Like many people during lock down, I’ve had the chance to reassess my consumption and actual use of clothing, along with the where’s and who’s of manufacturing. It wasn’t nice to realise just how much waste the clothing industry generates!
I was particularly interested to go to this Indytute x Raeburn Labs Experience - Raeburn launched with garments made from a recycled parachute and has gone from strength to strength.
My visit to Raeburn Labs took me to Hackney Wick, firmly in the hip area known for fashion and manufacture, not realising that those were actually the roots of the area that are now remerging and being reinterpreted. Raeburn Labs is in the old Burberry factory on the ground floor. Burberry itself is long gone, the floors above are now very expensive luxury apartments, but the brand still has their outlet store a few doors down.
Despite the building being over 100 years old, the lab space feels aggressively modern. Raeburn Labs moved in around 6 years ago and it definitely did not look this good when they moved in. Jolyon (the Retail Manager and great company as my experience guide) explains that the floor was pretty derelict when they moved in. As we move around the space it’s clear that they’ve really made the most of it, with clever modular storage spaces and even rails on rope pulleys for maximum space flexibility.
Jolyon tells me they do lots of tours for people coming from diverse backgrounds, with tech companies, architects, school groups and budding designers all getting a mention as we walk around the lab space.
The floor is part shop and part atelier, which is very exciting for me to see. There are people working at sewing machines while I’m browsing the rails, and it makes for an eclectic space that combines products and function. I learned that with the atelier they can design something in store on Monday and have it on the shelf by Saturday. This means the Lab can make as they need, which leads to far less wastage. That’s a big thumbs up from me!
Raeburn has been changing the world through responsible design since 2009. Woven through their entire ethos is the understanding of the importance of transparency. Using waste as a resource - and redefining the perception of waste - they focus on reusing and redesigning. They’ve broken down zero-gravity trousers and jet plane brake parachutes and used them in some crazy, cool ways and the way Jolyon explains it to me I’m just so surprised this wasn’t done sooner.
Reusing and remaking is gaining ground in fashion and textiles, but there is more to it than making fabrics out of recycled bottles - and this is where Reuben really has an interesting angle.
Did you know that military parachutes have a lifespan of about 16.5 years? That’s about 12 years of use, 4.5 years sitting on a shelf. But they’re made of nylon, and have been made since the 1950s, and they’re not decomposable… Now what?
Christopher Raeburn is fascinated with military and utilitarian clothing (specifically an ex military sleeping bag of his dads) and as a young designer he was frustrated with the lack of availability of a specific type of wool you could find in ex-army bombers (but not by the roll). His first collection for London Fashion Week in 2009 featured 8 garments made out of one parachute… What a great story. The brand now buys parachutes by the tonne - which tells you just how much they’re growing.
Seeing the original garments in the Raeburn archive in the lab is part of the experience. Jolyon pulled a few ropes, opened some mirrors, and then voila - the history of Raeburn! The parachute invites sent out for one London Fashion Week, a tiny Raeburn jacket made for a GQ shoot with dolls (“Don’t take fashion so seriously” deadpans Jolyon).
A highlight for me was the very first jacket, remade from a vintage wool army jacket, a white jacket made of German military snow jackets (which I had to try on to fulfil secret dreams of being a fashion yeti) and a mind blowing jacket made from inflatable emergency life boats. Seriously, keep an eye out for that one.
To end the day we designed our own t-shirt, I am provided with a lush, organic cotton tee, made at a zero carbon factory in Portugal. Unfortunately I then have a near mini melt down as I am rendered paralysed from choice as to how to adorn it. There are patches of animals, numbers, and symbols so numerous that I almost can’t focus. (The patches are all recycled plastic, naturally.)
I try to eyeball what the two staff members are wearing (they’re busily packing boxes). Noticing a squid-shaped patch available in pink and black, I reach for those and set about getting busy. Jolyon murmurs approval, and I feel like suddenly I should chuck it all in for a life of garment design.
Jolyon flips the garment and presses the back, saying the squid is his favourite (of course).
I had my tour in the morning, but those lucky enough to be touring the Lab in the afternoon will also get to toast their creations with a delicious beer from friends of Raeburn, Deviant & Dandy.