Coats crafted from disused transit blankets. T-shirts made of decommissioned military parachutes. Totes derived from old safety jackets. For British fashion label Raeburn, one person’s trash is another’s treasure.
Founded by Christopher Raeburn, the brand has long championed sustainable design. The label debuted at London Fashion Week in 2009, where Christopher wowed critics with an eight-piece outerwear collection crafted entirely from a single parachute purchased from eBay. Over ten years on, the brand continues to advocate a circular economy via its three-pronged “Raemade, Raeduced, Raecycled” ethos: reworking surplus fabrics into functional yet fashion-forward pieces; producing eco-friendly, carbon-neutral apparel; and creating new materials from waste streams.
“The fashion industry has a very opaque supply chain, and it is also one of the biggest polluters,” says Graeme Raeburn (elder brother to Christopher), who took on the role of performance director in 2018, charged with improving the functionality of Raeburn’s products. Fast, cheap fashion often comes at the expense of the environment: according to the sustainability non-profit Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an entire bin-lorry of clothes – that’s approximately 2,625kg – is incinerated or sent to landfill every second. And the environmental harm goes beyond waste: it’s estimated that synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester can take up to 200 years to break down.
Fortunately, Raeburn is helping to close the loop by diverting some of this waste away from landfill. In the brand’s Hackney studio – a bright, airy 230m2 space that formerly served as Burberry’s archive – the brothers devise ways of repurposing surplus garments and leftover “deadstock” fabrics, which are sourced locally where possible.
Here, Typhoon wetsuits are deconstructed and reconstructed using a patchwork technique to create parkas and trousers, while transit blankets are reworked as reversible field jackets. Silk escape maps – once used by Royal Air Force personnel to evade capture if they crash landed on enemy soil – are given a new lease of life as dresses and accessories. And in a move towards zero-waste, all fabric offcuts are shredded and recycled into insulation padding for puffer jackets. “Each material is unique and has to be approached differently, but fortunately, we have an amazing technical team that has a lot of expertise when it comes to translating one thing into another,” says Graeme. “It’s all about connecting a resource with an outcome.”
The brand’s new Spring/Summer 2020 collection, titled New Horizons, imagines a future on Mars, with apparel and accessories fashioned from solar blankets originally designed by Nasa for space exploration. It also includes organic cotton jersey pieces adorned with prints of film stills, the latter courtesy of international design practice Hassell. The collection is currently on show at Moving to Mars (running to February 23), an exhibition at London’s Design Museum that invites visitors to consider the plausibility of life on the Red Planet.
New Horizons is just one of many collaborations that Raeburn has under its belt. Over the years, the brand has worked with big-name labels including Rapha (where Graeme worked before joining his brother), Porter and Moncler; in October 2019, it unveiled its second collection with Timberland, where Christopher is global creative director, alongside running his own brand. True to Raeburn’s aesthetic, the line sees iconic Timberland silhouettes, such as the Weatherbreaker jacket, reinterpreted using decommissioned military parachutes. It also introduces new ready-to-wear pieces made using eco-friendly materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester.
The brand is venturing beyond fashion, too: for instance, it recently joined forces with industrial design agency Layer to launch a furniture line at the London Design Festival 2019. Called Canopy Collection, it comprises three lounge chairs and a screen, all made from recycled parachutes and welded steel frames. “Raeburn is not simply a fashion brand in the traditional sense. We are interested in inspiring, educating and also applying our ethos to other areas,” says Graeme.
It’s an ethos that the brand is determined to advocate – even if it comes at a commercial cost. Last year, in a bold move, it boycotted Black Friday – and all the rampant consumerism that comes with it – by shutting its website and King’s Cross pop-up store in a bid to encourage people to “start buying less, but better”.
“There needs to be more curiosity about the provenance and value of apparel, as well as what to do with it at the end of the day – whether that is extending the life of a piece or returning it to a closed-loop system,” says Graeme. “This awareness can also really change how people make purchasing decisions in the first place.” Thanks to brands like Raeburn, consumers are slowly but surely taking notice – and sustainability is finally coming into fashion.
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