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  • Zoe Norton

Transforming what it means to be a fashion business – fostering sustainable practices

Patternity – Life Labyrinth © Studio Stagg

The fashion industry is made up in the main, of micro and small businesses, with designers whose ideas and practices are prominent in defining its very spirit and mood. In challenging themselves they in turn encourage us to challenge ourselves in what we think, do and stand up for. The Fostering Sustainable Practices project (FSP) at CSF is examining how these designer-entrepreneurs can act as a driver for change, contributing to environmental, social, cultural and economic prosperity, by challenging the status quo.

London Fashion Week (LFW) began in 1984 and has been a twice-yearly fashion tradition ever since. This September saw it questioned by Extinction Rebellion (XR), the group called for the fashion industry to own up about its contribution to the climate and ecological crisis. Critics argue that the group should focus on fast fashion high street brands, selling cheap throwaway fashion. However, XR say that LFW sets a global precedent for the industry, driving the desire for consumption and fast fashion and that the platform should be reformed to be used to speak to truth to power.

Through our work at CSF, and on the Fostering Sustainable Practices project, we meet the designers striving to do things differently, those who are not satisfied to continue with ‘business as usual’ and we believe that they offer the potential to shift the fashion system from one that contributes to our current crisis to one that contributes to our prosperity.

Brands like Paynter and Birdsong are attempting to slow fashions pace, and foster user connection. Paytner make 3 batches of 300 jackets each year, once sold the shop is closed to focus on making and designing the next batch. The brand communicates with the consumer, showing you your jacket being made and what it’s up to behind the scenes, creating a connection with the wearer, encouraging a long lasting relationship with the garment.

Birdsong focus on the people that make our clothes, working with women in London facing employment barriers, the brand has complete transparency and ethical working practices at its core. The brands latest venture sees them launch a crowdfunding campaign to create a new size inclusive line.

Patternity founders Anna and Grace are united in their love for pattern and its ability to bring ideas and people together. Their projects aim to inspire a more curious, collaborative and connected way of living. Most recently creating an installation for London Design Week, a labyrinth surrounded with plants, graphic shapes and gentle sounds; a destination for creative contemplation, reconnection and positive intention.

A designer who ‘did things differently’ this fashion week was Phoebe English, the designer presented her Spring/Summer 2020 collection as a static installation over 2 hours. Slowing Fashion Week down, allowing the audience to really view the pieces. All of the brand’s production is made in London, meaning the journey from sketch to garment is minimised to an approx. 10-15 mile radius and the entire business operates from one studio in South London.

Rejina Pyo, also showcased at LFW, is not concerned with promoting quick or short-term trends, instead they are focused on building long term relationships and evolving with their wearers over time.

And these are just 5 of many many micro and small fashion brands who are challenging the industry, who are trialling and testing new ways of doing things. So, at CSF we’ll continue to ask ourselves the question, “how can small fashion businesses contribute to a more sustainable futures?”. If you’re a small fashion business/designer and you’d like to work with us on the Fostering Sustainable Practices project and help contribute to its research we’d love to hear from you through our project survey.


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