Sustainability in fashion has become an increasingly pressing issue within an industry of high consumption and waste, provoking an array of corporate and individual projects aimed at tackling the matter head on. For designers, creating from recycled and discarded materials has opened a plethora of opportunities to make, repurpose and curate incredible fashion. Central Saint Martins graduate Matthew Needham has made the practice his art form, producing spectacular garments from anecdotal materials. On the heels of a powerful graduate collection last year titled ‘Man and his Man-Made Future’, which found perfect balance in structure and silhouette, Needham’s talent reminds us that ecologically-friendly fashion should and frankly needs to be the future.
Your graduate collection was really strong. Was sourcing the materials the first step of designing the collection or had you already developed a pre-existing notion of how it would look and feel?
As the collection evolved, the things I would find informed the silhouettes and textile manipulations, yes. It became an ongoing process of sourcing the fly tipped waste by chance when walking through Camden and other places around London, continuously evolving the collection even weeks before the show. Some materials I had previously found, for example plastic from a beach in Norway, and a lot of the metal and wood came from my Dad’s workshop. In the studio at Central Saint Martins, I would use old pieces of toiling fabric to iron out and drape with, which would occasionally inform some pattern cutting. The dead stock materials I attained from the industry, for example old tweeds from Chanel, were selected with a vague colour palette in mind however a lot of it was just left to the up cycling gods.
What are the particular challenges and advantages in working with recycled materials that only a designer could understand?
I think, in general, there is a lot of stigmatism and criticism received when entering the world of up cycling or repurposing within fashion today, and is probably one of the biggest challenges in working with found materials. I have realised that it helps to set your own ethical guidelines and have a strong ethos in place, making it clear to your audience to avoid being questioned about elements of your process that are less prominent. Making my collection entirely from waste materials and trash was limiting sometimes, especially implementing that ethos at every stage of the designing and production, however being able to explain the story behind the elements that went in to producing each piece I believe adds so much value and questions what luxury really is. Spending time assessing the properties or possibilities of the different materials was where a lot of the time was spent. This is something to learn from, however, it is rewarding to explore the possibilities of being creatively challenged in this way.
What do you think needs to be the next step in ‘sustainable fashion’, both on an individual level and of the industry as a whole?
As individuals, we have the power to choose how we consume and how big our footprint is in the world, if we do our research. We live in an age where the excess of production is so extreme that we could continue to clothe ourselves for the next 70+ years with the excess. Being resourceful with the materials we have already is so vital at this moment, so as individuals we can reassess how we look at our clothing. We have the ability to reinvent the way that our clothes look and last and if we do purchase, we can think about whether or not you and the garment will have a long life together and be conscious of who you buy from. The industry as a whole I believe is moving in the right direction, whether the intentions of associating a brand with ’sustainability’ are genuine or not. However, at every level, transparency within fashion brands should be mandatory and they should be vigilant about their supply chain. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Greenpeace have released reports on waste and circularity recently, which show that brands are working towards this, but there is no transparency in the management of waste. This is what should be the next step, I think it will influence a lot of consumers in terms of which brands we buy from.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently based in London, working on the next collection for September. I am also lecturing at Kingston University which is great and working on new projects with Fashion Revolution, which I am very excited to be involved in.
words – SASHA GEYER
photographs – CHLOE ENGLISH
models – AMI BENTON, LOUIS CHEN & MAISIE PERARSON
location – DUNGENESS, KENT