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As a teenager Charlotte was set on studying at London College of Fashion. After pinning all her hopes on a place at LCF, she studied BA Fashion Design and Development where she developed her skills, honing these through a work placement in industry. After graduating, she found that her experience in industry helped her to focus on the broader issues of fashion's impact and sustainability, which has subsequently become her focus.
Did you always know you wanted to work in sustainability?
It isn’t something I grew up being sure of, as at this point, sustainability wasn’t really something that was widely spoken about or addressed. When I was studying at LCF it certainly wasn’t what it now is – an incredibly urgent issue which is globally recognised and is gradually being integrated into standard education and business practice, and to a degree policy as well. However, throughout my studies I was used to working with the materials I had available and trying to find efficient and low impact solutions to problems. The first time I ever purchased new fabrics was for my final collection – all organic and natural fibres. Textile innovations have come a long way since then and I’ve been intrigued by finding more sustainable solutions for textiles since I started studying fashion.
Why did you choose to study at LCF?
I was 15 when I decided I was going to study at LCF, and I don’t remember exactly why at this point. I think it was because I knew of LCF as a place to learn the ins and outs of the fashion industry. I did my foundation course at LCF, and when it came to applying for my degree I only applied for one (rather than the recommended six!) as I was so sure of what I wanted to do – the course that’s now known as Fashion Design and Development. Luckily, I was accepted, and spent the next four years learning about the fashion industry and building skills that I was then able to apply to roles in design, production, sourcing, strategy, communications, and consulting.
What key skills did you learn during the course that you still use as Head of Sustainable Fashion & Textiles?
I learned about almost every aspect of the fashion system, supported by my incredible tutor Amanda Johnston who still works at LCF, and who encouraged me to explore sustainability throughout my work. I gained an understanding of the fashion supply chain, textiles, business planning, strategy, communications – all knowledge that I still use every day. I also learned extensively about pattern cutting and construction, so I understand how products are created – and I continue to make clothes as a hobby.
One of the biggest impacts for me was the opportunity in my third year to spend 15 months working in industry, and this is where the lightbulb truly came on as I was able to apply everything I had learned to real life situations. I spent 6 months working with Orsola de Castro at From Somewhere learning about upcycling and building a sustainable brand, and 6 months as a design assistant at C&A in Belgium designing garments and printed textiles, learning how a large-scale fashion business works. I spent a further 3 months in Mexico with Carla Fernandez, where I had the opportunity to meet and work directly with artisans creating silver work, chamula wool and rebozo textile weaving.
All of these experiences gave me a deeper understanding of the realities and possibilities of the fashion industry, and the role I could play in helping to move in in a more positive direction. Inspired by my time in industry, in my final year I built the business plan for a brand focused on sustainability, addressing key environmental and social issues through aspects like materials and working with vulnerable communities.
However following university and a year at Christopher Raeburn, I realised that to have a bigger impact and influence beyond a brand’s direct customer, I needed to become more involved in education - from students to established brands. This brought me to freelance consultancy and The Sustainable Angle, where I spent more than 5 years researching and communicating about diverse materials with a reduced environmental impact, and the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at LCF where I was further exposed to sustainability for fashion education. During this time, I was involved in lecturing, delivering practical workshops and mentoring students and emerging brands, something that I still love doing today.
Since graduating, which one of your jobs or projects you've worked on are you most proud of?
I’ve been incredibly lucky and have been able to work with many inspiring people and businesses on amazing projects, such as The Future Fabrics Expo by The Sustainable Angle which is the largest showcase of materials with a reduced environmental impact geared towards educating people across the fashion industry. I was at The Sustainable Angle from the beginning and so was able to help build it into an organisation that is continually growing in recognition – I’m really proud to see it continue to grow today.
I’ve also been able to mentor dozens of students and brands through the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, LCF, The Sustainable Angle, the British Fashion Council, and the Green Carpet Talent Competition which was initiated by Eco-Age and CNMI. It’s really rewarding being able to help guide designers across all areas of their business, and I’m looking forward to mentoring the next wave of BFC Fashion Trust designers.
Now I’m also getting to build the area of fashion and textiles at Eco-Age, and this is a challenge that I’m really excited to take up.
Equally though I’m quite proud of the fact that during and after my degree I did sample machining from my bedroom to earn extra money!
Between brands and textile manufacturers, where do you enjoy working the most?
I enjoy working across the whole fashion supply chain, helping to bridge gaps between different functions and developing relationships with diverse people and businesses, as this is the most important place to start if we want to see real change. As long as I am helping to educate and create clear communications, I’m happy to be involved in any area of the fashion supply chain.
What is the biggest highlight of your career so far?
Last year the Environmental Audit Committee led by Mary Creigh MP launched an inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry, and I was lucky enough to write an evidence submission which contributed to the Fixing Fashion report that was published in February 2019, which included key recommendations for the government to take up to increase accountability in the fashion sector. Disappointingly the government has currently chosen not to move forward with these recommendations, but we are still working together to find ways to continue campaigning and pushing for them to take real action – we’re at the point where we need everybody to step in to make sure the industry is held accountable for its actions and impacts.
I’m also taking part in a study looking at the future role of sustainability in the fashion industry, and this is a great opportunity to contribute to finding ways to move us towards a more socially and environmentally just future. A report from the study will be published in September 2019.
What do you love most about your profession?
I love the potential impact I can have, but also the variation of it. On any one day I can be working with brands (from established luxury brands to emerging talent) and manufacturers, to journalists, academics and even the Environmental Audit Committee. I get to be involved in projects from helping brands develop and implement sustainability strategies looking at anything from communications to sourcing, to government and university initiatives. The best aspect of all of this though is education – whether that’s helping brands to learn about new ways of working and supply chain solutions, mentoring emerging talent, associate lecturing for students, or sharing information through our website or the media.
Any exciting upcoming projects you can tell us about?
We have just finished the third iteration of the Green Carpet Talent Competition for emerging designers, and saw some incredible projects addressing sustainability challenges. The winner of the competition will be revealed on 22nd September at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards in Milan. The competition is open to fashion and accessories designers who have already released collections rather than current students but is definitely something that graduates should keep their eye on.
What further plans do you have for your career?
I want to continue helping to grow Eco-Age’s position as an industry leader in terms of sustainability in fashion and textiles. I also hope to continue contributing to projects that can really help implement systemic change in the fashion industry, whether that’s with brands, universities or government. The interesting thing about this career is that there isn’t a linear route to follow, and as conversations around sustainability develop, so too do the challenges and opportunities.
What piece of advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in sustainability?
I’d recommend gaining a bigger picture understanding of the industry you want to work in – learn how it works and why things are done the way they are. This will help you better understand where changes can be made and the role you can play in having a positive impact.