to both nature and our own needs, we need to build in some downtime and start working in more cyclical ways that mimic natural rhythms of activity and tranquillity. All our guests unanimously agreed with Francesca Rosella’s comment that in relationship to fashion, this would mean rethinking and changing our expectations of what fashion should be, especially with regards to volume and speed. We managed to design ourselves out of nature, and now we need to design ourselves back into it, Martine Jarlgaard said. Only then we can enjoy richer experiences and shared prosperity through valuing items we use on everyday basis. Capping how much to do at a time and working in phases and manageable tasks means recognising and making a commitment to the idea that more is not necessarily better. This is how micro and small businesses keep the nimbleness to experiment and build long-term relationships that are no longer one way brand-to-customer but instead a community of people with shared values. Such personal relationship also enable, Sabinna Rachimova believes, to challenge the mainstream industry by offering better, more relatable products.

Christopher Raeburn in the studio working on a orange jacket with his team
Image courtesy of Raeburn Design (Photographer: @photobenphoto)

For Graeme Raeburn, the change Raeburn stands for is not a binary state of sustainability as opposed to unsustainable solutions. He describes it more as a dynamic process, in which they strive to make the best decisions possible with the information they have available at each point in time. Perhaps there is a lesson to learn here for 2020 for all of us, businesses, and individuals alike. Just like sustainability, time is not a binary state of either fast or slow. There are many more stepping stones and rhythms of speed to explore and savour in between the two poles. This means that we do not always need to run faster. On the contrary, we may need to allow some downtime and pace ourselves. Ideas and seedlings of change need to be nourished, they need to take roots, as Anna Murray said. It is often the hasty, rushed lifestyles with little space for reflection that can compromise sustainability, our own values and the better lives we all aspire to in 2020 and beyond.

Prof Sandy Black notes:

The panel was designed to showcase an amazing group of pioneering businesses and creative innovators doing things differently across the fashion sector, all working with sustainability, wellbeing and better lives agendas at the core of their business ethos. They demonstrate fashion (and design) as a catalyst for change – through caring for the environment and people, community engagement and education, and harnessing technology for wellbeing and enhanced communication for future fashion.

About the featured businesses

Raeburn Design is a womenswear and menswear fashion brand, who champion their Remade, Reduced, Recycled ethos through a wide range of products by repurposing used materials (especially military surplus), recycling waste and reducing and environmental impact. They also run creative making workshops and events for the public.

woman standing with headphones with pink swirls around her
Image courtesy of Cute Circuit

Cute Circuit are early pioneers in creative and innovative wearable technology that brings people together. Their groundbreaking Hug Shirt enables connection between loved ones separated over distance, and their most recent innovation, the Sound Shirt, allows deaf people to experience music through vibration. Cute Circuit design their own electrical components and all pieces are designed for disassembly and recyclability.

A woman stood in a dress holding a bag alongside a reflection of the same woman in a mirror
Image courtesy of Sabinna

Sabinna is a womenswear brand that explores sustainability beyond the product, creating ethical fashion based on transparency without compromising the aesthetic – a modern storyteller for women. Sabinna engages directly with her customers and community through regular social and fundraising projects, and in 2019 was named one of ForbesDACH’s 30 under 30.

A man diving in shorts off a rock edge
Image courtesy of Riz Boardshorts

Riz Boardshorts is a swimwear brand making men’s shorts from 100% recycled ocean plastic that are environmental, sustainable and beautiful. The business gives 1% to the Planet and was recently awarded the coveted BCorps certification for environmental (and ethical) performance in business.

women looking into camera and projected behind too – Image courtesy of Martine Jarlgaard
Image courtesy of Martine Jarlgaard

Martine Jarlgaard is a fashion designer and creative innovator working with new technologies and mixed reality concepts to dematerialise consumption. Her projects include creating fully traceable knitwear stories using Blockchain, and Meet Yourself, focusing on identity by meeting our digital selves as a life-sized holographic avatar, highlighting issues around data ownership and invisible power structures.


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