On Thursday 13 February the interest group CLOOP PROJECTS visited the Raeburn Lab Studio in Hackney. It was the first meeting of the Post-Grad Community suported Interest Group which aims is to challenge current unsustainable fashion habits through education. We were all students from London College of Fashion: three PHD students researching the topics of: sustainable consumption, circular design and sustainable manufacturing, one recent graduate from MA Futures, and a future PhD student with a big interest in fashion sustainability.
A member of the team led the tour and gave an introduction of Raeburn, from where it all started to where it is today. What started as a studio with a sewing machine in 2008 is today a sustainable fashion brand doing collaborations with some of the biggest industry players. What caught Cristopher Raeburn´s attention from the beginning was the amount of textile waste generated in the military industry. For example, military parachutes that had only been used once or considered faulty were just thrown away. He found a commercial opportunity in reusing military textile waste to create fashion statement clothing items. The pieces he created suddenly started to be worn around the world. It was not only the product, but the story and the positive sustainable impact it had behind it. Since then, the Raeburn team is in constant search for new textile waste that can be used to create new products. One of the latest additions are the silk maps that were used by militar pilots, that are reused and converted into beautiful silk map jackets.
As they mentioned: “you would not believe the amount of textiles that are out there without being used”. There is a huge opportunity for reusing discarded textiles today, and reuse is actually the most sustainable way of producing clothing.
But, the big question was: how do you balance sustainability with commercial growth?
They described their journey as a learning journey. It was great to learn from their honesty and transparency as a brand and to have an open conversation about the “why” behind their decisions as a sustainable company. Whereas some of the actions they have done so far have been extremely successful, such as collaborations with Monclér or Timberland, they are not so proud of others, such as a mass collaboration with Disney to create a non-recycled leather bag. So, why new leather? Why mass-production? They did not have an answer themselves. It was a moment where the commercial opportunity weighed more than their sustainable values, and it was when they understood that they had done a big mistake. Sometimes as a brand it is easy to be driven by commercial opportunities and forget what you stand for. It was interesting to see how as a brand they are going through a learning process, they were open to suggestions, challenges and sharing their mistakes.
Recently, Raeburn launched a range of recycled polyester garments and organic cotton basic pieces. Our question was: why using organic cotton, why not recycled? Their answer was that they wanted to create a product that was durable and that for them recycled cotton did not seem as a long-lasting product. It was a challenge to understand why a brand that stands for something as important as reusing is going away from that just because consumers want basic soft cotton pieces.
Another question we raised was about overstock. What does a brand like Raeburn that stands for reducing waste do with it´s overstock? First of all, their production is limited, each statement jacket is numbered. Also, they do sample sales and partner with charities to donate part of their overstock to refugees.
Last thing that caught our attention was their decision of stepping out of fashion shows, because of the big investment and the impact. They rather invest that money on making the business better. So, is there really a future for fashion shows?
An open studio visit is something you don’t usually see in brands. Brands would usually try to cover their “dark” side with greenwashing, but Raeburn is open to share all the good and all the bad.
The evening ended with some drinks and networking and the possibility of having a chat with the Founder Christopher and other members of the team.