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An Interview with Marie Emanuelle Belzung from I Love Linen

Not only is linen the world’s oldest fabric, it is also its greenest and most progressive. Following successful campaigns in France and Italy, the I LOVE LINEN campaign aims to re-introduce linen to the British public, through a series of special events with partners including John Lewis, Peter Jones, the Chelsea College of Arts, and a special exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum entitled Fashioned from Nature. 
In conversation with Marie Emmanuelle Belzung, Director of the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp (CELC), we learn all about the world’s most sustainable fabric. Flax, the source of linen, is one of the most sustainable resources in the world: it is zero waste, completely traceable, biodegradable, and thermoregulating. Not to mention, 80% of the world’s linen is produced in Europe, so the carbon footprint brought about by its production is at the bare minimum. We also discovered that linen as a textile is on the cusp of a renaissance. Following some recent innovations with knitted and washed linen, more and more brands are utilising linen in their collections including Jaeger, Uniqlo, Jigsaw, The White Company, and John Lewis. 
Following all these wonderful milestones in the linen industry, the great responsibility of educating the British public on the wide-arrays of benefits that linen has to offer, falls on Marie-Emmanuelle’s capable shoulders. Through the I LOVE LINEN campaign, we are invited to re-discover this wonderful textile; a textile with all the ability to truly cause a change in the industry. 

Tell us about yourself and your background. What is the I LOVE LINEN Campaign all about?
 I have worked in fashion and lifestyle industry for decades. Since 2007, I have been in charge of promoting European linen internationally. 80% of the world’s linen originates in Europe, more specifically in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. My role is actually quite unique, as I am responsible for an entire category of material throughout the course of its production, from plant to fabric. The I LOVE LINEN campaign tells the story of this miracle fibre. It’s local, natural, and sustainable, plus comfortable and stylish. 

Linen is the world’s oldest fabric and is also its most sustainable — yet only 1% of the world’s textiles is represented by linen. How does the I LOVE LINEN campaign help shine a spotlight on Linen and its producers? 
At the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp (CELC), agriculture and fashion unite to create something truly unique. Each step of fabric production is represented, from farmer, scutcher, spinner, and weaver. CELC is unique because we move as one, and you see this unity in the campaign as well. The flax field that we installed at Chelsea College of Arts, the bales of fibre in the windows of Peter Jones designed by interiors guru Philippe Nigro, and the little packets of flax seeds given away in stores are all testaments to the wonderful work that we do. These initiatives aim to show the public that linen is a wonderful plant-based, locally produced sustainable fibre. 

CELC is the lead sponsor of the Victoria & Albert’s Fashioned from Nature Exhibition - an exhibition which traces the relationship between fashion and the natural world. Could you tell us more about the exhibition and what it was like collaboration with the V&A on this project? 
The V&A: Fashioned from Nature exhibition is the first time we have sponsored a museum. The show explores how nature has inspired fashion; and how the fashion industry has harnessed nature throughout the years. It also examines how in recent years, the industry has begun to act more positively and give back to nature as well. Our goal was to exchange knowledge with the V&A team, to support them with materials, to act as a go-between, and to make introductions. We’re so proud to have John Malkovich donate one of his creations, an amazing blue Linen suit, for the exhibition. CELC works very openly; we work to make things happen and to put things in their right space. When the V&A wanted a wall of flax, (which is the fibre precursor to linen) and linen fabric to cover the chairs, we sourced these items for the museum. 

The I LOVE LINEN shopping tour connects audiences to different retailers who are showcasing linen in their products. How did you go about choosing the right retailers to partner with? 
Most of the partners were chosen in the same way as how you would choose a family. Most of our partners strongly believe in what they do. The collaboration with Jigsaw, for example, is amazing. They talk about linen the way we do — they feel it and live it. 

In what ways do you think LINEN can become the textile of the future?
Linen is cool and it is comfortable. You really feel more comfortable wearing and sleeping in linen, as compared to synthetic fabrics, not to mention linen is hypoallergenic. Moreover, linen has the capacity for reinvention. In the last ten years, linen has enjoyed two major innovations; the first one being knitted linen. No-one was wearing linen T-shirts or sweaters ten years ago, now they are very popular. Knitted linen disproves one major misconception: which is that linen wrinkles. The second major innovation is washed linen. Washing linen softens the fabric and gives it some pep, and so invites a whole new generation of consumers. Finally, linen’s minimal impact on the environment is exactly what the fashion industry needs now. 
Today, sustainability is more important than ever, with fashion brands becoming more and more concerned about their carbon footprint. What role does the fashion industry play in the effort to minimise our environmental impact as a species 
I LOVE LINEN is a great example of the fashion industry joining together to do something about sustainability. More than fifty brands and retailers have taken part in our campaign; from MaxMara and Vivienne Westwood, to John Lewis and Uniqlo – a democratic consensus across the market. This year, sustainability goes mainstream. A revolution has begun and any fashion company that does not adapt will be swept away by the sustainable revolution. 

As consumers, how can we make a difference in protecting the future of our planet?
Question everything. Ask yourself, where do my clothes come from? Who really makes them? Where do they go when I’m finished with them? I am confident that just by asking yourself these three questions, anyone will reach the conclusion that linen deserves all the love in the world. 

Interview by Hannah Tan-Gillies

Portraits by Curtis Gibson

Philippe Nigro designer of the installation within the Peter Jones store at Sloane Square

VISIT and READ about the Linen Flax Fields with TWENTY6