Eco Interview: Dr Linda Thomas of Linda Thomas Eco Design

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This week I was beyond thrilled to find out that one of my closest friends got engaged to her university sweetheart and soulmate. So naturally, this has got me all excited about all things ‘wedding’.

Weddings, however, are not the most eco-friendly of occasions. For me, the wedding dress in particular – worn for just that one occasion and costing so much in both money and materials – is the epitome of excess and consumerism… However, there are some designers out there who are filling the void where eco-friendly wedding dresses should be, and providing beautiful alternatives for the sustainably-savvy bride.

I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram recently, as one often does, when I spotted a post by 2 Minute Beach Clean which caught my attention. It was a photo of an incredible dress made entirely out of recycled bodyboard covers…

Symages-Dress-CF5R0392

WAVE of WASTE Dress: 
Dress Linda Thomas Eco Design
 Photography Symages photography, 
Board collecting and organising: BeachCare of Keep Britain Tidy
Hair: Clair Swinscoe Studio Couture
Make up: Rebecca Rose Robinson Make Up Artist
Model: Emma Adams

 

I had to message the designer, Linda Thomas, to find out more about her dresses and what inspires her…

Have you always been a dressmaker?

I was brought up with my Mum always dressmaking and I was always creating something. By about 10 years old I was using my Mum’s sewing machine and I can remember making earrings from black plastic bags as my earliest upcycling project!

What inspired you to move into the world of fashion?

I won Young Designer of Nottingham when I was a teenager for a Black and Blue Angular Velvet Dress. I had two strong yearnings: one was to help people, and the other was creativity. In the end, I realised I could still be creative on the side if I went to Medical School, but I couldn’t be a doctor on the side if I went to Art College. I did carry on creating but it was more than a decade until I returned to making clothes.

Why upcycled clothing?

There was no question that I would be an eco fashion designer as there would be no beauty for me in designing something damaging the Earth, but the reason I chose upcycling was due to the shocking problem with waste all over the world. In the UK alone there are still 1.5million tonnes of textile waste going to landfill each year. In Bristol alone, 20 tonnes of textile waste is sorted through by Bristol Textile Recyclers every day. Although there are exceptions, the production process of the vast majority of new fabric has likely damaged the environment and been involved in oppressive conditions for people the world over.

What materials do you work with and how are they sourced sustainably?

When I’m not working with broken bodyboards, I usually upcycle with quite luxurious materials like silk and cashmere. I source these materials from local charity shops and sometimes from vintage pieces. Sometimes my clients have a favourite damaged garment and I can salvage some material from it for something new.

Do you strive to be eco-friendly in your personal life too? Is your wardrobe sustainable?

In my personal life everything changed 12 years ago when I was pregnant with my son. I read an article in The Ecologist about non-organic cotton. Up until then I thought that was pure and natural, to realise it was one of the most polluting and harmful crops on the planet shocked me. Despite a passion for clothes, I decided to give up on regular shops and only buy pre-loved or new eco clothing. During the last decade it has got easier and easier to do that. We are a family of eco warriors and we continue to learn new things. We don’t fly, which has led to amazing alternative journeys. We grow and buy organic food which is always more delicious. We follow the motto refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. We are a cycling and walking family, but we do own a now quite old hybrid car for longer journeys.

Your recent work has involved working with beach cleaning projects, tell us a bit about your eco-collaborations.

This last collaboration was with BeachCare of Keep Britain Tidy. I had seen their pile of bodyboards the year before and wanted to do something about it. I didn’t realise I was going to make quite so big a dress at the outset. I am a fairly new member of Surfers Against Sewage 250 club and I am hoping to be able to contribute, not just money but also my expertise, to help look at all of the different plastics contaminating our Oceans. A lot of people think of bottles as plastic but don’t realise all polyester and nylon materials are also plastic and lead to microplastic pollution that also enters the sea, even just from washing those clothes. I am already brewing up my next project in my head…

Wave of Waste Dress - Linda Thomas Eco Design

What makes you a guilty environmentalist?

I don’t like the term ‘guilty ‘as it is such a negative emotion. I have to be very conscious about my showering time. I find it easy to go into flow states and lose track of time. The other thing I am very aware of is that we still have stuff in our black bin. So much stuff seems to come in plastic packaging and that makes me feel sad and responsible. There are still many foodstuffs that I hate the packaging for…tofu for one!

You can find Linda Thomas Eco Design on her website.

Instagram : @linda_eco_design

Facebook: Linda Thomas Eco Design

 

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Eco Interview: Russell, founder of Cushn Company

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Last weekend I went to the wonderful Crafty Fox Market – a grouping of South London’s finest arts and crafters – when it came to Peckham’s Bussey Building. And it’s there that I met Russell, founder of CUSHN COMPANY, who makes cushion covers and pads using textile waste from the creative industries.

Cushn Co has a simple, sustainable vision: to stop textiles from going into landfill by processing the offcuts from fashion and costume houses. Russell also uses end of roll and ethically sourced fabrics to make plant hammocks and will soon be launching a flower vase. 

I thought this was a genius idea (and the products look amazing), so I asked Russell a few questions…

What gave you the idea for Cushn?

Over my career in fashion styling and costume design, I have made a lot of bespoke items for different adverts and performances. Being left with offcuts and scrap fabrics from each job, my studio started filling up as I couldn’t find anywhere to recycle them. My friends who run fashion houses and costume studios, had no suggestions on how to deal with this waste and all of them just chucked it in the bin and sent it to the dump. The reality of this waste problem being industry-wide, made me feel pretty sad, but also determined to provide a solution. 

Where and how do you get your materials?

We have partnerships with costume designers, fashion designers, theatres and sewing classes. We recycle offcuts in part exchange for end of roll luxury fabrics. The offcuts are processed to make cushion pad filling, which has a consistency comparable to feather down. The larger fabric pieces and end of roll materials are used to make the cushion covers, plant hammocks and other sustainable products. We currently use organic cotton for the pad outers and are looking into sourcing a lower impact fibre like hemp or bamboo instead. We are constantly trying to reduce our environmental footprint and always love suggestions of how we can do this. If your readers have any suggestions on how we can improve anything we do, we would love to hear from them.  Our goal is to become a zero landfill, no carbon studio, not just zero landfill products. We dream of offering a circular economy service to the garment industry and stop all waste. 

Do you strive to be as eco-friendly as possible in your day to day life too?

I imagine most people have found it easier to be ethical at home, compared to at work – I know I have. That’s why at Cushn Co we are constantly trying to reduce our plastic dependancy and carbon emissions, amongst other initiatives and are always up for hearing advice on ways to be greener. We love cycling everywhere and we are always looking fora materials and fittings that are more sustainable than we currently use. On a more personal level, I live a veggie life, leaning towards vegan, and buy food from the local green grocers that uses no packaging. I think one of the most powerful ways to make a positive change is to choose where you spend your money. Living in a culture where profit comes before all else, I believe your buying power should be used to promote good companies that care about more than the bottom line. I want my hard earned pennies to support ethical companies and help them grow to a point where they can influence the wider market and make bigger changes.

Do you have an Achilles’ heel? What makes you a guilty environmentalist?

Plastic is the one thing I still haven’t been able to completely remove from plant hammocks. They have to be plastic lined so the plants can be watered. The plastic we are currently using is factory seconds that are twice recycled. First used by students to make composition garments and then deconstructed and used by us. I have been experimenting with making starch-based plastic, but I haven’t got a waterproof version just yet. Hopefully this will come into fruition next year, after a bit more R&D. My other weakness is leather shoes. I avoid animal products where I can, but sometimes I just can’t get the vegan footwear in the styles I want. 

Where can people find you? 

Our studio and shop is at 146 Columbia Road and we are open every Sunday for the flower market. Please come down and say hi. We love to hear tips and suggestions from our customers, in person and online. You can find us on social media @cushncompany and on the Cushn Co website.

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.

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.