Rosanna Falconer, brand consultant and co-founder of FashMash, shows us how high summer dressing can be done sustainably, showcasing some of the brands using natural dyeing techniques to add a kaleidoscope of colour.
At a time of year when spirits and temperatures soar, bold colour lit up by blazing sunshine, comes into its own. For me, summer should be a paint box of shades. Think Jerry Hall in her scarlet swimsuit or Marisa Berenson in a purple turban, shot by Slim Aarons in Capri. From rich magenta and saffron to cool turquoise and mint. Even in the city, they fill you with the feeling of a summer holiday. But those shades traditionally require unsustainable levels of chemical dyes.
The subject of dyes is complex and rarely discussed in fashion sustainability: the circular economy and the working conditions of factories tend to take centre stage. As is the case with so much of the production cycle, there is no legal obligation to identify dye on the garment label. Yet the pollution potential is horrifying: according to a Cambridge University report, the textile industry deposits 50,000 tonnes of dye into global water systems. The World Bank estimates 17-20% of water pollution comes from the dyeing process. And its effects on humans? At best, allergic reactions, at worst, a risk of cancer.
Can colour have a conscience? For too long, eco-conscious attire has been associated with neutral beige, khaki and hessian. All very chic but not the technicolour dream of a tutti frutti summer wardrobe. After some research, I discovered a rainbow of options, rich with hues of happiness, made using natural dyes. Although they pose separate challenges in their own right, natural dyes are derived from renewable and natural sources, and their effluents will typically biodegrade, making them a more planet-friendly option than most synthetic dyes. So here we go, from red to violet, with the pot of gold at the end being the clearer conscience for your holiday wardrobe.
As a former British Vogue stylist, it’s no surprise that Pippa Holt knows just how women want to dress on holiday. This kaftan is worlds apart from a typical floaty chiffon cover-up. The pleasingly weighty cotton can be cinched at the waist with a belt from the same collection, making it perfect for much more than poolside. Each one-off, unique piece is handmade by artisans in a remote Mexican village using a backstrap loom – a weaving tradition that is only practiced by a few remaining people. They each take one month to make.
And look at this deep raspberry hue! Its natural dye is deep as the sorbet I loved on this trip to Seville. As for poolside to party styling: I wore this belt by day to keep my hair off my face then styled it as a belt for sundowners.
I have always loved to combine burnt sunshine colours like the orange pompoms of this shoulder bag by Antonello Tedde. A native of Sardinia, Tedde is passionate about preserving its crafts with his eco-conscious designs. The yarns are made from organic farmed sheep wool (much less energy consumption than conventional farming’s excessive fossil fuels) and regenerated, recycled cotton. As for the exquisite colours like this punchy apricot? The recycled cotton has been dyed with plants from Sardinia. The designer comments that his collections “represent not only a duty, but also an intriguing opportunity for responding to the demands of a consumer.”
A new discovery recently brought to my attention. This emerging London-based label was founded in 2016 by friends Fiona Bansal and Valeska Deutsch, who met working in Stella McCartney’s design studio. McCartney’s renown in the sustainable space clearly left an impression: they offer concise collections made by expert craftsmen and champion artisans’ hand-loomed custom textiles. The shades of both of these dresses were achieved using natural dyes. I found myself turning to them every morning; balmy days are made for dresses like this and the cuts have me nostalgic for the dresses I’ve lived in every summer since childhood. There’s the burnt red, tangerine and saffron of the first, tied at the waist and with bows at the shoulders. Then the second, which ties at the back with a flamboyant bow, makes you want to rush to the closest gelateria to taste similar ice cream shades.
I paired both with orange earrings by Katerina Makriyianni (all the more fabulous against bare shoulders). Created by artisans in Crete, the fan design uses recycled vintage wool from a fraying Kilim rug.
Sunshine yellow if ever I saw it! This maxi dress pairs with a matching wrap top, perfect for when the sun drops. Hoffman launched her first ready-to-wear collection in 2000 after graduating from Parsons School of Design. 15 years later after the birth of her son, the designer decided to commit to an eco-conscious mantra and strives constantly to reduce her brand’s impact on the planet. Even more impressively, she encourages her customers to do the same with campaigns like ‘Wear More, Wash Less’ which expounds useful tips on caring for clothes so that they last for years. This dress moves beautifully with the body, a trait typical of TENCEL™ Lyocell, one of the many sustainable fabrics Hoffman endorses and uses. Its process is exemplary: created by converting dissolved wood pulp into fibre, in a closed loop process meaning almost all water and solvents are reused.
As for this yellow as zingy as a fresh lemon? Hoffman supports one of the most important standards in dyeing: Oeko-Tex® 100. The policy ensures raw materials are tested for use of harmful chemicals. Furthermore, they only use high quality dyes by brands such as Hunstman. Most importantly, the brand, headed up by the founder’s passion, will never rest on its laurels: “Our list [of suppliers] is ever changing as we continue to learn more about the role and impact of certain chemicals.”
Alice Temperley has forever been the queen of romantic gowns that conjure up visions of bohemian beauties dancing barefoot on the lawns of fabulous summer parties. More recently, she reimagined old wedding dress samples in an innovative project using natural apple-based dyes. Firstly, they were soaked in cider vinegar from the family farm then dyed with natural dye mixtures – from madder root and henna to tree bark. The results are utterly spellbinding, just as the designer wished:
“Why not create a story, re make something magical out of something that has had a story and is literally still a hand made piece of art? I see it as magic and I love the process.”
The green of this gown combines a fresh mint on the slip worn underneath with a deeper jade on the lace outer layer. The various cuts of lace, some embroidered with tiny crystals that catch the light, some covered the miniature buttons that fasten the back, have each picked up the dye in a distinct way, depending on their weave. The effect is glorious ode to the colour spectrum and ability of natural dyes, not to mention a unique proposition for a summer party.
Temperley plans to repeat the project annually to prevent waste. For now, one of the gowns is released each month on social media and at the brand’s Bruton Street store.
Blue skies, seas and sails. Is there a colour more closely associated with summer? This joyful dress by Duchess of Sussex favourite, Figue, is printed with a chevron of turquoise and white. In the brand’s typically bohemian, spirited style, it is finished with embroidered florals and graphic patterns in pink and mauve. And of course, pompoms at the neckline (would any holiday be complete without?) I echoed them through my earrings (vintage) and Nannacay bag (more of which later). Like all of their designs, the brand works with specialists to produce the highest quality, ethically responsible textiles.
And finally, the violet of the rainbow! I didn’t mean to pack a full spectrum of the rainbow for my trip to Seville but in collating this article I realised that I have. The handcrafted accessories of Nannacay have long been a favourite of mine (and of many an editor: from Leandra Medine to Pandora Sykes). The pompoms of this bag combine a deep garnet and grape to melt into a purple. It’s capacious enough to carry a full day at the beach. Another favourite by the same brand is this chartreuse tote, again made from ethically-sourced materials.
Talking of Nannacay, no trip seems complete without running through Heathrow airport in one of their super-sized straw pompom hats (I have since discovered how to pack them by stuffing them with socks, avoiding odd looks in the departures queue!). The rim of this one is so big it protects your face and shoulders. Plus I always find it’s a conversation starter.
I’ve worn it here with a deep-cut swimsuit by Alicia Swim, a new swimwear brand that uses renowned ECONYL® (gorgeously soft swim fabric made from reconstituted plastic waste). Furthermore, a portion of the company’s profits are donated to the Mauritius Marine Conservation Society. Home of the founder’s family for eight generations, this island in the Indian Ocean is close to her heart, with all pieces crafted by local women in a small factory in Floréal. Finally, there’s this hot-hued wrap skirt from Beulah, a brand renowned for its pioneering social mission.
All images credit George Ryan
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