Phoebe Constable

No Man Is An Island

— no man is an island.

‘The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation.’ - Albert Einstein

Global warming has become something that we cannot ignore, and failing to adhere to a sustainable lifestyle will now cost us more than ever before. Fashion has long had the power to influence cultures the world over, so its lucky that fashion is now using its potential to spread the important message and pave the way to a more ecological future. We don’t have a choice like previous generations might have thought, leaving us to be the ones who could see this world spiral uncontrollably into a state of no reverse if we ignore the warning signs.

For some, ‘sustainable fashion’ means limitations, but for me it will only ever mean exciting and necessary possibilities. As one of the most prevalent environmental issues we currently face, my graduate collection is a reaction to the shocking reality of our now synthetic seas. After much research into plastics, I read about the notion of bio-plastics and I imagined and investigated their potential to become a wearable, sustainably sourced and biodegradable alternative to harmful man-made fibres.

I think a holistic approach to sustainability is vital and so I have incorporated many sustainable approaches to design, not just one. These range from recycling synthetic plastics, upcycling fastenings, using natural yarns and fibres, shopping designer offcuts, using knit with its zero waste patterns, and creating my own vegan, biodegradable plastic fabric to creating garments which transcend seasons and can be constantly mixed and matched to reinvent and refresh the look. As well as proposing ways in which to upcycling traditional, man-made plastics such as bubble wrap, certain outfits are fully biodegradable by using the bio-plastic alone, along with other natural fibres and yarns that are also ecologically treated and dyed. 

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As well as being sustainable in practice, I also try to be sustainable in theory, especially by thinking about how I can both better promote sustainable fashion and challenge convention. Whilst it is in fact far from the truth, sadly a lot of sustainable fashion is associated with a plain hemp t-shirt. The aim of my collection is to therefore show how colourful, tactile, bold, bright, exciting, alive and relevant sustainability is; to showcase its potential and make sustainability fun. Following a cradle to cradle approach, I have considered the end impact of my collection; how it can live on to be a nutrient of the earth at its end phase. I find it interesting that fashion has long been a culprit of climate change, yet my garments show how even fast fashion could become more positive; with biodegradable outfits that you really can just compost or recycle with a clear conscience after a few uses. 

I encountered many practical and mental challenges manufacturing and working with my own fabric. For example, the bio-plastic couldn’t be sewn (unless fabric was trapped inside it as the solution dried to strengthen it), it can easily go mouldy during the drying stage if the conditions aren’t just right and even if it doesn’t mould, the panels shrink and can deform uncontrollably whilst drying, making it difficult to predict the size of my garment patterns. My emphasis as a fashion student has always been on textures and how they can enhance my designs. The learning curve presented by the bio-plastic caused my design ideas to evolve radically throughout the process, in order to achieve desired shapes that work in-line with my textiles. The testing and sampling of the bio-plastic has been a long and on-going journey, which has tested my resilience as a designer and my problem-solving abilities. However, it is the challenge to make the fabric viable and fit for a fashion purpose that inspires me and in turn it has taught me just how passionate I am about sustainable alternatives;  that there’s always another way.

I know that there are some amazing new fabrics on the market today from my work with The Sustainable Angle who promote them, but as a student on a budget I was limited in what I could afford and source in the UK. I decided not to let the sustainable aspect of my design totally compromise the aesthetic I wanted to achieve in my final collection because it had to carry some essence of the bold colours and experimental textures which epitomise me. I did therefore use some synthetic materials where necessary (some recycled and all of which were designer offcuts which would otherwise have been discarded). This was only after much research I have conducted into the topic over the years, which revealed, for example, that in some cases synthetic fibres are actually more sustainable than natural ones. There were also certain fibres such as organic cotton and bamboo that I chose to boycott as they are often far less sustainable than marketing suggests. I especially struggled to find naturally dyed fibres whose colour was as bright as I had envisioned. However, I eventually came across companies such as Wool and the Gang from whom I sourced my yarns, which were both highly sustainable and yet amazingly vibrant. 

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Nature often inspires my work and as part of my degree I studied fine art on the far away French island of Reunion. Looking back, it is the warmth of the people, the vibrancy of the colours in the sunsets, the tropical plants and ocean life, as well as the textures of the volcanic rock and the shapes of the mountain skylines that all come together to inspire my graduate collection. The easy-going islanders, even the men, were happy to express themselves without a care, dressing in bright colourful clothes and the clashing patterns of traditional Reunion dress. This mentality inspires the boldness in colour and texture of my menswear designs. Sadly, it is undeserving islands like this incredible paradise that will be the first to be hit by climate change, which inspired the title of my collection – No Man is an Island – and has further embedded my determination to be both a sustainable as a designer and human being.  

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