Ethics aren’t the first thing that comes to mind in the glitzy world of fashion. While the concepts of ethics and sustainability have been gaining traction in recent years, with more and more brands taking a more conscientious approach to their businesses, there is a long way to go to reverse the immense environmental ramifications of the fashion industry. While a sustainable approach to fashion may have come as an afterthought to other fashion brands, it is something that has, since the beginning, been integral to the ethos of Christopher Raeburn.
Ever since the inception of his namesake brand, Christopher has been slowly making waves towards ethical fashion — using mostly recycled fabrics from military grade parachutes to bomb disposal jackets. His aesthetic is a result of a clear vision executed with sustainability at the forefront of every stitch and seam. During the inaugural Remade Totes workshop at the Old Burberry Textile Factory in Hackney, we sit down with Christopher Raeburn and discover his REMADE philosophy, his exciting new workshop initiative, and his unwavering creativity and passion for a new approach to intelligent design.
Where did your interest in fashion begin? What inspired you to start a career in fashion?
I grew up in a small village in Kent in the countryside. My childhood revolved around the outdoors and inventing. From the age of eleven, I joined the air cadets and learned how to fly. Because of this experience, I have developed a fascination for military clothing and original functional fabrics at an early age.
What was it like being a young designer in London during the days when you were just beginning your label? What inspired you to start your namesake brand?
I studied at London’s Royal College of Art and graduated in 2006. I started using recycled materials from the very beginning of my career. When I was at university, there was something very exciting about going out and finding original items; and then making them into something new. My fascination with military materials, utilitarian clothing, and essential functionality naturally led to starting the label.
Back in 2010, you were the first designer to be awarded a NEWGEN Sponsorship for both menswear and womenswear simultaneously. In what ways has this shaped your business in the last seven years?
Winning the NEWGEN sponsorship was a really proud moment for me personally. It helped develop and strengthen our relationship with the British Fashion Council; and I’m very thankful for the support they have given me over the years. Above and beyond this, it gave me a lot of re-assurance and confidence that the REMADE concept had validity early on. The sponsorship also attracted a lot of interest from bigger brands. Collaboration is now a key component of our approach to design.
Christopher Raeburn has always put sustainable design at the forefront, originally beginning from reworked and “remade” military items — where do you usually source your remade fabrics today?
We’ve sourced and reworked a wide range of surplus materials around the globe, from decommissioned parachutes, 1950's silk maps, to life rafts and more recently bomb disposal jackets. For me, a lot of it is about archeology, going out and finding original items from warehouses or the Internet, and turning them into something new.
How important is sustainability to the ethos of your brand? What are your opinions on the rise of sustainable fashion in the industry with even retail giants like H&M launching conscious collections?
The sustainability side of the brand has grown to become an integral part of what we do through our REMADE philosophy and the 3 R’s (Remade, Reduced, Recycled). It is a very important part of the brand DNA. However, I am quite open to the fact that building a sustainable brand was a happy accident and not my prime intention initially.
The rise of sustainable fashion is definitely positive; and its great to see so many bigger brands re-considering their approach, but the truth is that much of the global fashion industry is still environmentally damaging. Thankfully, there are brilliant initiatives out there that we work with, such as Fashion Revolution, who want to raise awareness and call for greater transparency in the industry.
Knitwear has always played a large role in your collections, with collaborations with Woolmark, Unmade and the like. How are you innovating this season’s knitwear?
For AW17, we’re doing colourful patchwork hand knits and fleeces with hues of greys and pops of bright yellows — to complement the CUT N’ SHUT collection. We’re looking forward to launching the collection alongside our Eastpak collaboration this summer.
With a slew of awards under your belt, winning emerging designer at the GQ Men of the Year Awards, menswear brand of the year at the UK Fashion Textile Awards, in what ways do you think your brand and aesthetic has changed over the years?
We’ve re-worked lots of different pre-existing materials over the years, which has really helped to shape and define our aesthetic. I wouldn’t say our aesthetic has changed, more of it’s been refined by innovating with different fabrics over the years, and also through our collaborative work.
Tell us a little bit about your studio’s latest REMADE Totes Workshop initiative with Avery Dennison. What pushed you to open your studio to the public?
Moving to our new REMADE Studio in Hackney has been a real catalyst for the business. We really want to use our new HQ as a platform to engage with our audience and local community, by opening our doors and inviting people to discover our world. We hosted our REMADE Totes guest evening for Fashion Revolution Week a couple of weeks ago. A brilliant initiative that raises awareness of the environmental risks caused by the global fashion industry. Guests were invited to design and customise their own remade tote bags, using patches made from recycled yarns from our long term branding partner Avery Dennison
What is next for you? What else can we expect from Christopher Raeburn in 2017?
We have lots of great projects taking shape this year. We’re hosting monthly off-cut animal workshops where you can make your own animal, while working alongside myself and our talented team. It’s lots of fun and a great way for attendees to develop their creative skills. Above and beyond this, we very much want to continue to collaborate with like minded businesses, championing innovation and drawing a growing network of collaborators into our creative world… watch this space!
Finally, do you think creators like yourself are changing the London Fashion Scene?
I think as a designer, you have an obligation to consider what you are doing and why. Ultimately, we want to make strong, sustainable choices that provide our customers with a completely unique and desirable product. I hope our initiatives can inspire young designers to consider their approach to design. Even in challenging times, creativity shines through, and the REMADE Studio is great opportunity for us to engage with the local community.
Words by Hannah Tan