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Material World: Selfridges' sustainability initiative

Pantone has announced Greenery as the colour of the year and Selfridges is exploring the global impact of clothes. Luxury London chats to CEO and co-founder of Positive Luxury, Diana Verde Nieto, and takes a closer look at the brands championing a new era of fashion

The world is going green in 2017, literally. Global authority on colour Pantone announced in December that Greenery – a ‘tangy yellow-green’ – would be the colour of the coming year. According to Pantone this verdant choice will encourage us to “take a deep breath, oxygenate and reinvigorate”. Pantone’s prediction came at around the same time as Planet Earth II was dominating our screens; the Danish lifestyle concept ‘hygge’ was the word on everyone’s lips and practising ‘wellness’ and ‘mindfulness’ was encouraged as part of one’s daily routine. It was a reaction to a chaotic, tech-obsessed world. Greenery, as a simple shade, has already been noticed more on the catwalks – from Balmain to Boss – but now it’s connotations appear to be influencing the fashion industry’s moral approach too.

Positive Luxury

“I think the challenge is to marry long-term thinking with this very fast moving environment,” says Diana Verde Nieto, co-founder and CEO of Positive Luxury. The company (“Fairtrade for luxury but totally interactive,” according to Verde Nieto) aims to inspire people to ‘buy better’ and measures businesses on their ethical practices: if a brand meets 80 per cent of the criteria it is awarded a Butterfly Mark, which demonstrates transparency to consumers.

In turn, Positive Luxury can capture and relay consumers’ concerns to brands. It has a council that reviews and updates the assessment process, and publishes intelligence reports twice a year. The most recent of these shows that, in an uncertain world, brands must be seen as having a stable and positive impact. Positive Luxury is serious about sustainability, Verde Nieto however, has a slight issue with the term.

“Sustainability is not a sexy word.”

“Sustainability is not a sexy word.” She affirms, “It’s so loaded with this idea of climate change and incomprehensible stuff.

“Fast fashion is absolutely massive – whether it’s luxury or high street – but people want better quality; they want to slow things down. They care about all the little bits that make up what sustainability is.”

Retailers appear to be switching on to changes in buying habits, so much so that Verde Nieto aims to expand to the United States and Asia in the next three years. While sustainability may not necessarily be ‘sexy’, it’s certainly becoming more prominent and with the support of Selfridges: fashion forward.

Selfridges: Material World

The department store has kicked off the year with a UK-wide campaign called Material World, which celebrates sustainable living through brand launches, pop-ups and events. Eight Selfridges Bright ambassadors (Bright New Things is a platform that focuses on new creative talent) have taken over the window displays of the London store to showcase their innovative use of textiles.

Established names are also involved in the celebrations, from author of the bestselling book The Shepherd’s Life, James Rebanks, to The Great British Sewing Bee judge, Patrick Grant.

Community Clothing

“Ethical business needs long-term relationships, trust and understanding, and amid the frenzy that is fast fashion that’s never going to happen,” says founder and creative director of Community Clothing, Patrick Grant.

These kinds of relationships form the basis of Grant’s Community Clothing enterprise, which is travelling around UK-wide Selfridges stores in a series of two-week pop-ups. As the owner of Savile Row tailors Norton & Sons and creative director of E. Tautz, Grant noticed gaps in the production schedules of many British factories as well as a lack of affordable British-made clothes. He seized the opportunity to create a widely beneficial solution to these two problems, by linking them together.

“Ethical business needs long-term relationships, trust and understanding, and amid the frenzy that is fast fashion that’s never going to happen” - Patrick Grant

“[At E.Tautz and Norton & Sons] we have always been completely transparent about our approach to a product and its manufacturing,” says Grant. “We’ve always been about product that’s made well, in the best UK factories, from the best materials. So much so that we bought one of our key suppliers in Blackburn to keep them in business.”

Community Clothing brings Grant’s Savile Row quality and reputation to a mass audience by cutting out the middle man and creating seasonless design classics, from perfect white T-shirts to made-to-last grey jumpers. Three quarters of Community Clothing’s profits are also pledged back into re-skilling projects in the community.

Tengri

While Grant is taking care of things at home, Selfridges Bright ambassador Nancy Johnston’s concerns lie further afield. The CEO and founder of ‘yakshmere’ brand, Tengri, was inspired to set up her business during her time spent living with a yak herder family in Mongolia.

“Nomadic herder families in Mongolia supply the world’s top fashion brands with luxury fibres, contributing to the €9 billion global cashmere market,” says Johnston. “But many nomadic herder families live on subsistence wages of around £1 per day.” Tengri works directly with cooperatives that represent 4,500 nomadic herder families, ensuring they receive a fair income while establishing herders’ land rights. The benefits of this type of farming don’t stop there.

“Tengri specialises in ‘noble yarns’, so named for their superior quality and performance,” says Johnston. “In Mongolia I discovered the amazing properties of yak fibre: it’s as soft as cashmere, warmer than merino wool, hypoallergenic, resistant to water and odours, and is also more resistant to pilling than other luxury fibres.”

Compared to non-indigenous cashmere goats that rip out grassroots when they eat (contributing to widespread environmental damage), yaks consume only the top of the grass when they graze, promoting biodiversity.

Fibres are then spun in a family-owned mill in Yorkshire. The entirely transparent supply chain produces delicate, undyed sweaters, coats and accessories, and works in collaboration with brands, such as Savoir Beds and Nile & York.

 "There is an inherent investment into luxury meaning that you’re never going to throw away a Louis Vuitton bag, and if you do, tell me where!” - Diana Verde Nieto

Vyayama

While yak wool has been at our disposal for centuries, boutique yoga clothing brand and Selfridges Bright member Vyayama has brought an entirely new fabric to the table.

“We don’t believe being mindful has to be separate from enjoying fashion. The desire was to design clothing in line with our yogi values that could also become an integral part of our fashion wardrobe,” says design director Anette Cantagallo.

“We set out to make natural-based fabrics the norm rather than the alternative and to integrate sustainability into all our business practices. After a lot of research Tencel was our answer.”

Tencel is a new type of viscose made from Lyocell fibres that are produced via a closed-loop process (meaning that almost all solvents from the process are recycled) by Austrian company Lenzing. It’s made from wood sourced from sustainably harvested forests that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Tencel doesn’t need the added chemicals synthetic fabrics do to transport moisture from your skin or to stop bacteria growth on garments. The fabric used for the range of black staples for the Vyayama collection is a blend of Tencel and Italian elastane, which Cantagallo describes as “soft and smooth, yet sculpting and supportive”. It is biodegradable, non-toxic, skin PH neutral, naturally breathable and hypoallergenic.

“Verbiage and scientific references show the weightiness of the subject, but how do we make responsible fashion sound sexy, fun and appealing?” asks Cantagallo. “It has to be the big brands, with a platform in fashion and a large audience, who lead and take a stand first to help inform people.” Diana Verde Nieto echoes this opinion: “Luxury and sustainability are two sides of the same coin, there is an inherent investment into luxury meaning that you’re never going to throw away a Louis Vuitton bag, and if you do, tell me where!”

With Diana Verde Nieto, Patrick Grant and Selfridges on board, perhaps sustainability’s sexy rebranding isn’t as far off as some might think.