(Sustainably) Re-interpreting the classic trench

In conversation with founder Amy-Eliza Wilkinson of Ashby London on sustainability of the brand (Cont.)

KATHRYN CARTER: Speaking to the trench, in 1912 the Tielocken Coat was patented by Thomas Burberry, a garment that would launch the label now fondly known as Burberry. Much like the famous luxury label’s founder, you chose to launch your label with one mindfully designed garment, your ​Ashby London ​sleeveless trench. Do you feel this “starting small” mentality allowed you to produce and deliver a product that really is like nothing else we see in the menswear market today?

AMY-ELIZA: Definitely! If anything, 2020 has shown us the flaws of the fashion industry and the ridiculous demand for collections that I truly believe are not needed. The timelines for releasing and buying collections has never made sense to me and the creation of different collections every two months is just manic. The pace results in many fashion designers struggling cost wise, or simply burning out, while also impacting the environment through producing waste materials and calling for unnecessary manufacturing.

If you look back on some of the most iconic fashion houses you’ll find many started with one product or idea in mind. For example, Valentino with their signature Red, that luxury label built their heritage on produce alone. For me there are so many benefits to starting small, or by releasing small capsule collections. Not only does it cost less, I also use less materials working this way, and can take proper time to control quality and detail so that I’m creating the perfect product for my customers.

Working this way is definitely kinder to the environment and more beneficial for the customer, for sure. Can you tell me a little more about the philosophy underpinning your label?

Today, customers are more conscious of where their clothing is made, who made it and the environmental factors that are involved. With the help of Instagram, sustainability has also become a movement unto itself, especially for younger generations. As someone who is currently studying sustainable textile materials and sustainable supply chain management I’m attempting to embed all that I learn into Ashby London as I go. It’s a hard and complex job, but it’s worth it.

Definitely. As someone tackling the issues of sustainability the industry faces at both a theoretical and hands-on level, do you see meaningful changes being made?

I don’t think I’ll see a 100% sustainable fashion industry in my lifetime, however it’s the little impacts that make a difference. Such as: using leftover materials from samples, giving recognition to the role of garment workers, or creating limited designs with a limited colour range—as the dyeing process is one of the most toxic. Steps such as these, and others being embedded into the supply chains of contemporary brands, will help to create more sustainable products that are more desirable to discerning customers. My approach is to constantly research, learn and improve the Ashby brand by keeping aligned with the best sustainable practices of our times.

You’re clearly committed to the sustainability cause. Before finalising the design of your trench, for instance, you spent a lot of time researching fabrics and raw materials, deciding on a 100% recycled cotton for the body of your sleeveless trench. Given the environmental issues we’re facing today, do you feel a part of your responsibility as a maker of material goods is to design through an environmentally conscious lens at all times?

I believe that all fashion designers should now be designing with sustainability, environmental and ethical practices in mind. This year has given me the time to focus on researching sustainable materials and ways to improve transparency on the Ashby supply chain. I’ve always wanted to add value to the fashion industry, and I believe I can do that by creating a sustainable and trustworthy brand that delivers pieces that are made to last.

Such an important thing to focus on, given how many garments we see go into landfill each year. Heartbreaking to think of all of that waste.

Exactly. Waste management is a huge area that I’ve invested in since launching Ashby, and I will continue to do so in any way I can, for example by using recycled packaging and fabrics. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the fashion industry, especially since we’ve seen a growing appreciation for quality and craftsmanship over the years, as well as the workers behind the scenes doing the crafting itself.

Absolutely. Worth mentioning that your hometown of England has a strong heritage of textile and clothing production, home to a thriving rag trade in the 19th and 20th century. Despite the rise of mass manufacturing leading to closures of many London-based factories, you were determined to have your pieces made ethically in the UK, choosing to have your trench cut and stitched in East London—once a famous stomping ground for subcultures such as Teddy Boys, Mods and Punks. How have your manufacturing partners in the UK helped you to deliver a quality product that will stand the test of time?

It’s hard to build relationships starting out as a new designer, but I was lucky enough to find the right London-based manufacturer and have since built a trusting, transparent and reliable relationship with them. Many London-based manufacturers were built off the back of their traditional techniques, and one such technique featured in the Ashby trench is hand stitching.

The London fashion scene has always been so different. Author Michael Bond once said: ‘In London everyone is different and that means everyone can fit in.’ You can wear anything in London and be whoever you want to be. The city’s scene has thrived on openness, inclusivity and community since long before any of those terms became buzz phrases. This was predominately started through the Swinging 60s in London, an era that became a real game changer in the history of fashion. So having the ​Made in London​ stamp is a real privilege to me, and I always knew that the Ashby trench would be best created in East London, given the richness of its iconic fashion history.

It really would be a privilege to see those words, ​Made in London, w​ ithin the lining of items you’ve designed. When you’re wearing a piece that has been made with care in a place like East London, can you feel it in the way the garment moves, and how it feels?

Definitely! Because I manufacture small batches, every trench is made with precision and care. You can really feel the craftsmanship, as weird as that sounds. From the rough edges of the stitching to the silky feel of the inner lining.

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KATHRYN CARTER for Ashby London 2020

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