In conversation: Christopher Raeburn and Graeme Raeburn at Today Studios.

Last week Hackney’s new creative workspace played host to brothers Christopher and Graeme Raeburn for an informal discussion on their ventures in fashion and sportswear. The intimate upper floor was packed with creatives keen to participate in conversation and reflect on the success of this cutting edge design duo.

Last week Hackney’s new creative workspace played host to brothers Christopher and Graeme Raeburn for an informal discussion on their ventures in fashion and sportswear. The intimate upper floor was packed with creatives keen to participate in conversation and reflect on the success of this cutting edge design duo.

A pioneer in his field Christopher Raeburn has sought to raise the profile of sustainable design with his eponymous label. Since its launch in 2008, the brand has been involved in numerous high profile collaborations including Victorinox, Fred Perry and Moncler. In 2011, US Vogue highlighted Raeburn’s achievement in bringing sustainability into the mainstream with the advice “Remember the four R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Ræburn”. The brand currently has over sixty international stockists and has won a host of fashion awards, most notably Best Emerging Designer at the GQ Men of the Year Awards last year.

Older brother, Graeme Raeburn is currently lead designer at innovative cycling brand Rapha. After joining as the thirteenth employee, Graeme has overseen partnerships with Team Sky, collaborations with Liberty London and has watched the brand develop from a single warehouse space to an international cult label. More than just a clothing company, Rapha invests in innovation and runs an exclusive cycling club with a global following.

 

A ‘curious’ upbringing

The brothers began by describing a wholesome childhood in the Kentish countryside. While, ‘culturally isolated’ the family enjoyed a simplistic and self-sufficient way of life, which involved time spent outdoors and at air cadets. Encouraged to think practically, Christopher fondly remembered drawing inventions to make with his father during weekends. Both brothers site this nourishing environment as inspiration in their respective careers. For Graeme the irregularity of the country bus led him to a keen interest in cycling. While for Christopher an early fascination with items such as his dad’s old military sleeping bag kick-started his admiration for functional yet ‘fun’ and experimental design.

Keeping it in the family

First Graeme, then Christopher began by studying design at Middlesex University and later completed masters at The Royal College of Art. Following in the footsteps of his brother allowed Christopher to better understand the industry. The pair originally set up Christopher Raeburn together and have since worked on collaborative projects between their respective brands, including The Rapha and Raeburn capsule for AW13. According to Graeme the success of their partnership boils down to a balance in personalities ‘ we cover each others blind spots’. While Christopher is more of a dreamer, Graeme is naturally more down to earth and business minded. The balance of humour, fun and more serious work is key to their symbiotic relationship.

 Humble beginnings

With the help of Graeme, Christopher’s brand was born on the top floor of a friend’s factory in Luton. While the town offered little inspiration, money saved on rent in the early days was key to the viability of the business. The discovery of a team of skilled seamstresses from the recently closed Lutton Hatter’s provided the basis of the workforce and marked the beginning of the brand’s Made in England strategy. Surplus fabrics found in nearby factories helped instil the use of reclaimed materials in Raeburn’s design ethos. Today the brand operates from a newly converted studio in Hackney with a dedicated team of design professionals. While many sustainable brands have struggled to achieve design-led status, Raeburn’s following continues to increase. The combination of intuitive design, creative direction and innovative fabrics has set the label apart from its competitors.

 Its ‘Only f***ing frocks’

Christopher attributes his down to earth attitude to fashion to his friends; people he has known in some cases since primary school. He stressed the importance of getting perspective on the industry and finding a work-life balance. Unlike many brands he does not believe in keeping interns late into the night, instead working to a more resonable 9 – 6:30 schedule.

 Not a trend; the future of sustainability

The final topic of conversation was sustainability; a concept Christopher reminded the audience was ‘in no way new’. The act of preserving garments and minimising waste can be seen in the make-do and mend attitude of the war years and ‘well beyond that’. Often sustainable merits are let down by bad design yet for Raeburn it is the designer’s obligation to provide the audience with a better choice. Christopher expressed hope that in the future sustainability will underpin fashion and come to be synonymous with good design; a feature not necessarily promoted ‘but there’. For Graeme function and beauty are core design values while transparency and honesty remain central to Christopher’s ethos. As resources diminish, the fashion industry is set to go through a cultural transition, with agility and innovation being central to success. Christopher’s final words ‘fabrics, technology and local skill’ need to be harnessed in a new ‘slow fashion’ system.

img_3881
Christopher Raeburn X Disney
img_3877
Christopher and Graeme Raeburn at Today Studios

 

Regeneration Cafe, fixing it for free

Organised by Vision 21, the Gloucestershire Joint Waste Team and product design students from the University of Gloucestershire, the Cafe offers a fresh approach to the mending of everyday items.

Organised by Vision 21, the Gloucestershire Joint Waste Team and product design students from the University of Gloucestershire, the Cafe offers a fresh approach to the mending of everyday items.

Participants are invited to bring anything from small electrical items to textiles and bikes to be repaired by a team of committed and skilled volunteers. By sitting together over a cup of tea and a slice of cake, the event encourages discourse and the sharing of knowledge between members. In a world full of throwaway products, planned obsolescence and a decline in practical skills, the cafe aims to create a community around the fixing of items that might otherwise be thrown away.

A hum of activity filled the Cafe this Saturday with various desks set up for electrical items, textiles and sharpening. Small groups gathered to watch the volunteers investigate problems and begin the repair process while others joined the product design students dissecting electricals. Among the possessions being fixed were a printer, radio, dress strap, coat hem, an electric blanket and even a stapler.

Mandy one of the menders at the textiles table explained how her dislike of ‘throwing stuff away’ motivated her to volunteer at the Cafe. She enjoyed working with different textiles each week and ‘not knowing what’s coming through the door’. The diversity of repairs from broken zips to holes and rips call for a different approach each time. She explained how some clients are happy with a cheerful, obvious fix while others prefered ‘an invisible mend’; a challenge she relishes. She described the ‘privilege’ she felt when repairing a ‘ beautiful Russian, pre-war coat with a shredded shoulder’ though seemed equally happy to teach an inexperienced sewer how to attach a button. Rather buying supplies new, in a truly sustainable fashion Mandy explained how local charity shops put haberdashery items such as odd buttons and zips aside for her to bring to the cafe. With such an excellent service it is unsurprising demand has been so high that the volunteers have been taking extra work home to repair for the following session.

While the progression of technology has heralded major advancements in the efficiency of products, design and manufacture, it has also brought a decline in mending skills. University courses are offering less workshop time and more computer classes as production becomes increasingly digitised. Further, planned obsolescence means many products have an artificially limited useful life and are no longer designed to be fixed. At the electronics table for example, a controller for an electric blanket was fitted with concealed screws, a feature arguably devised to deter DIY. One volunteer explained how the older items such as a fifty-year-old mixer were ironically easier to fix than much newer products.

Places like Regeneration cafe have the potential to change attitudes towards repair and essentially reduce the number of items being discarded as useless. They act as antidote to throwaway culture and combat the ecological impact of broken goods one item at a time. More than that they bring people together in the spirit of communal endeavour, help keep old skills alive and create new ones.

dsc05422eThe cafe is based in St Andrews Church, Cheltenham and is open on the first Saturday of every month 10am-1:30pm (excluding January). Find out more here

Invest Love; Stella McCartney talks sustainability at LCF.

For Kering’s third annual talk at London College of Fashion, Frances Corner welcomed the ‘effortlessly cool’ sustainable fashion role model, Stella McCartney to the stage. In conversation with Lucy Siegle, they discussed the responsibility of both designers and consumers in bringing change to the industry.

For Kering’s third annual talk at London College of Fashion, Frances Corner welcomed the ‘effortlessly cool’ sustainable fashion role model, Stella McCartney to the stage. In conversation with Lucy Siegle, they discussed the responsibility of both designers and consumers in bringing change to the industry.

Stella began by sharing her latest innovation; viscose produced sustainably from forests in Sweden. In a short, introductory video we watched Carmen Kass, dressed in an array of luxurious designs tackle the issue of deforestation and make a case for forest conservation. This playful and informative video surmises McCartney’s approach to fashion. Trained at Central Saint Martins, she is first a designer driven by a desire to create the stylish, sharp, sexy and sporty and secondly an activist with a strong commitment to people and the environment. For Stella, ‘the fashionable side has to go hand in hand with the ethical side’. While many sustainable brand’s fastidious attention to environmental standards has led to a compromise in design, the success of Stella can be attributed to her tenacious ability of remaining both desirable and relevant to the fashion elite. She stressed the importance of investing love in the supply chain and being mindful of the challenges fashion production poses while staying true to a design philosophy.

How to prioritise

As a market leader, she explained the difficulties her company face when sourcing materials which are only just becoming available. Stella stressed the importance of prioritising the development of materials which replace those with the most significant environmental impact first. An ethos which placed the use of animal products at top of the agenda. When the brand launched as a vegetarian company the industry laughed and deemed she could never build an accessories line without leather. Even today her non-leather goods incur the same taxes as leather items and cost significantly more to produce.  She expressed concern in the lack of flexibility and growth within the industry which relies heavily on ‘outdated’ design practices. Unlike the food industry which has seen significant growth in ethical and biological markets, fashion remains woefully behind the times. She encouraged brands to ‘think differently’ and to be open to the positive changes innovation and technology can bring. The development of products such as Stella’s line of fake fur jackets are so realistic, in theory, they could eliminate the need for real fur.  Rather than making consumers feel guilty about their purchases, Stella aims to ‘infiltrate from within’ by offering sustainable products so desirable the consumer does not even notice.

53% of Stella McCartney womenswear and 45% of menswear is currently made from sustainable materials, a figure which is set to reach 100% during the lifespan of the brand.

Fast fashion

Stella’s gentle approach to the subject of fast fashion showed an understanding of the difficulties many consumers face when wishing to engage with fashion on a limited budget. She encouraged consumers to ‘come at fashion from a different point of view’, to invest more in a longer period of time and to spend mindfully and responsibly. She invited consumers to ‘challenge the people who make your clothes’ and demand that fashion no longer ‘gets away with murder’. She heralded a shift towards greater product awareness and transparency. As with the food industry, Stella called for clothing to be set to sustainable standards with an ‘ingredients list’.

Dilys Williams summed up Stella McCartney’s mindful approach to fashion with the phrase ‘standing up can be a principle as well as a style’. The event culminated with the announcement of the winners of The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion 2016; Irene-Marie Seelig, Iciar Bravo Tomboly, Ana Pasalic, Agraj Jain and Elise Comrie. The resounding message for the next generation of designers was; be courageous, be responsible and say something from the heart.