How my home island has become a hub for sustainable fashion
Moving back to the Isle of Wight two years ago after spending the previous twenty-one in London was a big change. And although I was moving for the obvious plus points – fresh air, living near family, the sea – having loved living in the city, with everything that it had to offer on my doorstep, I did worry that I might get bored living here. Would I miss eating out at the capital’s brilliant cafes and restaurants? Would there be enough live music to keep me entertained? And would I be able to satisfy my appetite for sustainable fashion in such a small community?
It turns out that I had nothing to worry about. The food scene here is wonderful; in my home town we have the brilliant new experimental restaurant Heron, and I have become mildly obsessed with The Smoking Lobster in Cowes and Ventnor, which I highly recommend if you’re ever visiting. The music scene is positively buzzing – in the summer we were lucky enough to see local band Wet Leg – who sold out their debut tour having released just two songs – at a new thriving venue called Strings, and we caught one of my all-time-favs Supergrass at the Isle of Wight festival in the summer, with the added luxury of not having to stay in a tent afterwards.
But perhaps best of all, is that there is a thriving sustainable and slow fashion movement here. One of my first commissions after moving was writing a piece for Island Visitor – a free magazine you can pick up on the ferry – about some of the brilliant brands on the Island. But as even more have appeared since then, I thought I would do a round-up of my favourites here on the blog. Because you don’t need to live here to take advantage of most of them!
Regular readers of this blog will already be familiar with Rapanui, an absolutely brilliant brand that operates right here on the Island, providing much needed work and training for local young people as well as being pioneers in the circular fashion movement (you can read more about Rapanui and circular fashion here). Set up by two brothers, conscious clothing must run in the family, because sister Rosie has her own sustainable label – Roake – which she moved back to the Island from Devon, where it was founded, shortly after I did (not because I did, I might add, but I like to think there’s some kind of serendipity going on here!).
Roake’s beautiful clothing is clever and adaptable. Rosie really considers women’s multi-faceted lives when designing. Wrap tops and dresses are a favourite for their obvious versatility – you’ll even find a wrap jumpsuit on the cards – and there’s always some gingham in the mix, which gets my vote every time. I have one of the Nicole quilted linen jackets (top) and I am crazy about it. Most items are made-to-order to save on waste, and you can also buy bundles of offcuts of delicious fabrics – great if you are, like me, into making quilts.
Another Island maker I’ve been a fan of for a while is Smock Project. If you live in London, you might catch these natty corduroy tops for sale at Herne Hill’s weekend market. They are designed to be worn doing the sorts of outdoorsy things you might do on a rural island, like gardening, and perhaps a spot of crabbing. I have, somewhat predictably, got a yellow one. A new discovery for me is the casual-wear label Île de Blanc, which uses sustainable fabrics like organic cotton and recycled polyester to make its logo basics. They have a louche, relaxed vibe and are lovely to wear.
I don’t use Facebook much anymore, but I occasionally log on and I follow a brilliant page called Not On Amazon, where you can find small businesses making cool things like wearable, heat-up-able linen bags (great for stomach cramps) and doormats made from old climbing rope (much nicer than they sound). This is weirdly where I stumbled across Blackbird Leather – it’s weird, because its founder, Danielle, is who I gave my Sindy doll collection to when I was about 12 – she’s an old school friend’s little sister, but I didn’t know about her brand. Danielle makes really lovely small leather goods; think handcrafted cross-body bags, sunglasses cases and key rings. I’m a big fan of the cable tidies – a lifesaver when I’m commuting to London with the best part of a home office packed into my bag.
In a completely different vein, Wyatt and Jack’s bags are made from recycled materials that would have gone to landfill if they weren’t reimagined into whimsical creations. From deckchairs – this canvas fabric started the brand’s journey twelve years ago – to bouncy castles and swimming pool inflatables, everything is a real individual. Read more about the brand here.
Repairs and Alterations
I have been saying for at least two years that I am planning to learn how to sew. And thanks to a brilliant new establishment – Stitch Department – now might be my time! Housed in an old-fashion department store called Pack and Culliford’s (I remember this being open when I was a kid and it was very Are You Being Served), it’s a venue for classes and crafting workshops (including a bring-your-own sewing machine session), a vintage clothing store and, perhaps most excitingly, Amber Maidment.
Amber makes wonderful creations of her own, including these gorgeous rucksacks, but she’s also available in store to help you repair or alter the clothes you already have. A few weeks ago I took in a dress that I loved but I had to admit just didn’t work for me because it had been designed for someone much taller than me. So Amber, rather cleverly, has made it into a skirt and – and this is the best bit – has added pockets made from organic cotton (I’m wearing it in the top pic). I was thrilled when she presented it to me in a vintage Pack and Culliford’s carrier bag; they found a stash of them in the store when they got the keys, and are putting them to good use.
I’d love to hear about your local sustainable fashion heroes – tell me about them below!