High street fashion and sustainable design don’t often go hand in hand, but Tu – the in-house clothing label at Sainsbury’s – is challenging the status quo. The latest collection, created in association with Graduate Fashion Week, includes a dedicated men’s capsule designed with sustainability in mind – and with a little help from one of The Jackal’s favourite designers, Oliver Spencer.
The Graduate Fashion Week scheme sees Tu select an up-and-coming young designer for a year’s employment with the brand, before a final range is produced. Molly Hopwood, from the University of Leeds, was chosen for the project due to her accomplished graduate collection, which focused on environmentally-friendly fashion. ‘We set an open brief for students to submit their final degree collection,’ explains Aimi Williams-Smith, menswear design manager at Tu. ‘But we did anticipate that sustainability would be high on the agenda as it’s on everyone’s radar right now.’
As well as the job at Tu, the Graduate Fashion Week scheme also provided Hopwood with a mentor, who turned out to be Oliver Spencer, seasoned menswear designer and passionate advocate for sustainable fashion. ‘He’s taught me to think critically of every aspect of the design process when it comes to sustainability, from materials and finishes to trims and packaging,’ explains Hopwood. ‘I had no idea what fabrics and technologies would be available to us when we began and it’s been amazing to witness first hand the developments in sustainable fashion.’
Her highly polished collection focuses on using repurposed, organic cottons to make upcycled garments with a minimised ecological footprint. The well-executed designs reference classic US Army fatigues, as well as the traditional workwear of ranchers in the Americas; think well-cut chore jackets in denim, khaki and coral, dungarees and patchwork jeans. All the denim used in the capsule is mixed with recycled textiles and finished using lasering techniques, a process that reduces overall water use, chemicals and energy.
Meanwhile, the Hawaiian and Chinese-inspired prints on the (highly covetable) T-shirts and camp collar shirts were created using digital techniques, opposed to traditional processes that require excessive water use. It’s certainly a confident, forward-thinking menswear collection for a supermarket brand like Tu, and Spencer’s influence in the utility silhouettes and muted palette – as well as the sustainable design process – is clear.
Taking his sustainability savoir-faire to a high street audience was an interesting challenge for Spencer. ‘With designing for the high-street you’re producing much higher quantities, which means you can reach the high minimums [for orders] that some factories set for the new environmentally conscious fabrics. When you are designing at a higher level, these changes can be harder to make. However the flip side of that is you tend to have more control, so you can be reactionary to change and implement new methods quicker than a high-street giant.’
As for Tu, it’s committed to producing more environmentally friendly design in seasons to come. ‘It’s the only way forward,’ explains Williams-Smith. The brand already uses sustainable cotton endorsed by the Better Cotton Initiative (a non-profit organisation that exists to make global cotton production better) in much of its clothing, and will implement some of the techniques and yarns that Hopwood discovered in future collections.
‘I think it’s actually a really exciting time for sustainable fashion,’ sums up Hopwood, who, after all, speaks for the next generation of design talent. ‘People are realising sustainability isn’t just a trend and there are some incredible developments taking place in the industry, from seaweed fibres to dyes made from food waste to biodegradable packaging. We’ve still got some way to go but it’s great that retailers and customers alike are finally recognising the importance of sustainable design.’ Let’s hope the rest of the high street takes note, too.
From £12. The Graduate Fashion Week collection is available now at tuclothing.sainsburys.co.uk