Mike Ashley is a retail predator. Much like a lion watching his prey out on the savannah, he waits until the wildebeest looks weak and separated from the herd and then bides his time. Pouncing only when it suits him and he’s certain of a tasty and easy meal.
This week he pounced and was rewarded with House of Fraser for £90m. He already had a 11% stake in HOF, bought in 2014, so he had an interest.
Left - Harrods of the High-Street?
This price was drastically down from the £480m the Chinese owners, Sanpower, paid for it. The brand is weak and damaged, but not dead, but it will need investment in order to survive. They didn’t seem to have a strategy and they didn’t define why you would go to House of Fraser over another store.
Ashley needs to work on making it clear why you’d return to House of Fraser. While John Lewis is offers mostly necessity, and can be bought online, Ashley would be better at targeting ‘treats’, relating to fashion and dressing up to seduce a higher spending customer to leave the house.
This needs to be the store for birthdays, for Christmas, for anniversaries, or anything that requires fancy packaging and that feel good, swinging bag feeling. Fewer visits, but more money out of people’s pockets. At the moment the nicest thing they sell is a Mulberry handbag, but they need more excitement to keep people interested.
Promising to turn the struggling chain into “the Harrods of the high street”, could be Ashley’s flippant words, but if he focuses on that idea, he could be onto something. You don’t go to Harrods for the mundane or ordinary. Admittedly, the prices will have to be different, but you can still package everything nicely and tie-in exclusive product and brands.
Reading about his ‘elevation’ and expansion plans for his other brands, recently, what’s left of House of Fraser will be in prime locations such as Bluewater, Westfield White City and Glasgow, if he decides to stick to closing the other 31 struggling stores, and would fit nicely into this expansion plan. He could easily use his premium Flannels brands to insert much higher end product, something House of Fraser always aspired to be, but never quite got there.
He’s realised that it’s important to have product and brands for each level of customer. The bargain end is fickle and requires huge volumes, while the growth in luxury brands offers lower volumes, but much higher profits. Flannels is expanding rapidly and this acquisition will help create a larger scale.
Flannels is opening new stores at Glasgow Fort shopping centre, Hull and Leicester as part of its ongoing expansion drive. The retailer announced, recently, it expects to open between 6 and 12 new Flannels stores before its financial year end next April 2019. In its premium lifestyle division, Sports Direct currently operates 21 Flannels stores, 10 Cruise stores and three Van Mildert stores, so its premium designer business is really growing. Even Oxford Street is getting a Flannels next year.
He could introduce his underwear brand, Agent Provocateur, into HOF stores and work on their strong existing brands like Biba.
It’s inevitable, if Debenhams continues to struggle, that he’ll merge the two, already owning 29.7% of Debenhams. He’s probably waiting for his moment to strike on this one too and get it at a knocked down price. The high street will plateau soon and even go back into a growth mode and, if in the right locations, in the right cities, House of Fraser will be smaller, but much stronger.
Why do things cost what they do? This is a question few ask when items are cheap, but, move up the pricing scale, and we feel like we need some explanation. Many brands cite the ‘luxurious’ materials and use the ‘made in…’ tags, and, think that is sufficient to justify higher and higher prices. But, some brands are going a lot further and not just explaining, but dissecting their costs and offering ‘Pricing Transparency’.
Left - Private White V.C. - Ventile Raincoat - £495
One of the pioneers is Manchester’s Private White V.C., known for its selection of premium outerwear. Made in ‘Cottonopolis’, Private White V.C.’s product isn’t cheap and they feel the need to tell you why. Calling it their ‘Pricing Manifesto’, it sets out how many minutes each garment takes to make and even down to how much thread is used.
Co-Founder and CEO, James Eden, says, “With the advent of the internet there is so much access to information now. It’s at the tips of people’s fingers and customers are more inquisitive and curious about how and where things are made. Country of origin has become county of origin and, now, factory of origin. People are interested in who makes their Private White V.C. coat, and for many years we have celebrated our workforce and their craft. The next step is to show people, our customer exactly how much that craftmanship is worth in pounds and pence.”
Certain brands are expensive because they can’t make their products any cheaper. They want to prove they’re not being greedy by taking huge mark-ups and margins, and that their goods are worth paying the price for.
Right - Explaining what goes into your Private White raincoat
“As a brand the most important thing is retaining, fostering and maximising the trust and confidence of our customers. This is done by offering great products, tremendous customer service and being honest and transparent in our approach – there is no room for smoke and mirrors!
“Our customers know they are not being misled or charged what we would consider to be an unfair price for a product. The economics of a direct to consumer business means it is far more contemporary and a much leaner model; and we think those benefits should be passed onto the customer.” says Eden.
This is a reaction against wholesaling and discounting too, which has become tougher and tougher for smaller manufacturers and brands. Private White V.C. is at that point where the brand is recognised and can, therefore, pull back on wholesale and take it direct to consumers. Smaller brands, like pilot fish with a whale, need a vehicle to be presented to people, particularly online.
“So far I am happy to say the response has been extremely positive. We all acknowledge it is a bold move, but we think it is essential for businesses, like ours, in such a crowded market place, to differentiate ourselves first and foremost by quality, but also in our philosophy which champions: transparency of sourcing and price transparency.
“We are striving for a full price policy, so there are no inflated prices prior to an ad-hoc sale for example; I just don’t think this is sustainable. It is very much educating the customer to never to pay full price. There is so much investment in the quality of our people, the materials and the process, we want our prices to properly reflect that - we want our customers to know that we have made this fair and correct. No discounts or promotions also gives people confidence that the product that they buy today will be sold for the same price in 6 months’ time.” he says.
This is fashion’s reaction to field to fork labelling. Many supermarkets, now, tell you the name of the farmer or even the number of the animal. It’s about traceability and re-educating the consumer into buying better and feeling good about paying more.
Private White V.C. has the luxury of owning its factory and not making anything anywhere else and you're not paying for a 'name'. It’s a simple formula.
Alessandro Agazzi, fashion business expert and blogger at www.thestyleism.com says, “I think it's a smart move. People/consumers want to know more about what they are buying. And with that, many people are like ‘look how good they are, they show want to show us that they are very fair’”.
“They are not the first ones to do it. Again, I think their move is to create a stronger engagement with existing and new clients. You can't compare the costs of a luxury/designer brand to the ones of a manufacturer. But, yes, people are more and more price-conscious and this is a fact.” says Agazzi.
“I think this is mainly a marketing thing from them; and their consumers seem to like it - from the comments on their IG feed. I’m not sure others will follow. It is a delicate move to do it. I asked Private White a couple of questions, the answers were very polite, but, again I am not too convinced how they calculate the costs of the garment. They have not considered costs that they're bearing - retail, logisitcs, PR, photography. And their 2x is even lower when you deduct the VAT from the SRP.” he says.
It’s important to be fair, but it’s also important to make a healthy profit. If you’re working on very small margins it doesn’t take much to tip the whole thing over. I think the majority of people outside of the fashion business don’t know the typical mark-ups on luxury goods and it's often a closely guarded secret.
Will other British brands following suit? I asked, Alice Made This, a British jewellery company specialising in artisan techniques and precious metals, their thoughts.
“Private White V.C. are fortunate, in this instance, that they are a factory and a retailer in terms of transparency. This allows them to disclose costs and stick to prices to allow these stats to remain true for a long period of time. We use a variety of British factories and, for us, to disclose our factories prices in such a granular way may be a breach of their confidential information. Our pricing varies per batch as metal prices fluctuate daily and our factories have to pass these onto us as their customer.” says Alice Walsh, Co-Founder, Alice Made This.
“I think it is interesting, but difficult for us to be accurate, therefore I feel it becomes not as transparent as it may appear! I believe customers expect honesty, integrity and transparency. This can be offered to them in a number of ways.” she says.
There is an element of marketing here and you don't get exact figures, but I also think the attitude is, why not try it? In this fast changing retail landscape you want to shout about your product and this is a way of standing behind it. It builds trust and creates an honest halo over the brand. ‘Pricing Transparency’ only works if you have nothing to hide. Very few brands can do this, but, the ones that can, should.
Below - Private White V.C. comparing its model and 'Traditional Luxury'
When news came through regarding the death of Barry Chuckle, yesterday, a little piece of our childhoods died. Rotherham’s finest, Barry sadly passed away at 73 leaving his brother Paul to keep the Chuckle Brothers' legacy alive.
Left - Barry & Paul pioneering 'PrEPpy Style' - Read more here
The comical pair were a stalwart of children’s television during the 80s and 90s, entertaining us even though we were never quite sure what was going on. But, nobody really cared and everybody was too British to ask.
Right - Barry with his A-list celeb pal, Jay Z
In the style stakes, Barry & Paul, pioneered the tache and mullet combo. They were on the bad-fashion, Balenciaga moodboard way before it was cool and even made friends with some of the biggest A-list celebrities. From me, to you, Jay Z?
Add a few Céline-esque laundry bags and a Gucci style granny headscarf - see more here - and you have some timeless British style icons. Now, that’s what you call ‘Chucklevision’!
Below - Céline? & Babushka Chic?
Tom Ford is a clever man. Starting with two of the highest margins categories in fashion - eyewear & beauty - he founded his eponymous company. Fast forward 13 years and he’s developed money-maker after money-maker. Suits, followed by trainers and then jeans, all added to his ballooning business.
Left - Tom Ford debuted his new underwear range during his February AW18 catwalk show in New York
The last big fashion category untouched by the Texan’s magic was underwear. But, no more.
What debuted in his show in February catwalk show in New York was a bit underwhelming. Think Yeezy uncooked sausage coloured trunks; a world away from the sexy, see-through briefs Ford produced when at the helm of Gucci. Calvin Klein could still sleep easy at night, or so I thought. But, looking at the news from British GQ, it looks like they’re more standard tighty-whities, albeit with a velvet waistband. They’re also cheaper than I thought at £55. (I know, it's still a lot for a pair of white pants).
For a man who famously dresses commando, the big question is, will be practise what he preaches?
Below - Briefs by Tom Ford - £55
It wasn’t so long ago a ‘slider’ was something containing pulled pork and came in a mini brioche bun. Today, it’s one of the biggest categories in casual footwear.
It was our obsession with everything sportswear and retro that saw the return of Adidas’ ‘Adilette Slides’ which, arguably, started the whole mainstream trend. Teamed with white sports socks it became the default cool and comfortable warm weather shoe for fashionable geeks.
Slydes - 'Flint' AW18 - £25
Fast forward a couple of summers and ‘Sliders’ has become a footwear category in its own right. Much more ‘on-brand’ than flip-flops, luxury brands have piled into the market attracted by the volumes and margins. This is their cool entry shoe and shows no signs of going anywhere and will, no doubt, be one of their biggest selling footwear categories this year.
“I love how fashion works in mysterious ways and the pool slide is a great example - five years ago it would have been a faux-pas and, now, it’s a must have summer shoe, trending globally. Since this humble shoe’s luxury makeover, at the hands of brands such as Bottega Veneta, Gucci and Prada to name a few, it has grown in popularity becoming a style to not only wear on holiday, but in everyday city life too. It’s also been a great platform for brands embracing the logo mania trend to position their logo.” says David Morris, Senior Shoes Buyer at MR PORTER.
Ben Carr, Buyer at MATCHESFASHION.COM, says, “Sliders can be a great way to buy into a designer brand because of their competitive price point and with celebrities like A$AP Rocky and Justin Bieber often wearing these styles we’ve definitely noticed an uplift in their popularity.”
“Sliders and sandals have become one of our biggest growth areas, the biggest fashion houses have made it their focus on runways and within their collections. Prada champion the sandal and have reintroduced a range of sliders. The competitive price point enables increased accessibility for a wider audience.” says Carr.
Right - Balenciaga - Logo-debossed Leather Slides - £435 from matchesfashion.com
The slider is the cheapest shoe for many luxury brands. The margin on a pair of £435 Balenciaga logo-embossed leather slides would be significant. That’s an understatement, I know. Just imagine how many £225 sliders Gucci has sold this summer to the Love Island wannabes. This is big business.
On the more affordable spectrum, and founded in 2014, the footwear brand ‘Slydes’ specialises in, well, slides. Brand Owner, Juls Dawson, says, “Four years ago the founders spotted the trend as to was coming up over the horizon and jumped all over it. The rest, they say is history.”
He won’t reveal how many pairs of £16 sliders he is, now, selling, but says, “we can say sales are doubling year on year.”
Dawson highlights the versatility of the slider for its growth and popularity. “They are so versatile, worn from gym to pool and from beach to club, spanning not just most age groups and demographics, but the globe. They have been embraced across all genres of music, Influencers, clubbers, Millennials, keep fit fanatics, to name but a few,” he says.
The slider is part of the dominant sportswear trend and, of all the summer styles, the flip flop has probably taken the biggest hit from the slider. The slicker slider has managed to upstage the flimsy flip flop, which still looks somewhat underdressed, dirty and cheap.
“The flip flop, albeit a classic open toed sandal doesn’t have the scale of a slider. Limited to a narrow thong and a thin rubber outsole, where as the slider’s outsole can be raised, coloured, embellished and re-designed the upper of a slider. By its very definition, as long as you can slide you foot, it’s a slider, and, you can do pretty much anything with the silhouette.” says Dawson.
You also can’t wear flip flops with socks. So, what’s the future for the slider category?
“Every trend will reach a peak at some point, but Slydes have the capacity to move on and evolve as the uppers are like a blank canvas to add embellishment, print, texture, grahics, logos, materials…the possibilities are endless.” says Dawson.
“I think it will be less branded and graphic, moving into a more simple design. The rise of the logo focussed collections is down trending and we can see it already starting with footwear.” says Carr.
The slider looks set to become more subtle and lowkey. One brand introducing sliders for the first time is Grenson, which featured a couple of styles in their latest SS19 collection.
“I love looking at styles that are ‘on-trend’ and seeing if I can do a Grenson version, that makes sense. This was a challenge as most sliders are rubber with huge logos, but I found a way to do a leather version.” says Tim Little, Creative Director and Owner, Grenson.
“People needed a replacement for the flip flop for the summer, but also the ugly shoe trend made the slider the perfect choice. Added to that, of course, is comfort and convenience.” he says.
Explaining the attraction to many premium footwear brands, Little, says, “The flip flop is very basic and cheaply made, whereas the slider allows more opportunity to create a crafted version. I can’t see us doing a flip flop as there isn’t much that we can bring to the party.”
While the slider is still cool, it’s grown to a size which makes it bigger than a fashion trend. The slider category will continue to grow and become more permanent as more and more people buy and wear them. Attracted by the branding, comfort and the infinite designs and finishes, the slider category will continue to see more brands enter the market. Much like the designer trainer trend before it, we’ll see more brands put their own DNA onto this simple shoe and happily price it to match. Even Tom Ford has done a dressy velvet pair named ‘Churchill’.
Left - Tom Ford - Churchill Chain Trimmed Velvet Slides - £370 from MRPORTER.COM
David Morris, from MRPORTER says, “Slides have never been as relevant as they are now, especially as we’ve seen a shift in the market as men continue to embrace casualwear and sportswear as part of their everyday wardrobe. Luxury brands such as Prada and Balenciaga have seamlessly incorporated luxury slides into their collections giving credibility to the footwear style, so they are now an option to team with the ready-to-wear. This footwear category will continue to dominate over the summer seasons whilst this sportswear trend is still key.”
Right - Grenson's first sliders for SS19
Menswear is often viewed in isolation. Many designers or brands who produce both men’s and women’s clothes often keep them apart when showing them to the press. The times they are together, the menswear often looks conservative and dowdy compared to its feminine counterpart.
Left - Topman AW18
So, it was with some excitement, when I attended the newly merged Topman/Topshop AW18 preview a few months ago, that the menswear was louder than the women’s. Looking across the room I thought I'd stepped to the wrong side. And, let’s be honest, Topshop womenswear isn’t exactly for shy wallflowers.
To me this signified the new confidence in high-street menswear and menswear in general. Topman has had a rocky patch of late and could have easily played safe and opted for simple basics and proven product. But, no, this was like a wardrobe for Harry Styles’ global world tour! A new Global Design Director, overseeing both Topman and Topshop, Anthony Cuthbertson, had arrived from Just Cavalli.
It’s as though Gucci has pushed the door open for this type of exhibitionist menswear and the British high-street has, literally, kicked it open. I don’t think menswear has been this colourful and bold since Tommy Nutter was a leading figure.
Right - Versace taste, lemonade budget?! AW18 River Island
And, it’s not just Topman. It’s River Island, ASOS, boohoo and many others who are reacting to an experimental male consumer who isn’t constrained by gender or the feeling of conforming.
Victoria Hunt, Senior Designer, River Island, says, “Menswear trends have been bolder of late, so there’s been a natural progression towards more adventurous clothing; not just at River Island, but across the entire industry. Catwalks are pushing the limits and this trickles down to make standout fashion more readily available."
“The trend for loud prints and statement pieces seems to be a natural fit for our men’s consumer, so we’ve really embraced it. We are also consciously driving the brand to be more cohesive across all of our departments, although our menswear, womenswear and kidswear customers are all different our collections should be instantly recognisable as River Island.” says Hunt.
Shane Chin, Menswear Design Manager, boohooMAN, says,“At boohooMAN we listen and learn from our customer and grow our collections to suit our guy. It’s a really exciting time for boohooMAN and we’re lucky to have a broad customer base that isn’t afraid to go after new trends and styles.”
“Ideas have been taken mainly from street style and considering how our guy will ultimately wear and style the garments we design. I think the resurgence of Gucci has put a real focus on bringing the fun side back to fashion and by mixing this with the current focus on streetwear, we’ve been able to push the boundaries further in the collections.” says Chin
Street style, influencers and social media seems to be playing a massive part of this growth in experimentation. One is feeding the other and so the cycle continues. These are items made for Instagram and the frenzy to standout on the platform. These are the type of clothes that make better pictures.
Left - Sequin trackies? Topman AW18 Like sequins? See TheChicGeek's picks here
“We gather ideas from all areas as inspiration for our designs: street style, editorials, art and travel to name a few. There are a lot of the big fashion houses pushing bold florals and baroques, but we’re seeing this a lot on the street too. We are always on the look out for new and exciting fashion.” says Hunt.
“Social media has given rise to this in a big way, trends are able to gain momentum so much faster now. Look at the bumbag/cross body bag – who could have predicted that was going to be so huge?” she says.
Designer fashion has become so expensive and, with the younger generation having less money or earning less, these retailers and brands are allowing guys to look as baroque as a Versace model for pocket money prices. I think the affordable prices are encouraging men to be more experimental knowing they haven’t committed as much when it doesn’t cost a month’s rent.
“Menswear is adapting to the growth of social media and the way that style inspo. is so readily available. There’s a real buzz around menswear and it’s exciting to see menswear have more of a focus at fashion weeks around the world, each season. I think the range of brands showing menswear and womenswear in the same shows has also had an effect on people being more inspired by menswear and menswear styling.” says Chin.
It’s interesting that something that was seen as a step back for menswear - the merging of designer catwalk collections - has actually made menswear step up to mirror the womenswear in its distinctive and look-at-me aesthetic and raise its awareness.
Hunt says, “The growth of menswear in general has made high end fashion so much more accessible and relevant to the customer. All over the world, menswear fashion weeks gets so much coverage on social media that men are seeing celebrities and influencers in more experimental trends and dressings and that’s something that they aspire to.
“Just yesterday I was at graduate fashion week and the amount of students choosing to study menswear has grown hugely over the past few years, so there is definitely more to come. It’s also a rebellion in part to the button-down sartorial looks of a few years back. Now, guys want to break and bend the rules, throwing prints, sportswear, tailoring and streetwear together effortlessly.” she says.
It would be silly to suggest that this guy was the majority of men, but it's growing and it’s a younger male consumer who will influence his social circle both on and off-line.
“It’s a really wide demographic – from the well-groomed Ibiza guy that likes to wear a matching twin set by the pool, to the fashionista that clashes three different prints in to one look!” says Hunt.
“The market continues to grow at more than double the rate of womenswear, so it’s not going to slow down any time soon. Men will continue to experiment and it will be exciting to see what’s next – gender is no longer a static thing, so guys don’t feel that they have to conform in the same way. We can be whoever we’d like to be and clothing is a great way of expressing that.” she says.
Right - The sequins keep coming - River Island AW18
Chin says, “I think people’s attitudes towards menswear are changing. Even in the last decade, and in my career to date, menswear trends and styles are becoming more adventurous each year. The lines are blurring and fashion is no longer a womenswear focused arena.”
Affordable menswear has never been produced in such volume and with such experimentation. Sequins, fringing, patches, badges, louder and louder patterns and prints, make this like a sweet shop for modern day Marc Bolans. This feels like a really exciting time for high-street menswear and the British are leading the charge. Where we lead, others will follow, and it’ll be interesting to see where this type of outlandish menswear can go.
Fashion, in its nature, isn’t logical. Before things are broken or unusable we move onto consuming the next item all under the umbrella of ‘fashion’. It’s a huge, global business which basically comes down to us buying more things than we need and, also, new things before our existing things are redundant or can no longer fulfil their purpose.
It’s also very creative and what makes us human beings.
Left - Northern European fields full of flax
It’s therefore not in the fashion business’ interest to get us, as consumers, to buy or use less. So, what we’ve seen over the latest few years is many retailers using the term ‘sustainable’ to give our consumption the gloss of being better or even good for the environment while continuing to encourage us to buy even larger amounts.
It’s difficult for retailers and brands to tell us to buy less or not at all. They want us to feel good while we are shopping, but can ‘fashion’ ever be sustainable and what does ‘sustainable’ even mean?
Bruce Montgomery, Course leader BA hons Fashion UCA Epsom/Menswear Consultant, says, “While it’s a mammoth task, fashion needs to become sustainable. The industry is over producing, this is leading to excessive consumption with 300,000 tons of clothing being dumped on landfill either by both retailers and consumers rather than recycled. Patagonia’s don’t buy this jacket campaign and Stella McCartney’s fashion campaign shot with models lying in landfill tried to raise awareness to the problem, but much more industry commitment is needed.”
“Brands have understood its positive to be seen as ‘sustainable’. This has led to many jumping on the marketing bandwagon without any commitment and just greenwashing the surface of the topic. The word unfortunately is in danger of being watered down in the same way the word ‘luxury’ is now applied to fast fashion products. Why should consumers believe brands when they discover there is no substance behind a brand’s sustainable stance or strategy?” says Montgomery.
Niche brands with stringent green credentials are really trying to separate themselves from the mainstream ‘sustainable’ bandwagon. Swedish, independent outdoor clothing brand, Houdini, aims to “become fully circular in sustainability - and setting the standard for sustainable fashion and its mission towards ‘impact positive’ status”. Ninety one percent of their product is made from recycled, recyclable, renewable, biodegradable or Bluesign - it eliminates harmful substances right from the beginning of the manufacturing process and sets and controls standards for an environmentally friendly and safe production - certified fabrics.
Eva Karlsson, CEO, Houdini Sportswear, says, "We find ‘sustainability’ not only a boring phrase, but an underwhelming ambition. To be sustainable should be seen as the bare minimum for an organisation’s social and environmental impact. Imagine a world where businesses set out to have a positive impact on the planet, and customers demanded it.”
Can fashion ever be ‘sustainable’? “With the knowledge and available technologies of today fashion (as in apparel) could and should be way closer to sustainable than what is currently the case. The trouble is best technologies and best practices are seldom implemented by retailers and brands, or some are implemented for one specific product or product group rather than for the big bulk. This is true not only for environmental factors, but for social and ethical factors as well.” says Karlsson.
“There are numerous reasons for this. Lack of guts and willpower to change, lack of knowledge, lack of time in an ever speedier fast fashion market. On the systemic level hinders are built into the system – buyers and sustainability managers are often working in their separate silos, the pricing structures of today work against the transition to sustainable business practices and regulations are poor.” she says.
Is the future buying differently then? The Victoria & Albert Museum recently held an exhibition entitled ‘Fashioned From Nature’ looking at the materials and inspiration the fashion industry has taken from nature. It was sponsored by CELC, The European Confederation of Flax and Hemp and they used the exhibition to highlight and promote this natural fibre - linen.
Marie-Emmanuelle Belzung, Director, CELC, The European Confederation of Flax and Hemp, says, “Not many people know – almost nobody – that three countries in Europe are the worldwide leader in flax production: France, Belgium and the Netherlands. More than 80 per cent of worldwide production comes from these three. And the quality from here is far superior to elsewhere, because the climate and conditions are perfect, and the knowledge and expertise are far superior. So, linen production is very local – you can see the fields from the Eurostar.”
Right - Flax - linen - grows naturally with no irrigation
“And there is no irrigation – no water needed, no GMO, no waste, no poison going into the water system, which is vital when you consider the demand for water in the future. Plus, linen is a good local employer: it takes five times more labour than wheat, because flax is a very technical crop. More technical than corn or wheat or other agricultural products that might occupy the fields. Then, the process of transferring the plant to the fibre is purely mechanical, involving no chemistry. Linen is natural, and entirely sustainable.” says Belzung.
Compared to cotton, which uses enormous amounts of pesticides and water, linen is a local European crop and is underused in fashion with many associating it with seasonal summer shirts and suits.
“Linen’s continued popularity is thanks to innovation. In the last ten years, linen the textile has enjoyed two major innovations. Knitted fabric has developed thanks to innovation on the yarn. Knitted linen overturns one stereotype: it is linen that does not wrinkle. Second is washed linen, which gives the fabric some pep and so seduces a new generation of consumers. Makes linen soft and chic.” says Belzung.
“In our special project with Chelsea College of Arts the concept of linen as a sports fabric – natural moisture management, naturally hypoallergenic and anti-bacterial – was one of the strongest ideas. Of course, blending anything with petro-chemicals diminishes the sustainability argument. Flax fibres are also being combined with eco-plastics to create, for example, car interiors, speakers and sporting equipment such as skis.” she says.
Linen is a perfect example of how consumers can swap one fabric for another. If consumers have a choice between a white cotton shirt and a white linen shirt, with this knowledge, they can make a more educated decision with less environmental impact.
Montgomery says, “We are consuming more cotton than we are growing, so materials like flax will need to be used more by designers in the future. An education programme will be needed because, while brands continue to use cotton, consumers will buy it instead of alternatives such as flax because they are familiar with it. The Copenhagen Sustainable Fashion Summit has been very successful in getting high profile leaders from academia and industry together to discuss sustainability, but it is still only covering the converted. The loop from producer to consumer needs to be joined up.”
Right - Raw linen on display in the Victoria & Albert Museum Exhibition ‘Fashioned From Nature’
“We need the whole industry to understand that sustainability needs to be applied to all aspects of the fashion business. Starting from yarns to fabric, manufacture, producing less through better range planning, making more locally, as well as recycling. Technology is being used to resolve the issue and their are new developments coming through such as polymer recycling, but this will take time. A lot more can be done in the short term simply by every brand making a sustainable commitment. The Kering group for example have been very pro active in enforcing their sustainable strategy across the group, while the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is researching new ways to inspire a generation to re-think, re-design and build a better future through a circular economy.” he says.
“If the industry would let go of business as usual and decide on making the transition without compromise it could do so today. With emerging technology it could reach even further, becoming truly sustainable, restorative and even regenerative.” says Karlsson.
I don’t think it’s realistic to ask people to buy less. It’s even more patronising to ask people with less money not to buy cheaper clothes. We need people to buy differently while we wait for technology and economics to close the circle on fashion items.
In the future, I can see us recycling our clothes like we do with other recyclables. Putting them into piles according to their fibre make up. This will satisfy the speed of fashion and also the in-built disposabiltiy.
Things need to go around and around and around. It’s not enough for something to be made out of plastic bottles once. It, itself, needs to be recyclable and then into something else and then something else. We need to close the loop. That is sustainable.