Byline: Charlotte Runcie
"Nobody buys clothes out of pity," says Katharine Hamnett, the fashion designer, appraising an outfit made by a student with ethical principles in mind. "People buy clothes they want to wear.
"They can't look sustainable ... sustainability is something you've got to sneak underneath."
Hamnett decides that this outfit, designed by 20-year-old Chloe Wright, passes the test. Featuring a buff-coloured coat made from recycled furniture fabric in fully traceable wool with a silk lining, Chloe tells us the outfit's style and cut are designed to "influence and intimidate", while the construction conforms to the strictest of ethical and sustainable principles. The cut of the coat leaves it to fall loosely over an organic cotton blouse and "upcycled" tartan trousers.
Hamnett is giving critical advice to budding designers in the final hours of a five-day workshop at the Hay Festival, during which fashion students have worked to create outfits with a focus on ethical production. A wide-ranging term, "ethical" used here can mean consideration of environmental factors, sustainability, animal welfare, traceability, fair wages and working conditions for manufacturers to name a few.
The Just Fashion Workshop is a joint project between the Hay Festival and the Environmental Justice Foundation, supported by Levi Strauss & Co and London College of Fashion's Centre for Sustainable Fashion.
Ten students were chosen to spend a week working with sustainable fashion experts Martina Spetlova and Jessica Mor, before presenting their work on stage at the last weekend of the Hay Festival.
Chloe is a second-year student at Falmouth University who would love to have her own flock of sheep to produce her own wool. At the workshop site, just outside Hay-on-Wye, she has put in a week's worth of long hours to create her ensemble. One of her main fashion influences is Stella McCartney. "What I like about Stella is that it's sustainable, and she doesn't scream and shout about her ideas of animal welfare ... she just says it should be the norm, and I like that. It's just done."
I ask to touch her coat, which is draped over a mannequin. The furniture fabric feels very unusual: rough, tactile and (Chloe assures me) exceptionally hard-wearing.
Chloe's approach is different from the one taken by her fellow student Filipa Castilho, who is developing a new way to recycle denim. There are already organisations that break down old clothing into reusable fibres, but Filipa points out that this process is time- and energy-consuming. To shorten the recycling process, she has cut old pairs of jeans into strips, woven into the back of a new denim shirt-dress.
"Sustainability in fashion is not only about organic fibres or recycling garments," she says. "There are many different ways to help solve a big problem. This workshop is a good opportunity to bring different approaches to the situation together, and find different perspectives on what can help.
"It's been really lovely. I usually think a lot about equality, politics and human rights, and usually I don't take any action. But the conversations we've had here made me think that even if I'm only one person, and I can't solve the problem, if I take some action I can help in a small part -- and actually do something instead of just being theoretical. If my idea was implemented in mass production, it could help a lot."
The students had their designs modelled on stage at the Hay Festival as part of a discussion about the future of sustainable fashion with Katharine Hamnett and Dilys Williams.
IN PICTURES: Hay Festival 2014
Credit: Clara Molden