From farm to dress | Financial Times
Sign up for myFT Daily Digest and be the first to learn about fashion news.
On a small piece of land in the Visayan region of the Philippines, farmer Totong Edgar is growing abaca. This tall, pointed-leaf plant takes two years to grow, and will be transformed into hemp fiber similar to Rapunzel’s blonde hair during the harvest. Later, it will be hand-woven by local craftsmen into a basket bag of the London brand Uri. Uri is owned by Edgar’s cousin, Filipino-Dutch designer Charlie Jacobs.
Jacobs is part of the grassroots movement, which believes that luxury brands avoid intricate supply chains and instead support their own farm-to-fashion ecosystem. The Indian brand Oshadi was founded by Nishanth Chopra in 2015 and was creatively at the helm of Irish designer Richard Malone. It grows, weaves, cuts and makes all women’s clothing in its own enclosure in Erode, southern India. British designer Patrick Grant is currently planting His practical brand of hemp, Community Clothing.
At the same time, raising sheep may just be the next big trend in fashion. The Italian brand Zegna owns 10,000 Australian ewes and they graze freely on 6,300 acres of land-their fluffy merino wool is made into luxurious sweaters that sell for up to £600; Gabriela Hearst and Joshua Millard use them separately They used sheep herding techniques and rolling pastures on family farms in Uruguay and Dorset, England; and Alexander Stutterheim, a raincoat brand of the same name, bought a flock of sheep on an island in Sweden and created his knitting brand John Sterner. “This is an honest manufacturing method,” Stutterheim said. “I built a farm myself to understand all this.”
Textile and clothing production is usually complex and sometimes ambiguous, and may involve multiple factories in different geographical locations. For example, wool needs to be sheared, washed, carded (combed), spinning, woven and dyed before it can be knitted into a sweater; a cardigan can accumulate a lot of flying miles before it reaches the brand warehouse and is ready for sale. For Jacobs, owning a family farm means “you can minimize waste and maximize the quality of the fiber produced.”
There is more and more market for ecological certificates; Chopra believes that fashion farms can reduce the phenomenon of green drifting. “We don’t have to rely on [external] Certification, these documents usually do not reflect the actual work done on the ground,” he said, referring to specifications such as organic cotton. Traceability helps reduce the carbon footprint.
“forward [you] Start to build something on the other side of the world, you can [you] Built somewhere nearby? Statheim asked. “Most of the time the answer is yes.” “Millard did, of course; he introduced a specific Teesewater breed to his flock because its wool is closer to the body. The meat is used for food, while the sheep skin and leather are used to make oversized coats, and The spun wool is then made into fabrics for custom tailoring. Once the main source of trade in England in the Middle Ages, the value of sheared wool is so low today that farmers often burn them.
The implementation cost of this infrastructure is very high, especially for emerging brands. Millard, Chopra, and Jacobs have all invested heavily in their supply chains. They hope it will eventually pay off: in 2019, when Chopra established his farm, his cotton was 50% more expensive than ordinary cloth. Now it has only increased by 30%. As the farm reaches full production, his operating costs have also been reduced by 30%. Jacobs said that in the long run, it is cheaper to grow your own crops than to pay suppliers.
The farm is already influencing the way Jacobs handles design. It has shifted from abstract creativity to a deeper understanding of process and long-term strategy. Her cousin Edgar has already started planting pandan, rattan and bamboo for Jacobs to use in future series-the latter two will take about seven years to mature before harvest. “I swear I can only design [pieces] Around the fiber that can grow sustainably, no more than 10 kilometers away from our manufacturer,” she said.
Agriculture also enables brands to better control the supply chain. Stutterheim says he has learned to “reduce middlemen.” As the industry gradually moves towards transparency, his efforts will prove beneficial. “Even the most certified [fabric] When it comes to the location of the manufacturer, the supplier is often protected. .. These middlemen make a living by keeping them away from competitors,” Jacobs said. “But in my entire supply chain, there is no one I don’t know the name. ”
This stability is beneficial during a pandemic, which has caused factory closures and the collapse of global supply chains. “The farm has provided incredible support for our business,” said Chopra, who grows all Oshadi’s cotton and natural dyes on site.At the beginning of the pandemic, cotton “supply was very limited. But we have a large stock of fiber from farms, so we can continue to produce [clothes]. ”
In fact, Oshadi has grown up. The farm has expanded from 50 acres to 100 acres and now employs 50 farmers and 70 artisans, increasing from 40 to 40. Many of them are multi-generational family members, and Oshadi is committed to paying a fair living wage.Uri’s Jacobs is also determined to help solve the problem: “Many Filipino women choose to work abroad to find enough money to raise their children. [by sending cash home]. This is the model I want to break. .. By enhancing the image of marginalized manufacturers,” she said.
Whether it’s the environment or society, responsibility is at the core of this type of agenda: Chopra describes agriculture as a “humble” experience. “Seeing so many small organisms and processes playing such an important role, in turn teaches the way to treat everyone with equal importance,” he said.
Stutterheim agrees: He likes to “hug” his sheep and says that he even likes their smell. “Sheep are highly sensitive and self-protective, but they are also strong and social… I have learned a lot from them,” he said. “This is a holistic approach. When you manage your resources, you learn to respect them more.”