“Fashion is on such a messily over-consumptive model that we have sort of lost the joy of it, and we have to collectively find a way to bring the joy back,” said British fashion designer and owner of Savile Row tailor Norton & Sons, Patrick Grant, during his keynote talk at Pure London on Sunday. In front of a crowd of industry professionals, Grant discussed fast fashion, sustainable transparency in the supply chain, and the importance of supporting British manufacturing.
In 2016, Grant launched his not-for-profit fashion brand Community Clothing with the aim of reigniting British clothing and textile manufacturing. “They are underutilised, they are under-invested in,” he said, referring to British garment factories. “The skills are declining, the investment is declining, the technology is therefore getting old; they’re not full so their utilisation drops, prices get higher, and volumes get smaller. It’s a declining spiral.”
This has resulted in stores no longer offering good quality basic items like they once did, Grant said. “You can’t go the high street and at an affordable price buy good quality basic stuff because the cheap end of fashion has dragged the middle end of fashion down in price.” Brands that could once hire experts in wool sourcing, cotton sourcing, spinning, weaving and dying are now chasing cheaper and cheaper factories abroad.
Amid increasing Brexit uncertainty, Grant believes that is more important now than ever to invest in British manufacturing. “We have a big problem in this country with a growing wealth gap. Simple manufacturing isn't something of the past. Why do we have to do it somewhere else, we have the capacity to make it here and invest in the technology to bring it up to speed, instead of shipping things 7,000 miles across the planet. But it has to be done in a slightly different way; we have to take some of the profit out,” he said.
Last month, the UK government rejected all recommendations made by the Environmental Audit Committee in a report looking to “end the era of throwaway fashion.” The report offered multiple recommendations from environmental and labour market practices, to introducing a 1p charge on each item of clothing to pay for better clothing collection and recycling practices. The government rejected all of the recommendations.
“I don't think the audit committee went nearly far enough,” Grant said, suggesting that there should be a slew of stricter regulations to clean up the industry, including minimum pricing on clothing and clearer labelling. “I think that everything we buy that’s made of plastic should be labelled plastic. Because consumers don't know what polyester or acrylic or nylon are. Virgin plastics should be labelled.” He used the example of cigarette packaging to paint the picture. “You have a picture of a diseased lung on the back of a cigarette packet. This stuff is as toxic as nicotine. Bad fashion is literally killing stuff,” he said. “If at the point of purchase you were presented with something that showed you it, some people just might think twice.”
Grant believes that while it is encouraging to see an increasing shift to more sustainable fashion, especially among millennials, more needs to be done to encourage shoppers to buy better quality clothes which they can keep for longer. “Make your own, repair your own, wear stuff for longer,” he encouraged. “We’ve got to get back to loving wearing stuff for longer. It saddens me that people have been conditioned into thinking they need to buy new stuff all the time. We have to break that mindset.”
Pure London takes place at Olympia London from the 21-23 July and will host over 700 fashion brands and designers.
Photo credit: ITE Group