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

Standard

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.

 

Eco Interview: Debbie Luffman from Finisterre – cold water surf clothing

Standard

 

Finisterre's Debbie Luffman

Debbie Luffman, Product Director at Finisterre

 

James and I spent a weekend down in St Agnes, Cornwall, a couple of weeks ago to take advantage of the hefty swell that Storm Abigail was sending our way. We surfed with a seal down at Carbis Bay, sampled the finest in local beer at Driftwood Spars Brewery, and generally had the most relaxing, lovely time despite the grim weather.

After our morning surf on the Saturday, we decided to check out the Wheel Kitty Workshops in St Agnes which we knew were home to the Surfers Against Sewage and Finisterre HQs.

Surfers Against Sewage is an environmental charity which aims to monitor, prevent and clean-up the pollution of British seas and coastline, and Finisterre is a clothing brand focussing on keeping cold water surfers toasty warm – whilst keeping their environmental impact to a minimum.

We had a peek in Finisterre’s workshop and had a chat with some of the team. When I got home, I emailed Debbie Luffman, the Product Director, to ask a few further questions about Finisterre’s product and the environment…

 

Finisterre stands for, and commits to, three things: Product, Environment and People. How do you ensure the brand has minimum impact on the environment?

As a brand in the business of creating product, we know that all our sourcing, design and manufacturing decisions will have an impact on the environment, but what we can do is select fibres, processes and products which have the least impact possible. This is not a simple selection however, but it comes down to three essential design questions:

  • Fit for purpose? A product which is designed to perform to its required needs and built to last will be more durable and last over time and will not need to be replaced by the user. This is the most sustainable design achievable.
  • Is an alternative fibre available? When we develop new fabrics, where possible, we source organic, cellulosic or recycled fibres.
  • Can it be easily repaired/recycled? We design product with components which can be easily broken down and repaired, and we offer a repair service at the Finisterre workshop. We also try to select fabrics which can be recycled.
  • Can it be produced closer to point of manufacture? We are committed to shrinking our supply chain, this sometimes means working closer to home, but also sourcing the best fabrics and components from the same region as the factory assembling our products. This minimises processes, transportation and the overall carbon footprint.

giftguide_women

 

How do you go about sourcing sustainable and durable materials?

We work with some of the best mills in the world, including Belgium, Italy and Japan. Japan in particular pioneered the business of recycled polyester and nylon, and also carbon-free membranes and water-repellent finishes, through our longterm relationship with our Japanese mills, we are able to improve and control the chemical processes used in our products.


 

Back in August, in accordance with your iSpy transparency programme, you announced that you’ve moved some of your production to China. It caused quite a stir, especially with some of your Facebook fans. Is there anything that you do to try and minimise that carbon footprint?

The move we made was in the assembly of our garments, for some reason the standard and accepted label on all garments ‘made in’ only calls to question where product is assembled – Our fabrics and zips were always sourced from China and Japan and therefore we were shipping these fabrics and components to Europe for garment assembly. There is a larger impact on made up garments, but our products use lightweight insulation and don’t weigh as much as heavy jackets and we minimise this impact by shipping, rather than airing goods. We are also committed where possible to sourcing fabrics and components closer to our China factory to minimise transportation impact within the supply chain.

w_shirts

 

Unfortunately we live in a society where ‘fast fashion’ has fostered a love for large wardrobes at low prices. Finisterre clothing may be considered a little pricey, but it’s built to last. What goes into ensuring that Finisterre clothing has that lasting quality?

We don’t believe our products should only last a season, so we avoid prints and fabrics which have a fleeting aesthetic. We work with our suppliers to develop the highest spec fabrics to ensure durability and all fabric is testing against pilling, stretching, fading and shrinking. We don’t believe in washing fabrics to create pre-aged or distressed effects and prefer that our products are delivered new and can be worn-in individually to the wearer.


 

British wool is at the centre of Finisterre’s fabric development. What’s so rad about using wool?

Don’t get me started! It is fair to say we are a little obsessed with wool. It is just the best fibre for building products designed for surfers and suited for the British climate. It handles moisture incredibly, whether from an activity point of view, absorbing and moving away moisture from your skin, as well as externally – holding onto humidity in the atmosphere and converting it into heat. It maintains the perfect body temperature, creating a personal climate system for the wearer. This fibre lends itself perfectly for next-to-the-skin baselayers, weather-resistant chunky knitwear mid-layers, as well as technical warm and waterproof outer layers. Wool is naturally biodegradeable and we work closely with all suppliers to ensure that animal welfare is at the heart of all our wool sourcing and to ensure full traceability.


 

I visited your factory in St Agnes, Cornwall this weekend and was blown away (almost literally, it was so windy) by the beauty of the location you work in. What’s the best thing about working in the Wheel Kitty Workshops and St Agnes in general?

I feel lucky to work and live in St Agnes, Cornwall. It is a special place and the perfect testing ground for our product. We are all very active people from surfing to dog-walking, the team are a bunch of outdoor nuts and our product is designed around constant feedback and improvement. The workshop can be a very buzzing, dynamic and frenetic environment to work in, but at the end of the day when it is time to switch the lights off in the workshop there is always the welcome sight of the beautiful wild coastline and ocean right in front of me.

women_featured

 

You’ve collaborated with some fantastic, innovative brands recently, such as Dritek. Are there any other brands we should be keeping our eyes on?

We have a number of new colabs underway at the moment, but I’m afraid I can’t give away too many details just yet, but keep your eyes peeled for an innovative new umbrella project, an original cap concept, more PVC free luggage and a very exciting longterm shoe colab.


 

And finally, when can we expect the release of the women’s Nieuwland wetsuit? I’m keen to make it my next winter wetty!

We are anticipating women’s tester suits being ready by AW16. We actually approached the design for the women’s suit adjacent to the men’s. But it was important to us that the women’s wetsuit was given dedicated design focussing on fit, testing, and needs specific to the female surfer, rather than rushing the women’s suit designed around the men’s, so the design is taking a little longer. We’ll be looking for female testers, so watch this space.

 

Finisterre wetsuit

 

Photos borrowed from the Finisterre website.