Burberry will be donating leftover fabrics to fashion students
ReBurberry Fabric Initiative sees the brand partner with the British Fashion Council to help students across the country.
Courtesy of Burberry
Here’s how things stand. In the UK, there is an education crisis for those of less privilege and of no wealth. We are in climate crisis. At the same time, the fashion industry has a deadstock crisis: excess fabric, waste and overproduction. Can we get this deadstock fabric into the hands of students?
Students in England already face a debt of around £50,000 for three years from fees, housing, living expenses. Fashion students are then expected to pay out even more for materials: fabrics, embellishments, buttons, zips. Even before pandemic, this was a challenge for students who don’t come from financially secure backgrounds. These students usually make up the shortfall with part-time jobs. Right now, there is no work in bars, clubs, shops. Meanwhile, the pandemic may have made their family’s financial situation even more precarious.
And anyway: shouldn’t we be giving students the means and encouragement to find more sustainable ways of being? Shouldn’t fashion education be about new ways of thinking, rather than stuck in the banal fashion cliches of luxury, opulence and privilege? Shouldn’t we help those without such privilege not just in pandemic, but in the long-term?
I’ve been asking these questions since summer. Could we create a system that makes it easy to get leftover fabric to students across the country? The result is announced today: a pilot scheme with Burberry, Sarah Mower and the British Fashion Council called the ReBurberry Fabric Initiative. It’s simple. Burberry will donate substantial amounts of leftover fabrics. The BFC will oversee the logistics, getting the fabrics to students most in need at fashion colleges throughout the UK.
Those colleges will be able to select the fabric they would like to receive. Crucially, the fabric is all non-IP, meaning that there is nothing to identify it as Burberry cloth: no checks, no logo. It means the students receiving the fabric won’t be making an identifiably Burberry garment, they’ll be making their own garment.
For Burberry, it’s about supporting the “next generation of diverse voices across the country”. According to Pam Betty, VP of Corporate Responsibility at Burberry, “providing resources for these communities in a sustainable way will enable them to bring their creativity to life, and continue through their programmes with the tools they need.”
It is such a monumental step that Burberry have made this commitment to future generations of fashion talent. For decades, brands and designers have donated fabric to fashion colleges, but it’s usually ad hoc, and mostly focused on colleges in London. This is the beginning of an attempt to find a new model, one that formalises donation of leftover fabric at the heart of a brand’s practice.
Burberry’s scheme is a pilot to test the process, make sure it works on all sides. The aim is to then introduce, through the BFC, the Student Fabric Initiative, encouraging brands of all sizes to join the scheme and systematically donate fabric to underprivileged students, bringing circularity between the industry and education.
I’ve already seen the effect such donations can have. I’m a visiting lecturer on the BA Fashion course at the University of Westminster. In 2019, final year student Steven Stokey-Daley was one of 14 students around the country to receive a donation of fabric by Alexander McQueen. Stokey-Daley is proudly working class, from Liverpool. The donation of sumptuous McQueen cloth allowed him to make a sharp-eyed graduate collection, skewering public school homosocialism which forms the bonds within this country’s male ruling elite.
Since graduating this summer, Stokey-Daley moved back to Liverpool and has started his own brand, making lush roomy shirts and broad-cut trousers from upcycled fabrics. Many have started to take notice, and in October, Harry Styles wore full upcycled looks by Stokey-Daley in his video for Golden. Since then, everything he makes sells out. The fabric donation by McQueen set a clear chain of positive events, allowing Stokey-Daley to grow his nascent brand from authentically sustainable roots.
There are so many others using deadstock and leftover fabrics as a natural part of their design practice. One such is Jonty K Mellmann, another Westminster BA 2020 graduate, who makes fierce cut-ups that reflect his beloved gabba and hardcore scenes, even collaborating with the original upcycler Noki. Their pieces can be found at Fantastic Toiles, Nasir Mazhar’s store in Forest Gate that celebrates radicalism in the one-off and handmade.
Burberry’s donation, and hopefully the donations of others to follow, will embed the use of leftover materials in fashion education. It will help students who can barely afford to eat, let alone pay for cloth. For final year students trying to create their graduate collection in these restricted, isolated times, it will hopefully let them know that somebody cares. Beyond pandemic, it will help those who would otherwise struggle to afford a fashion education.
I would like this to be just the beginning of a new relationship for students with fabric. Could we get leftover fabric to students at an earlier age, giving them the chance to play with fashion before they have to decide on college? And beyond that – what about an education in fabric itself? This country suffers in many ways from the decimation of manufacturing. Many cloth mills struggle to survive.
Can we make knowledge about fabric, its sources and processes, more part of how we learn? Can we encourage students to form links with local fabric mills, connections that could continue into their future careers, also helping to ensure the future of the mills themselves? Could the action of students today help to encourage sustainable and ethical manufacturing in this country?
These are all conversations to be had in the weeks and months to come. The ReBurberry Fabric Initiative is a fantastic beginning, and I am grateful for their enthusiasm and commitment. I cannot wait to see what students do with this cloth. Now, the work is to formalise the Student Fabric Initiative, making it ready for other brands to join in, donate, help.