LONDON — Ten years after generating buzz with a first collection of eight garments made from military parachute fabric and big ambitions around recycling, Christopher Raeburn is gaining even greater recognition in an industry that is waking up at last to environmental sustainability and responsible design.
As Timberland’s global creative director, the London-based designer sees an opportunity to give his sustainability mission a broader, more global platform, while at his own label, Raeburn has brought on board his brother and fellow designer, Graeme Raeburn, as performance director, a new role.
The brothers are now aiming to push the boundaries of design, material innovation and waste reduction further and to redefine what success means along the way.
“For us, success is not about Raeburn products being in every store or on every street corner, quite the opposite. We want to look at growth in a much more modern way than just incremental numbers,” Raeburn said from his East London studio as he was preparing his fall 2019 show, set for Jan. 6 during London Fashion Week Men’s.
“During our early stages, people would look at our business plans and tell me that I wasn’t ambitious enough. I think I always was, but it’s always been about healthy growth. It’s about good products, seeing what retail means to us, community, craft and how our Remade concept can grow beyond clothing. What would Remade furniture look like, for example?”
Raeburn, who has always had a flair for reworking deadstock fabrics into garments, put that concept at the core of his business from the get-go. Each Remade garment within his collections is limited-edition and produced from materials such as de-commissioned military stock.
There are other strands to his work. Raeburn’s Reduced pieces are made by local manufacturers from existing waste, as in a puffer jacket made from shredded fabric offcuts. Recycled products are made from reused plastic.
“If we were only doing Remade it would be a real challenge, but we can now pull in these three different platforms in different ways, which helps us grow,” said Raeburn, adding that he has no concerns over scalability.
“There’s now so much more opportunity, particularly around recycled materials. The affordability has really improved and the industry has become a lot more set up for businesses like ours to grow. Now our community and the wearers out there are looking for these products. Rather than it being all about us pushing we almost feel like there is a lot more of a pull.”
Raeburn has also been carving a path of his own when it comes to community building: He has been a highly rated Airbnb partner for years, hosting regular tours of his studio — a modern, adaptable space filled with modular rails that used to live in the Burberry textile building and have been redesigned from scratch by Raeburn.
He also hosts open-to-the-public days where those interested in the brand can come into his studio to look at the archives and attend workshops and offers services such as made-to-measure and free repairs.
His idea is that interaction with the consumer doesn’t end once a purchase is made.
“We don’t just think, ‘Great, we’ve sold a piece, good luck to the customer.’ It’s about what happens to that product all the way through, how can we recycle it and help close the loop,” said Raeburn, adding that he has, of late, been leaning toward a direct-to-consumer route.
“We have been encouraged that it’s healthy for sales and there’s also huge value in interacting with our audience because it’s about inspiring and educating as much as it is about making a sale for us.”
He has been applying the same interactive and educational approach to his first retail pop-up, located at the new Kings Cross retail hub Coal Drops Yard and said he sees further opportunity to grow this socially minded fashion community, as well as his own retail channels.
“The store is closing in January, just before the show, but we have every intention to reopening it three or four months later in a slightly bigger space and in a more dynamic way,” the designer added.
As he gets ready to mark a decade in business at London Fashion Week Men’s, Raeburn is setting new goals about how he designs his collections and his own sustainability commitments.
He said the brand is in the process of developing and testing new lines, while his ultimate goal is to ensure that anything leaving his studio in terms of waste can be organic or recyclable.
Bringing on his elder brother Graeme as performance director is aimed at pushing the brand’s sustainability agenda even further — and inspiring the rest of the industry to follow suit. Graeme was formerly lead designer at the hot cycling brand Rapha for 10 years.
“We are really interested in bringing on Graeme’s experience from Rapha around function and finesse into the world of fashion that I’ve been operating in,” said Raeburn, adding that the duo has also been rethinking the design process and working in new, collaborative ways.
The fall 2019 collection that will be shown in London will be the first one to bear Graeme’s handwriting and will see new materials and functions come into play. There will also be resurfaced archival pieces and signature silhouettes from roomy parkas, to waterproof sweatshirts and shorts in new fabrics and graphic patterns.
Graeme said he is not planning to add Rapha-style performance wear to the Raeburn collections. Instead, he wants to adopt the same “pragmatic approach” toward clothing and ensure there is a clear link between the different strands of the Reused, Remade and Redone collections.
“The idea is to have a clear narrative and a relationship between all the different categories, so that we can use apparel as a narrative to tell the story of the origins of the materials,” he said. “We want people to enter into the brand and have the same experience, whatever category they choose to go for.”
In addition to designing garments that can be recycled, Graeme said he wants to take things a step farther and look at new ways of ensuring that everything is made using the least amount of energy consumption. He also wants to minimize the use of micro-plastics and work toward optimizing the longevity of each garment by finessing details from the fit to the color palette.
“When we use organic cotton, it’s about making sure that it is 100 percent biodegradable. Or, if we are using hydrocarbons such as recycled nylon, or plastics, we need to have a clear strategy on why we need to use those materials,” said Graeme, adding that such changes are a matter of necessity more than choice. “The businesses that will thrive will be the ones that master those materials and processes.”
The brothers speak of a need to shift consumer attitudes. During a parliamentary hearing conducted by the U.K. environmental and audit committee to address the fashion industry’s environmental impact last year, Graeme addressed the issue of consumers’ purchasing behavior and designers’ responsibility in encouraging them to recognize the “unseen values” of a garment, including its longevity.
It’s why the duo decided to shut the company’s e-commerce site down on Black Friday, to make a point against discounted shopping and impulse buying.
“What we do as an industry is very old-fashioned: We make a load of product in all the different sizes and all the different colors, we put it in physical stores all around the world and we hope that someone will come in and make a purchase. There has to be so much more thought around producing for the individual but affordably,” Christopher said.
“We have gone through the Eighties, Nineties and Aughts being able to have whatever we wanted, and people have ended up with all of this stuff. We now need to question what we really need,” he added.
The brand has a cool, sporty aesthetic and collections that are filled with oversize parkas, tracksuits and logo sneakers that are very much of-the-moment and aligned with the streetwear craze. Instead of fostering that hype with frequent drops and flashy logos, the Raeburns want to encourage customers to slow down and to hold on to their clothes for as long as possible.
Instead of brand logos, their Reused, Recycled, Remade motto is printed all over garments and they will do made-to-order pieces for clients at the studio.
“This is not a hype brand, but at the same time the collections are limited,” said Graeme, drawing a comparison with streetwear brands that thrive on limited-edition drops and capsule collections. “What could be more exclusive or limited than coming in and having something made-to-measure, selecting your fabrics or the positioning of your pockets?”
Christopher said he believes that brands are increasingly open to change and trying to work in more sustainable ways. He said brands ranging from Clarks footwear to MCM, Moncler, Barbour and the V&A Museum — for which he designed its staff uniforms — have been open to his Remade concept and turned to him for collaborations, which he said is an encouraging sign.
“There have been encouraging endorsements from the industry, showing that people do care, and that they want to unlock this conversation,” he said.
As Timberland’s new creative director, the designer is now preparing for what he sees as the ultimate brand collaboration.
“It’s so exciting that a company with $1.8 billion in turnover and more than 1,400 stores around the world is looking to a young creative to define its future — and not just when it comes to its aesthetic, but the way it’s producing its product,” he said.
Raeburn said his aim is to bring apparel and more accessories into play, as well as innovate across the brand’s communication, retail and design departments. “I can now bring the 10 years of Raeburn and the experiences and the lessons from my own business to a truly global scale,” he added.