Christopher Raeburn is an icon of sustainable fashion and a trailblazer for modern, progressive design. The four R’s – Remade, Reduced, Recycled and Raeburn – may spawn a fifth: Revolution.
“Do you want a cup of tea?” says Christopher Raeburn, who answers his own door and fixes his own brews. The British fashion designer begins the Disorder interview with a tour of his studio, a space that regularly opens up to the public for workshops and personal tailoring, but also contains the archive and the engine room for his brand and its collaborations. Raeburn HQ is situated in Burberry’s former factory in east London, which dates back to the 1880s. “It’s super cool to be actually making and doing in a space that has such history,” says Christopher.
Arguably the first name in sustainable fashion, Christopher’s innovative and intelligent collections fuse the practicality of military clothing with the progressive modernity of sportswear. The Remade concept breathes new life into old garments and dead stock, and welcomes unusual textiles: for his SS18 collection, fabric from pre-flown kites – yes, kites! – is reconstructed into macs and anoraks. The actual work of this, pulling apart and shaping into something new, takes place in the same white and light east London studio where the designer now fishes out teabags.
The Christopher Raeburn brand is stocked in stores from Brighton to Beirut to Beijing. Christopher graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2006 and set up his own studio in 2008. Three years later he won the British Fashion Council’s Emerging Designer Award for menswear. His older brother Graeme is head designer at cycle-wear brand Rapha, and the two collaborated in 2013 on Rapha & Raeburn, a capsule collection. Christopher has since linked with British brands Fred Perry, Barbour and Clarks for crossover collections, as well as less promiscuous partners such as insulated jacket specialist Save The Duck and bespoke knitting outfitter Unmade. In a cupboard Chris shows off a rail of military coats, including compression suits used by Russian and Chinese pilots, Guardsman coats, Siberian sheepskins. A three-foot-high, inflatable Mickey Mouse, Raeburn’d in fetishy black rubber with crosses for eyes, sits on a nearby shelf – spoils from a hook-up with Disney. Mug of char happily in hand, this is what we learned…
Remade in Britain
“We’re able to do a lot of the Remade pieces right here in the studio, all of the more complex items, all individually numbered, proper labour of love territory. But we don’t produce everything here. The two other parts of the collection are Reduced and Recyled. Reduced is all about organic cotton, local manufacturing. We’re doing all of our jersey-wear in Portugal with a really cool company called Earth Positive. And for Recycled we’re now doing sampling and production in Asia for the first time. Because when we reviewed our carbon footprint, what we’ve been doing is bonkers: buying technical fabrics in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China; shipping them here, checking the fabrics are ok; sending them to factories either in the UK or Europe, making something; bringing them back here for quality control; then send most of it back to Asia. We’re trying to get out of that loop. And a lot of the recycling technology is happening in Asia. So it makes sense to be producing the highest possible quality item in the right place for it and just being intelligent and transparent about that. Here in the UK we’re really, really good at doing certain things. We’re pretty good at outerwear. We’re good at knitwear. We’re good at leather accessories. So let’s make them here.”
“We do fun things like our seasonal mascot [an animal chosen every season and used for prints, for stuffed toys, for bags]. The jerboa [hopping mouse] went with the Spring/Summer  collection; they live in the Gobi desert. I started with curious British animals, so I did the badger and a rabbit and a fox and a squirrel. And then I started running out of curious British animals. We did a project around the Arctic so I switched to a polar bear and we give 10 per cent whenever we sell bags and things to the WWF [World Wildlife Fund]. Now I choose endangered animals that fit with the narrative of the collection… curious, interesting little critters. We did a collection inspired by Borneo, so we did the orang-utan.”
Open & Transparent
“We wanted to be somewhere that people could see in at what we’re doing. We’re completely transparent. If someone sends an email with a series of questions we’ll always try to answer them. If someone knocks on the door, we’ll let them in. We do a lot of different workshops where we teach people to make all the animals, where you actually come in and choose your own fabrics and we teach you how to make it over the course of the day. We do a really cool thing called Two Minute T-shirts. You come, you take a plain organic cotton T-shirt, carbon neutral, and we have a series of patches and letters and numbers and you can heat press them, and the patches are recycled and you can walk away in two minutes with a new T-shirt. And it’s fun. It turns adults into kids and kids love it anyway. But, actually, everyone is walking away with a bit of the message, something unique, organic, carbon neutral. And we’re meeting real people and finding out not just why someone likes something but, much more useful, why someone doesn’t like something.”
Wear It Well
“People need affordable clothing. It’s really easy to criticise and to guilt-trip, but it’s about balance. If you have to buy affordable clothing then you have to buy affordable clothing. But it’s about then how you care for that item and what happens to it. The bigger issue is when people can afford to buy better quality items and they still buy cheap things and wear them very few times and they get thrown away. But yeah, I’m not going to lose sleep if I’ve bought a pair of socks from Uniqlo cos I needed a pair of socks. For us the conversation has to be design led, rather than preach led if you will. And I love the fact that someone might get one of our jackets home and it’s only when they read all of the detail on the inside that they realise what it’s been Remade from… that is still quite a buzz.”
“I was very geeky. I was a mountain biker at 17, into air cadets and very odd things. Through cadets I was exposed to the newest types of kit. This was the early 90s and all of this new equipment was coming through; you went from a waterproof cotton that was really heavy to Gore-Tex. I have two older brothers. Graeme, the middle brother, was three years ahead of me, and went to the Royal College [of Art, the RCA], so in Graeme I had an amazing pathfinder. When I did my art foundation at 18, 19, I loved the fact you did two weeks of everything, photography, architecture, graphic design, product design. What I liked about fashion is that you ended up doing; it was about the process. You research very intently, sketch, and you could develop the whole thing if you wanted to in a day or a week or whatever, and that’s quite rare. You can’t do it in architecture. It was that combination of the narrative, the process and the product, with that geeky fastidious love of protection and outerwear and utility clothing. By the time I got through the RCA, spat out the other end, I had accidentally brought all that stuff together.”
The Tall Guy
“I’m six foot five and a half. Yesterday I had a Danish guy come in the studio. Six foot eight. Once in a while you do get dwarfed by someone. I’m in the fortunate position where I’m able to use our made to measure service. [My advice is] just wear shorts. I wear shorts for eight months of the year. And I’m really lucky I’ve only got size 11 feet, so I’m not in the really freaky bucket. But I am constantly hitting my head and really clumsy. Ping pong: that’s [the tall people’s] sport.”
“I never grew up loving a designer. The [pre-production] sketches by Ralph McQuarrie of Snowtroopers [in Empire Strikes Back] were more influential. Air cadets, that love of preparation, the spirit of adventure, then layering in Star Wars and all of this other mad stuff… I design the way I do because of all those things. We’re not a performance brand, but those elements of layering and protection and water resistance and breathability and wind resistance, the narrative behind the collection, allows us to present a singular vision. And we don’t always do protection per se, but it’s always function and fashion coming together, to provide a different view. More than ever we want to be more radical in our approach. You see so much stuff that looks the same, especially in men’s fashion. We want to be different.”
“It fascinated me at university that I could buy original jackets from the 1950s for one pound each that had never been worn, still wrapped in hessian and waxproof paper. The entrepreneurial side of me thought, that’s amazing: deconstruct the jackets, line them with Gore-Tex bivouac bags and make them into something that people would pay hundreds of pounds for. Remade is a happy accident combined with a bit of pragmatic thinking – why would you not want to design in a considered way? I’m not interested in just getting the cheapest fabric and making the cheapest jacket, or the cheapest cotton and making the cheapest T-shirt. I’m interested in making something that’s going to last in the most considered and intelligent way.”
“We’re now eight years into business but I genuinely feel like we’re just getting going. With Remade, at the moment we have two full-time machinists; we have space for eight. There’s also clearly an opportunity around the Reduced side, around the T-shirts and prints, and with Recycled we’re really improving our outerwear, the technologies, the fits, the quality, all really working together. On a product level we have an opportunity like an orchestra, to start playing louder in all of those different elements. And we can be doing Remade anything. The studio is essentially a Remade architectural space, and that could be applicable in any part of the world, to product design, to anything from cups to you-name-it. I find that super, super exciting.”
Being Christopher Raeburn
“I keep my feet firmly on the ground. I’m still Chris who’s shifting boxes sometimes at eight o' clock at night. When you’re doing boring stuff is sometimes when you have your best ideas. The same as cycling to work. I have good ideas on that cycle. When I think about the British Fashion Awards, you get up and do a speech in front of a few hundred of the most important people in the industry, and you do think, wow, maybe I’m doing something right. My moment for that is when you write it on a passport thing, when you’re entering the U.S. What do you do? Designer. And you think, are they even going to take me seriously? I finally convinced my mum that this is a proper job. Yeah, I’m not messing about.”
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