Searching For Sustainability Beneath The Gloss

In the March edition of The Gloss (the monthly fashion magazine of the Irish Times), 100+ stylish women shared their brand preferences. Eva Power, owner of The Ethical Silk Company, listed labels with sustainable credentials, but if you weren't already familiar with Reformation, Everlane and People Tree, there was no clue that these brands were ethical. Does it matter? It wasn't a piece on Sustainability, so there was no reason to expect ethical preferences to be highlighted, but I was kind of hoping for more ethical brands to be featured. Trawling through the entire magazine, there was no mention of the impact of fashion consumption or the growing movement of ethical options. I guess, being so immersed in the issues myself there's an expectation that it's more mainstream than it is and The Gloss was a reminder that there's a long way to go in raising awareness. We know not to use plastic bags and to challenge

tamsin-blackbourn-the-gloss-vertical.jpg

unnecessary food packaging. Currently under the spotlight are single use items like drinking straws and take-out coffee cups and we know what to do about them – say no to straws and have a Keep Cup with us when we're out and about. So why is the conversation regarding fashion so quiet?

Perhaps, The Gloss is not representative of the attitude of the country at large, after all, it's existence is predicated on the advertising of stores like Brown Thomas and Arnotts and there's not a strong ethical message coming from such companies – yet. If an absence of ethical fashion issues in The Gloss is a true reflection of the level of unconcern or unawareness nationwide, then it's clear, there's a good way to go in getting the information out there for people to start making informed choices, or at least raise awareness that the choices we make as consumers are a reflection of our values, ethical or not.

During my perusal of The Gloss I found a tiny mention of Wicklow designer Colette Ashe whose cashmere pieces are made 'with particular emphasis on sustainability'. Also, the design duo behind Tissue, are 'passionate about sustainability'. That was something.

I was also looking out for mentions of Irish designers and artisan makers in general and gratifyingly, there were a few – not many, but a few. Domino Whisker, makes exquisite hand embroidery, two knitwear designers; Agne Nazebetauskaite in Magherafelt and Paula Marron's label Castanea and a traditional Irish embroiderer, Jill De Burca. Obviously, this is my area of special interest, because I love to find out the stories behind these makers.

It's important on many levels, not least to promote and nurture what is actually going on creatively and economically in Ireland, but because it continues the tradition of making, often by hand, and it is this that adds to the texture of our culture. I was exasperated to read Breege O'Donoghue, declare that she's 'proud to wear Penneys clothing' because she 'champions' Irish design. That's simply misleading. She can wear Penneys clothing if she wants, but opting for runway knock offs made in developing countries is hardly championing Irish design.

We can't carry on consuming the way we have, because it isn't sustainable and it's puzzling that there is still so little conversation about this in the world of fashion. It's as if we don't think it's a bad as it is. Christopher Raeburn, (he guests in this months recommended podcast), whose fashion business is based on the three R's of Remade, Reduced and Recycled, talks about how otherwise 'clever people' ask him 'how long the sustainability trend will last?'. The thing is, it's not and can't be a trend and the sooner it becomes mainstream, the better.

Tamsin  ✂️

Carmel Somers wears the Charleville dress 

Carmel Somers (front right) of Good Things Cafe, Skibbereen chose to wear the Charleville Dress at an event hosted by The Irish Times.  At a gathering of top Irish chefs, the future of Irish restaurants was discussed, along with diversity in the kitchen, why there is a shortage of chefs in Ireland and the problem of no-shows. 

Check now for sizes and availability

photo credit; The Irish Times

photo credit; The Irish Times

Contemplating an Ethical Festive Season 

As the year comes to a close we find ourselves so busy, planning the time to be spent with family and friends and doing our Christmas Shopping. I know some people who totally adore the whole shebang and others who feel overwhelmed by all there is to do. As I get older, I find the last days of the year are also a time for reflection of what's passed, of where I am now and what's ahead in the new year. I know others are reflecting, too.

december-sunrise-west-cork.jpg

When it comes to sustainability, all the wheels can fall off the wagon at Christmas. Our good intentions of only buying what we need and minimising the accompanying packaging is harder to adher to. Step one is to be aware of what we're purchasing and what it's packed in; Buying something that merely has novelty factor almost guarantees it's going to end up as waste in landfill, much better to buy something that the receiver will care for and look after. Step two is to know that small changes in our purchasing habits, like remembering our bags-for-life, really do make a difference.  It's about considering the choices we make and putting kindness at the centre of it all, to others, the environment and ourselves.

Have a Happy Sustainable Christmas!
Tamsin   x

All The Nice Girls Love A Sailor (Shirt)

Story of Our Kinsale Shirt

 
Hark, now hear the sailors cry
smell the sea, and feel the sky
let your soul & spirit fly, into the mystic...
— Van Morrison

Our Kinsale shirt is inspired by the tradition of the sailor suit, but how did the universally recognised sailors apparel, particularly the sailor collar, come about in the first place?

In the beginning, there was no official uniform for seamen, they would have worn their own clothes and being away at sea for so so long, they tended to let their hair grow.  Sailors used grease or tar to hold their long hair in place so that it didn't get in the way as they worked. There wasn't much opportunity for bathing or laundering on a ship, so to protect their clothing from the tar, they wore a piece of cloth over their shoulders which became known as a 'tar flap'.

Eventually, the naval forces formalised the dress code and although sailors were no longer allowed long hair,  the tradition of the tar flap was incorporated into the uniform with the sailor collar that we know today.  Due to the perilousness of the sea, sailors were (and perhaps still are) a superstitious lot and it may have seemed prudent to retain the collar, in spite of it's original function having become obsolete.   Even nowadays, it can be considered good luck to touch the collar of a sailor.

The archetypal dress of a sailor with the flap collar, neckerchief and bell bottom trousers has a singular look, conjuring lively sailors disembarking their ships after months journeying away at sea before returning to shore. There's a romance and mystery to the look of the classic sailor uniform, unlike anything a land-locked civilian might ordinarily wear, evoking the exotic and adventure, an irresistible combination.  

 
source: Twisted Limbs and Crooked Branches

source: Twisted Limbs and Crooked Branches

source: Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties

source: Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties

There's something inescapably appealing about uniforms in general and the sailor suit has long been referenced in the styling details of clothing for us non sea fairing folk, initially being popularised in the 1800s in women's fashion as well as young boys dress, hence the popularity of the sailor suit for page boys at weddings.

source: Chanel, Couture and Industry

source: Chanel, Couture and Industry

Around 1913, the French designer, Gabrielle Chanel rebelled against the accentuated feminine shape that had long prevailed in women clothing, with it's restrictive corsetry.  The fashion was for women to wear dresses which were boned to create a tiny waist, and an exaggerated bust and hips and inevitably this constrained movement as well as requiring someone to assist with all those fastenings and laces.  

Chanel  designed clothes with a relaxed cut, taking elements from mens clothing, including mens workwear which had a more utilitarian feel and was eminently more practical.  She also utilised fabrics never before thought of as suitable for women clothing; knitted jersey in wool or silk was mostly used for sports and beach wear and in it's natural colour state, for mens undergarments.  During the war, traditional fabrics were in short supply as they were used for uniforms, so it was easy step to persuade people of the necessity of turning to jersey clothing, which helped revolutionised the comfort and practicality of womenswear.

Gabrielle Chanel (above) in 1913 wearing her own clothing designs, of a heavy jersey sweater with sailor style collar and linen skirt.  At the time, it would have been  unusual for a woman's garment to be pulled over the  head and years later, American Vogue commented "To many rich women, the charm of Chanel lay in the remarkable fact that they could dress themselves without anyone's help." 

In more recent times, to mark her engagement at Buckingham Palace, Princess Diana wore a navy ensemble complete with a white sailor collar blouse and red ribbon bow.  It is thought this was a nod to the traditional dress once worn by younger members of the royal family since the times of Queen Victoria and Czar Nicholas.

What we think of as a sailor suit is now mostly worn by junior servicemen and only on ceremonial occasions and has been replaced by a modern boiler suit style uniform for everyday wear.  The traditional uniform with sailor collar designed to protect clothing from tar and the bell bottom trousers, practical for rolling up when scrubbing the ship's decks, has been updated to meet the requirements of modern day life in the Navy. However it lives on, providing inspiration in clothing design, to be reinterpreted and re-configured again and again.

source: Diana, Her Life in Fashion

source: Diana, Her Life in Fashion


Detail of the Kinsale shirt in pure cotton with carved mother-of-pearl buttons

Detail of the Kinsale shirt in pure cotton with carved mother-of-pearl buttons

Our Kinsale Shirt borrows the sailor collar from the traditional naval uniform as well as referencing the twenties, when women's clothing became more androgynous, adapting the fit to suit a contemporary femininity.  This version with three quarter length sleeves is in a beautiful, fine cotton jacquard of elephant grey with brick red and ochre patterned stripes.

Back Stage At DesignedBy Runway Show

DesignedBy was one of the many innovative events taking place to celebrate and promote local design in Northern Ireland's first city, Belfast.  Staged at The MAC, Belfast's contemporary arts centre, DesignedBy was a curated exhibition of clothing and accessory designers by fashion stylist and journalist, Jessica Fok.  Jessica was keen to put on a fashion show that focused on design rather than trends and Belfast Design Week was the perfect fit.  

We were invited to participate in DesignedBy to show what sustainably designed clothing looks like and were delighted to show alongside Northern Irish designers including Attune Womenswear and Marie Claire Ferguson.

Tamsin-Blackbourn-designedby.jpg

Northern Ireland's pre-eminent Arts Centre is always buzzing and there's always lots happening, so The MAC proved to be the perfect venue for the DesignedBy runway show.  

Tamsin-Blackbourn-clothing

Back stage, the designers fitted each of their looks to one of the models from the Maureen Martin Model Management. The Charleville Dress is ready to debut... 

Tamsin-Blackbourn-Clothing

Runway models were attended to by hair and beauty designed by Hair Artist Kelly White and Chief Make-up Designer Joanne Gray.

Tamsin-Blackbourn-Clothing

Models backstage awaiting their moment to walk:  Ella wears All Seasons Dress in indigo Irish linen and Lauren is dressed in the cotton Kinsale Shirt.  We partnered with CrossEyes spectacle specialists, whose retro styles perfectly complimented our sustainable clothing.    

Tamsin-Blackbourn-Clothing

A favourite image of Vuitton wearing the Gabriel skirt in wool tweed and side buttoned top in Irish linen.  Curator and organiser, Jessica Fok ensures the schedule is seamless.