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Teatum Jones join forces with Liberty for a new zero-waste collection

Since making their fashion week debut in 2011, Catherine Teatum and Rob Jones, the design duo behind Teatum Jones, have been on a mission. They were one of the first London Fashion Week brands to cast disabled models in their AW17 catwalk show, and in 2018, they shunned the runway altogether in favour of a roundtable discussion called Fashion’s Responsibility and Role in the Protection, Unification, Inclusion and Equality of Women. 
After almost a decade of operating within the fashion system, these moves signalled that the brand was beginning to push back against the expectations of the industry. It was then that they developed ReLove, a zero-waste design initiative that sees them teaming up with collaborators to reimagine their designs using textile waste. Today, Teatum Jones is celebrating the launch of ReLove Part Two, in partnership with Liberty Fabrics and Save the Children. 

“We were starting to question the fashion system’s rigidness over seasonality,” explains Teatum over Zoom. “When you look at the face value of a material, it’s crazy to think that the value of that material is attached to a six month window, and once it’s outside of that window, you don’t like it anymore. It’s bonkers.” Until then, the pair had succumbed to the industry’s fervent demand for constant newness. They’d develop a range of new fabrics each season, many of which would never make it to the show or shop floor. “We’d have rolls of fabrics that we spent weeks developing and they were beautiful, but for whatever reason they weren’t right for the runway,” says Teatum. “We kept it all, but it was becoming a problem where we had these beautiful things, they’re just hiding away, but we’re creating new stuff,” agrees Jones. “When you start to open your eyes to what you have, you think: these are as beautiful as the other pieces, they just need a moment.” 

Their second ReLove collection is made using 12 of Liberty’s deadstock archive fabrics that were deemed imperfect, and donations of unsold denim from Save The Children. These were fused with the brand’s own unused textiles to recreate a selection of Teatum Jones’ best-selling styles. But why not design a new collection around these fabrics? “We have an ethos: don’t throw away good design,” says Teatum. “For the first few years, we went hell for leather on designing collections because we were new and we fell prey to the buyers who were asking: what about newness? But we got to the point where we thought, this dress is amazing, it’s been amazing for the last four seasons. Why are we not working with it further?”   

The brand has always taken inspiration from human stories, so it was an emotional connection to the communities they researched that pushed the brand to go seasonless. “We put a lot of development into our collections – one collection we looked into disability and we were getting to know a community, then suddenly February was around the corner and fashion week was telling you to put it on the catwalk and say goodbye to it,” says Jones. 

Now, the brand drops collections that sit within a wider, ongoing exploration of a theme. “It’s about paying homage to the subjects we’re researching, but also doing the same thing to materials that come from that research,” says Teatum. “Because so much goes into developing the collections, there’s lots of emotional narrative that’s wrapped up in the design process, so we were paying respect to all of that.” 

Slowing down their business and developing the ReLove initiative has also revived the team’s passion for the craft, says Jones. “It’s taken us back to our love of why we joined fashion when we first started,” he says. “Even compared to our college days, we’re much more hands on – we’re pulling out these fabrics, quilting and patchworking. It’s exciting, finding that love again. We’ve had the space and time to really focus on fashion as opposed to the treadmill [of the industry].” 

Working solely with unused or unwanted textiles hasn’t been without obstacles, but the duo have never been ones to shy away from a challenge. “I think it forces you to be more creative,” says Teatum. “But it depends which way you look at it and what kind of person you are. You can look at it as [creatively] limiting, because there are limitations to dealing with small lengths of fabric and what you can do with them. Or you’re people like us who think: how can we make this even better than it was four seasons ago?” 

If ever a brand could have been ready for the pandemic, it was Teatum Jones. Having already stepped back from the system, slowed production down and focused on seasonless design, their model was one that other brands were forced to adopt when COVID hit. “Everything shifted, and suddenly the idea of ‘we can’t change this system, it’s too big’ had to change,” says Jones. “There are designers who have been talking about what needed to change, but the pandemic forced everyone to stop and think about how we can do it in a better way. We thought it could be done before it was forced to, now I just hope the changes carry on and we push through with them instead of falling back into old thinking.” 

As many brands grapple with how to rework unsold stock and design around the rolls of unused textiles sitting in their warehouses, Teatum and Jones hope that ReLove can act as a use case to prove that beautiful clothing can come from old or unwanted textiles. The key to success, they believe, is in collaboration. “When you partner with other brands, you introduce scalability, which is the one question that keeps getting thrown at us,” says Teatum. “It’s one way of answering that question, by bringing in partners like Liberty and Save the Children. You can do this on an industry-wide level, but it’s about partnering with multiple players who can bring awareness to the initiative.”

As for the future of the ReLove initiative, the pair are already in conversation with new collaborators to continue expanding their impact through creatively transforming waste textiles into timeless handcrafted collections. “ReLove depends on partnering with people who have the same belief in the concept, who can authentically work with us to create something beautiful that will sell,” says Teatum. “The more people you work with, the louder it gets, and the more that other designers and retailers realise that it’s possible.” 

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Inside rental plaform Rotaro’s mission to transform the fashion industry

If the idea of ‘revenge shopping’ your way into the ‘Roaring Twenties’ has left you feeling a little conflicted, you’re not alone. A year in joggers and jumpers may have put a temporary hold on our shopping habits, but it catalysed important conversations about the fashion system – especially around the divide between who the industry profits and who it exploits. All of sudden, spending our way out of a crisis doesn’t seem so enticing. But how do we reconcile this heightened awareness of fashion’s environmental and human impact, with the gradual lifting of lockdown restrictions and ever-increasing reasons to get dressed up? Enter fashion rental. It’s a booming market, set to be worth US$ 2.08 Billion by 2025, simply by connecting the fashion-conscious with affordable, on-trend pieces that they might not otherwise purchase.

Rental platform Rotaro is on a mission to use fashion rental as a vehicle for wider industry reform. Founded in November 2019 by former WGSN trend analyst Georgie Hyatt and her partner Charlie Knowles, Rotaro’s ambitions go beyond just dressing young women in of-the-moment brands. “What we’re trying to do is re-engineer the whole fashion industry – it’s a very big task,” explains Hyatt over Zoom. “We’re trying to change the way people are getting dressed, to encourage people to buy less but buy better, and whenever they need something new, to come to rental.” 

By offering pieces from much-hyped emerging, independent (but most importantly, conscious) brands like Cecilie Bahnsen, Cult Gaia, Jacquemus, House of Sunny and Stine Goya, Rotaro is taking an aesthetics-led approach to encouraging more sustainable consumption of fashion. “We found that in terms of marketing, sustainability as an educational piece isn’t enough, it can’t be your whole offering,” she says. “You need to have a lot of other reasons why people are going to come to you, and we found that accessibility to great brands at a lower price, as well as [encouraging] exploration of personal style, are big reasons.” 

The trifecta of Rotaro’s price point, cult brand selection and an ethical ethos results in a customer base largely made up by Gen Z, who are keen to experiment with their style, but probably don’t have the budget to buy a £400 dress. “People really understand that what we’re offering is a platform to discover new brands or new styles and to push the envelope on your own style,” says Hyatt. “I think our Gen Z customers really enjoy that you can rent a metallic pink dress, even if they never want to own it or wear it more than once. Renting allows them to inject newness into their wardrobe.” Indeed, part of the platform’s success with Gen Z customers comes down to a shifting definition of “new” among a younger generation. “What’s great about them is that ‘new’ to them doesn’t mean it’s new out the box,” she says. “New to them just means it’s new in their lives.”

Beyond ensuring their partner brands are up to scratch, Rotaro is also embedding sustainable practices across its own operations. “A criticism of fashion rental is that it leaves a large carbon footprint,” says Hyatt. “So we want to make sure we eliminate as much of this footprint as possible. We’re working with a carbon neutral delivery service, and we use biodegradable and recycled packaging.” Hyatt says the Rotaro team are currently developing reusable bags to cut out single-use packaging altogether. 

These earth-conscious decisions are important for a few reasons – not only to reduce Rotaro’s environmental impact, but to incentivise their customers through tangible rewards. “We’ve partnered with Ecologi to plant a tree for every single rental,” says Hyatt. “We want to have that positive reinforcement – every time someone rents something, they’re reminded that they’re doing something positive for the environment.”

So far, so good. But how exactly is Rotaro tackling the wider issues facing fashion? Here’s where things get really interesting. “We’re currently developing technology that will enable us to work directly with brands to help them make better product decisions.” To do this, Rotaro is tapping into their data to guide brands in the design phase. “We’re giving them qualitative and quantitative feedback as to who is renting their garments, why they’re renting them, the demographics, how the products have fared in the market, and then going one step further to make sustainable product recommendations,” says Hyatt. “The way I see us in the future is as a key facilitator to help brands develop better products and also to break down the barrier between brands and their circular economy customers.” 

Launching a business is difficult, but launching one four months before a pandemic is something else. For two months of 2020, Rotaro used their logistics facility to send fruit and vegetable boxes to people in need. “We didn’t want to promote fashion rental because we thought it was insensitive,” says Hyatt. “There was an oversupply of vegetables from farmers that supplied closed restaurants, and there were people who couldn’t get online delivery slots, so we connected the two for a few months. It had nothing to do with fashion rental, but it felt very much part of our ethos.”

Rotaro pivoted back to fashion in the summer, and rental rates mimicked the peaks and troughs of various lockdowns throughout the year. “Every time we’ve seen an easing of lockdown there has been a surge in rentals. We had a really excellent festive period, even though we were in lockdown,” says Hyatt. “I think people were just making the most of small occasions, which I think was really cool. That’s very much what we’re about as a brand – celebrating life and bringing joy to people’s lives in a mindful way.” 

In the long-run, Hyatt thinks the pandemic has actually accelerated the success of fashion rental platforms. “There was a lot of information [about consumption and greenwashing] being shared in our wider communities, and people have had the opportunity to reconsider their relationship with fashion,” she says. “They’ve had a wardrobe reset and I really think that people will be more mindful with their purchases going forward.”  

However you’re choosing to ring in the aforementioned Roaring Twenties, Hyatt is keen for rental platforms like hers to be top of mind for people who plan on dressing to the nines at the earliest opportunity. “Fashion is such a form of self-expression and we’ve all been locked up wearing sweatpants for too long,” says Hyatt. “People are celebrating life through fashion, which is fantastic, and Rotaro will be there to help them make better decisions as they’re re-emerging into the new normal.”

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The traceable knitwear brand shining a light on sheep

By drawing a direct line between the origin and the end product, the London-based knitwear brand is taking a novel approach to traceability, with the aim to ignite a deeper emotional connection to clothing. “We want people to understand that what they’re wearing comes from nature, and to remind them that it’s out there,” explains Alexander Lewis, head of design at Sheep Inc. After you buy Sheep Inc. jumper, you can adopt and name your sheep, watch it meander around a paddock and learn more about the brand’s supply chain from sheep to sweater. But how?

Every Sheep Inc. garment has a small circular NFC (near-field communication) tag attached to the bottom hem, which can be scanned using your phone. “The NFC tag is a design decision linked to the tags sheep have on their ears,” says Lewis. It’s become somewhat of a signature design detail for the brand, although the tag initially caused some confusion. “In the very beginning [October, 2019], the tags were our brand yellow, which is super bright,” says Lewis. “But we had people asking us if it was a security tag, or they thought that colour yellow meant it was hazardous in some way.” These days, though consumers are becoming increasingly familiar with tech woven into their clothing, the NFC tags tonally match the colour of the jumper, and are made from snap buttons for easy removal.

When it comes to educating consumers, NFC tags provide Sheep inc. with an opportunity to talk about their supply chains in an accessible and engaging way. It also allows the brand to explain certain sourcing decisions, like why their wool isn’t farmed closer to home. “We only use Merino wool that we source from three specific farms in New Zealand because they’re regenerative and carbon negative or neutral,” says Lewis. “There’s no farming here like there is in New Zealand, we can’t replicate that,” says Lewis. “You can see in our supply chain where the most carbon emissions come from, and it’s the farm. That’s why we have to work with farms that are regenerative, so that they’re not letting out all this Co2 without any recourse.” From New Zealand, the wool travels to Italy, where it’s spun into yarn by a mill run entirely on renewable energy, then manufactured using zero-waste knitting machines in Portugal. 

Autumn Muster on Otematata Station, South Island, New Zealand.

“It’s not unusual to have sustainability rear its head around every thought process,” says Lewis. But does working to such strict eco-criteria feel creatively limiting? “I think you actually have more opportunity for creativity when you have strict guidelines because you have to really hunt for the solution, and you’re more creative about it,” he says. “The constraints of designing in a sustainably minded way are actually more interesting.”

Currently, the Sheep Inc. range is made up of six styles – four jumper styles, a cardigan and newly released beanie. This pared-back offering is due to the brand’s less-is-more ethos, an approach that has felt counterintuitive at times for Lewis, who has worked in the fashion industry for the better part of 15 years. “We’ve had to remind ourselves that there’s no need for us to bring out five new styles this season, we can just add one new style that adds to the collection instead of diluting it,” he says. “It’s a slower approach – if this was a fashion brand on [the fashion week] schedule, there would be more concern about getting things done on time. If something isn’t ready, we’re not going to be released, so it’s a much more sustainable approach to working.” 

Since it’s inception, Sheep Inc. has been trying to create a truly genderless brand, but they’ve grappled with the complexities of garment construction. “There’s this cerebral notion of trying to create a genderless garment. At the end of the day, it ends up being a boyfriend fit, which is still gendered, so it’s a complicated space within fashion,” says Lewis. “Sizing and size inclusion is a really big frontier, and although we’re probably not going to be the ones to crack the code, or even shift the needle, it’s important for us to be hyper-aware.”

At only two years old, the brand is fast-moving and constantly looking to the future of fashion. With the potential for lab-grown leather and cotton to replace their natural counterparts on the horizon, it’s no surprise that Sheep Inc. have already started exploring the world of lab-grown alternatives to eventually replace Merino wool. “We’re discussing a shift from Sheep Included to becoming Sheep Excluded, and we’re definitely working on it,” says Lewis. “We’re looking at how to work with biopolymers and lab-grown wool, but it’s difficult to say we’re going to shift from 100 percent natural to 100 percent synthetic wool, it’d be incrementally done with blends.

Even the research and development process of making a sweater is long and drawn out, but when you start getting into something that’s at the frontier, there is so much unknown.”

From innovative new materials to traceability tech, Sheep Inc. really are at the forefront of a new wave of sustainably minded, forward-thinking fashion brands offering eco-credentials that they can back up. Lewis predicts it won’t be long before bigger brands jump on the bandwagon. “People have different visions of what qualifies as having “made it” and I think it’s when you’re knocked off by a bigger brand,” he says. “In a weird way, if a business came along and made all this fan-fare about how they were doing what we’re already doing, but as though they’re the first, that’s actually a really good feeling. It means we’ve done something right, and that’s wonderful.”

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How new brand ‘Non’ is rewriting the denim rulebook

Denim is notoriously unsustainable. It uses vast amounts of water in production (7,000 litres of water per pair, to be precise), the dyes that give our jeans colour leach chemicals into the natural environment, and denim distressing processes like sandblasting can be incredibly dangerous to human health. Not to mention the forced labour practices found in cotton farming hubs like China, Uzbekistan and India.
So how do you build an environmentally conscious denim brand from the ground up, with all these factors to contend with? It’s a question that Pete Hellyer asked himself last year, when the pandemic put on hold his work as a freelance creative director. 

“I suddenly found myself with a lot of time and a real awareness that I was very reliant on other people to get by, which felt a little scary,” says Hellyer, who has previously held roles as the creative director at e-commerce platforms Ssense and The Outnet. “I live in denim and white t-shirts, and I wanted to buy a new pair of jeans, probably to cheer myself up,” he says. “I was looking for a sustainable pair and I could only really find ones that were more heritage in their styling —  that Levi’s aesthetic — and that’s not me.” What began as a spot of retail therapy quickly became a business idea and a year later, he’s just launched his ethical agender denim brand, non

Consisting of three cuts of jeans, a jacket, overshirt, bucket hat and tote bag in three different denim washes, the first collection is pared back and unfussy, offering wardrobe staples that Hellyer hopes will speak for themselves. “It’s a wardrobe of core essentials that you need,” he says. “We’re not going to have trend-led pieces. I was inspired by that quote [by Li Edelkoort, an influential dutch trend forecaster] when she said: ‘Fashion is dead. Long live clothing.’”  

non is “conscious by design”, partnering with leading sustainable denim producer ISKO to create a signature selvedge denim made from 50% organic cotton and 50% recycled cotton. Every detail down to the choice of zippers, buttons and threads has been chosen with the entire life cycle of the product in mind. Even still, Hellyer is honest about the downfalls of bringing more new clothing into a textile saturated world. “It’s difficult to be a sustainable brand within a system that’s inherently unsustainable,” he says. “I identify the brand as conscious by design, and that really is me trying to be aware and conscious of every decision that we make — our impact, the positive things that we’re doing, some of the negative aspects of what we’re doing, and being honest about that.” 

Transparency is key for Hellyer, who is keen to make information as clear and accessible as possible for his potential customers. To do so, he’s dedicated a page of the brand’s website to naming everything from the origins of the hardware to the factory that manufactures his jeans. “When I went freelance, I started working with a couple of sustainable brands and I found all the labels really confusing,” he explains. “I felt like I suddenly was learning a new language. So I thought if I’m confused, as somebody who has worked in the industry for 15 years, customers must be befuddled.” 

Using selvedge denim (which is considered superior to raw denim in terms of durability) was a decision that posed an ethical dilemma of its own. “I wanted to use 100% recycled cotton, but when you recycle cotton, you lower the fibre length, which reduces the strength, which reduces the quality,” says Hellyer. “I have tried to find that tipping point of having the best credentials, but also make a product that would last more than a few years, because if something can last a long time, then it’s inherently more sustainable.” 

Hellyer has considered the full life cycle of a pair of non jeans just as much as the manufacturing process. Partnering with EON, a fashion tech company that tags clothing using an NFC tag, allowing him to share more information about the product with customers. Hellyer is planning to offer everything from information about the materials, to where to get your jeans repaired and how they can be recycled, as EON’s technology becomes more sophisticated and widely used. “I think it’s important to have greater responsibility for the item once we’ve made it,” says Hellyer. “That includes helping the customer look after their jeans and helping the jeans to be recycled at the end. I think it’s a big problem that brands make clothes, and then they don’t care.” 

Sizing agender denim wear has thrown up a number of challenges for Hellyer, not just for the fact that men and women tend to have very different body shapes. “The thing with unisex and agender clothing is, how do you size them in a way that all people understand, that isn’t gendered?” he asks. “We’ve really put time into making inclusive names and sizing. With the jeans, I didn’t want to call them wide leg or loose leg, because it might not be loose on a larger person in the same way that straight will not necessarily be a slim fit on everyone.” The jeans range from size 25 to 36, and the website has detailed sizing information to help reduce returns. “Most online return rates are really high, and that’s such a waste of shipping and carbon footprint,” he says. “So we want to encourage people to actually measure themselves for their jeans.” 

With non’s first collection stocked at Ssense, as well as independent boutiques like The Wasted Hour in Hamburg, Beamhill in Helsinki, Never Never in Belfast, plus a handful of others, what’s on the cards for the next few seasons? “Multi-functionality and modularity are things I’m really interested in,” says Hellyer. “I want to explore different ways to wear things, like reversible jackets and detachable sleeves, so you can wear it as a vest in the summer and as a jacket in the winter. If you can wear it all year round in different ways, it means you only need one jacket instead of two, or three, or four of them.” 

For now, perhaps the brand’s biggest challenge will be convincing customers to swap their well-worn pandemic joggers for a pair of jeans as lockdown in the UK begins to ease, but he’s hoping that a denim revival is on the horizon. “Denim isn’t very cool at the moment,” he concedes. “Everyone lives in sweats because of lockdown, but I hope that once a sense of normality returns, that sense of dressing up is going to return too.” 

Far from just another lockdown project, non is the result of 15 years industry experience combined with a drive to rewrite the rulebook on denim and offer a more sustainable, conscious way forward.