Most brands aren’t sustainable. They may claim ‘responsible production’ and ‘traceability’ in their marketing spiel, but more often than not they still manufacture large batch runs in factories outside the country they’re based. That usually means numerous flights back and forth and clothes being shipped across continents each season, resulting in a carbon footprint that belies the perceived good work being done.
No clothing brand is truly sustainable. If they were, they wouldn’t be in the business of making clothes. The world simply doesn’t need any more than it already has. In the US alone, an estimated 85% of all textiles are left for landfill every year, according to Earth.org but there are a number of things that can be done for brands to be as sustainable as possible. One of which is to manufacture on home soil, and preferably in their own factory. This is now a rarity in the UK thanks to the expense, the lack of skilled workers, and of course, cheaper overseas production. It’s simply easier and more profitable to move production elsewhere. But a number of brands refuse to make this compromise.
Private White V.C. is one such label. Occupying a vast Victorian red brick factory in the heart of Manchester, the historic brand is most well known for its exemplary outerwear. From its waxed cotton motorcycle jackets through to its tailored pea coats, it offers something for everyone.
What’s most impressive about the brand is the sheer variety of styles and garments it makes under one roof. Everything from T-shirts and polos to sweatshirts, hoodies, tailoring, and the aforementioned outerwear is crafted from start to finish here. It also offers a lifetime repair service, ensuring each piece will outlive the owner.
Speaking of which, a pair of properly made, Goodyear-welted shoes will, if looked after correctly, also last a lifetime. Once at the heart of Northampton’s shoemaking industry, Crockett & Jones is now one of the few traditional brands still going strong.
Back in 1840 there were an estimated 1,821 shoemakers in the town, whereas today there are just 19 remaining, showing how drastically the industry has changed. Crockett & Jones has no doubt had to innovate throughout its 144 year history in order to survive, but it’s stayed true to its roots, still producing the finest quality shoes and boots, from start to finish, in its own factory.
It’s still family-owned too, unlike many of its contemporaries which at some point had to be sold off to luxury fashion houses or conglomerates. While Crockett & Jones is known for its incredibly sharp, semi-formal designs, there’s another independent shoe brand that’s in the market of producing durable, equally well made pairs at the other end of the spectrum.
Solovair isn’t known by as many people as it should be. Having been around since 1881, it’s a stalwart of the Northampton shoe industry, but it’s the brand’s more recent history that makes it interesting. Solovair was essentially the original Dr Martens, producing the shoes and boots for the latter up until the 1980s, when it went overseas for its production.
Solovair stayed put though, continuing to make its signature sturdy work boots in its own factory on Northampton’s South Street, which it has occupied since 1899. The attention to detail and quality of materials used is unrivalled within its space. Indeed, when it comes to work boots, with hard wearing (yet soft) leather and chunky rubber soles, nobody does it better.
What about suits then? There’s arguably no form of clothing more sustainable than bespoke tailoring. Here is a garment that’s made entirely from scratch to the precise measurements of the individual, and which, should it be needed, can be taken in or let out infinite times. So feasibly, it will fit you forever regardless of how much your body changes. The obvious destination would be Savile Row. The street is full of historic houses that have been on and around the area for over a century. But it’s often the younger names that are the most exciting.
Its youngest tailor, Cad & The Dandy launched in 2008 with the goal of modernising this most prestigious of streets. It’s fair to say it’s achieved its lofty goals, having grown from two co-founders to a team of 200 people, now operating around the world from New York to Stockholm.
Its bespoke offering is still made in the time-honoured tradition though; that is, within the walls of its flagship home at 13 Savile Row. “Every single customer has a bespoke pattern made for them”, says James Sleater, one of the co- founders. “That’s a pattern drafted from scratch. It’s a 2D object in essence before being turned into a 3D product in either a shirt or a suit”, with every process taking place at the hands of the finest craftspeople the world has to offer.
For tailoring, chances are said craftspeople will be based around London, but for knitwear, there’s only one destination: Scotland. Malloch’s may not manufacture under a factory in its own name, but it does just about everything it can to place quality, attention to detail, and sustainability at the forefront, making use of the north of the UK’s best talent.
It was started with the aim of championing British craft, and as such it only works with the very best workshops in Scotland for its knitwear. “From the outset I wanted to produce in the UK and champion British manufacturers”, says founder Chris Chasseaud. “Scottish knitwear is revered around the world and I wanted to tap into their experience and know-how”. Many of the most well known knitwear brands outsource the production, but for Chasseaud, making in the UK is integral to the brand’s success.
It also allows him to develop close relationships to the workshops he uses, which is important as he handles everything, from design to sourcing and marketing himself. “There’s a certain charm to being small that customers appreciate. They write an email and get a response from the founder and creative director. That interaction is invaluable.”
This is something Efe Laborde knows well. It’s a young brand in the early stages of its development, but its foundations are incredibly strong, given that every single process of its construction is made under one roof, by one man. A full bespoke shoemaker, it makes classic English shoes by hand in a small workshop in Bethnal Green. Founded by William Laborde, each pair is painstakingly constructed to the unique measurements of the client, using time-honoured techniques that ensure they’ll last a lifetime.
It’s a commitment to quality Laborde feels strongly about, and he sees no other option than to make in this slow and deliberate manner. “Making shoes is divided into specialties: measuring the foot and carving the wooden last; creating a paper pattern, cutting and assembling the leather (closing), and assembling the shoe by hand sewing (bottom making).
These broad specialties were divided in the big houses among individual craftsmen. Unlike the bigger firms, I see through the entire process myself. The attention I give to my work and the fact that I oversee each process, means I am limited to about 24 pairs a year, inherently making what I do quite exclusive.”