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“Sustainability in fashion today is like organic milk,” says Paul van Zyl, co-founder and chief executive of the American ethical brand Maiyet. “Five years ago, it was seen as esoteric, a bit of a luxury. But increasingly, people are trying to only buy organic milk. Luxury fashion consumers are now demanding transparency. They want to know where their clothes came from.”
Zyl is standing in the middle of The Maiyet Collective, a chic new concept store on London’s Conduit Street housing the wares from 60 brands across fashion, beauty and homewares. “This is the largest curation of sustainable brands in the UK,” says Zyl of the pop-up, which opens today. “We’re trying to develop a new approach to retail — one that’s about collaboration, instead of competition.”
Sustainability, of course, is a buzzword in fashion. Gucci recently announced a 10-year plan to guarantee the traceability of 95 per cent of its raw materials. Chopard committed to using only fair-mined gold earlier this year, and Adidas has just unveiled its first collection of vegan Stan Smith sneakers, in partnership with Stella McCartney. But for consumers, finding more under-the-radar sustainable brands is difficult: these smaller labels lack the advertising budgets to spread their message. Enter the Maiyet Collective.
The space will be open three days a month and will feature a constantly changing selection of stock. Zyl likens the model to a music gig. “If the same band plays at your local venue for 30 days a month, it’s going to wear a little thin. This is Thursday, Friday and Saturday, it’s a different ensemble of goods from different brands once a month.”
The store has been designed using only raw materials by London studio the New Craftsmen. On reclaimed timber rails hangs crisp stripy shirting from the London-based luxury brand Mother of Pearl, alongside sleek leather bags in popping colours and refillable lipsticks by the LVMH-backed La Bouche Rouge.
The idea came about when an ethical jewellery brand approached the South African-born Zyl — a one-time human-rights lawyer — to collaborate. Rather than co-design pieces, however, Zyl gave the brand floor space in Maiyet’s New York store. “We found people would come into the store for the jewellery brand, and end up buying Maiyet too,” he says. “We began to see that co-retailing really works, so there was a real opportunity to do that at scale, in London.”
He already had a space in mind: a 4,000 sq ft event space in The Conduit, the members’ club that he co-founded and which launched last month. Unlike other exclusive clubs, Conduit members have to express an active interest in positive social and environmental change. (So important is this that The Conduit doesn’t serve almond milk — which uses vast quantities of water to be grown in drought-ridden California — in its café.)
Benefits for the brands stocked in the Collective are multiple: it will connect them to new customers and potential investors, and give them the chance to explore physical retail.
The store should go some way to shedding schlumpy notions of sustainable fashion. “It’s spreading the message that ethical fashion isn’t boring,” says designer Carolina Wong. Her handbags, crafted in Morocco by a collective of women and master artisans, will be available in store.
Nishanth Chopra, co-founder of the India-based Oshadi, agrees. “Lately, a lot of good designers have adapted to making products sustainably while retaining a chic aesthetic.” Oshadi’s garments will be sold in store, and the Maiyet Collective’s staff will wear its necktie midi-dress, handmade from cruelty-free silk and coloured with organic dyes, as a uniform.
Brands will pay a “small cleaning and security fee”, says Zyl. “Many labels have effective online distribution but can’t muster up the capital to open a full store. This is a healthy-margin way of discovering whether the product works in a real-life retail sense.”
In a troubled time for physical retail, it’s a lower-risk way of operating a store. But this constantly evolving curation of wares, along with the store’s specific point of difference and identity, is what will bring in customers, says Zyl. “When you can sit back and order 20 different products with a swish of your index finger on an iPad at 11pm, you’ve got to give people a reason to actually get up and schlep into a physical space,” he says. To that end, the store will house a café selling sustainably sourced food and drinks, and chief executives and designers will be in store to talk to customers.
“It’s this common ethos and identity that helps shape the experience,” says Zyl. “It’s worth putting in your calendar and making sure you don’t miss it.”
The Maiyet Collective will be open October 4-6, November 1-3 and November 29-December 1; maiyet.com
Four of the best sustainable brands
Mother of Pearl
Founded in 2002, the London-based brand Mother of Pearl’s journey to sustainability began two years ago, when creative director Amy Powney decided to change the label’s ethical footprint. Powney journeyed to Peru, Turkey and Uruguay to meet cotton pickers and sheep farmers, and Mother of Pearl can now trace its No Frills collection straight back to the field. “Words like ethical, transparent, organic, conscious are thrown around a lot,” says Powney. “It’s a minefield, which is why I launched a system on our site to filter every product by its sustainable attributes to give consumers true transparency.” motherofpearl.co.uk
“There are a lot more sustainable options in skincare than fashion, at least from a mainstream point of view,” says the east London-based Guy Morgan, who established his namesake skincare line in 2015, using recipes he had perfected at home in Somerset to treat his own problematic teen skin. Morgan uses only raw, organic materials that are free from chemicals and pesticides, and packages his unisex apothecary-style skincare himself in his studio. “A lot of brands prey on men’s insecurities, and overcompensate with design and masculine language,” he says. “I gave my range a minimal design to have blanket appeal.” guy-morgan.com
Founder Carolina Valentino-Wong founded her namesake label after graduating from the Chelsea College of Art in 2011. Her company works towards a waste-free business model, sourcing leather from rural farmers in Morocco who trade their cows, goats and lambs for meat. “I looked at lots of sustainable options when starting my label,” says Wong. “Vegan leather did not convince me as I did not want my collection to be made of any type of synthetic that does not last.” carolinawong.co.uk
Based in Erode in India and founded by Nishanth Chopra and Irish designer Richard Malone, Oshadi works with communities of craftsmen in South India to produce its handmade garments that are coloured using natural dyes sourced from flowers, leaves and tree bark. So traditional are the brand’s techniques, that each weaver makes only five metres of fabric per day. “Luxury means something that is of very high quality and made with an investment of considerable amount of time, care and craftsmanship into it,” says Chopra. “Therefore, in order for something to be truly luxury, it has to be truly sustainable.” oshadi.in
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