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Reclaimed cotton & functional design: the AESOP × RÆBURN collaboration

Christopher Raeburn talks to Good editor Carolyn Enting about his new collaboration with Aesop.

British designer Christopher Raeburn is known for making headlines for his innovative approach to responsible design. 

His label RÆBURN challenges the conventional fashion system. Most recently, as part of digital London Fashion Week, he released RÆFOUND a collection of unissued military surplus items, which he curated to provoke a conversation about “systems solutions”. 

An honouree of the environmental category at the Fashion Awards 2020 Raeburn has also just joined forces with Aesop for a very special collaboration. 

Together they’ve produced an Adventurer Roll Up made from 80 per cent recycled cotton, as well as a limited-edition release of 300 Roll Ups made from 1960s aeronautical maps of areas affected by environmental degradation under his RÆMADE banner, plus an open source pattern of the Roll Up. The Roll Up can be used for the easy transportation of essential hand care.

Christopher Raeburn

What do you hope this collaboration brings to the world? 

At RÆBURN we recognise that cross-industry collaboration is key in addressing sustainability at-large. We all need to work together and combine forces to drive that momentum forward. We are particularly interested in working outside of the traditional fashion scope. Together with Aesop, there’s an incredible opportunity to reach out and engage with new audiences that really share these values and hopefully inspire something meaningful beyond that. 

The Roll Ups are made from pre-consumer recycled cotton. Can you explain what pre-consumer recycled cotton is? 

Recycled cotton, also known as regenerated or reclaimed cotton refers to pre-consumer cotton and post-consumer cotton. 

Pre-consumer cotton, which is used in our Adventurer Roll Ups, refers specifically to cotton that is a by-product of the cotton fabric manufacturing process, such as the off-cuts from fabric garments. This material would go directly to landfill if not recycled. 

Post-consumer recycled cotton refers to utilising cotton in garments, upholstery and fabrics after use by a consumer. 

Using both types has environmental benefits, however, pre-consumer cotton is considerably more environmentally beneficial as this material would otherwise go directly to landfill. Due to fibre weakening in the recycling process, both pre- and post-consumer recycled cotton require blending of new fibres to strengthen the recycled fabric. The recycled post-consumer cotton for the Adventurer Roll Up has been re-spun with an addition of 20 per cent virgin cotton to add durability. 

How would you describe your ‘purpose’ as a fashion designer? 

RÆBURN operates with a focus on responsible, intelligent fashion design for a global audience. The RÆBURN ethos has pioneered the reworking of surplus fabrics and recycled materials to create distinctive, functional pieces. A collaborative spirit imbues our handcrafted, award-winning products with integrity and purpose. 

What made you say yes to a collab with Aesop? 

The combination of the incredible ethics and aesthetics. For us, whenever we have the opportunity to work with any partner, so much about it is the alignment of bands. From those early conversations we realised there was a lot that both brands shared in terms of craft, creativity, and community. 

I was really impressed by the amount of work that was happening at Aesop, more specifically The Aesop Foundation. This commitment to working with local communities and the company’s philanthropic output is really a key alignment for RÆBURN. We really see craft, creativity and community as anchors for the way that we work; the craft and creativity of course come hand in hand with RÆMADE, RÆDUCED and RÆCYCLED, and environmentally the way we look at our manufacturing. When we look at everything that Aesop is doing and the products that are developed, always with people and planet in mind, there is a lot of alignment and shared principles in the way we both approach things. 

It’s an incredibly relevant product for the market and our joint communities. Thinking back to our shared values, we have a lot of the same customers so it’s been really exciting to see the momentum build. I can’t wait for the product to officially launch. 

Who do you design for? 

The product we have developed is partially a reaction to the times that we are living in. Its purpose is to be a functional and practical accompaniment to the everyday journey, whilst also standing as something unique and meaningful for the user. We wanted to keep all of that in mind to ensure it meets the needs of the individual.

Ultimately this is for the customer that understands or already appreciates the work that each of our brands are doing and working towards, and those that are looking for something truly unique. By offering three product variants, we are approaching this on a much wider scale than just pinpointing a single person. We wanted to bring in the creative element, to democratise craft and allow individuals to make their own version of this product at home. 

How can the fashion industry achieve a circular fashion economy? 

There is a real need for cross-industry partnerships where companies can learn from each other and push each other, much like what has happened with Timberland and my role there [global creative director]. The reality is, fundamentally we need to change everything we are doing as people and the more we work together in harmony with the planet, then the better we will be. 

What part can consumers play in this process in your view? Consumers can champion brands with an appreciation for respectful, functional design, and a common desire to do good for the planet. This will encourage brands to continually improve practices towards a more sustainable future.

Find out more about the Aesop × RÆBURN collaboration here.

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