Beyond the glossy echo chamber guarded by London’s fashion gatekeepers, a quiet revolution is rumbling away north of the border. Sustainable entrepreneurs in Scotland are driving positive change through collaboration, community and creativity, earning them a seat at the table in the global movement towards a kinder, slower, more future-proof fashion industry.
From the circular economy to zero waste design, community repair hubs to craft-led curriculums, Scottish changemakers are leading the charge for the next generation of retail revolutionaries, but are too often excluded from the UK’s ethical fashion conversation. Now, in 2020, something special is going on that I can’t quite place my finger on – an energy, a spark. I sense it in every group Zoom meeting, in every virtual stitch-and-bitch, in every Instagram exchange with a likeminded activist. It feels like a breath of fresh air when contrasted with the cynicism of the industry at large. It feels like real, tangible progress in the right direction. It feels like the start of an uprising.
Why here? Of course, we could cite the rich cultural heritage of textiles in Scotland, or our world-class design education. We could claim it’s easier to make change in a smaller population, or that a more liberal government empowers more liberal views on sustainability, circularity and consumerism. But why now?
According to Mairi Lowe, founding member of new multi-disciplinary platform Sustainable Fashion Scotland, isolation created by the pandemic, combined with gaps in small business support, have driven a desire for strengthened bonds between previously disconnected individuals across the country.
“There’s a frustration with the pace of change right now, driving people to do it themselves. We also look at big global climate movements like Extinction Rebellion or the school strikes with Greta Thunberg – these started off as small, grassroots community groups. That inspires people to take action and connect in their local communities.”
Of course, there is also something to be said for an atmosphere of ‘collaboration over competition’ that feels foreign to so many mainstream industry expats, the start of a shared vision that’s bigger than just one brand, one event, one leader. “The landscape here isn’t as competitive and people are so keen to collaborate,” Mairi explains. “They always feel very energised and empowered when they’re in the room (or Zoom) together with people who have the same sustainability goals. We all know we can have a greater impact when we work together.”
So, in that spirit, I wanted to share some of the brands and projects that are significantly shifting the narrative of sustainable fashion in Scotland, together. One thing you’ll notice – it is women leading the way on all counts. Perhaps this new wave of fresh ideas is no accident after all…
The sustainable fashion brands
With designer Siobhan McKenna at its helm, Rejean creates unique, unisex denim jackets and accessories from repurposed denim, keeping unwanted jeans out of landfill, as well as offering custom repairs and alterations from its Glasgow Barras studio.
Olivia Rose The Label
Olivia Rose has transformed the made-to-order market with her uniquely Instagrammable aesthetic, stitching each delightful design in her popular capsule collections in Edinburgh with love (and custom measurements).
Orkney-based textile designer Hilary Grant crafts luxurious lambswool hats, scarves, gloves and blankets with a slow and sustainable sensibility, using Loch Leven yarn and Scottish Borders knitwear technology.
The Joan Project
The Joan Project is a luxury womenswear brand, created by friends Colleen and Lilly in celebration of the craftsmanship of Scottish artisan fabrics. Offering full supplier transparency, ten per cent of the brand’s profits help support disadvantaged young people pursuing careers in fashion and textiles.
Akvile Su is a jewellery designer-maker based in Edinburgh whose brand is founded on principles of gender fluidity, minimalism and sustainability. She uses recycled materials to create exquisitely modern pieces using traditional techniques.
LAW Design Studio
LAW is an ethical fashion brand by Glaswegian designer Gillian McNeill. Offering simple, beautiful designs in organic cotton and linen, it aims to help women build a capsule wardrobe of timeless clothing in a circular way.
All That Is Braw
All That Is Braw, founded by Eilidh Weir, is a small-batch slow fashion and homeware label that creates gender-neutral clothing for all ages in Central Scotland. The brand uses only natural fabrics, dyed in botanically-themed hues such as kale and rosehip, and offers a lifetime repair service for all its products.
The creative communities
Remode Youth works with communities in Renfrewshire to deliver practical solutions to the impact of fast fashion, running hands-on workshops, educational events and a store in Paisley for swapping, second-hand shopping and sustainable living.
Sustainable Fashion Scotland
Sustainable Fashion Scotland is a new project that aims to connect and celebrate the country’s sustainable fashion community, enabling collaborations, combatting industry challenges and defining shared goals for system change.
Remode Collective is a social enterprise based in Edinburgh that explores local textile repurposing with the aim of building new skills amongst a culturally diverse community.
Fashion Revolution Scotland
An offshoot of the global movement for sustainable fashion and garment worker rights, Fashion Revolution Scotland offers regular events and actionable campaigns. With enthusiastic volunteers and students from across the industry, the team drives increased awareness of the social and environmental impact of fashion around the whole country.
The repair pioneers
An innovative new start-up in Glasgow led by Petra Baiba Olehno, REPAIREL wants to revolutionise the footwear industry with community-led repair, recycling, research and resale. Watch this space.
Repair What You Wear
Repair What You Wear is an online platform that makes mending easy for everyone. The project was co-founded by Rosalind Studd, a fashion and textiles tutor in Aberdeen who is passionate about accessible education on clothing repair to fight climate change.
Flora Collingwood Norris is an established sustainable knitwear designer and maker in the Scottish Borders, but she has also made her name in the wonderful world of visible mending, repairing clothes with colour and flair at Visible Creative Mending.
Zero Waste Fashion Online
Led by sustainable design educators, Cassandra Macindoe of The Stitchery Studio and Holly McQuillan, Zero Waste Fashion Online is a new platform that will offer resources and workshops promoting zero waste systems in fashion.
School uniforms are a huge source of textile waste, so Apparel Xchange, founded by zero waste pioneer Izzie Eriksen, works tirelessly to make preloved uniforms available to cost and eco-conscious parents, with a dedicated hub in Glasgow’s St Enoch Centre.