Techstyler x Bottletop: Designers reshaping "luxury" driven by sustainability and ethics
Updated: Feb 14, 2021
Rounding off our speaker series for 2018 was our panel discussion on the role of designers in shaping and influencing sustainable brands and changing definitions of ‘luxury’. Much of what is discussed in the realm of sustainable fashion and lifestyle brands is in the context of materials, supply chain and waste management, but what of the impact designers have in making design decisions that influence most aspects of the supply chain and the product life-cycle? Can brands achieve sustainability if their designers are oblivious, or have little visibility, of the impact their decisions make?
BOTLLETOP Regent Street Store. Image: BOTTLETOP
The panel consisted of a cross-section of creatives from multiple backgrounds, spanning finance, textiles and music. The thread linking them was a pioneering point of view and the fact that their design work and research has begun with identifying a problem to solve and harnessing design to do so. Design as a tool for change.
Opening the conversation was Dr Kate Goldsworthy, Co-Director of the Centre for Circular Design at UAL where she oversees research and live industry projects that challenge current linear methods of design – that is where resources (including materials) are used to create objects that have a single lifecycle and are disposed of at end of life without recouping any of the resources/components of the product to re-use or recycle. In order to challenge this linear system, designers work with all other members of the industry on projects that bring together all points of view – from retail to manufacturing to design to waste management, in order to redesign not just products in a circular manner, but the system itself. A striking example of how successful this can be was the case explained by Dr Goldsworthy where a team at Filippa K questioned the lifespan of garments and consumer appetite for longevity of garments. They hypothesised that the average white t-shirt is worn around 22 times before being thrown in landfill, a figure Kate deems generous.
Dr Kate Goldsworthy, Cyclability Diagram
As a result, a concept for a paper t-shirt that looks and feels like a cotton one was devised. The paper version could not be washed, but could be worn up to four times and then disposed of in household waste to decompose safely in landfill. Analysing the total resource use and environmental impact across all areas of creation, delivery and consumption of the product, the disposable paper t-shirt had a fraction of the impact a t-shirt worn 22 times has, debunking the idea that simply wearing clothing more times reduces environmental impact. The bigger picture here is that every action we take has an impact, including washing our clothes. Therefore a future wardrobe containing some clothing that is disposable by design may, in fact, be more sustainable.
Kresse Wesling MBE isn’t a designer. She is the co-founder of lifestyle brand Elvis & Kresse and entered into their venture by way of a waste management consultancy career. Reappropriating what is deemed ‘junk’ by many, Kresse and her partner Elvis set about turning waste into desirable goods by flexing their design approach and conducting ambitious research and development. They conducted this R&D on whatever materials they could develop partnerships to rescue, diverting them from ending up in landfill. The design process, driven by Elvis, is reliant on the material inputs and strives to maintain the longest life possible of the goods by adopting modular design techniques that allow customisation and re-use of the component materials. The most recent example of this is their partnership with the Burberry Foundation, from whom they take all of Burberry’s leather waste (which will amount to 120 tonnes over a five year period) and hand-weave it into new products, including wallets and cosmetic cases. Kresse explained that the core of their brand is the agreement to work with all stakeholders in the design, production and waste processes to ensure the work they do is beneficial to all involved, as well as the planet.
Elvis & Kresse, rescued fire hose. Image: Elvis & Kresse
Elvis & Kresse, rescued leather Image: Retail Gazette
Elvis & Kresse rescued firehose and leather products. Images: Elvis & Kresse
This way of working started in 2005 when the discovery of the disposal of fire hose into landfill triggered their desire to make use of this beautiful material, but also to secure the waste input stream to ensure production requirements could be met. This bore an agreement for Elvis and Kresse to agree to take all the decommissioned fire hose “waste” generated by the London Fire Brigade and turn it into lifestyle products, donating 50% of profits to the Fire Fighter’s charity in the process.
Completing the panel was Oliver Wayman, Co-Director of BOTTLETOP, who unwittingly launched a sustainable brand during the promotional campaign of a record he was working on in Brazil. The catalyst from a career in the music industry to fashion accessories and social enterprise was his mum. Visiting Oliver in Brazil, she bought a locally made bag made from disposed ring pulls, connected using a crochet technique. To promote the record in his campaign, he had bags made using this hand craft technique, which, it turned out, generated more interest and sales than the record itself.
The original BOTTLETOP bag in collaboration with Mulberry. Image: Bukowskis
At that point, the power to harness a design technique that utilises local materials and generates income for local communities from waste was what drove Oliver to turn this process into a range of products fit for the global luxury accessories market in 2012. BOTTLETOP now boasts a flagship store on Regent Street, London, a recent pop-up in Dallas, Texas, and has future sights on Asia.
The BOTTLETOP brand funds the Bottletop Foundation, which was founded by Co-Director Cameron Saul and his father Roger (Founder of British luxury fashion brand Mulberry) in 2002. The foundation empowers young people with health education and technical skills training to enable them to make healthy choices and build their future. It also supports musicians from around the globe to create collaborative work and showcase it through the ‘Sound Effects’ album series, poetically closing the creative loop on where it all began.
Bottletop Foundation. Image: BOTTLETOP
In discussing the business models and design approaches of Elvis & Kresse and BOTTLETOP, alongside the design research driven by the Centre for Circular Design, new definitions of luxury emerged that encompass transparency and ethics. The recent revelation that Burberry burnt millions of dollars worth of leather goods as a way of disposing of unsold stock caused a very public scandal, arguably threatening the image of luxury the brand aims to exude. This incineration is by no means limited to Burberry – it is common practice across the fashion industry at the value end right through to luxury. In line with changing views of luxury from a new generation of consumers who value experiences at least as much as acquiring ‘stuff’, brands that create a community and engage in dialogue with consumers, including those on the panel, are increasingly valued and held in higher prestige than ‘faceless’, out of reach “luxury” brands, that in comparison, can feel out of step and dated.
Stay tuned for details of the next panel discussion during London Fashion Week in February, 2019.
Happy New Year!
More on Fillipa K’s sustainability efforts can be found here