Design Without Sacrifice

December 4, 2014
Design Without Sacrifice
In the face of seasonal sale-related rage and quickly discarded gifts, Christmas is the perfect time to sit up and pay some attention to those who are choosing to do things a little differently. Sustainability can sometimes feel like just another buzz word offered up by brands in order make empty promises and highlight their hastily located morals when faced with environmental and ethical scandals threatening to taint their name. However, when it’s done properly and used as a pillar of the design and manufacturing process rather than pegged on as an afterthought, it becomes the key to putting the breaks on an industry which sometimes feels like it’s heading towards a point of no return.

So before you declare the end of man kind’s collective sanity and cancel Christmas, here are some sustainable brands who show the kinder side of fashion:


I opened my Twitter app on Monday morning to see Riyka sharing an alternative Cyber Monday message; refreshing after the aforementioned scenes of mayhem seen over the weekend. This season they are collaborating on a range of dust bags made from end waste fabric created during the production process. 

Each bag is sewn by Elizabeth, a 27 year old woman living in Gambia. After her Father died when she was 13 she was sent from her home country of Senegal to Gambia  to live with a family friend. When Elizabeth’s guardians could no longer afford to care for her, GETS (Gambia Education and Teaching Support) stepped in and sponsored her final two years at school, where she was awarded Best Sewer upon graduation. For every dust bag Elizabeth sews, Riyka make a donation directly to her, and for every purchase you make over £100, you will receive one of these dust bags for free. An alternative to wasteful gift wrapping and a helping hand to Elizabeth in her journey towards financial independence.

This isn’t RIYKA’s first foray into sustainability, however, it’s been at the heart of the brand since the start. Rebecca and Vedren, the husband and wife team behind the brand, have built RIYKA around ‘love, attention to detail, simplicity, comfort, quality and sustainability’. Their designs combine the highest quality jersey, denim, and leather which come together in strong forms and geometric shapes. Panels clash and contrast, and each collection is peppered with shots of vibrant colour.

Every single piece is “created with love, sustainably made”, and their AW14 collection features more organic and ethical fabrics than ever before. Inspired by Peggy Oki, the only girl in the original Zephyr skateboard team as featured in Dogtown and Z-boys, the collection draws on her pioneering spirit and tomboy appeal. This shines through in the masculine cut of the shirts, relaxed fits, and sporty, easy wear vibe. (I highly recommend you look up Peggy Oki if you’re not familiar with her; she’s a skating, surfing, environmental activist and artist, and all round super cool lady).

Christopher Raeburn

Christopher Raeburn is a pretty big name in this area. A quick search on him reveals that US Vogue declared that everyone should “remember the four R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle, and Raeburn”. That’s some serious industry approval. Raeburn first became known for his ‘re-appropriation of military fabrics’, and his now iconic use of de-commissioned parachutes. Designing both menswear and womenswear, and working on a number of collaborations and further projects, his output has been huge since his graduation from Royal College of Art less than a decade ago, and his message of functionality and sustainability has never wavered. 

‘Polaris/Aurora’ for AW14 took its inspiration from Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axellson’s exhibition, ‘Last Days of the Arctic’. Axellson’s images portray a harsh, bleak yet breathtaking environment and Raeburn has reflected this aesthetically in his colour palette, motifs, and glacial prints, and practically in the waxed cottons, faux fur, British made knitwear and technical fabrics. His garments are of the highest quality, yet are manufactured from sustainably sourced fabrics and even unused offcuts from the pattern cutting process. This dedication to re-making and re-using guides the design process and shapes the brand. Christopher Raeburn is definitive proof, if any were needed, that sustainability needn’t and doesn’t just exist on the fringes of fashion. 


At the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum (less Polar, more poolside) is Auria. With over indulgence looming large, swimwear may be the last thing on your mind but this is a brand not to be overlooked. Sustainability isn’t something you might associate with the synthetic fabrics that go hand in hand with swimwear, but Auria uses only 100% recycled polyamide, made from discarded products such as fishing nets and carpet. We are assured, however, that the fabric ‘is in no way reminiscent of its flooring past’. Not that the playful prints and candy colours could evoke scenes of anything but floating on lilos and sipping cocktails. Each collection is designed and developed in London, and manufactured in England.

Founder and designer Diana Auria won the award for Fashion Innovation for her 2012 graduate collection and received press coverage from the likes of Vogue and WGSN. Spurred on by the success, she expanded it it to a full collection and debuted it under Esthetica at London Fashion Week. Auria has gone on to create a fun, accessible brand rooted in innovation and conscience.

Katie Jones

Firstly, let me say that I will sit and crochet until fingers fall off – I love it, so Katie Jones was an instant hit with me from the second I saw her MA graduate collection. Jones takes a ‘waste not want not’ approach to her design, “implementing a modern twist on traditional crafts; hand producing pieces in London that rework consumer waste, designer surplus and British made product into high fashion”. A Central Saint Martins graduate, Jones cut her teeth at John Galliano, Mark Fast and Romance Was Born before launching her first solo collection, ‘Slab City’ for SS14. Her reputation has grown quickly, and her AW14 collection was shortlisted in the Sustainable Fashion category at The Observer’s Ethical Awards 2014. Although she often uses traditional manufacturing methods, Jones has carved out a style that is distinctly her own. Maximum design impact with minimal environmental impact.

Termite Eyewear

Founded in the summer of 2012, Termite Eyewear made waves among London Fashion Week attendees last September as street style images were awash with Termite topped outfits. The product of Natalie Finch and Patricia Williams, the brand ‘thrives to represent a creative, fun, youthful take on sustainable design. All pieces are laser cut and then hand worked, using materials which are responsibly sourced from independent, reclaimed/recycled wood organisations’. 

Palm Peach is the name of their SS15 collection, which was inspired by 1970s photography in Miami. The brand is nothing if not modern, yet the bold frame shapes fit seamlessly within a vintage aesthetic. Sunset yellows, leafy greens, rich purples, and dip dyes are nestled in amongst the organic tones of their signature raw finish Birch Ply. And this time round, they’ve experimented further with sustainability, incorporating scrap acetate into their designs.

This is a young brand – Termite was founded in 2012, but Finch and Williams only graduated last year and their determination to challenge the view that sustainability and exciting design are mutually exclusive has seen them quickly gain ground.

These are just a handful of labels who have sustainability at their core. They understand that the growth of fashion that considers more than just the biggest margins, rests upon the ability to provide products that come under this ethical umbrella without any sacrifice in design. It should appeal to those who care about the issue and those who don’t; this way it stretches beyond its current champions and finds a new, far-reaching audience. But, for the time being, if you are the type to seek such brands out, this bunch are a good place to start!

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