Fashion: Irish Sustainable Fashion

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Lifestyle: Catherine Feore went to Ireland to see why Irish fashion designers are going slow with sustainable fashion.

‘All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.’ W.B. Yeats

Yeats’ famous poem ‘Easter, 1916′ refers to the Easter Rising when Irish republicans led a rather ill-fated attempt to end British rule in Irish designers, deeply embedded in their local communities and moulded by their outstanding landscapes, have decided the future has to be a sustainable one. Over the past weeks of lockdown, a lot of us have had time to reflect on how we live our lives and what is really important to us. Do we have to return to a world of car fumes? A society where everything is disposable? Is the hectic morning commute really necessary? When you have taken your foot off the peddle and look at your life, you get a chance to appreciate the world around you and to redress some imbalances.

Visiting Irish designers, I heard over and over again the words sustainability, durability, community, linked to what has become one of the most notoriously disposable of all sectors, fashion.

Anna Guerin calls her company Landskein: “I came across the word Landskein years ago and I fell in love with its meaning, the weaving and braiding of horizon lines, seen on hazy days… It’s a profoundly beautiful word that reflects the idea of the interweaving of the threads of heritage with the threads of modernity.”

Guerin says it is not just about sustainability, but kindness, a people and planet approach. Guerin knows cutters and machinists by name, she says that she will only work with partners that can offer full transparency into the processes used to create her products.

On her designs she said: “We celebrate Donegal Tweed in our collections, a fabric steeped in centuries of Irish heritage. I use light tweeds that are woven exclusively for Landskein in Adara in County Donegal, using yarns that are spun locally in Kilcar. The contemporary designs have lighter fusings and a more relaxed unstructured look, making garments that are both modern and authentic, they could be summed up as ‘luxury with meaning’.” www.thelandskein.com

McNutt of Donegal makes the cosiest and most attractive woollen throws. Many of us have switched off our televisions and turned to an absorbing good read under lockdown. Despite Belgium’s unusually glorious spring weather, it’s nice to snuggle up under one of these beautiful yarns, with a good yarn, when the evening chill sets in. #WHYLINEN

McNutt is adding more linen products to its collection. Apart from being a beautiful traditional fabric, linen is to my mind the best fabric for summer. Light and breathable, it provides structure without weight.

I learned from Sonja Pirousmand, who is German and works for McNutt, that linen is also one of the world’s most sustainable products and it is why they are trying to encourage people to understand its environmental merits. It is much easier on resources, as flax only needs 3% of the water necessary for cotton production, organic or not. It does not need to be imported to Europe from far off countries; McNutt has sourced European flax from France and Belgium, preserving and generating new jobs. When it arrives in Ireland the weaving is powered solely by wind-generated power – something that Ireland’s ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ has no shortage of.

Slow fashion: Sustainability is also about durability. Magee is a fifth-generation Irish family business with over 150 years of experience in designing, weaving and finishing luxury fabrics in their mill in Donegal. This is also the tale of many other companies, for example Hanna Hats, where Eleanor Hanna told me that someone came to see her and showed her a hat that he had owned for 42 years! The design philosophy, a bit like the ‘slow food movement’, is that good things take time and good quality is timeless. The designs are built to last and are highly prized by their owners.

Other designers such as Bernie Murphy, while inspired by heritage and tradition, have a more contemporary take. Murphy designs for her own brand, but also for Fisherman out of Ireland who make contemporary, premium Irish knitwear. Fisherman is also based in Donegal, as they say on their website: “We might be situated on the edge of Europe in the middle of ‘nowhere’ but we export 70% of everything we make to the four corners of the globe.”

As we emerge from confinement, people will have to think long and hard about their choices. Do we really need to endlessly consume? What is the impact of our choices on the environment ? How can we support businesses that make a real difference to their local communities? The pandemic may be the moment when we realize there is no going back and that we have to change, change utterly.