The designer spends his time turning military storage facilities and warehouses upside down in his hunt for surplus stock; whipping airplane parachutes into romantic gowns, and transforming 100 percent silk vintage aviators’ maps into jackets and dresses.
In between, he’s taken on the new role of Timberland’s collaborator at large, having relinquished his role as global creative director earlier this month. He also has a new store on Marshall Street in London’s Soho; a bigger headquarters in Hackney, east London, and myriad plans in the pipeline.
In an interview, the designer said he’s still working closely with Timberland on innovation and the Earthkeepers by Raeburn footwear collection. He’s also put a renewed focus on his own clothing and accessories collection, which is made from repurposed military clothing and supplies, or recycled polyester, organic cotton and merino wool.
At the start of lockdown here, in the summer of 2020, Raeburn also introduced Raefound, a capsule collection of original, unworn military pieces purchased from government offices in the U.K. and Continental Europe.
“What could be more radical than making nothing?” said Raeburn in an interview, referring to the Raefound, items which he picks out himself and runs through quality control before adding his label.
Prices start at around 35 pounds for a camouflage bush hat, while T-shirts cost 79 pounds, and an all-purpose parka costs 299 pounds.
“We do as little work as we can on the clothing, and we keep the price low,” said the designer, adding that while Raefound is a popular collection, it was “divisive” when it launched.
He said consumers would often ask why they couldn’t just swing by the local Army & Navy surplus store and pick up similar items. “I’d tell them ‘Of course, please do!’ There are hundreds of thousands of pieces out there, clothing that already exists. Why not buy it?”
Raeburn said the surplus clothing hanging in his shop has the added advantage of being new, never worn, and comes in full-size sets. They’re not just one-off pieces.
Raefound is also proof that fashion isn’t the only industry with an oversupply problem.
Countries’ defense ministries and military bodies regularly need to produce multiple garments and uniforms for tens of thousands of people. The specs on those garments change over the years, but nothing gets discarded.
Right now, at the Marshall Street store, Raeburn is selling items such as Yugoslavian military mountaineers’ jackets. How old must they be, given that Yugoslavia ceased to exist in the early ’90s?
Despite their vintage they’re certainly cool, with oversize hoods, places to store sticks and branches, and a delicate, pointillist camouflage print with flecks of khaki, green, and dark brown.
Raeburn’s other military leftovers include featherweight silk scarf maps from the 1950s. Pilots and other military personnel carried them in case they found themselves behind enemy lines and needed to make a quick escape.
Silk is more robust than paper, water-resistant and easier to carry around, and hide, than a traditional map.
The scarves are printed with delicately detailed maps of northern Europe and the former USSR. Raeburn has pieced them together into zip-front jackets and will make bespoke items, such as shirtdresses, from the supply he’s purchased.
The Marshall Street store may be small, but it’s a mighty example of sustainable fashion retail.
It’s filled with puffers made from (and stuffed with) recycled polyester; bags crafted from pilots’ anti-gravity suits, and long dresses fashioned from what appear to be fat silk ribbons, but are really strips cut from old airplane parachutes.
Those dresses hark back to Raeburn’s first collection in 2009 when he spun a 28-feet pilot’s parachute into eight pieces of clothing.
The designer said the new store, at 2 Marshall Street, not far from Carnaby Street, has been a “lightning rod” for the brand.
“We needed an outpost in central London, an opportunity to speak to people directly,” said the designer, adding that the store works “in tandem” with his newly expanded space in Hackney, which houses the brand’s atelier and technical laboratory, wholesale showroom, and archive. It also serves as a retail store.
Raeburn said more stand-alone stores could be in the pipeline, perhaps in Continental Europe while his various brand collaborations will continue, too. Of late he’s been working with Aesop on fabric bags to wrap or transport the soap and beauty products.
Raeburn remains close to the team at Timberland, and said they’ll continue to innovate together.
Timberland describes its Earthkeepers by Raeburn footwear collection as representing “the highest level of eco-innovation,” with soles made from 75 percent renewable sugar cane and responsible natural rubber from trees.
With regard to his own brand, Raeburn said he’s aiming to produce “truly circular, recyclable product;” work more with regenerative agriculture, and produce in small lots, with as little waste as possible.
He produces the collections in Europe, but also in small London factories, working with “best-in-class” manufacturers.
He’ll never stop hunting for all those forgotten stacks of clothing, blankets, supplies and displaying them proudly inside the store. “We don’t take anything for granted and we just want to do things right,” he said.