03 Jan 2016

The Observer – Meet the future stars of sustainable fashion

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From repurposed fishing nets to restored leather and everlasting denim, these young designers are creating clothes with ethics woven in. Tamsin Blanchard introduces five Bright New Things

A  new breed of fashion designer is putting ethics at the heart of everything they do. No longer is sustainability and social responsibility a token extra or cynical marketing ploy. The smartest brands are the ones taking full responsibility for every step of the process, from the supplier to the maker – and in some cases the aftercare of the product, too. These are designers interested in quality, never quantity – a generation making clothes we will cherish, that will make us consume less and make the best possible choice when we do.

Next week the windows of Selfridges in London’s Oxford Street will be dedicated to the store’s annual Bright New Things. This year the focus is on designers who are making innovative and beautiful products in a clean, transparent way. The store consulted the Centre for Sustainable Fashion to select and mentor nine designers to showcase in its windows. One BNT will be awarded a bursary of £30,000 to support their work.

Here we introduce five of the brightest, newest things and find out why crochet, fishing nets and old-fashioned hand weaving are the future of fashion.

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Margot Bowman and Diana Auria: ‘It’s playful , sexy and hyper smart’

Diana Auria never learned to swim, but that hasn’t stopped her building up a thriving swimwear brand. Her partner Margot Bowman, an enthusiastic swimmer, more than makes up for her lack of butterfly.

Auria understands how to cut a flattering swimsuit. And Bowman knows how to make it look fun and glamorous. But what is really clever about their brand is the fabric. Econyl had just come on to the market when Bowman and Auria were launching their swimwear collection, Auria, two years ago, and they were the first to use it. “It is 100% recycled polyamide,” explains Bowman proudly. “It’s a new-generation fabric that comes from projects around the world – one in the Philippines – where they collect fishing nets and melt them down. It’s from the sea back into the sea, the full life cycle. But you would never know.” And that’s the important bit. They understand that nobody will buy a product just because it is sustainable. “The look is really playful, contemporary and sexy, but the way it’s produced is hyper smart.”

Auria and Bowman launched their swimwear brand after Auria finished her degree at London College of Fashion in 2012 specialising in lingerie and swimwear design. The course included a project with Speedo to upcycle its surplus LZR swimsuits which had been banned by the swimming world’s governing body Fina in 2009. “From swimming trunks I made a bikini with inflatable cups,” says Auria. Meanwhile Bowman, her flatmate, was working as a graphic designer for The Esthetica Review, which promoted the work of sustainable fashion designers showing at London Fashion Week. The pair decided to work together. “The ability to make women feel great in their bodies is such a pleasure,” says Auria. “The swimsuits have this good karma because they are made from recycled thread,” adds Bowman. “Many people don’t even know it’s ‘eco’. It needs to be colourful and playful and sexy if we want to get people to engage with climate change. Auria swimwear looks good enough to eat – it is really high on life.”

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