How cool are the 4 Rs from multi award winning London based fashion designer Christopher Raeburn? I love love love his ethos and it just goes to prove that you can do high fashion, be cool, show at places like London Fashion Week and be in all the big magazines – without necessarily making everything new.
For those of you not familiar with the Raeburn brand, it first became famous for “remade” which deconstructed and remade surplus military clothing. Whilst primarily known for menswear, Christopher also makes womenswear and accessories. There are tees and dresses made from 1950s silk army maps, tote bags from military parachutes, and coats out of immersion suits and army blankets. These days Remade forms 20-30% of production and it is all produced in the London studio. The collections also feature organic cotton (“reduced” – 50% of production – you can read my organic FAQs blog post here) and recycled polyester (you can read my blog post on recycled polyester here). However the original design ethos of making functional pieces and giving old pieces a new lease on life where possible has remained.
A studio tour
Christopher’s studio is in my neck of the woods so of course I jumped at the chance for a tour and an interview. What I found utterly refreshing was his openness and honesty about his business and how it runs. At the end of the day, its business so lets get on with it and be nice to one another (and the planet), ok? The tour was led by Christopher. As well as asking all the questions we had a full look around the studio, tried on clothes in his archives, customised sweaters and tees with patches (check mine out below). After the tour I had a chat with Christopher and got some interesting views to share with you.
My design philosophy hasn’t changed over time; it is still driven by the remade process.
Christopher has a preference for original clothes designed for a particular function and will always go for this first over rolls of textile. Aside from his personal fascination with military items, there are practical reasons for this as well. There is a lot of surplus decommissioned military gear around. Besides militaries being big organizations, another reason for the surplus is safety standards. Over time or after a number of uses the gear may no longer be fit for use and becomes decommissioned.
Newly remade items are designed to be useful and functional with character, interest and longevity. Christopher gave me the example of outerwear, which would only be worth making if it has some aspect of weather protection. I must say he seemed a tiny bit disappointed when he told me that there are very few spacesuits around and the ones that exist are rather expensive!
Reduced and recycled
As well as adding organic cotton and recycled polyester to the textile basket, Christopher does a lot of collaborations. For example: Blackhorse Lane Atelier for denim; AW Hainsworth for wool (they have made ceremonial cloth for the British military since 1783); Schoeller Textile in Switzerland, a Bluesign certified manufacturer (Bluesign certifies that there are no harmful substances used in the full manufacturing process).
There is also a broader ongoing challenge in terms of how much waste can be reduced. Even the patches we used to customise our clothes were made from recycled polyester. And then the plastic-y coverings on the patches that get taken off can also be recycled!
And of course there are the cute #offcutanimals. Christopher designs an animal for each collection that is made from offcuts. I’m a bit sad I missed out on going to the recent lion pop up workshop in the studio to make my own – I mean look how cute they are. But there is always next time (anyone want to come with me to another one?!).
Upcycling – Christopher’s top tips for the home sewer
Christopher’s advice might just have been the highlight of my evening. We discussed how remaking can be seen as restrictive or challenging, how it can be easier to buy a new length of cloth, and sourcing secondhand stuff to remake.
For those creating at home on a limited scale, there is so much opportunity to take something from say a charity shop or eBay, that already has history and turn it into something new. For me, that authenticity, detailing and archaeology that comes with that story and having something with a provenance that is unique. I personally find all those things much more exciting than buying 2m from a fabric store. You also learn so much by deconstructing original items. How a pocket was constructed, how the lapel is done, the amount of handwork in some garments … then you can apply it to making something new.
In today’s world anyone can source from anywhere. It is what is interesting to the individual and what you are passionate about, whether that be carpets, bus seat covers, old tapestries.
– Christopher Raeburn
Now I’m not sure whether anyone I know is interested in old carpets, bus seat covers or tapestries (or old military gear for that matter) but that is hardly the point! His words have certainly helped to steer me into the direction of vintage and second hand (see my first vintage experience here) and after some online browsing I am totally excited to see what is there outside of the sewing stuff on my IG feed, even if just for style inspiration.
It you aren’t already a remaker / restyler, I hope you have also found some inspiration from reading this and are tempted to give it a go! Let me finish with a couple more pictures from the studio tour for your viewing pleasure.
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Great tour. He is an inspiration for us all. Appreciate all you are doing to promote the sustainability cause Kate.
Thank you for reading! It was such a fab evening and he was really down to earth. I’m sure my enthusiasm for his work comes through in the blog post!