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Christopher Raeburn: 'Small steps lead to big differences in sustainability'

Ahead of his talk at the Drapers Sustainable Fashion event tomorrow, London Fashion Week designer and Timberland global creative director Christopher Raeburn reveals how he puts sustainability at the heart of business.

Sustainability is not a trend. It has baffled me over the years to hear senior buyers and some industry press refer to sustainability as a trend. It is not and cannot be a trend. We need to fundamentally look at every aspect of the industry and make positive changes.

In very simple terms we cannot continue consuming at the rate that we are. We are already in a position where a large percentage of items end up in landfill within the first year of purchase. We need to wake up from this terrible level of consumption.

It is great that the issue of sustainability has become a real talking point. With big brands such as Burberry committing to becoming carbon neutral, and Adidas pledging to stop using virgin plastics, the conversation has magnified, which is good. But there is a lot of confusion around what sustainability is, and I think the word itself can mean a lot of different things to different people.

Rather than sustainability, as a brand we talk a lot about responsible design

Rather than sustainability, as a brand we talk a lot about responsible design, and my obligations as an individual and as a business owner.

We have a responsibility to design in the best way we can – from sourcing materials, to the factories we use, to the way we manufacture. As another example, we’ve brought in initiatives such as a free repair service, so the clothes we make are then kept in circulation for as long as possible.

Consider the next purchase you make. Do you really need it? Is there an opportunity to recycle something first, or swap an item instead? Even just this small step to begin with – really considering what we purchase – will make a difference. I really believe in buying less but buying better.

Make a change

I get asked a lot what I think about fast fashion. Of course, people need affordable clothing, but we need to change perspectives so that people can understand the true cost of the item they are purchasing.

Last Black Friday we closed our pop-up store at Coal Drops Yard [in London’s Kings Cross], closed our studio shop and closed our online store, so nothing could be purchased, because Black Friday has just become a race to the bottom. This need to buy on Sale is not healthy. We know Sales are important. We partake in one at the end of the season because we know discounting is sometimes necessary. But to go on Sale from late October all the way through to January – three months – that isn’t healthy.

One of the things anyone can do today is switch to green and renewable energy sources

But it is not about being right or wrong. It is saying: “Let’s consider our decisions and make responsible choices when we can.”

For the industry to really change, there need to be government incentives, such as tax breaks for businesses acting in a responsible or sustainable way. We need to be celebrating the people doing good things, rather than just coming down on those that aren’t doing as well.

As a business we try to be transparent about everything, and be open about where we are in terms of our responsibilities, and where we want to be – educating and inspiring as we go along on this journey.

One of the things anyone can do today is switch to green and renewable energy sources. This a very affordable and accessible change.

As a business we’ve switched all of our electricity to green power. All of our ecommerce packaging is plant based. We focus on recycled or remade fabrics. We manufacture locally when we can. These are just some of the steps we’ve taken.

Things are changing. Customers do care – and they increasingly care more and more

Responsible design going forward should just become part of what is expected. What we’re not doing is standing on a soap box and saying, “You should buy this because it’s good” – more that it’s a desirable product that has been embedded with good choices from the design stage. We hope this switch in thinking will become a way of life.

Things are changing. Customers do care – and they increasingly care more and more, particularly the younger generations. We see this in stores, we see this online. They want to buy things in the right way. But price is still a consideration. It is about finding the right balance.

As our activities and the team at Raeburn grow, we put into writing our obligation to make good choices, to do the right thing, and to continue to challenge and disrupt. We’ll be thinking twice as a business before acting and we ask our community to do the same: even small steps will help and it’s important we all work together.

Christopher Raeburn is speaking at Drapers Sustainable Fashion. For coverage go to

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