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Circular Podcast with Christopher Raeburn

In the ninth episode of Series 01, Katie Treggiden talks to Christopher Ræburn, founder and creative director of ethical fashion label RÆBURN, about how his discovery of unworn 1950s jackets – still in their original packaging – as a student led to a career exploring reuse, surplus and repair, and Christopher reveals that making nothing at all for his latest collection, RÆFOUND, is an intentional provocation for the industry.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m Katie Treggiden and this is Circular, a podcast exploring the intersection of craft, design, and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the thinkers, doers and makers of the circular economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear take make waste model of production and consumption, and working towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about waste.

Christopher Raeburn 

I started really kind of playing around with this idea of reworking and reusing original items. And it fascinated me that when I was 20 years old, at the time, I was to Portobello Road market in London and I was able to find and buy original 1950s jackets, you know, beautiful, incredibly hard wearing really good quality, original items – 60 years old, still wrapped in hessian, and wax proof paper – and they’d never been worn. And yet, if you wanted to find the original material on a roll, either you never could or it was incredibly expensive. And yet there were all of these things out there. And so, step one the skint student, and then you can look at it and go over to the pragmatic entrepreneur thought, ‘Oh, hang on, there’s clearly an opportunity here.’ And what fascinated me is that when you open those jackets, they had all the labels and that history, and everything was already there. So for me, it was kind of putting already together the, the personal passion that I had for the material and this kind of archaeology, if you will, of going out and finding these original items. Then with this idea of kind of reworking and bringing that old item into a really contemporary new space.

Katie Treggiden 

Christopher Raeburn established his eponymous brand in 2008 with the notion that fashion design for a global audience could be both responsible and intelligent. Through what he has dubbed the Raemade ethos, he has pioneered the reworking of surplus fabrics and garments to create distinctive and functional pieces that are currently enjoying somewhat of a must have status amongst my friends and colleagues in the design industry. His latest collection Raefound comprises clothes that are sourced rather than designed and made or remade, and true to the circular design tenet of keeping materials in use, all of his pieces can be returned to the Raeburn lab in East London for mending and repair, extending their lives for as long as possible. Personally, I’m saving up for a Raeburn t-shirt made from a 1950s silk map.

Katie Treggiden 

Why don’t we start at the beginning? Tell me a little bit about your childhood and the role that creativity and also the idea of waste or reuse played?

Christopher Raeburn 

Yeah, sure, so I grew up in Kent, so southeast of England, and I actually grew up very close to 100 Acre Wood where Winnie the Pooh lives.

Katie Treggiden 

Amazing.

Christopher Raeburn 

Yeah, it was, it was a really interesting upbringing to have two older brothers and because we were, we were kind of out in the sticks, we say – it was four miles to the nearest shop – and if you weren’t creative, and you didn’t make your own fun, I think you’re in quite a lot of trouble, basically. And what was quite nice, my father worked actually for Bromley Council, he was an emergency safety officer, very pragmatic man. But he worked quite long hours during the week and as kids, we were kind of brought up with this attitude that if we were able to draw something, both my brothers and I were technical measurements and, you know, put real thought into it than my dad would try to help us make that item at the weekend. Which is an amazing way to bring up your kids because it meant we were very kind of precise, and in our own way sort of creatively competitive as well to kind of come up with these crazy ideas. And then my poor father, who of course, was lumbered with, trying to make everything from the most experimental treehouses, through to robots, to you name it. And I look back and just realise how fortunate we were really. But it definitely gave us a very kind of pragmatic approach to design in general, because it was really about making things with what we had around us. And almost this, this idea I suppose that we were brought up a lot with – all credit my mum as well – very much and make do and mend attitude that then I think, led into into everything that we were doing as kids and then of course my adult life as well.

Katie Treggiden 

It’s funny. I’d read about that. And when you said your father would ask you to draw things during the week, I’d imagine like these little kids drawings, not technical drawings to scale.

Christopher Raeburn 

I mean, it sounds a bit obscure, but I learnt to weld. So I was welding metal, when I was about 11 or 12. My dad used to renovate as his hobby 1920s cars. So we were always around all sorts of different parts of, you know, exhaust manifolds or parts of an engine on the kitchen table when you came home from school, or it was just a very, I would say, sort of different upbringing to most when I realised and got out into the real world. That that wasn’t normal. I’m so grateful for it now because, yeah, it definitely made us very, very creative. And then to see things in a different way. And definitely, this idea that you could repair something more or less anything my dad could repair and make again, and so, yeah, very grateful.

Katie Treggiden 

I’ve got a classic car and certainly the idea of reuse is inherent in classic car ownership right?

Christopher Raeburn 

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think it’s that appreciation that old is good. And the emotional attachment and all of those things. You know, it’s a very, it’s a really interesting conversation because when I think about modern life, today’s so much of, of what we’ve almost become divorced from, is this idea that old things still sometimes have their value. Not for me personally, but you know, there’s that general sort of thought that everything needs to be about the new and it has to be modern, and it has to be. But yeah, for me, it’s very much about the old.

Katie Treggiden 

It’s a relatively recent phenomenon, the veneration of newness. It’s a very much 20th century development. And it’s one of the things I write about in the book, actually. So you graduated from London’s Royal College of Art in 2006. And then freelance…..

Christopher Raeburn 

….time has flown. Yeah.

Katie Treggiden 

….You’re younger than me…And then you freelance as a pattern cutter. So I’m interested to know, again, to what extent reuse or sustainability was part of your education at the RCA, first of all, and then kind of, what sort of role, kind of material efficiency plays in pattern cutting?

Christopher Raeburn 

Yeah, absolutely. Well, I, the first thing….I’ll take a step back even from the Royal College. I studied, I did my degree at Middlesex University in North London before going to the Royal College. And it was actually when I was at Middlesex, the first year, at Middlesex, I started really kind of playing around with this idea of reworking and reusing original items. And it fascinated me that when I was 20 years old, at the time, I was going to Portobello Road Market in London and I was able to find and buy original 1950s jackets, you know, beautiful, incredibly hardwearing  really good quality, original items, 60 years old, still wrapped in hessian, and wax proof paper. Never been worn. And yet, if you wanted to find the original material on a roll, either you never could, or it was incredibly expensive. And yet there were all of these things out there. And so, well step one the skint student, and then you can look at it and go over the pragmatic entrepreneur thought, ‘well, hang on, there’s clearly an opportunity here.’ And what fascinated me is that when you open those jackets, they had all the labels and that history, and everything was already there. So for me, it was kind of putting already together the personal passion that I had for the material and this kind of archaeology, if you will, of going out and finding these original items, then with this idea of kind of reworking and bringing that old item into really contemporary new space. And I started playing with that when I was on my degree. And the funny thing is, and I can joke about this now, but my grades weren’t good, my tutors didn’t really get it. Middlesex was a great university and a great course overall, but the remade aspect of my work didn’t shine at all when I was on my degree. But it is what I presented for my entry work for the Royal College.

Katie Treggiden 

Which was brave.

Christopher Raeburn 

Well, yeah, I don’t know if it was brave or stubborn or what, you know. But I’m so pleased and so grateful that Wendy Dagworthy, who was the course director at the time, and in fact, the school director, saw I suppose the difference and the opportunity within this idea of remaking. And it was Wendy that then told me that this is really something I should be driving for, and that I wasn’t mad, or I wasn’t, you know, that there was a validity if you will to what I was doing. And when you’re that age, it’s really important actually to have that sort of endorsement from the people that you respect and the trust and everything else. So it was through the Royal College that I then really honed this idea of going out, as I mentioned, the archaeology side, finding these pieces completely reworking them. And it was actually when I was at the Royal College as well that I started to then call it not just ‘made in England’ but ‘remade in England.’ So my final project when I was at Royal College was entirely remade from wool jackets, from beautiful leather, from parachutes from all of those pieces that then have really become iconic to the brand today. So then when I left, the only thing I knew when I left the Royal College was that I didn’t want to work full time for anybody else. And if you don’t want to work full time for anybody else, then you kind of have to get a job, and kind of do your own thing as well, right, alongside? So for me, it was about freelancing, as you mentioned, and doing pattern cutting work, where I was working three days a week down in Hendon. So again, in North London. And at the same time, I set up my studio at the time, which was above a J-cloth factory in Luton, where I was offered a space for free. And I kind of joke with people. Today, if you want to start a business and you want inspiration, don’t go to Luton. But you can flip it around, because actually, it kind of gave me everything. It gave me my start and by being in this kind of isolated warehouse, as it was, above a j-cloth factory, you pretty quickly get focused that if you’re not going to make this work, you’re going to be in trouble for the rest of your life. And so one thing led to another pretty pretty quickly actually, to realising that there was I suppose this need to professionalise and to a certain degree, almost commercialise the work that I’d been doing at the Royal College. And it meant that quite quickly, I started to then get out and go to, to visit shops, and with hindsight, very naively, you know, I’d just take samples to independent stores and things and see if they wanted to sell things. And the good news is that, that some of them did. And then I think so much of what I did early on was very much about making your own luck. A really good example of that, and it’s a credit to Liberty, the department store here in London, they used to do an amazing thing, which was just an open designers day. And you could queue around the block, which is what I did with my little parachute pieces. And I got to see Stephen Ayres who was the buyer at the time, and it worked, you know, they bought the products. An amazing initiative on their part. But then it’s so much it’s about still standing in line and making your own luck. And yeah, going from there.Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, there’s a great quote, which I can’t remember who said it, but it goes, ‘Yeah, I am lucky. But you know what I found, the harder I work, the luckier I get.’ I think that’s very true. So you’ve talked about the idea of reuse being a cost effective solution as a student, and also kind of the excitement of discovering these unopened sort of 1950s jackets, labels intact and all that sort of thing. At what point did the idea of sustainability come into it? Was that something that was there from the beginning or is that a more recent sort of benefit of what you’re already interested in?

Christopher Raeburn 

For me, I’ve always been really open that I didn’t start and grow my company on sustainable merits, it was completely embedded with the way that I worked. And for me, it’s just common sense. Why would you not want to make responsible decisions and choose responsible materials? And I’ve also been very open that it’s kind of a happy accident, really, because when you put together the various ingredients there, original materials that already exists, local manufacturing, high quality, free repairs, all of those things, you have an inherently responsible company. And so I suppose for me, again, it’s just this thing of looking at things very pragmatically. And then when I take a step back into my childhood, again, it’s just the same thing that I was brought up with. Wouldn’t you want to use what’s already there or reuse or keep that thing in circulation? But then I suppose as things have grown, the first five years of the company, all I did was remade outerwear, and a few accessories, but it was all about the outerwear. It was about positioning the company long term, so that it would be known for something and it was outerwear that I was most passionate about. If we had continued on that trajectory, we’d have continued to be very, very niche. So it’s around five years into the business that I introduced two further parts of the collection. One that we call Raeduce, which is all about the focus on waste reduction, local manufacturing – predominantly our jersey and knitwear products – and then we also do Raecycled, so raemade, raeduced and raecycled help to support each other. The Raemade pieces now is still made at the raeburn lab. We do all of the limited edition made on site. But as I said, if we only did that it would be very, very niche. For the raecycle product we now manufacture, in fact, in Asia, but it’s about, again, really high quality items being made in the right place to make them. And it’s about transparency. And it’s about that kind of ecosystem supporting each other. I think there’s different facets of the business.

Katie Treggiden 

So you founded Raeburn in 2008, and found success fairly quickly, so I’m just going to run through a list of things that happened in the first two or three years. You shown collections at London Design Week and in Paris, received an award from the International Ethical Fashion Forum, won at the British Fashion Council’s Emerging Designer, British Fashion Award for menswear, you were named rising star at the UK Fashion and Textiles Awards two years running, and American Vogue added your name to the three R’s, advising their readers to reduce, reuse, recycle and Raeburn. I mean, not bad. I think that’s all within five years of graduating. What was it do you think about what you were doing that captured people’s imagination, especially I guess, after that initial, perhaps, misunderstanding at Middlesex?

Christopher Raeburn 

First thing to say actually about that little list of accolades, if you will, is thanks for reading that but then I think it’s more of an acknowledgement to the industry. Actually, I think that’s what’s really interesting here is that the industry was looking for something or somebody doing things differently. You know, I think we, as an industry, we’re very acknowledging, actually, we know the impacts that we’re causing. And I think even thinking back now that that was seven, eight years ago now, that was actually pretty pioneering that those awards and things were been given to a very radically thinking designer who was trying to do things differently. So I almost kind of flip it around and think that it was almost a reward or an acknowledgement for the fact that although what I was doing wasn’t in any way perfect, and it’s potentially, but certainly not perfect now, it was it was part of a potential better solution for the future for the industry. And I think that’s what gave me confidence. It’s funny, even thinking back on things like the British Fashion Award, it came at a really difficult moment for the business. You know, of course, when you’re first starting out the first few years, are always difficult. They’re still difficult today. But those sorts of statements again, and that support from the industry, gave me such confidence at the time that actually what I was doing was valid, it was interesting and importantly, we should dig in even further, and continue it. And then yeah, I found that a lot over the years that it’s always I mean, it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s the darkest moments, right, that then you dig deeper still, you have that little thing that then really kicks you on. And that’s what those things proved to be, you know, it definitely wasn’t an easy time. But as I say the key take out there for me was actually I think the industry were looking for different ways of doing things, and also acknowledging the fact that we needed to make positive changes.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, so almost the industry was ready and waiting for what you were delivering.

Christopher Raeburn 

I think elements of the industry were definitely ready. I think one of the issues that we’ve had, the very nature of being a pathfinder or a pioneer, is often you’re in a position where not everyone, of course, is going to understand that. It’s very difficult when you’re even developing a whole new narrative or the vocabulary that goes around that. It can actually sometimes be difficult. And certainly early on for the business, I know that stores found it really difficult even to know where they’d position the company or the the products that we were making because were we sportswear? Were we international designer? Were we, you know all of these different elements, contemporary casual, but actually we weren’t any of them because we were doing something so radically different. And so then there’s a sort of issue that comes with that. But just around that point, even around the vocabulary, when I, again, kind of scan back if I can to the beginning, and then to where we are today – the narrative has changed so much in that 10 years. And the first thing I’d say is that the work that I was doing was by no means the first; there were so many people that had gone before me that were already doing incredible things around responsible design, sourcing etc. And even then before sort of going back to the sort of 40s and 50s, this idea of make do and mend and all of this –  none of this is new, you know, it’s all about how you can ladder on and make those improvements and evolve things. But I suppose certainly when I started out and I think about the embryonic beginnings of London Fashion Week with Aesthetica, which was the ethical wing of London Fashion Week at the time, there was so much confusion around what sustainability meant, what upcycling meant, what the difference between all the different materials, all of these things. Whereas I think now we’re in a position in 2020, where the customer is a lot more sort of educated and also hungry for information. And that’s really important. There’s that push and pull. And now we’ve certainly I think, seen that, that tipping point that wasn’t there even four or five years ago. And it’s certainly things like Blue Planet 2 the recent documentaries, War on Plastics, Stacey Dooley, all of these things, coming together. And then again, just thinking about the material and the innovations that have happened in the last 10, 11 years as well. So pulling all of that together gives me a lot of hope that the next 10 years are really going to be the springboard that will make the change we need.

 

Katie Treggiden 

Well, they need to be don’t they. It’s a pretty important decade, this one. After a short break, we’ll hear how product guarantees might be able to change mindsets, the importance of repair, and how Raeburn’s new collection, Raefound, is a provocation to the industry, as much as a fashion collection.

Katie Treggiden 

I might have mentioned that I’ve got a book coming out. Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure is published by Ludion. It’s available to preorder from Amazon now, and will be in your local independent bookshop from 8th October 2020.

Katie Treggiden 

You mentioned vocabulary there and it’s interesting that you use the word radical a couple of times when you were speaking just now. In 2011, style.com said it’s not unreasonable to assert that Christopher Raeburn is the single most radical designer working today. And yet, you’ve also used words like pragmatic, and common sense to describe your approach. Could you dig into that a little bit?

Christopher Raeburn 

For me, I think radical and pragmatic, and common sense can sort of go together. What I always try to do early on with the business, and now more than ever today, I mean, in the sort of height of COVID, and everything else, it was always about marrying a very conceptual approach to design with a structured approach to business. Because I think it’s so important, you know, to have, again, the authority and the validation of actually having a credible business to support. Again, a pioneering approach to design and the duality of the two things working together is so important. It’s brutal when I think back on the last 10 years, 11 years in business, I’ve seen so many incredibly creative people, brands, young designers, etc, much more creative than me come and go in that time because they didn’t have the business side, right. And so for me, I think the tandem, as to say the duality of the two is so key, that actually on one hand you need to be radical, and you need to experiment, etc. but that needs to lead to something, right? And I mentioned earlier about the Raemade and the Raecycled and the Raeduced all helping to support each other. In terms of the scale, if we only did the remade aspects of Rayburn, which is what we’re best known for, we wouldn’t have a business over all. So it’s about actually taking the learnings of remade, the aesthetic, the concept, the again –  the sort of driving force in motion – but then how that comes into more scalable products as well, but still done in the right way. Jersey got certified really high quality, you know, we were kind of confident enough to say that if you put on one of our jersey t-shirts, it will be amongst the highest quality t-shirts you’ll ever try on, you know, and I say that, as I say, pretty, pretty confidently. So I think it’s, it’s for me completely embedded in everything that we do as a business, that you need the two things supporting one another.

Katie Treggiden 

I think there’s also something in the fact that actually taking a common sense, pragmatic approach is pretty radical. In a world where so many, you know, if you look at the kind of approach to fast fashion, and that whole world, it just seems to have gone bonkers. So I think there’s something actually quite radical about just going back to basics like mending, and good quality, and reuse, and all of those sorts of things.

Christopher Raeburn 

Absolutely. I think even when we think about this, this moment, these last four or five months that we’ve lived through with COVID-19 and the obligation, and I quote my good friend Ursula de Castro, you know, we have this obligation to use this time where we’re all forced to slow down, where we’ve all become that much more aware of our immediate surroundings, and our environment, and our impact, to make sure when we come out the other side of it, we’re not just doing the same thing. And, you know, the conversation around fast fashion is a really important one. I think it’s, it’s always so important to start it with, again, a reality check that people need affordable clothing, you know, step one. I don’t think we need as much of it. So it’s, again, a sort of re education thing around less but better, essentially. And ultimately, for me, it’s a massive conversation around collaboration. And the fact that it has to be a completely global collaboration between governments, brands, communities, young designers, etc, all working together to really try and unlock, say, a kind of a better future. And that, for me, is going to be the biggest challenge that we’re going through certainly in the next 10 years, you know, we touched on earlier, but it’s going to be massive, because we cannot continue doing what we have been doing.

Katie Treggiden 

There’s a terrifying statistic that 50% of the resources that are used by the fashion industry don’t make it as far as the shops. So half of what comes out of the Earth is wasted before you even get to the shop. And there is no collaboration in that supply chain. Right. It’s a very kind of top down hierarchical, competitive race to the bottom approach. And I think you’re right, I think a more collaborative, open, generous kind of supply chain, and certainly a more transparent supply chain, could get rid of a lot of that waste that happens before the clothes even hit the high street.

Christopher Raeburn 

Absolutely. But the good news is, I think we’re seeing the green shoots, actually, and there is a lot more collaboration, there is a lot more transparency. And again, you mentioned supply chain. For me, material choice is absolutely key in this and innovation, and continued innovation in that side of the industry as well. But when I think back even to starting Raeburn where a recycled material was generally 40 to 60/ 70% more than a virgin cloth. Whereas now we have parity and sometimes actually a recycled material will be more affordable. And that’s happened within a 10 year period. You know, there’s a lot of things like that, that have happened, and they’ve happened through collaboration. Because on the one hand, yes, a brand like Raeburn is using that recycle material, but also sportswear brands primarily have driven that and high street, and then you know, some of the more high end luxury as well. So it’s about us all, I think making those intelligent and responsible choices together for the greater good.

Katie Treggiden 

So talk to me about mending. Anybody who buys one of your products can bring it back and have it repaired for free. Is that right?

Christopher Raeburn 

That is correct. Yeah. Well, the funny thing is just speaking very openingly Katie, we’re considering changing our plan around repairs, because we currently offer free repairs for life. The great news is that we actually have very few repairs that actually come back to us, you know, normally two or three times a year we’ll actively announce, ‘hey, we’re doing this,’ we do it all year round anyway, but then we actively say, you know, ‘bring in your, your garments, send them in, etc.’ About 60% of the repairs we do generally are zips, which is kind of good and bad. The reason I say it’s good is it’s kind of out of our hands, but then obviously that’s the bad part as well. So very rarely is it, you know, deterioration of the garment itself or seam damage etc, which is pretty encouraging. But the reason I said that we’re considering changing our policies that we offer, the free repairs for life, but I sort of notice that maybe it’s difficult for people to register what that really means. Whereas if we said it’s 10 years, all of a sudden, it’s much more tangible. And I actually think it would kind of register even more about what an amazing again, hopefully partnership, that we’re saying to people about their garments that they’re starting with. If they buy a product from from Raeburn, any store around the world, or in the lab or whatever it ends up being, that’s where the journey starts, not with, ‘Oh thank you for the purchase, Sir or Madam,’ It should actually start right there, right. And I think we’re almost looking at a better way I think to communicate it ourselves. And it might be by saying 10 years or 15 years or 20 years, it might actually make people then realise, ‘Whoa, okay, that’s radically different again.’

Katie Treggiden 

And also, I guess, give a sense of what the expected lifetime of a garment is. So I think I think the average garment stays in someone’s wardrobe for less than three years. So as soon as you’re saying 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, people are thinking okay, so this is a piece of clothing that’s going to be with me for a while and that I think in itself just shifts, kind of understanding of how we ought to be treating clothes.

Christopher Raeburn 

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I didn’t know that fact around the three years. But that’s a really good starting point. Maybe it’s 15 years. So we are going to guarantee your product for five times longer than the average time it’s going to sit in anyone’s wardrobe. What an amazing statement. So yeah, it’s definitely something to think about. Certainly within, within Raeburn as a whole, we see repair as just a massive component in this whole conversation. As an example, with Black Friday last year – so for any of the maybe more international listeners, Black Friday, which of course was driven through the US, and now it’s been picked up in the UK – for me, it’s an absolute race to the bottom that I cannot fathom, and certainly can’t support. So with Raeburn, you can’t purchase anything from Raeburn on Black Friday. The stores are closed, the online shops closed, etc. What we did last year, was we said rather than us trying to sell you something, which is what a lot of brands etc are trying to do, we’ll repair something for you, instead. And again, we’ll do it for free and not just Raeburn will repair any garments. So we have people bringing in all sorts of brands and actually having that experience. And for me again, it’s back to the, a different way I suppose of connecting value to things and yeah, building that relationship with your community in a really different way.

Katie Treggiden 

And that relationship with your clothes, you know?

Christopher Raeburn 

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think it’s working. I mean, the really interesting thing, we’ve almost become so detached at points from the process of making, not just clothing, but many, many things. It’s very rare that we, that we get hands on. And so it was it was brilliant to see people come in understanding that and see for some people seeing sewing machines, you know, for the first time in 20 years, etc. Actually seeing that their garments being yeah, slightly taken apart, so that you can fix a lining or yeah, and sort of seeing and documenting for some people that process and then going out beaming because they’ve kind of got this new thing that isn’t new, but they’ve just had it in their wardrobe for the last two years.

Katie Treggiden 

I think it gives people agency as well and kind of moves from this idea of consumers to a more of a position of being a citizen, where it’s this idea that you know, I can fix this thing. I can take control over how long I own this garment for rather than that being in the hands of, you know, the producer who’s…..I read a horrifying statistic that there’s one UK high street retailer who advises its buyers, that a dress should be designed to last for five weeks, because that’s as long as someone’s going to own it. So there’s no point it being better quality than that, right. And I love this idea of almost taking those garments that you know haven’t been particularly designed for longevity and, and hacking them, or fixing them, or mending them, or you know, kind of making them into something that’s got a longer life.

Christopher Raeburn 

There’s one sidenote as well on that Katie. It’s very charming during the height of lockdown, my brother Graham did an amazing IGTV live teaching people how to do basic repairs from his bedroom. Again, it’s all still up on our Instagram and yeah, it’s brilliant, just how to mend a pair of jeans. You know, these kind of classic and standard things that we all have in our wardrobes right? yeah, how to patch things, how to zigzag stitch?

Katie Treggiden 

I’ve just finished a Masters in Design History and actually wrote my dissertation on mending, so I’m a big believer in having the hand knowledge as well as the head knowledge, so I’ve been teaching myself to mend. And jeans are the classic. No one wants to throw away a pair of jeans, and yet they always go threadbare in the same spot. And if you can learn to mend them then you know that’s a win for me – jeans shopping is not a fun way to spend a Saturday.

Christopher Raeburn 

Well said.

Katie Treggiden 

You’ve just launched Raefound in a very unusual move in the fashion industry. These are clothes that you are sourcing and reselling, rather than designing and making, or even remaking.

Christopher Raeburn 

Absolutely. So Raefound, again, is really our provocation to the industry that do we need to carry on making more stuff. So to give a little bit more context, Raefound – all of the pieces are original and unissued military pieces, so they’re new, they’ve never been worn, and importantly, they’re in full size sets. And as an example for our core business within Rayburn, if we want to make a seam sealed jacket with incredible detail, it would normally cost around $200. We’d need to make about 600 pieces, because of the minimum order quantities, and so you take your $200 you need to double it and then if you’re wholesaling, it’s another 2.8. So all of a sudden it becomes 900 pounds or around about there at retail. With Raefound because they’re original items, we’re actually able then to completely cut down on the retail pricing, so a seam sealed jacket in this instance, would retail at 295. So it’s kind of a shortcut, really. And as I said provocation. The line that we have is what could be more radical than making nothing at all. Because there are billions, and I mean, billions of garments, and bags, and shoes, and all of these things out there in the world today that have never been worn. And so for us, if you can harvest and you can put those items back into circulation, then there has to be a logic to that. And what I love about Raefound is that it’s been very divisive, which is good for me, because we’ve had people saying, ‘Well, why can I go to a surplus store? Or why can I go to an online marketplace and buy exactly the same product? I’ve seen one for 30 pounds,’ you know. I say ‘brilliant.’ Exactly what we want you to do. Wonderful. The more people do that, the better.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah. And I saw that conversation happening on social media. And I thought that was such a brilliant response. It was just like it actually we’re trying to change the world here, guys, you know, go for it, buy the stuff from army surplus stores.

Christopher Raeburn 

Exactly. What we don’t want to be long term, you know, we don’t want to be a military surplus wholesaler. What we’re saying is, there is an issue in the world, we’ve chosen to highlight a range of products that is aligned with Raeburn because we deal a lot with functional clothing, etc. so it’s a really natural alignment to then work in this way. Partially, again, because of our supply chain, because the remade process, we deal with everyone from the Ministry of Defence through to individual sellers, so we’re able to access quite a lot of really amazing products. But yeah, absolutely. This is about challenging people to think differently to what’s already out there. And, yeah, it’s just the beginning. It really is because we’ve started with these objects, but as I say, there are so many others out there might be from different industries could be, yeah, it’s really an interesting thing that, again, is going to keep us I think dynamic, it’s another facet to the business, and we’re going to carry on looking for different ways of doing.

Katie Treggiden 

And I think, as you say, the counter to the army surplus store question is having that full size range, you know, as someone who does an awful lot of secondhand clothes shopping, the amount of things you see that are beautiful, but don’t fit. So to have that kind of full size range, and you guys have kind of checked the quality, and you know, made sure it’s worthy of your stamp of approval.

Christopher Raeburn 

Exactly that. I mean, they’re unworn and as you say, in the full size sets. The other thing I’d sort of highlight in all of this, that maybe is less easy for people to sort of understand, for every piece that you see within the Raefound range, there are scores that we haven’t chosen to put in the range because we couldn’t get the sizes, because the quality wasn’t there, because, you know, they were done. All of these things. So it’s very much about the curation process and also, I think trust as well, because of, again, the place that we have within the industry, and because of the business that we’ve grown, there’s that level of trust with our community. I take so seriously, you know, so we really need to make sure that the products that we’re providing through that range are sort of incredible value that they’re different and that they’re a statement. What I love about Raefound is that a lot of people now are almost wearing it as a badge of honour, as well, you know, it’s a different way of thinking and saying, I’m looking for different ways myself. So

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah. So we’ve talked a little bit about the kind of shifts in the fashion industry and in the kind of world more broadly. I’m going to quote you at you here, you’ve said, ‘It will require a vast collective effort to see a positive change across the industry. So what are the next steps towards this change both on an individual level and also on a systemic level? What do people need to be doing, what the fashion brands need to be doing what needs to be happening at a sort of government and policy level?

Christopher Raeburn 

It’s a really complex, again, ecosystem but I think, to detangle things we need to first work on a fibre level and the material level upstream and supply chain. And I think it’s about considering things on a mono fibre level to begin with, as brands, and as makers, as designers, because one of the biggest things we do, which is causing so many problems is blending materials, upstream. You know, the moment you put cotton and poly together, etc. So I think our job as brands and as designers is to provide a really high quality product that’s already had a lot of the right thinking the responsible choices put into it, that then goes to, obviously, an individual, that then will hopefully, as we’ve touched on, wants to keep that product for as long as possible in circulation. And then I think we are at least now really getting towards the biggest opportunity, which is, of course around circularity, in tandem with regeneration, you know, these these big, big, big things that we need to tackle. And again, I think what needs to be done for the individuals so much is to put the systems in place to make things easy and make things achievable. Because the logistics around particularly the return of objects, and just the whole process actually around circularity, in general is going to be the biggest unlock, because I think we’re now in a position where the innovation, the materials, what’s coming into the supply chain, at least we can make in the right way. We then need to work out how we can truly tie all of this together. But it’s very confusing. And then the sort of caveat that I put into this mix as well is that the very notion of waste in general needs to be in some way, completely extinguished from the conversation, right, we have to get to a point where we’re reducing any excess, any current waste, etc, going into products that we’re making. The fact that you said earlier 50%, you know, of the damage being done before anything even hits the shop floor, you know, that’s pretty chastening, right? So already, there’s this sort of incredible opportunity to reduce on that side. Then, of course, there’s the sort of rethought around waste that we’ve highlighted today through things like Raefound and Raemade, and all of those things coming together. So if we can put that into the mix as well and then we can start to harvest what’s already out there, and then we can truly work towards a essentially three different pillars: one around full circularity; one around repairing, and remaking, and refinding, and all of those sorts of things; and then the final one around regenerative, so anything that you’re doing around natural being truly good for planet and people. That’s what we need to do. So it’s a very long winded answer to get to get to those three key things.

Katie Treggiden 

And are you hopeful? Do you think we can get to those three key things in the next decade?

Christopher Raeburn 

I am hopeful. I’m, I’m hopeful for two or three reasons. I’m hopeful because for the first time we’ve got governments actually putting pen to paper and saying about their plans around carbon neutrality, or, you know, all of these initiatives that then the knock on effects, of course, is that brands, corporations, etc, need to step in line with that. Then all of a sudden means that whole innovation budgets are being put into exactly what we need them to be doing. So again, those those three pillars, so really looking for ways to improve circularity, regeneration, repair, all of those sorts of things that basically keep things enduring, I suppose is the right word, you know, the more that something can be enduring. And then the thing that really gives me the most hope is that, again, when I think about the narrative over the last 10 years, and I think about the younger generation, that now is on the frontline, and being so demanding, and so hungry, and so interested around being more responsible – that wasn’t there 10 years ago. And then when I think about these incredible innovations, companies like Depop, etc, you know, coming through, we recently with Raeburn, we’ve done a small project with Depop around making your own bucket hats at home, right. And I have 18, I’m sure it’s already gone up by now, but 18 million users using that platform under the age of 21/22. Right. And it’s all about of course, an appreciation of things that already exist, and improving those things. So that gives me so much hope, that for the first time we’ve got the push and the pull from a government and brand and cooperation and design level, and then the younger community kind of coming through and demanding better. And I don’t think we’ve had that before. And when I look to the next 10 years, and you know, those younger guys and girls that currently are swapping or they’re rejuvenating things on depop, you know, they’re going to be the guys and girls that go into the boardrooms. And that’s, that’s incredible, right.

Katie Treggiden 

Let’s hope so. And on that optimistic note, thank you so much for your time and insights and wisdom. It’s been a really interesting conversation. So thank you, Christopher.

Christopher Raeburn 

Real pleasure. Thank you.

Katie Treggiden 

If you enjoyed this episode of Circular with Katie Treggiden, can I ask you to leave a review and perhaps even hit the subscribe button. Those two actions really help other people to find the podcast, so I would be very grateful. Thank you. Thank you to Christopher Raeburn, Gordon Barker for the edit, October Communications for marketing support, Sound Compound for the music, and to you for joining me. You’ve been listening to Circular with Katie Treggiden.

P.S. I am recording Season Two of the podcast now and the theme this time is repair. I really believe that people who make and mend with their hands hold the keys to helping us move from a linear ‘take-make-waste’ model to a more sustainable ‘circular’ economy. If you do too, I am looking for likeminded brands to help bring the meaningful conversations I know I’m going to have on this season of the podcast to a larger audience. Email me and I’ll send you more info on how you could get involved as a brand partner.