Eco Interview: Rhys Ellis, fashion designer and recent Birmingham City graduate

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A couple of weeks ago, I attended Graduate Fashion Week to see my hugely-talented sister’s collection in all its glory, for the first time, paraded down the catwalk. It was a hedonistic combination of feminine rose-gold, ethereal tulle and striking black leather strappings. Take a look at her website, her name is Alice Elizabeth Brown and she’s going to be the next big thing in fashion – you heard it here first.

Whilst Alice’s work was obviously the best and without-a-doubt my favourite, I was also blown-away by Rhys Ellis’ collection which was made entirely from recycled Nespresso capsules. Of course, I loved the environmental angle of his collection and wanted to know more about the thought-processes behind the designs – so I asked him a few questions…

Rhys Ellis Fashion Designer Nespresso Capsules

 

I understand that your collection was made out of Nescafe Nespresso capsules… what was the creation process? 

The creation process was extremely repetitive and time consuming. Before the process actually started, I had to collect the used Nespresso capsules from across the UK and Italy and then clean them. Once the capsules were emptied and polished, I could then begin creating the material. The material was created by using the chain mail technique which made it suitable for me to drape around the female form.

Wow, that sounds long… just how long do you think this took? How many hours did you spend on each item?

I think this has been the most popular question asked. The material took on average 144 hours to create per dress. As for creating the garment, I would be taking a wild guess as I am constantly changing and refining each design so the dresses didn’t stop changing until they walked onto the runway.

Did you encounter any extra problems using these materials, as opposed to a generic fabric?

No, as the material was made using the chain mail technique, it made it possible to create shapes and movement which a generic fabric wouldn’t allow.

Rhys Ellis Fashion Designer Nespresso Capsules

How did you manage to source so many used capsules?

I had to network with hotels, bars and small businesses across the UK and Italy. Alongside the businesses helping me, word of mouth had a huge impact on the contribution of used coffee capsules. In the end, around 30 families were sending me their coffee capsules.

What gave you the idea for your collection?

When I was living in Milan, I met a women that used Nespresso capsules to create ear rings. I then decided to develop this idea into a material.

Has this project made you think more about your impact on the environment?

Of course, when you compare the amount of capsules I’ve used within the collection compared to the amount used around the world. It’s a horrible thought to know that these small capsules are going to end up in a landfill, left to damage our environment.

I understand you came across some pretty shocking facts about the waste associated with Nespresso capsules. What did you find out?

Nespresso capsules produce methane, also know as CH4, which is a greenhouse gas with more than 20 times the global warming capacity of carbon dioxide. Also, a quote in The Grocer (supermarket trade magazine) said ‘one in two people in Britain said that they believed “coffee pods are very bad for the environment”, 22% of those asked, said they owned their own machine.

What’s next? What are your plans for the future?

I am currently developing ideas for the Autumn/Winter collection. My plans are to create under my own name, searching for a studio and a platform in which I can showcase my collections.

 

 

More astonishing Nespresso stats (taken from Rhys’ portfolio):

  • Each outfit contains 4,000-5,000 Nespresso capsules with the total collection reaching 30,000 recycled capsules with an estimated value of £870,000 (Rhys is still receiving capsules and he reckons that their total original worth now reaches beyond £1m!)
  • Nespresso states that 12,300 capsules are used per minute globally, which is 6.4 billion a year. Even if half are being recycled, that means that over 3,200 metric tons of aluminium is being sent to landfills annually.
  • 75% of Britons drink coffee, 48% drink coffee pods.
  • In the last year, more than £112 million worth of coffee capsules were sold in the UK, up by a third since 2014.
  • Analysts expect sales to treble 2020, at which point coffee capsule sales could overtake those of tea bags.

 

3 Sustainable and Ethical Clothing Brands to Write Home About

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One of my eco-goals which I mentioned last year when I posted The Ultimate Eco Bucket-List was to only buy clothes from labels with sustainable and ethical practices. A year on and I’m finally making an effort to put this goal into action.

I’ve done a lot of research into clothing brands recently and here I wanted to share with you my favourite 3, which I believe cover 3 very different clothing needs: casual, occasional and outdoor…


People Tree – for casual staples and work wear.

Having not earned a proper salary for 6 months now, I’ve hardly been able to splurge on updating my wardrobe with lots of items – especially as sustainable and ethical clothing is rightfully more expensive. So I recently made one classic purchase from People Tree to see me through work to the weekend. People Tree can be expensive but you should keep an eye out for their sales via their newsletter because they are frequent! I bought these hand-woven, wide-leg trousers when I saw a 20% discount code:

People Tree Side Wrap Trousers

On the website, it tells you exactly where and how the piece was made. For example, my trousers were made by Swallows – a fair trade group working with women in rural Bangladesh – using hand-woven cotton.

When they arrived, I was pleased from the minute I saw the packaging: everything was recyclable and made from recycled materials. The trousers are exactly as advertised and I can tell that the fabric used, and it’s finishes, are of the highest quality. I can’t wait to wear them for the first time on the day of my sister’s Graduate Fashion Week catwalk show!

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Under People Tree’s section entitled ‘Our Story’, the company talks about Sustainability and states the aims of its Eco Policy:

  • to promote natural and organic farming
  • to avoid polluting substances
  • to protect water supplies
  • to use biodegradable substances where possible
  • to recycle materials where possible

 

Mayamiko – for colourful African prints and quirky designs.

Now this brand proves that you don’t need to spend a fortune to be an ethical buyer – with prices from £19 for a top. I love the pieces in the Kukonda Collection, especially this jumpsuit (below left):

Sustainable and ethical clothing Mayamiko

But if you want to go full sustainable the best collection to buy from is the Rebirth Upcycled Collection.

Mayamiko state that they are ‘committed to producing ethically’, and that they ‘adhere to the Ethical Trade Initiative’s principles (ETI)’. Their employment policy includes:

  • No forced labour
  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining
  • Safe and hygienic working conditions
  • No child labour
  • Living wages
  • No discrimination
  • No excessive working hours
  • Regular employment to be provided
  • No harsh or inhumane treatment
  • Training and professional development for all employees
  • A nutritious meal every day
  • Life skill sensitization and individual support
  • Support to set up independent businesses and cooperatives when desired
  • Financial education and access to microfinance, loans and grants
  • Pension scheme and gratuity

I also particularly like that the company ‘operates a ‘Zero Waste’ workshop where even the smallest piece of fabric is transformed in value-add items, both for export and for the local community’


 

Páramo – for waterproofs, base-layers, outdoor gear, etc.

My mum is a big fan of Páramo and introduced me to them recently when we were having a mooch around the shops in Betws-Y-Coed.

Páramo was the first company to sign up to the Greenpeace Detox commitment which means that the brand has vowed to exclude hazardous chemicals from their garment production. Unfortunately, most outdoor brands are wedded to PFC-based materials because they are water repellent. But these waterproof fabrics release or break down to form extremely toxic, persistent PFCs (Perfluorinated Compounds) which are now found in even the most pristine environments. Evidence that these chemicals can cause hormone disruption, cancer and immune suppression in children has led Greenpeace to campaign for a ban on PFC use. What is even more scary is that PFCs tend to bioaccumulate and store themselves within the bodies of humans and animals!

Páramo use Nikwax waterproof fabrics and treatments as an alternative, delivering high performance without the use of PFCs.

Paramo Clothing

And if that wasn’t enough to love, this brand also practices fair trade within its factories in Colombia – which make 80% of Páramo’s range – empowering vulnerable women. Colombia has one of the largest numbers of internally displaced people worldwide, with 10% of the population having been forced to flee their homes due to conflict and violence. Displacement makes women and girls vulnerable to violence, prostitution and drug abuse. Having created a partnership with the Miquelina Foundation back in 1992, the brand ensures that 200 women are employed, 400 women are trained, and 200 children attend nursery, each year. The cooperative has also built over 130 houses so far, giving the women an opportunity to buy property at a fair price.

Oh yeah, and they also run a recycling scheme where they take back any item of clothing (except underwear) and either find it a new home or recycle it into new fabric. They offer up to £50 off a new Páramo purchase as a reward too!

Páramo proves the power that clothing brands have to make a difference – if they would just choose to alter their manufacturing processes and their motives.

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