A rise in ethically motivated consumers is changing the landscape of the luxury fashion and interiors worlds. As a result, a new crop of top-end brands is emerging, offering chic homewares and desirable clothing. Looking good has never been so heartfelt
The world of luxury is changing. Where once ‘top-end’ meant opulence, glitz and glamour, a new breed of consumers is redefining what luxury means. Many are opting for an understated, pared-down design ethos in their homes as well as their wardrobes and luxury brands are switching on to this new way of thinking. ‘Sustainable’, ‘ethically-made’ and ‘environmentally-aware’ are the buzz-words that have begun to resonate with today’s luxury consumers. We still want to buy beautifully-made pieces but maintain a clear conscience when we get them home.
The problem is, until recently, ‘ethical’ has had an image problem. Unsophisticated designs and rough-hewn looks simply do not cut it with the world’s style-makers. Stella McCartney, of course, was one of the first fashion brands to add a touch of glamour to its environmentally friendly ethos and finally other brands are now following suit. On the high street, for instance, H&M’s Conscious Exclusive range and ASOS’s Eco Edit are echoing this new mood and slowly changing perceptions. Selfridges’ recent Material World project, focusing on sustainable textile development, further endorses a forward-thinking approach to the subject.
Gillian Osrin, founder of Style With Heart, an online directory of ethical fashion brands, agrees: “Ethical fashion used to be an unappealing prospect aimed at a niche audience. But nowadays brands, such as Seasalt and People Tree, have been instrumental in changing the way many of us think about what we wear. They offer genuinely wearable clothes to a younger, more conscience consumer. Meanwhile, innovators, such as Everlane and Thought, are leading the way in transparency about where our clothes are made and the fabrics that are used to make them. The fact that the London College of Fashion now has its own Centre for Sustainable Fashion is very promising for the designers of the future.”
Beautiful Soul London, a British, luxury womenswear label based in Notting Hill, is one of the new emerging brands. Founded by designer Nicola Woods, her whimsical collections are based around the concept of slow fashion, offering, says Woods “pieces that can be cherished for a lifetime”. “I aim to reconcile style and sustainability; offering fabric which has been sourced with a kind consciousness. Ultimately, fashion has to have hanger appeal, but I also want to ensure that sustainability is at the core of the brand’s DNA.”
The same principles apply at Bibico by Snow, a UK-based label by Spanish designer Nieves Ruiz Ramos (Snow). Its slow fashion business is focused on producing good quality garments made from natural and sustainable fabrics, made in fair-trade co-operatives and ethically-run factories.
Cloe Cassandro’s ethical, resort-wear label, meanwhile, is created by artisans in Bali and sold in Heidi Klein stores in Westbourne Grove and Chelsea. “These days designers need to know exactly where their garments are manufactured and how they are being produced,” says Cassandro. “Ignorance is no longer an excuse. You have to lead from the top, and the only way to change the industry long-term is to make sure people are more aware of environmental and ethical issues.”
Snapped up by the fashion pack for Insta-worthy shots in the sun, are Sophie Anderson’s colourful, hand-woven hats and bags, created in collaboration with artisans in Columbia, and available at Net-a-Porter. “I first became inspired to start my brand while living in South America,” she says. “I collaborated with local artists to create hand-made, woven bags. Now, from those original three weavers we provide work for over 750 people, which is something I am hugely proud of.”
Passionate about the subject is David Hothersall, co-founder of Spottinstyle, an online hub that celebrates ethical and sustainable fashion. “It feels as if we are on the cusp of something big,” he says. “Sustainable fashion is about to move in the same direction just how the fairtrade food scene did 15 years ago. But it is a complex and varied arena. From maintaining good conditions in factories to how textiles are treated – the term ‘ethical fashion’ covers a wide remit. Ultimately, it’s a question of awareness. There’s a new generation of fashion-savvy consumers who want to wear their values. Before, it was very much a case of style before ethics – but this is slowly changing.”
Offering unique jewellery and hand-crafted leather accessories made by crafts-people in Kenya, Made marries a luxe approach with craftsmanship, collaborating with big-name brands such as Louis Vuitton, Tommy Hilfiger and Whistles. The label focuses on offering jewellery made using time-honoured skills, and provides safe conditions, training and education to its team of 60 employees.
“The image of sustainable fashion has changed radically,” says Made founder Neil Gershinson. “There are now brands with an ethical and sustainable philosophy offering incredible campaigns and inspiring visual communication, far removed from the hippie connotations of old. We are very much part of this approach and aim to communicate our story – ‘Hand-made in Kenya’ – with character, imagination and elegance.”
Beloved by the Duchess of Cambridge, Mirabelle Jewellery also offers fair-trade and hand-made pieces, as well as a signature ‘Made In Britain’ collection. “It has always been important to me to create a brand that is both beautiful and timeless but that also comes from reliable and ethical suppliers,” says founder Veronique Henry. “Increasingly, people want to know where they are getting their products from – whether that’s food, furniture or clothing.”
On the other hand, high-end jewellery brand Eden Diodati – stocked in Harvey Nichols and created by Jennifer Ewah – works with a co-operative of inspiring women who survived the genocide in Rwanda. The intricate pieces – think bold chokers and arm cuffs – are made from 24-carat gold and semi-precious materials.
Applying the ‘shopping with soul’ approach to the interiors market is new launch Aerende. The online shop sells beautiful homewares – such as natural, striped bed-linens, organic-cotton cushions and hand-carved shopping boards – all made in the UK by people facing social challenges.
“I’ve always loved nice things but felt guilty about buying products that could have harmed the world or the people in it,” reveals founder Emily Mathieson. “By offering beautiful, individual, hand-made products that will get better with age, and providing opportunities for people who can’t access conventional employment, we’re trying to do things differently. Aerende is part of an uplifting and growing movement of conscious retailers and consumers who want to do things properly but don’t want to compromise on service or style.
“Our aims are both quite ambitious and in some ways very simple — recognising the power of beauty to lift the spirit, tapping into the slow living ethos, not just through clever branding but with genuine integrity, personality and style. Aerende products are designed have as much positive impact as possible, for the people who make them, the people who buy them, and the world we live in. Hence our strap line ‘Life-improving Homewares’.”
With a similar ethos, but sourcing its wares from across the world, Banbayu brings together a unique collection of hand-crafted, ethically-sourced interior pieces from diverse cultures. While Nkuku is a one-stop shop for unique home accessories sourced from artisans throughout the world.
“It has always been an important part of the Nkuku ethos to produce and select products that are not fashion-led and can stand the test of time,” says Alex Cooke joint founder and owner. “The materials we work with really define our collections and this has led us to work with natural, sustainable and recyclable materials; keeping alive hand-made traditional skills. Every product has a story and this offers consumers something unique in a fast paced world.”
For something truly unique, vintage clothing and reclaimed furniture are, of course, inherently sustainable. Based in Kensal Green, Retrouvius is one of London’s insider secrets. A warren of spaces – some of which are semi-styled with curated items – it stocks a wide range of one-off reclaimed furniture and architectural salvage that can bring instant character to a home. “We are a destination shop, beloved by interior designers and home enthusiasts alike,” says owner Nicholas Hughes. “Why choose us? We attract people who love the charm and inherent quality that our pieces have. We offer an ever-evolving stock – from collector’s cabinets to stone pillars. We don’t choose items based on how fashionable they are or to fit in with any trends. For us it’s about the long-term – we look at the patina of a piece, that elusive character, the unique story. It’s all about the heart.”
This article also appeared in the April 2017 issue of Kensington & Chelsea Magazine