Fashion And The Environment:
London College Of Fashion

To celebrate London Fashion Week, which is happening right now, until 19 Feb 2013, we’re featuring some wonderful sustainability projects from graduating MA students at the London College of Fashion: Thalia Warren works with the seasons and locally grown dyes to create sexy sustainable wear; Rachel Clowes incorporates metamorphosis through biodegradable elements; and Anja Crabb wants to make fashion more personal.


Susan Postlethwaite, director of MA Fashion and the Environment (LCF), explains a bit about what the course aims to achieve: “It’s a unique course examining what new models of practise for fashion designers might look like. Students’ work is informed by the whole environment that fashion operates within; from psychology and neuroscience, to philosophy, politics, sustainability, ethics, fashion theory, new technologies and materials, science, economics, anthropology and new business models. Students go on to explore novel and unusual approaches to designing as critical thinkers and able communicators”.

Through this approach they hope to develop insights into the future of fashion and new ways of working with it. Take a look below at the impressive exploratory work of these three students. Their designs are also currently on show at the London College of Fashion’s MA Exhibition.


Thalia’s project has two aims: to show that sustainable fashion, using locally-sourced botanical dyes, can be relevant and contemporary; and to argue that the local seasons of the year, rather than industrial demands, can inspire the rhythm of fashion.


The collection was created in East London; the dye colours came only from plants, all grown or foraged locally, within a radius of 15 miles. Harvesting plants led to the creation of a compilation of colour-swatches – which in itself could become a valuable resource – naturally-dyed colour, even when subtle, has a depth rarely obtained with synthetic colour.


A spectrum of colours was achieved through testing plants, mordants (a substance used to set dyes on fabrics) and extraction processes and, for the final collection, a palette of yellows, blues and greens was selected.


The design process took risks. The time spent on dyeing meant the 3D pieces had to be made quickly, which provoked a direct and instinctive response to the materials. The collection contrasts light silk and heavy canvas, bindings and raw edges, clean lines and obvious handiwork, and dyed and un-dyed pieces. There’s even deliberate naughtiness in the design of knickers, in order to counteract the wholesome and puritan associations of ecology: this is fashion, after all.


Thalia’s work captures a new sensuality, thrown up by the vibrant urban marketplace, local seasonal cycles and the natural environment. She imagines that luxury fashion could even see branding – currently driven by vast media spending to create abstract, rootless, ‘sales myths’ – give way to a desire for artisan quality, based on uniqueness and limited production runs.




Photography: Agnes Lloyd-Platt. Models: Lucy Anderson (FM Agency) and Phoebe Naughton.


Rachel has been considering the concept of “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” and concludes that this doesn’t just mean limiting the volume of fabric off-cuts in production, or lowering the number of miles travelled by a pair of jeans. In addition to these kinds of measures we must also look at how we actually use clothing and discover where the waste really is.

Clothes are designed to be worn; keeping something for a long time, but not wearing it, is not sustainable behaviour – it’s simply storing waste in the wardrobe.

Rachel found that there’s a high level of waste in the form of inactive clothing. Inactive clothes may have been previously worn or never worn, but they’re judged unsuitable for either current use, or disposal. This represents wasted resources, energy and labour.

Special occasion wear, such as outfits worn to weddings and parties, has a low wear-to-buy ratio and makes up a high proportion of “waste” in the wardrobe. These garments are typically worn only a handful of times, as people are concerned about being seen in the same thing at multiple events. Even when a garment won’t be worn again it’s often kept because of its expense and pristine condition.

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Evolving dress: Phase one: Sequined over- and under-dress

Rachel suggests creating clothing capable of transforming from one special occasion event to another, before complete transformation into a frequently worn everyday garment.

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Evolving dress: Phase two: Dissolved over-dress and sequined under-dress

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Evolving dress: Phase three: Dissolved over-dress and dissolved under-dress


And how does she achieve this? Special occasion clothing is commonly made from polluting and non-biodegradable materials that last much longer than the fleeting active life of the garment. Plastic sequins shimmer for a few hours on the dance floor, then languish for years in the wardrobe, before lying in landfill for a century or more. Rachel produced bright shiny bio-plastic sequins from natural and organic ingredients, coloured with natural dyes.

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After two or three events the sequins dissolve, releasing natural dye into the fabric and revealing a new pattern that was lying dormant, transforming the garment into one suitable for everyday wear – a metamorphosis that adds value and embraces the magic and uncertainty of change.

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Everyday Was Special brings inactive clothing into active use through the creation of evolving textiles.

Photography: Claudia Brookes. Model: Pin-Hsiu Chen.


“Looking at ‘the state of the world’” Anja asks herself: “How can I justify buying more stuff? And as a designer, how can I justify producing more stuff?” In grappling with these questions she was determined to find forms of fashion and consumption that are meaningful and personal.

Her search resulted in a collection that invites the wearer to co-create the garments, using either movable stickers or, on a more symbolic level, hair embroidery. The garments are blank canvasses that allow thoughts to be made tangible.


Memory is a key theme for Past:Present; after all, our memories make us who we are. Our experiences form our personalities. Anja illuminates “On the radio I heard someone describe a pair of tartan drainpipe trousers he wore as a punk in the 70s: today he can’t pull the trouser leg up beyond his knee… but throwing them away would feel like throwing a part of himself away.” And; “According to an article in New Scientist (Oct 2012), memories are important in shaping our well-being: they act as a kind of ballast that holds us steady during times of stress.”


For the young, individualism has largely become a mass-produced illusion – ‘individuality’ is a concept exploited and perpetuated through consumerism. This is what led Anja to seek alternative ways of authentic self-expression through fashion. Wearers take part in personalising their garments, ‘infusing’ them with their own experiences.


So, can Anja justify buying and producing more stuff? It depends on the ‘stuff’. Her approach – contrary to the transient values imposed by an industry primarily interested in endless consumption – is to breath life into garments, rendering them genuine expressions of ourselves.


Photography: Ollie Morris and Agnes-Lloyd-Platt. Art direction: Lily Silverton.

A film featuring the designers’ work will be shown at Esthetica, as part of London Fashion Week.

See the following for details on Estethica and London Fashion Week:

For the fourteenth consecutive season, Estethica, founded by the British Fashion Council (BFC), will be promoting sustainable fashion at The Exhibition at London Fashion Week. Housed in the West Wing of Somerset House it will showcase 14 designers’ collections, from 15-19 Feb 2013.

All Estethica designers adhere to at least one of the three Estethica principles of fair-trade and ethical practices, organic and recycled materials and are selected for both their ethical credentials and design excellence.

The Exhibition at London Fashion Week is curated by the British Fashion Council (BFC). It includes 120+ designers, showcasing over 60 new designers.