As sustainability grows to become an increasingly prevalent component of fashion’s discourse, it has many looking towards large organizations for answers. This comes as little to no surprise, when industry oligarchs sit atop billions of dollars worth of unsold stock. Scarier still, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Fashion’s ecological footprint is worsening by the day, and as we search for a scapegoat, smaller brands with innovative business models are often overlooked.
In light of this, we had the pleasure of sitting down with MAKE, a new Cardiff/London-based brand tackling fashion’s sustainability crisis through a focus on surplus fabrics. Founders Julian Ganio and Sam Osborne tell us how they are designing to present the very antithesis of commercially preferred products, focusing solely on that which is available to inform their output.
Next to this, MAKE is looking beyond the issue, pro-actively defining solutions and leading by example. Rather than chastising larger organizations, Julian and Sam want to, “encourage conversation, go in, and push people to ask questions,” ultimately transforming the issue into an inclusive one, solved by the community as a whole. Action has to be taken, and it is up to everyone – consumer and producer – to “make” a difference.
Click through below to read our full interview with the founders of MAKE, together with a selection of exclusive shots from its first its first-ever lookbook.
To kick things off, please tell us why you decided to found MAKE?
Osborne: Initially, I was doing a lot with SMU (Special Make Up) product and working with factories to make itineraries of leftover fabrics. I then started showing Julian the fabric options that were available.
Around two years ago, I was approached by a factory in Portugal. The owner had a load of surplus fabric dating back to the mid-nineties... my jaw hit the floor. Even though I have been a fabric obsessive ever since a young age, this experience was an awakening to what was really out there. Julian and I then began sharing messages on designs and options, layering up fabrics and going through color combinations together.
What inspired you early on?
Osborne: I feel both Julian and I became more anti-fashion when we joined college. We were into mixing clashing colors and garments. There was something random about it; a lot of charity shopping went on, all while looking out for couture and sportswear items. We were also both fans of Martin Parr, and were always inspired by the British seaside and the way people dressed there. We always liked style that slipped through the cracks.
Ganio: We've always liked a complete clash of things. Sam and I also clash... we're quite different. Despite this, we also like normal and practical products, and this for me is what MAKE is.
Having read your mission statement, the backstories of the name and logo are particularly interesting. What do the two elements represent?
Osborne: The logo depicts two birds; the bird on top is a red kite, which has become an endangered species. The red kite represents a small, marginalized idea, something that is on the verge of extinction. The bird on the bottom is a crow, and is one of the only birds to exist all over the world. This represents fashion’s surplus crisis and the idea of communicating and understanding sustainability more broadly. They represent a skill and knowledge share; reaching out with a little idea and taking it global to make something that is more universal, more solid, and touches more people.
When choosing the name, we wanted a word that exemplified our passion for creating things and represented each piece’s focus on the “make,” i.e. how the products are manufactured, the people producing them, etc. We wanted to put something out into the market that has a real value, instead of a perceived value.
You also talk about seeing the world with a “bigger picture mentality.” What does that mean to you?
Osborne: I think we're at the beginning of forming a new language for the issues surrounding sustainability. Things are speeding up. From the perspective of MAKE, it is important to see things on a macro level – like the red kite – as well as on a broad, universal level (i.e. the crow). MAKE may change as time goes on, but to begin with, we've chosen our fight with surplus materials. We are trying to create a product that is more joyful and colorful, attracting people to the subject of sustainability without pressuring them.
How have you have taken up using surplus fabrics to manifest each collection?
Osborne: Julian and I make panel selections for each garment based on the available fabrics. We like to work with limitation. Our first collection, “Desert Island Theory” is about that which is immediately available. In a sense, it's almost like anti-trend forecasting. The notion of restriction has a lot of life in it. It makes you think hard in terms of what looks good and what doesn’t, and not simply in terms of commercial acceptability.
I guess this means you are not a seasonal brand, right?
Osborne: No, we generally refer to ourselves as being non-seasonal and unisex. We're interested in themes of scale and would like to outfit as many different body shapes as possible.
To come back to the whole sustainability discussion, I wanted to chat about circular fashion models. Have you planned on making the consumption and production of your goods more ecologically-friendly?
Osborne: From a local perspective, it's important for us to set up a sample room, [which] cuts down on wastage when you're sending samples back and forth to your manufacturers. You can also get things right the first or second time around. I’d like to try and implement a repair service, too. Also, a lot of our products are modular, so you can remove pieces from certain garments and apply them to others. We're trying to increase the lifecycle of our garments by giving them more uses.
Are you worried about being labelled a greenwasher?
Osborne: Julian and I have spoken about this a number of times. I know that certain green promoters can be quite pushy and aggressive in terms of backing up their designs or production models. However, I think our factories make that visible on audit documents. From a compliance perspective, I’d argue that we are in a very strong position. I'm looking forward to the challenges, because I feel that, as we have picked our fight with surplus, we can back it up. We're trying to set up some dialogue here to hopefully shed a bit of light on real working situations, real attitudes, and how different the industry is.
Brands often shy away from opening up to questioning...
Osborne: As a former product manager who has traveled to the factories and met the people working there, I feel the conversation in the media is very light and doesn’t add much depth to the issue. It forgets that people in these factories have their own opinions. We need to start conversations with the industrialists of the world who actually own these establishments. Commercial understandings also need to change, and we need to hold a hand out to these people, rather than aggressively challenging them. Essentially, what we're trying to achieve is to change people’s attitudes towards such products, allowing the discussion to be more inclusive.
If you could implement one policy that the industry would have to abide by, what would it be?
Osborne: If I'm looking at things from a dream perspective, then I’d like to change fabric itself. The chemical and scientific processes behind this needs to be rethought if we're going to stop making petrochemical products. Such parties (producers) need to join the conversation and not be chastised.
Ganio: I agree. It's more about people understanding what's going on. It's about trying to get the message through, no matter how big or small it is. I'd love for everyone to be trying; to be making more conscious decisions.