A U-turn in the consciousness of a fashion designer.
I would like to raise my hand up and openly admit that I, an obsessively sustainable fashion designer today, was until about 6 years ago, quite the….opposite. I was in fact a fast-fashion consumer. And I was really good at it. £3 leggings from Primark, silly nonsense toys and home ‘décor’ from Tiger, fleeting fashions from H&M, Zara and GAP…I shopped them all.
I didn’t even shop out of necessity. I just did it cause it was fun so I found excuses to buy it. I was frankly just addicted to that “new-thing’ rush. There’s even a word for it in Hebrew (tid-hadjshi) which, granted sounds like a sneeze to most, but what it basically means is: “rejoice in your renewal.” So, there’s actually verb for this ‘rush’.
And when I had kids (now three in total) I completely threw caution to the wind. The sheer amount of adorable ‘stuff’ available to buy for them was just – mind-blowing. One of mine is a girl as well, so the little ladies shoe & dress department was enough to send me into cuteness melt-downs . I practically forced my credit card onto any outlet that would take it. She didn’t even have the time to wear some of her new outfits before she’d already grown out of them. Naturally I also succumbed to ‘precious parent’s only new will do’ attitude too…..yeah, not proud.
To make things worse, we got a very cute dog...which naturally meant un-necessary shopping was extended to him. Especially when he was a puppy...dont even get me started on doggy cardigans.
I’m actually cringing as I write this. I feel gut wrenching shame, nauseous over consumer guilt and frankly feel like I was a bigger planet-parasite than most. It was new, new, new, more, more more and the pursuit of pretty, shiny & plastic.
So, when, where, how and why did my transformational lightning-bolt moment come?...To be honest, it didn’t ‘just come’. It was a gradually growing awareness thanks to the many people who came before me. Those who were constantly and relentlessly waving the flag for the causes that deserve them.
I knew, we all knew what we were doing. We’ve seen images of oceans riddled with plastic detritus, various animal species caught up and killed by our waste. Animals going extinct as we depleted their natural habitats. People so poorly paid for their work they couldn’t feed their families, all while suffering the health costs caused by the toxic chemicals the fashion industry exposed them to…But we all had that foolish and frankly lazy attitude of “yeah, but what difference will just one person make.” So we carried on… Except, we now know what one person CAN do.
Looking at my own personal favourite- Greta Thunberg. Its not that she single-handedly made more people aware, but some would argue she definitely was the tipping point for a lot of us who were collectively consuming while also contemplating how to potentially do things, better. It took a brazenly brave 16 year old with the gift of not giving a damn what people think of her, to step up and stand up for what she knows is right.
She laser-beamed her way into the burning question that most of us parents have in the backs of our minds on the subject of climate change: When our kids turn to us in the future, their planet depleted irreparably by us, they will have one simple question for us: “Mum, Dad, if you knew, what did you do?”
I couldn’t imagine looking into my kids’ eyes knowing I helped contribute to the toxic mess we now expect them to live in and didn’t try to stop and fix it, somehow.
So, whilst mulling these issues over and knowing I wanted to someday return to work in my favourite industry (fashion design) I revisited some of my industry’s roots. How people used to make clothing, how often, with what skills, what natural materials and to what purpose. I looked into what innovations in textile development with natural fibres there were today. Those that would afford less use of synthetics, or at the very least recycle those already made. I looked at alternatives to some favourites like leathers and fur, that weren’t made with synthetics either.
I also looked at reusing existing left-over stock of animal products that would be thrown to waste. Adding insult to injury for the animals sacrificed for them. I looked at women’s overall top ten dress silhouettes and what we feel naturally most comfortable in, which would make us to feel alluring and sexy as well. What would be truly timeless and what wouldn’t stand the test of time.
Most importantly from an aesthetic point of view- what was current and relevant now rather than tied to old traditions that have to an extent run their course in our fast-moving social landscapes.
In the spirit of creating new beginnings for our planet and our industry, I wanted to focus on the one area of fashion that both celebrated new beginnings whilst being quite possibly, the most wasteful of the lot- bridalwear. This happened to be the easiest place to start in terms of delivering designs, because brides work on the assumption that their pieces will take something fast fashion doesn’t allow for – time.
There’s something so symbolic about that milestone whether you believe in the institution or not, it is beautiful. I’ve just come back from my younger brother’s wedding in fact, which reminded me what an elating pure celebration of the essence of love this ceremony can be, especially when done their way. Truly un-compromised by imposed traditions, demands or expectations of anyone else. Everything in a wedding should celebrate the spirit of the couple- their way. You’ve found your favourite person in the whole world and decided to embark on life’s amazing journey with them by your side. Building whatever you’re going to build-together. Celebrating all that’s truly important to you.
So, having previously designed many a traditional, extravagant wedding dress, I now knew why handing them over to the new brides was kind of a bitter-sweet experience. They were only going to wear it once. All that fabric, all that work, all that money…for once?
Now, I’m no economist by a long shot, but when someone says: ”Its ok to spend more on a dress cause its’ a “one-time-thing”….just how does that make financial sense?! No one would be heard saying that buying a car, right?
So, I needed to re-think how bridalwear could be re-designed to celebrate :
1) The modern bride’s new aesthetic, which increasingly wasn’t a princess anymore.
2) The environmental impact of the material she chooses and practicality of her dress’s design for future wear. (without looking like she’s re-wearing her wedding dress)
3) How we were going to go about making these pieces in as waste-free a way as possible and ensure everyone gets ample representation and fair wages.
4) We had to find a way to celebrate by giving back. No more being a “user-consumer” So for every bride that walks down the aisle in one of our pieces, we donate 10% of our proceeds to the charity of her choice, from a list of four we partner with.
Today, my previously self-serving, glamour-focussed, environmentally unconscious womenswear label has been reborn as the antithesis of its former self. LEE KLABIN, redesigned, reconsidered and re-awaken. To serve not only our beautiful brides & their journeys, but our beautiful planet too.
“Happily ever after…redefined”
By Lee Klabin-Grant
Lee is the Founder & Creative Director of LEE KLABIN. A sustainable, modern and socially conscious fashion label based in London, UK. Visit the brand’s website and subscribe for news, discounts, stockists and more information on events/talks with the designer. www.LeeKlabin.co.uk