The fashion industry and the environment are not natural bedfellows, to the extent that most criticism of the pair’s relationship is pretty much on point, almost by default. Like many things however, the bigger picture tells a slightly different story, with the fringes genuinely concerned by the state of this planet we call home.
Which isn’t to say heavyweights aren’t likewise clued up on being green; with Vivienne Westwood the acting mouthpiece for climate issues and H&M’s drive towards sustainability (see here), the industry’s concerned parties are more visible than ever, while the rise of social media presents a democratic platform ensuring other figures have a voice (s/o to ‘Glacier Girl’ Elizabeth Farrell whose school project turned Tumblr account has seen her confidently marry activism and the industry).
Similarly, the notion that eco-friendly dressing translates exclusively to neutral tones, hemp cloth and vegan Birkenstocks has long been declared a myth, as the designer Katie Jones wonderfully illustrates, both through her work and as she tells Clash, via her personal aesthetic.
“As a child I always gravitated to colour. My granny pretty much only wore pink or red, which was a huge influence! Also I was nearly 6ft tall by the time I was 13 – and ginger – I was never going to blend in, so I thought why not dress head to toe in colour!”
A CSM graduate who studied under the late Louise Wilson, Jones founded her eponymous label in 2013, presenting her debut with the British Fashion Council’s Estethica Emerging Talents for AW14; producing bright knits in an array of silhouettes, the label is indebted to the #WASTENOT approach, utilising designer surplus, factory seconds and textile waste.
“No man is an island,” she continues, “we all have to live in this world, it just seems like it shouldn’t really be an option if you want to produce ethically or not. How can something be luxury fashion when it does more harm than good?”
Like her style, the waste not want not attitude is a trait borrowed from her grandmother (a full on family affair, Katie’s mum Annie is part of the in-house studio team); “My granny was thrifty due to war time habits,” she says, “I pinched her ‘something from nothing’ approach, but wasted is a massive issue that we have in the world at the moment. If I can make new things and not just add to this but reduce it…”
Knitting since childhood, as she tells it she “rehashed the skill one summer with my mum whilst at sixth form; I loved how it was totally transportable, I could work in the sunshine, at the pub or in front of a cheesy 80’s film.”
Elsewhere she describes her time at Central Saint Martins as amazing but not without its challenges, noting: “As I was more from a textile background I feel it was very much a fashion boot camp. As a crocheter I think I frustrated the hell out of the tutors to how slow it is, but the craftsmanship and creativity was really celebrated there.” And she’s since worked with another ex-CSM in the form of Craig Green, collaborating on his SS16 hole punched knitted jumpers.
Stocked in Selfridges, it was as a result of the store’s buying team that her label made it into an Oxford Street window – high currency in an Instagram world – as part of her involvement with the yellow shop’s Bright New Things initiative (ongoing till the end of the month): “We had just been picked up by Selfridges and they invited us to apply,” she asserts.
“I think it’s brilliant that such a big influential store is really promoting the green agenda! It’s an amazing showcase to demonstrate how celebrating sustainable fashion is really just about championing craftsmanship. To have a window inviting the viewer into our multi-coloured world has been amazing exposure.” This year’s project also champions French designer Faustine Steinmetz and the swimwear label Auria.
Forgoing the traditional tartan, Jones’ AW16 collection, previewed above, takes the moniker ‘Highland Fling’, the designer’s bid to channel all things both Scottish and 60’s. “I had a lot of yarn that was really thin and didn’t quite work on its own, so I thought if I could ply it up I could make an amazing tweed,” she remarks, demonstrating the puzzle of sustainable fashion. “Then I found this amazing image of John Lennon in an afghan coat, floral shirt and a sporran and the collection was born.” A short film will accompany with the collection’s IRL release later this year, for which she’s collaborated with nightcore artist Babeisland (“We listen to a lot of J-pop and Nightcore in the studio – I love its sugary upbeatness”).
Returning to the slight subject of saving the planet, Katie establishes humanity as a priority. “For me, it would be great to see waste being tackled,” she says, “but companies need to start operating a transparent production process – organisations like Fashion Revolution and Labour Behind The Label are really helping this. I think remember the people involved before profit is a great mantra.”
We're not ones to disagree.
Words: Zoe Whitfield