ethical fashion forum

ReFashioned: Cutting-edge Materials and Processes for Upcycling

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Sass Brown has been a leading voice for ethical and sustainable fashion design for many years. In addition to being the Acting Assistant Dean for the School of Art and Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, Sass is also an author and journalist. Her book ReFashioned: Cutting-Edge Clothing from Upcycled Materials features 46 international designers who work with recycled materials and discarded garments, reinvigorating them with new life and value.

This compendium from Sass Brown is not just about reimagining and reinventing materials but the reinvention of the fashion industry as a whole towards a more sustainable and beautiful world – proving that good design doesn’t have to cost the earth.

Here, SOURCE speaks to Sass about fibres, fabrics and processes used for upcycling. She sheds light on some of the most exciting developments in upcycled fashion and suggests what the future might look like for upcycling and sustainability for the fashion sector.

1.) What are some of the most exciting ways that designers are using upcycled materials?

Schmidt Takahashi in Berlin source used clothing from their garment drop off box and embed each garment with a QR code that documents the garments history. Their upcycled designs often juxtapose multiple contrasting garments into one, each piece carrying with it a unique code that tracks its history and allows the new wearer to look up their clothing’s history with a simple smartphone app.

2.) What surprising materials are being used to make new innovative fashion products?

One of my favourites is Berlin-based brand Steinwidder, who produce an amazing, edgy, urban collection from used socks! Piecing the socks together like a giant jigsaw puzzle and constructing her designs directly into three dimensions without the aid of any backing material.

Controversial British designer Rachel Freire produced an extraordinary collection from delicate rose-coloured leather flowers attached to S&M corsetry stays. The collection is fashioned from waste leather, a part normally discarded and not sold on the skin, that of the cows nipples.

The collection caused a furor at London Fashion Week when admirers were drawn in by the delicacy and strength of her designs, only to be disgusted by her materials. Despite the visceral nature of her material choice, her work is true to the concept of upcycling, by using materials that are discarded, and revaluing them through design.

3.) In your research, what new forward thinking processes are designers employing to turn disused materials into quality products?

Austrian brand km/a produce a capsule collection of jackets and coats from micro-scraps of cotton jersey. Literally tiny offcuts and selvedges that would normally be considered trash. They crazy-stich them together over a backing fabric, and construct these amazing tailored jackets from these otherwise entirely worthless cuttings.

4.) How do you think upcycling can be taken to scale for bigger brands and retailers?

I think this is one of the biggest opportunities that brands have yet to fully explore. The bigger the brand, the greater the amount of waste, and the greater quantity of standardised waste, making it easier to scale its reuse. Orsola de Castro said it best, why not have an upcycling unit embedded into the production structure of every big manufacturer?

5.) What do you think the future of upcycled fashion might look like?

I am waiting for the first High Street fast fashion brand to partner with a high profile designer to reimagine their waste material. Why shouldn’t H&M or Topshop, for example, challenge Stella McCartney or Vivienne Westwood to design a capsule collection from their wasted fabrics? Promoting and featuring it as they currently do with their designer collaborations.

6.) What are some crucial things about textile waste that you wish more designers would think about?

That your talent and your labour can transform what others consider worthless into something desirable, fashionable and inspirational. You are only limited by your imagination, and not the materials!

7.) What about producers – what do you think they should think more about in terms of textile waste?

Simply how to utilise it, and partner with those who are willing to work with it. This is a difficult industry for any emerging designer to succeed, so why not have a system where the larger more successful manufacturers donate their out of season waste fabric to the next generation of designers in need of materials at little or no cost?

8.) Where do you think the sustainable fashion movement is headed? What other developments do you think are most promising?

I think we are at a tipping point, where the myriad of emerging designers, committed consumers and talented communicators are finally being heard in the mainstream.

9.) Tell us a bit more about your book, ReFashioned. It’s a wonderful compendium on recycling and upcycling for fashion.

My intent is the same as with all my writing, to honour and promote the work of a global range of designers doing truly worthwhile work in conceptual, cutting-edge design with a conscience. There is groundbreaking work being done – cerebral, intelligent, inspiring and aspirational, and the stories of the designers need to be told, and their work supported.

*This story first appeared on Source

Sustainability And The Role Of A Fashion Designer

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Ethical Fashion Forum has launched a new series looking at what sustainability means to different job roles within the fashion industry. In this second instalment, they speak with six fashion designers, from independent to high street brands, about what they do.

Image Courtesy: BHAVA
Image Courtesy: BHAVA
  • Julia Ison-Stierer at activewear brand Sweaty Betty
  • Clare Farrell owner of stylish cycling gear brand No Such Thing
  • Valerie Goode founder of luxury womenswear brand Kitty Ferreira
  • Francisca Pineda footwear designer and owner of BHAVA
  • Sally, a freelance consultant accessories designer

What is a fashion designer’s role?

The role and responsibilities of a designer seems obvious but you might be surprised to hear just how diverse a designer’s job can be. Of course, it’s about the creative and technical aspects of designing products but it might also entail research, sourcing, textile science, creating new processes, sales thinking and more.

If you’re an independent designer then the chances are you’re running the whole show, from accounting to marketing, as well as designing your products. In fact, designing often becomes secondary to these other responsibilities, with time for design resolved to nights and weekends when other priorities take over.

A diverse role

For Julia at Sweaty Beatty, her day-to-day involves trade meetings with the sales team, researching and putting together mood boards, designing and design meetings, fabric and trim sourcing, and meeting with fabrics and prints suppliers. For research, Julia likes to visit Sweaty Beatty shops, speak to the in-store teams and to customers directly to find out what’s working, what’s not, and what they want to buy that they can’t yet find.

She also goes to fitness classes to see what people are wearing depending on the different exercise activity. During the year, Julia might travel to visit factories or to source fabrics, mainly in East Asia or southern Europe. Sometimes, she gets to go on design inspiration trips to places like Brazil.

Sally who specialises in accessories and jewellery works as a freelancer, often within big high-street brands. She spent three and half years as a handbag and accessories designer at Liberty. Sally’s design role entails creative strategy, working hand-in-hand with the buying and range planning teams. She also does trend and market research and goes on inspiration trips. She manages and resources new factories, mainly in the Far East, and will travel to visit producers.

Clare Farrell worked in big fashion brands and a few smaller ethical brands before launching her own brand, No Such Thing. She was turned off by her experience working with one well-known corporate British brand. She didn’t like producing in such an unethical and wasteful way. As Clare now works independently towards building her own brand. She is responsible for all aspects of running the business – from financial accounting to sales and marketing. It’s a joy when she gets time to work on designing products. Clare shows how challenging it can be to balance priorities when first starting out.

No Such Thing

Like Clare, Francisa set out on her own after having worked for years within big American fashion brands. She worked her way up to Director of Accessories for one of the biggest brands in the U.S. and then had a severe allergic reaction to leather products. She began getting headaches, which then progressed to seizures. She developed a chemical sensitivity that people can get from exposure to paint and VOCs. Her medical condition developed over the years and finally took its toll causing Francisca to quit her job. She had no idea that the chemicals she worked with to develop accessories had such a toxic potential.

Francisca started vegan women’s shoe brand BHAVA in 2013 after quitting her corporate career and has since founded the Ethical Fashion Academy in New York City. Like Clare, she works independently and is responsible for all aspects of running the business, including sketching, designing, creative strategy and more.

Valerie Goode, of UK-made luxury womenswear brand Kitty Ferreira, has a similar story. She worked for many years as a Senior Womenswear Designer for suppliers to European high street chains in Guangzhou, China and was affected by the widespread pollution of the industry. Valerie launched her brand in 2012 because she loves fashion but wants to change it. Like Clare and Francisa, her role is comprehensive but she has a special focus on designing clothing that uses naturally dyed, organic and cruelty free silk.

How does sustainability relate to the fashion designer’s role?

Social and environmental issues can be quite relevant to a designer’s day-to-day work, depending on how much autonomy the designer has in making critical product designs. How designers create products can have a huge impact on the people who manufacture it and the products’ resulting impact on the environment.

For Julia at Sweaty Beatty, sustainability is “about choosing fabrics that are recycled – organic cotton content, making choices that are better, naturally based, as far as possible with a clean supply chain, choosing factories and suppliers who are conscious of their waste and water.” For Julia, It’s not always about choosing the cheapest option. She believes that designers have a “huge responsibility to ask questions, suppliers simply react to demand… if you don’t ask those details they won’t tell you.”

For Sally the freelance accessories designer, “it has meant very different things depending on the price level of product that I’m creating. High end product is made to last, and can be more sustainable, whereas high street has a level of throw-away.” Sally works mainly with leather and PU, so she tends “to look at more organic dyeing methods such as veg dyes.” She also tries to “work with UK production and products so we have more awareness and control of what the materials are and who they are made by.”

To Valerie Goode of Kitty Ferreira, “the ideas of ethics and sustainability are an extension of yourself – these values come from the heart.” To her, sustainability in practice is an antithesis to fast, throw- away fashion.

As well as sourcing, Valerie produces exclusively in London. Keeping the brand’s carbon footprint as low as possible throughout the supply chain. “Sustainability not only runs through the business model but through the products themselves; manufacturing with high end finishing to promote durability and longevity,” she says.

Kitty Ferreira

For Fransisca of BHAVA, sustainability for the fashion industry at the “most basic level you’re trying to avoid materials that are trying to kill people and animals, sustain life.” She also “strives to make long lasting and high quality shoes, using as least toxic materials as I can.”

For Clare of No Such Thing, sustainability is about not wasting materials and understanding the provenance of products. It’s about having more respect for how things are made. Her work with high street companies “showed the vast disconnect between people and their stuff. Such disconnections – they’re producing crap which is going to sell, then will end up reduced in the sale, and then in landfill – constantly moving on to the next thing. It’s frightening how people don’t really think about that.”

How do designers incorporate sustainability practices in their work?

For her stylish women’s cycling gear, Clare uses organic and fair-trade certified cotton sourced from Turkey and end-of-roll or deadstock Tyvek. She also spent a lot of time seeking out non-toxic alternatives to waterproofing finishes. This is, of course, crucial to well performing cycling wear. She tries to source everything as close to her home as possible.

Before joining Sweaty Betty, Julia worked for Adidas where she had much less control over the design and product development process. At Adidas, there was a library of recycled and organic materials to choose from, though they often came at a higher cost. She was sometimes quite limited to certain price points but there was a general mentality at Adidas that doing things better was possible.

At Sweaty Betty, the company doesn’t really focus on sustainability. It’s more Julia’s personal interest than something the business actively engages with. You might think that yogi’s would be more sustainability-aware consumers, but interestingly their customer feedbacks suggests the contrary.

BHAVA is a vegan footwear brand, so Francisca never uses leather and this can be a sustainability challenge. Leather alternatives are often plastic-based and not inherently sustainable, so she looks to work with carbon-neutral manufacturers. She use organic cotton for the shoe lining. Paying attention to quality is also super important to ensure she’s making a product that lasts and won’t be thrown away easily.


Valerie from Kitty Ferreira strives to use natural, non-toxic materials and processes. She sources and produces as close to the UK as possible in order to minimise the brand’s carbon footprint. She also looks to reuse materials or to use dead stock fabrics in order to tackle waste issues.

Sally works with leather and PU, which has unique challenges that don’t apply to other materials or processes. In addition to looking for good veg-tanned leathers, she’s excited about how 3D printing could revolutionise the accessories market in future, in a way that could drastically reduce waste.

The role of the designer in the future

“Making small changes in materials we use and the way we produce could make a massive impact. People are aways looking for the next best thing. I think that people are becoming more aware of the impacts that we are having on our environment. People are also getting bored of throw-away fashion and want something that lasts a little longer,” says Sally.

Francisa Pineda sees how designers, especially independent ones who are building their brand like she is, will increasingly need to adopt strong marketing skills. Today’s internet-driven world, sharing your daily experience online is important. Designers are already seen as the spokesperson for the company. As a person, they can drive brand image. For example, if she’s in Bali at an eco resort, she should be sharing photos from her trip with her customers and community. It shows that BHAVA is more than just a product, it’s part of a lifestyle.

Clare from No Such Thing wants to see other designers better understand the implications of the decisions they make and to think about their fabric choices with sustainability in mind.

Julie from Sweaty Betty sees sports and activewear as market that’s going to keep on growing. Their customers are certainly becoming a lot more aware of their sports gear and care more about technical fabrics and the performance of their clothing. Plus, they want something that looks good too. There aren’t many brands cornering this part of the market yet and doing it well.

Julia also sees high street brands coming out with sustainably-made collections is proof that things are changing. She sees this drive happening due to consumer demand and companies’ need to offer these products. “If people could come in and ask about sustainable products and if your customers are not bothered by price, then why not?”

This article was written by Sarah Ditty, Editor-in-Chief and Stephanie Lau, Editorial Researcher from the Ethical Fashion Forum.

Read the first installment What Does Sustainability Mean To a Garment Technologist?

What Does Sustainability Mean To a Garment Technologist?

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Last month Ethical Fashion Forum launched a new series looking at what sustainability means to different job roles within the fashion industry. In this first instalment, read from three garment technologists, from niche to high street brands about what they do.

Garment technology is an exciting role because it involves so many different areas of the business, linking the supply chain right through to the retailers and end customers. It’s also quite a creative role, responsible for developing fabrics that can deliver the design team’s vision as well as suit customers’ wants and needs.

Here, we get insights from two people working for a well-known British high street brand (doing more than £550 million in annual sales) and Ruth Valiant, from the popular Fair Trade fashion label, People Tree.

What do garment technologists do?

Garment technologists are tasked with working with suppliers both at home and overseas to develop products to a certain specification, this may involve travelling to visit factories and working closely with colleagues based in producing countries.

As the Head of Technical, this role might also entail aligning the brand and technical strategy. This role will need to deliver on the the brand’s long-term (eg. 3 year) and seasonal plans, trying to keep the technical aspects of product development cost effective as much as possible. This role is also responsible for managing a team of product technologists, freelancers and other support staff – one of our interviewees manages a team of 22.

For Ruth at People Tree, her role as Garment Technologist also entails a lot of training: “Some of our producers started as handicraft producers so I have been involved a lot in capacity building. We hold workshops in Bangladesh where all producers get together to learn new procedures and share their experiences.”

How do garment technologists view sustainability?

Sustainability and ethical issues are particularly relevant to garment technologists as they work most closely with suppliers and factories. This role has significant influence in choosing suppliers that respect workers rights and the environment. Though garment techs also need to balance these concerns with commercials goals and this can sometimes prove to be a huge challenge.

In the well-known high street brand, mapping the supply chain helps them to tackle some ethical issues. This means they can understand where products are coming from, who exactly is making them and that they’re always working with approved factories (rather than secret sub-contractors). The company aims to move further down the tiers of their supply chain, mapping not only the cut-make-and-trim factories but also the fabrics and inputs too.

It helps when social and environmental values are built into the brand’s DNA. Even at the high street retailer, the garment techs we spoke to believed this was important. In fact it is part of the job interview process and new employee induction process. Job applicants are asked about their values and reasons for working at the brand, and those who have a social mission are deemed a better fit.

The garment technologists we interviewed from the high street believe that sustainability is about custodianship of both product and the supply chain. It requires having the right knowledge and operating with a conscience. The challenge is how to maintain ethics and still deliver commercially.

For Ruth at People Tree, it’s obvious that social and environmental issues are at the heart of everything they do. People Tree was the first ever Fair Trade certified fashion label and today the brand is one of the most recognised ethical fashion pioneers.

Those who work at People Tree do so in part because of how much they believe that sustainability and ethics are important for the fashion industry.

Ruth explains: “Sustainability to me is about the whole supply chain, from sourcing the yarn to sending production by sea shipment. You need to build up a good relationship with all your suppliers so that they understand the importance of what you are trying to achieve and are like-minded in their approach.”

People Tree x Zandra Rhodes modelled by brand ambassador Rebecca Pearson

How do garment technologists tackle social and environmental issues in their day-to-day role?

Ruth’s role as garment technologist is comprehensive, starting from the very beginning of the supply chain: “We work with the cotton growers to decide what count of yarn we require before it is even planted so that they can guarantee sales to the farmers. We look at using natural trims such as buttons made in coconut, corozo, shell and horn. Handcrafted skills are sustainable as they only use man power, of which there is so much need of in the countries we work in.” People Tree takes a truly holistic view on its practices and how social and environmental impacts are considered with each step.

The high street brand takes a strategy more focused on compliance according to the Ethical Trading Initiative standards, which sets out minimum requirements relating to working conditions, pay and employment rights. This involves regular visits to factories and other production facilities. It also involves working with external auditors and some unannounced visits with the aim of capturing an honest picture of suppliers’ day-to-day practices.

The team works closely in partnership with its factories and suppliers to solve any difficult issues that do arise. The company offers its suppliers support and solutions to change non-compliant practices wherever possible, and if that doesn’t work, they stop working with that particular supplier. These are issues that would have a significant impact on the garment technologist’s day-to-day tasks.

In this company’s particular experience, the better a supplier is on social and environmental issues, the better they tend to be on delivering high-quality work with much less rejections. So in fact, it’s better for their bottom line in the medium to long-term.

People Tree follows the 10 principles of the World Fair Trade Foundation and works with suppliers who do as well.

People Tree

Focus on fabrics

It’s not just about relationships with suppliers, product technologists are also the ones who focus most on the technical aspects of the fabrics.

At People Tree, Ruth tells us: “It is the core of our mission to research and choose natural processes, fabrics and trims that are GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified. We also work with hand woven and hand dyed fabrics in Bangladesh, alongside other traditional skills such as hand knitting in Nepal and hand embroidery in Bangladesh. Due to the work by hand every piece is unique, but must pass quality and fabric testing standards.”

At the high street brand, there is a focus on using natural fibres, especially indigenous cottons from India and China. This brand is very well known for its prints and embellishments, a space in which they find that “artisan tech” is most exciting – especially tie dye and embroidery.

One of the technologists we spoke to from the high street brand also said she loves working with silk and yarn-dyed cloths because of “the hand feel and appearance of silk is so rich and yarn dyes can be very textural and creative.”

Ruth from People Tree agrees that “hand woven is very interesting due to the weaves and beauty of seeing a fabric made by hand, it is a skill that is dying out in many countries.”

Ruth also notes that “fabrics have developed and there are many new recycled and eco fabrics, finishes and printing techniques are developing all the time… and we look to use up any left over fabrics for accessories and use natural fabrics and trims.”

How will garment tech’s role change in future?

The role of garment technologist has changed over the last ten years thanks to globalisation. Fashion brands and retailers now source from countries all over the world. They also sell globally too. The whole value chain has become globalised.

One garment tech predicted that there will be “more of the same” way of working for a while but “ethics will come to the fore.” They do see the industry as changing. How this is reconciled with commercial goals will be interesting, especially for garment techs.

She believed that this is going to mean that retailers will have to work together – at the moment the industry is still very “cut-throat”. There may have to be some “levelling of the playing field.” This is where government will need to come in. She felt that at the policy level, there isn’t yet a clear message on these issues for fashion businesses, but a clarified political agenda would help improve the situation. Customers will also need to be more educated around these issues, helping to increase demand for ethically, sustainably made products.

People Tree works hard to inform their customers and make them aware of what People Tree is doing and what still needs to be done. Though Ruth agrees that ethics and sustainability in fashion “need to be taken on by governments and multi nationals to have a real effect… before it is too late.”

This article was written by Sarah Ditty, Editor-in-Chief and Stephanie Lau, Editorial Researcher.

**This story first appeared on Ethical Fashion Forum here.

State of the Ethical Fashion Industry: EFF

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PrintEthical Fashion Forum team members attended two key events recently, providing an update on the state of the Ethical Fashion Industry.

1. European Commission: Informal Stakeholders Meeting on Responsible Management of the Supply Chain in the Garment Sector
Last week, SOURCE Editor in Chief, Sarah Ditty, attended the Informal stakeholders meeting on responsible management of the supply chain in the garment sector in Brussels, Belgium.
The European Commission is set to launch a multi-stakeholder initiative that will address all key aspects of sustainable development in the garment supply chain, including social, environmental, health and safety, human rights, gender issues, sustainable production and consumption.
Ditty, who is also part of the Fashion Revolution team, was pleased to contribute towards the shaping of the
priority issues to be tackled by this new EU platform.
The 5-year objectives are yet to be set, but there was a lot of debate around the following key issues:

  • Convergence of social and environmental standards;
  • Support for SMEs in Europe;
  • Capacity building for producing countries;
  • Transparency and reporting; and
  • Access to information for consumers
2. Ethical Fashion 2020: A New Vision for Transparency
On Monday 29 June, EFF team members Sarah Ditty (SOURCE Editor in Chief) and Clare Lissaman (Ethical Fashion Consulting) took part in a roundtable debate “Ethical Fashion 2020: a New Vision for Transparency” at the UK Houses of Parliament.
The two hour debate was chaired by Lucy Siegle in conversation with the Executive Directors of the Ethical Trading Initiative, the Bangladesh Accord, British Fashion Council, Maquiladora Health & Safety Network and Baroness Young of Hornsey.
The key take-aways were:
  • Transparency is a key to progress
  • Public disclosure of factories and their conditions is critical
  • Now is the time to move away from ‘sweatshop’ business models
  • Showcasing and celebrating good practices and positive stories is crucial
  • Legislation is part of the answer but not the whole solution, cultural change is needed
Notes to Editor: If you would like to request further information or a follow up interview with a member of the Ethical Fashion Forum and SOURCE team, please contact our Marketing Officer: Qiulae Wong – or 020 7739 7692
About the Ethical Fashion Forum
The Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) is the industry body for sustainable fashion, representing over 10,000 members in more than 100 countries. EFF supports its members through the SOURCE platform, launched in 2011, which provides an online network, sourcing and business database, business intelligence, and a global programme of events.

Ethical Fashion: Key Statistics
  • Fashion is considered to be a $3 trillion industry
  • 200 out of the 500 on Forbes annual rich list have made their money from the fashion and retail industry and together are worth over $1 trillion.-McKinsey Report
  • 91% of fashion companies still don’t know where their cotton comes from – Behind the Barcode, Baptist World Aid Australia
  • 1,129 people died and over 2,500 were injured in the Rana Plaza disaster in 2011
  • 50% of consumers are now willing to pay a premium for brands with a social or environmental commitment – 2012 Edelman Good Purpose Report
  • Fashion Revolution Day’s web content was viewed over 14 billion times in 2015
  • Successful sustainable fashion brand, Reformation, turned over $25 million in 2014, and has just raised $12 million in investment from supermodel Karlie Kloss and VC firms
  • The Modern Slavery Bill will require UK companies to disclose their efforts to eradicating slavery throughout the supply chain