Knitwear is a tricky subject for a sustainably-minded vegan. What’s the best option? Wool won’t shed tiny pieces of plastic into our waterways like synthetic fibres will but many (me included) don’t want sheep – who’ve been bred to grow excess fleece, mulesed and mistreated – to suffer further at the hands of shearers who are paid per sheep, not by the hour. So do you instead rely on acrylic, which has been through a series of chemical processes to come into being? Or nylon, made from petrochemicals and created via energy-intensive methods which in turn emit nitrous oxide? Do you give up on knitwear altogether? No, you discover CROP, wave goodbye to your dilemmas and adorn yourself in riotous colours and pop art patterns, all crafted from plant-based fibres.
CROP was created by artist and knitwear designer Kate Morris who just happens to have won first prize in this year’s EcoChic Design Awards for creating six outfits entirely from textile waste. But this wasn’t her first foray into sustainable design, in fact, it’s the foundation upon which her label was built.
Galvanized, as many were, by the Rana Plaza factory collapse, Morris set out to educate herself and tailored her design practice so as to contribute to the kick back against wasteful, fast fashion. Rather than allow a responsible approach to design to create limits, she saw it as an ‘opportunity to generate unexpected designs with a story that customers can connect to.’
Having trained as a fine artist, Morris’ creativity shifted towards a more practical viewpoint, so she decided to turn her hand knitting hobby into a career and headed to Nottingham Trend University to undertake an MA in Fashion Knitwear Design. It was through her experimentation and research throughout the course and her subsequent final collection that CROP came to be.
Her aesthetic is diametrically opposed to the earthy, neutral hues you might expect when you think ‘vegan knitwear’ and it emerged through exploring our relationship with food and diving into the kitsch world of retro food packaging.
Just as the colour palette, patterns and silhouettes are defined markers of exactly what CROP is all about, so too are the manufacturing methods. From the fibres to the seams, everything is carefully considered.
Seams and separate pattern pieces are kept to an absolute minimum in order to drastically cut down on waste and make deconstruction easier at the end of the garment’s life. Consideration of the life cycle informs other design decisions too. For example, just one type of fibre is used per piece in order to assist recyclability. Even the care labels are woven into the jacquard rather than crafted from a different fabric and stitched into the seams.
Sustainable design doesn’t come without its challenges but as Morris tells me, overcoming them can be incredibly rewarding. In searching for plant-based fibres for her first collection, she discovered a host of viable alternatives to wool but sourcing them in smaller quantities proved difficult. Tencel, for example, is ‘made in a closed loop system from the pulp of eucalyptus trees grown on low grade land with no chemicals’. It’s anti-bacterial, skin-friendly and has fantastic temperature regulating qualities, but it’s difficult to obtain in small quantities, so much of the first CROP collection was crafted from the much more readily-available organic, fairtrade GOTS certified cotton yarn.
Bamboo also features in the fibre line-up. Known for its abundant growth and sustainable properties, it needs little dye to produce vibrant colours and offers natural temperature regulation. Other fibres such as nettle are currently on a ‘to-use’ list but they pose their own challenges, such as lack of elasticity and an absence of bright or interesting colours.
I doubt these challenges will hold CROP back, however, as Morris’ holistic thinking and resourcefulness – evidenced in her use of 100% textile waste for her EcoChic collection – cement her dedication to innovation and running a truly sustainable brand.
Sustainability functions at different levels and she’s considering a sustainable business model as well as environmental implications. By exploring waste materials, something she was inspired to do at a workshop with Redress before carrying it into her EcoChic collection, Morris aims to cut costs and ultimately create a more affordable collection which will inevitably be accessible to a wider audience. She hopes to launch fully next year and I’ll be first in the queue to snag some of her super fun knits and accessories.
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