London's East End is Future-Proofing Fashion

When we look back on 2019, we’ll remember it as a year where brands big and small embraced the idea of sustainability, in a landslide of activity that ranged from tackling environmental concerns to the ethics of consumption.

While behemoths like Kering and LVMH have made globally recognized environmental pacts and major labels are doing away with fur and chemical dyes, for emerging brands, launching a label is expensive and being “sustainable” even more so (it was also not so prevalent a topic a few years back).

Fortunately Sustainable Fashion Accelerator is dedicated to fresh, young labels that are committed to eco-practices and the ethics behind sustainable fashion.

A bespoke program from the London-based social enterprise hub The Trampery, with funding from the London Legacy Development Corporation, it’s designed to help growth-stage fashion companies integrate sustainable practices into what they’re currently doing and going forward.

The idea, says founder Charles Armstrong, is that change will only happen “when a new generation of labels takes center-stage; [those] who have embedded sustainability and positive working practices into their business from day one. Instead of trying to retrofit it later.”

Among the new cohort of designers welcomed into the program this season are Daniel Fletcher, Martina Spetlova, Patrick McDowell and Petit Pli – a childrenswear brand that grows through technical pleats with the child wearing it. Six other businesses have already gone through the SFA and the aim is to help at least 30 companies over three years with six-month bespoke programmes that run four times a year.

“I have never experienced a programme that focuses not only on the business side of the brand but also supporting us holistically, from our own mental well-being to the sustainability of our actions,” said Steven Tai, a designer for whom the topic had always been something of interest; he’d just been struggling to find the right experts and information for such a dialogue.

Following input from the SFA, Tai has been able to implement ethical changes like these to his newly-launched online store - creating a delivery system that doesn’t purchase fabric until there is an order for it. And he has plans to overhaul his manufacturing processes in general to create less stock and wasted garments. “So I can attack this topic across the supply chain of the industry,” he said, adding that he has also enjoyed the community aspect the initiative promotes.

Daniel Fletcher, a noted name in the London menswear scene, joins the new line-up. Having launched his brand straight out of Central Saint Martins to great success, he confessed that despite the whirlwind, sustainability was not top of the list to tackle – though it has always been in the back of his mind.

“When I first started the brand, I had no idea [about the fashion business] at all. I didn’t even realize/admit that I’d started a label for a few month.  I just considered it as an extension of my degree,” he remembered.

And having started it without any kind of investment it all came down to cost and creativity. “The thing I was thinking about then was what can I do to actually produce a collection. But over the last few years that’s changed a lot. I’ve become more conscious about how much I’m putting into the world, my waste and what I can do to minimize that,” he said.

Consequently, the designer explained that has impacted the way he now designs.  The  brand is already taking small steps with the SFA program, which has been key in helping with the bigger picture.

Cost is now considered a long-term investment. “I’ve realised that doing the right thing is probably not going to be the cheapest thing; but I’m fine with that if it means what I’m doing is more sustainable,” he reflected.

Armstrong underscored the organizations commitment to shaping tomorrow’s talent. “The Trampery has been providing studio space and facilities for merging labels in London since 2013. I felt we needed to do everything in our power to help emerging designers grow their labels in a different way.” It’s thanks in part to almost two million pounds of funding from the Mayor’s Good Growth Fund that the project has been made possible — something which is significant in promoting east London’s Hackney Wick area as a Creative Enterprise Zone and the area’s Fashion Hub status, as a whole.

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