Amy Powney reimagining fashion sustainably

Amy Powney reimagining fashion sustainably
Fashion designer Amy Powney’s mission to make ethical and sustainable garments is told in documentary film Fashion Reimagined
Feature documentary Fashion Reimagined follows Mother of Pearl fashion designer Amy Powney in her quest to create sustainable womenswear from “field to finished garment”.
With Vogue award for the Best Young Designer of the Year 2017 under her belt and a large cash prize of £100,000, Amy sets up the No Frills brand. She gives herself a year to fulfil her mission and launch her collection at London Fashion Week 2018. But navigating the labyrinth of the fashion supply chain with a sustainability brief turns out to be frankly head-spinning.
Amy endeavours to tick all the sustainability boxes. For starters, materials must be natural, organic, traceable and biodegradable. She quickly realises that that rules out synthetics—leaving cotton and wool. But the production of these fabrics falls far short of environmental or worker-friendly conditions. Not only that but the complex global supply chain to bring affordable fashion to the high street relies on every means of transport polluting the atmosphere.
"Fashion Reimagined educates without lecturing and calls for action without the guilt trip"
As the documentary unfolds, Amy’s quest takes her to Uruguay, Peru and Turkey. Once her sustainable fabrics are secured, she designs her collection and takes on the sceptical Paris and London fashion industries.
There are plenty of headline statistics, such as “We produce over 100 billion garments a year” and “three out of five garments go to landfill within one year of purchase”. However, Fashion Reimagined educates without lecturing and calls for action without the guilt trip.
Fashioned Reimagined is also a personal story about a young woman who began her life in rural Lancashire, raised by activist parents, off-grid with no electricity in a caravan. Bullied at school for wearing second-hand shell-suits, Amy quickly realised the power of fashion.
I spoke to Amy Powney about the film to get the inside story of Becky Hutner’s inspiring documentary about Powney’s ambition to change the fashion industry.

Amy Powney. Photo: Mother of Pearl
Can you tell us why your upbringing came to play a big part in your career?
I had a rather unique childhood as I grew up on a farm, off grid in Lancashire. My father sunk a well where we got our water and we had no electricity for a while, though later he bought a small wind turbine. At times it was not the easiest, but in reality and almost without my knowing, it was the grounding in my understanding of how we give and take from the earth. 
Can you tell us about the inspirations in your life?
I read the book No Logo by Naomi Klein when I was studying fashion at Kingston University. It immediately pivoted my entire thought process and career. I decided then and there that I wanted to be a designer that produced ethical garments. I couldn’t see any other path. 
"I decided at Kingston University that I wanted to be a designer that produced ethical garments. I couldn’t see any other path"
At the time Katherine Hamnett, along with just a handful of others, were the only brands talking about this and designing in this way. She became my first real hero within this space, and I have followed what she does ever since.
There are some astonishing statistics about the environmental impact of the clothing industry in the documentary. Which ones resonate most for you?
It would be really hard for me to pick one. That said, the statistics about suicides in cotton pickers is the worst for me ethically and then in terms of environmental the fact that three out of every five garments we buy end up in landfill within the first year is shocking.
How did you come to meet the documentary filmmaker Becky Hutner and what fired you both to work together?
When I won the Vogue Fashion Fund, which I used to create No Frills, now our (Mother of Pearl) core collection, Becky was filming the interviews with the winners and runners-up. She approached me then and there and we realised we had a shared passion for sustainability and that this could become something. 
Fashion Reimagined advocates changing our relationship as consumers with fashion for the sake of the environment. Can you share some top tips? 
Absolutely, I try as hard as I can to live by the following: 
  • Investing in core wardrobe pieces that you’ll keep forever.
  • Look for natural fibres, such as Tencel and organic cotton, as opposed to synthetics. 
  • Rent, resale and recycle, the three “R’s” are a good approach. I love Curate and Rotate for this.
  • Kids grow so quickly so buy and sell pre-loved pieces (check Dotte).
Amy Powney's mission is to make fashion more sustainable and ethical. Photo: Fashionreimaginedfilm.com
Since your success with No Frills, has the fashion industry been paying more attention to sustainability? 
There is definitely more attention and bigger conversations, however I think sustainability as it stands has been used too widely and too loosely to the point it has lost its real meaning. I’d like to see “transparency” become the main vocabulary and an industry where brands are open and honest about their journey. There is a lot of “greenwashing” and consumers need to be careful of that.
Do you have hopes Fashion Reimagined might reach policy makers as well as the public in general?
The film is just a starting point for an impact campaign. Systemic change is what is needed. We need supportive legislation or set industry standards which address and limit how we impact our planet’s natural resources, its people and the environment. If the film can start one important conversation or be a small part of this movement, I’d be happy. 
"The film is just a starting point for an impact campaign. Systemic change is what is needed"
We’re also relaunching our #FashionOurFuture campaign, which is a social media campaign asking people to make a pledge for one year which will affect how they consume. For example, you could pledge to only buy second-hand, or from brands who use natural materials. 
Lastly, you have succeeded with No Frills as a sustainable brand, so what next for yourself going forward? 
I want to continue to ensure we hold ourselves to the highest standards at Mother of Pearl, to constantly re-evaluate and change our systems and that we’re always making the right choices. 
Personally, I want to continue to expand my voice outside of the brand to support the right causes. I’m currently an ambassador for Tencel, which is a cellulose fibre of botanic origin which comes from sustainable forestry. The consumer often does not realise the connection between cellulose fibre and trees, and that millions are cut down annually. 
So, I’d like to do more of that, but I am also a mother of two small children, so I need to make sure I am doing a good job there too. I need to be there for them in the here and now, and also try to ensure they have a happy, stable world to grow up in. 
Fashion Reimagined documentary film poster
Fashion Reimagined is in cinemas March 3 and available on Sky Documentaries and streaming service NOW from April 9

Banner photo credit: Fashionreimaginedfilm.com
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