Written by Bec Loades
17th April 2019
The North Face x Christopher Ræburn Bags
Sustainability is the word on most people’s lips in the fashion world at the moment. So much damage has already been done by fast-fashion, as well as other industries, and we only have one way forward before we destroy our planet, with no way back. Fortunately, due to the potentially catastrophic situation being highlighted by various documentaries, brands are finally changing their ways. One of the British fashion brands to originally pave the footpath in the movement towards a more sustainable world, and who is making an important example for up and coming brands, is Christopher Raeburn. The British designer has his own brand, Raeburn Design, as well as recently (at the end of 2018) becoming the Creative Director of Timberland. He has also collaborated with numerous different brands utilising the Raeburn ethos of ‘Raemade, Raeduced and Raecycled’. Christopher himself, as well as the Raeburn Design team, have accumulated a huge amount of knowledge about sustainable fashion design over the years and continue to impress the industry with their pioneering methods of discovering ways of reusing materials.
Another brand, and with whom Raeburn Design have recently collaborated with, is American outdoor and exploration company, The North Face. They too have realised their responsibility in how they influence their consumers and the effect it has on the environment. Since its founding in the 1960s, the popularity of The North Face has continued to grow and with the size of the company, it is clear they can make quite an impact. They are taking huge steps to improve their own carbon footprint (i.e using renewable energy in their headquarters) as well as investigating into creating more eco-friendly materials. The North Face have their own ‘Renewed’ string to their sustainable bow where customers can buy refurbished clothing online. In the UK we can now drop off damaged or unwanted clothing at The North Face stores, as part of their Clothes The Loop campaign – a great way to stop people from throwing clothes straight in the bin. We all know how high the quality of their products are, and there’s no need to turf them out to landfill when they can be easily reused.
MenswearStyle were recently invited to the launch of this recent collaboration, at Christopher’s impressive head studio (known as the ‘Raeburn Lab’) in Hackney. The capsule collection consists of three styles; Drawstring, Rae and Tote bag, all of which are one offs and made using old The North Face tents. Quite frankly, it is a genius idea. It is known that if we use an item of clothing for an extra 9 months, it will reduce its environmental impact by 20-30%. Of course, a tent isn’t an item of clothing, but this is still material that would have been discarded, back into the environment, and they are now being ‘rescued’ and repurposed to create something unique. The bright colours of the bags stand out, particularly with the black and white logo trim and each bag has been designed to be practical – something both brands strive to do with their individual designs. Visiting the Raeburn Lab was the perfect opportunity to have a glimpse into the world of Raeburn and of course the process of making one of these bags. As part of the launch, we were asked to get creative and design our own bag. The North Face tents were strewn across tables and we were handed scissors, pins and templates. Luckily for us amateurs, there was plenty of professional help on hand, including the talented seamstresses. At the end of the event, we all left with our individual bags and felt surprisingly proud of ourselves for what we had made. Aside from that, we also left feeling positive about witnessing these two influential brands taking further steps to reduce the amount of waste, utilising their knowledge and philosophies. Christopher kindly took some time to chat with MenswearStyle about the collaboration.
How did the collaboration with The North Face come about?
“I was fortunate enough to meet with Julian Lings, Sustainability Manager at The North Face in Europe, Middle East and Africa. We were discussing the fantastic repair facilities that The North Face already have in place. Despite the incredible amount of stuff that does get repaired, there is always a small percentage that the factory cannot put back into use. So, very quickly we were interested in applying our REMADE ethos to this project.”
Where did the idea to create accessories come from for the collaboration?
“For us it’s always about the materials and functionality above everything else. The nature of the tent material naturally lends itself well to hard wearing accessories.”
There are currently three bags in the collection, do you see there being an extension of this collaboration?
“It has been an incredible opportunity to work alongside a global brand such as The North Face who, very much like us, are pushing the boundaries in innovation and are interested in reducing their impact. While it would be too soon to say whether there will be an extension to the collaboration, we are very happy with the results so far, with the collection selling out in a couple of days through our website and store.”
You have so much experience and knowledge about running a sustainable brand, do you see your collaboration with large brands as a way to inform them about recycling and reusing?
“Collaboration is a key component in our approach to design and we have been lucky enough to collaborate with some amazing brands over our ten years in business, large and small. Every project we undertake has to adhere to our RÆMADE, RÆDUCED, RÆCYCLED ethos which certainly helps inform our collaborative partners in their practice, but also helps inform a wider audience of customers, which I feel is really important. However, it is definitely a two way learning process, where our collaboration with large brands has allowed us to build on the innovative and retail side of our business.”
Many congratulations on the new CO Leadership award. What is the hardest part of maintaining a sustainable brand?
“There are many challenges! I would say for a small brand looking to start a sustainable business, it’s minimum order quantities. The cost of sourcing sustainable materials is generally 40% higher.”
You mentioned at your recent talk at Jacket Required that we need to encourage consumers to feel more of a connection and attachment to the items they buy. Do you think creating more bespoke/limited editions helps to create this; knowing they have a one off piece?
“Each of our RÆMADE items are completely unique with an individual story behind them. People can identify with these stories and certainly build a strong connection to the product, particularly if they have impacted on the design, making the item completely bespoke for them. We have seen with our own customers how this establishes their emotional attachment so they can love and wear the piece for as long as possible.”
You have adopted a ‘make-do and mend’ ethos from your grandparents, do you think this, as well as the huge topic of sustainability, is something we need to teach the younger generation?
“We simply cannot continue to consume the way we currently do, so for our younger generation to adopt this ethos is of utmost importance.”
Where do you see the Raeburn brand in 10 years time?
“We want to continue to challenge and disrupt our industry. We’re hoping to grow a business of ‘global localisation’ whereby we could apply our REMADE ethos to other key markets. For instance, what would REMADE in Japan look like?”