Oliver Spencer on sustainability, packaging and the problem of throwaway fashion

We sat down with the British designer to explore why the fashion industry has to change

Let’s start at the beginning. What does Oliver Spencer stand for? Patagonia has always been my hero brand because it takes a stand on the environment and what it sells. Oliver Spencer also has a conscience, and we want to do something about the sustainability of our business. We’re going to start with our packaging, and slowly change the cotton we use to go all organic, and then we’ll move towards ecological wool. It’s a huge job, but we’re doing it.

Why champion sustainability now? Someone pointed out to me last week that some other designers have pushed sustainability for years. I agree, but everything has its moment. I think it’s time to talk sustainability – it’s out there now, thanks to spokespeople like David Attenborough and brilliant platforms like Blue Planet.

So you think that plastics are a problem in the fashion industry? Everyone in our industry should change their packaging. I don’t buy recycled plastic – no one does it properly. We’re not touching the stuff. Instead, we’re using recycled, fully biodegradable paper envelopes for all our shirts. We’ve taken the pins and plastic out. Our retail partners have agreed to work with us on this, too.

‘Oliver Spencer has a conscience, and we want to do something about the sustainability of our business’

Are you hoping to provoke change? I’d like to. I think the menswear industry will listen, but I’m not sure about womenswear. Men seem to be more socially conscious when it comes to clothes. Womenswear is guilty of too much throwaway fashion, but it’s becoming less of a thing for men. Men like investing. One of the things I hear constantly from our customers is ‘the problem with your clothes is that they’re made too well – they keep working.’ That’s the way it should be.

So what can we expect of your autumn/winter collection? Lots of cord and velvet, alongside the ecological wool. There’s plenty of texture, too. I’ve gone for earthy colours like mustard, and tonal greys mixed with oatmeal and cream. The collection is called ‘Love is the drug’ and it’s a new version of the Brian Ferry wardrobe – so it’s quite dandy. It’s a little bit glam-rock in an English way. We’re at a moment in menswear where we’re switching back to dressing up. I think men are about to become a little more glam again.

And finally, what’s the secret of your success? I’ve always believed in staying true to a few simple principles. We’re a lifestyle brand for men. We invite fashion into the mix, not the other way around. And the guy that comes to us thinks about how he shops. We’re a brand for the creative industry – whether that’s a guy who’s created his own company, or a guy who’s working in media, or the arts. He wants to see great gigs, he cares about his food and drink, he’s into culture and he appreciates design with integrity. And of course he cares about the environment, too, so we need to show we feel the same way.

Three ways to get your sustainable fashion kicks

Oliver Spencer ecological wool coat

This sharp new season peacoat is cut in un-dyed ecological wool. It has a generous collar and contemporary fit. Even better, it’s made in England, so it’s built to last.


Uniforms For The Dedicated shirt

This forward-thinking Scandi brand creates modern, directional casualwear only from recycled and bio-based materials. This organic cotton shirt is a case in point.


Yatay ethical recycled sneakers

All Yatay’s footwear is made in Italy from sustainable materials, in partnership with environmental charity One Tree Planted. Buy a pair, and the brand will plant a tree in a deforested area.