London has, for a long time, been at the forefront of fashion forwardness. Just take a glance at events like London Fashion Week or the boutiques on Carnaby Street and Mayfair and you’ll soon see why. The UK capital’s involvement in the new wave of sustainability is no exception.
As you might expect from a city that constantly reinvents itself and that pulses with creativity and innovation, there are plenty of sustainable brands that have sprung up organically; not only do they look good, but they do good, too.
Thankfully, sustainable fashion is gathering momentum in the UK. It’s not as if it’s a totally new concept, but sustainability is finally cool. As much as reducing saving the planet down to a trend is hugely problematic, the fact is that now that it is a trend means it is more popular, more pervasive, and this makes it easier to engage with for both companies and consumers.
Out with the new, in with the old
Sustainable brands have exited in the UK forever, they’re not a new concept. In part, because sustainable fashion represents in many ways a return to old routines and old methods: think small runs of items, localised sourcing of labour and material, fewer shopfronts.
The Bishopston Trading Company in Bristol (rest in peace) was a stalwart of the Gloucester Road for decades, Aran Crafts has been knitting away in Ireland for years and years (I have an Aran Crafts sweater that belonged to my mum before she had me).
Crucially, though sustainability isn’t a new concept, it is newly ‘cool’ and newly accessible to a wider, more varied range of people. It is less of an accolade now to have the latest trainers or newest outfits – the hallmarks of fast fashion – and more of an accolade to be able to say your coat is from Oxfam or your t-shirt is made from Tencel.
Here are some of our favourite London-based sustainable fashion brands, both on and off-line.
Ones to watch
Here are some of our favourite online brands for sustainable clothing coming out of London.
Thought Clothing began in Australia when it’s founders were visiting in the long term. But it progressed back in the UK as a series of pop-ups in Camden Lock and on Portobello Road, so it’ a true London maybe not born but certainly bred brand. As you might deduce from the name of the company, Thought put, well, thought into all the things they make and sell.
Ensuring that they source materials in a responsible way, they minimize waste in their production process and they take responsibility for the welfare of their employees and suppliers, ensuring a fair price is agreed for stock and labour. They say themselves that ‘with sustainability as a core value, we recognise our responsibilities towards the environment, eco systems and local communities.’
Thought were originally called Braintree clothing, but changed their name in 2017 to a moniker that reflects their ethos and that strikes an appropriately sustainable note. The brand is simple, tasteful and affordable despite their rigorous commitment to sustainable fabrics, commerce and practice.
Stella McCartney was slinging sustainability long before it was a hashtag. Historically, McCartney has made environmentally friendly choices in her work, rejecting animal products from the get-go (a radical choice at the beginning of her career) and ensuring her brand was run in an environmentally and socially friendly way. It’s no secret that McCartney’s mother, Linda, was famously vegetarian and also an animal rights activist so it’s obvious where Stella’s inspiration came from.
Not only is the luxury fashion brand environmentally sustainable, but McCartney is dedicated to eliciting positive change in the world of commerce. In the brand’s own words: “We believe everybody in our supply chain should be treated with respect and dignity. We believe everybody should earn a fair wage. We believe in building modern and resilient supply chains that provide desirable jobs, foster people’s skills, strengthen worker’s voices and advocate for vulnerable groups.” A public commitment to respectful, dignified employment, throughout the chain of supply may seem like common sense, but it is in fact especially rare in the world of fashion and industry. McCartney sets an entirely impressive standard of sustainability which other brands aspire to.
Birdsong demonstrates an aspirational version of business. The women’s wear and unisex brand is not only committed to sustainable practice in terms of environmental responsibility – championing slow fashion. But also, it is a politically charged business which places women’s welfare and rights at its centre, prioritising the abolishment of workplace abuse and the promotion of individuality.
They also create space for women in the workforce, stating that ‘we work with expert women makers who face barriers to employment – from artists and printmakers to seamstresses and painters – and pay them London living wage to bring our designs to life’. Birdsong make explicit their impact report, emphasising the importance of transparency and accountability. The brand once had a store in Euston, but they now sell their lovely products online.