After an evening of recycled sequins, ethereal dresses and ayurvedic dining, Rosanna Falconer caught up with Jasmine Hemsley and founder of Needle & Thread, Hannah Coffin, on their new responsibly sourced collaboration.
Soft rainbow hues, intricate embroidery and featherlight fabrics. For me, the design codes of Needle & Thread are recognisable instantly in all of their joyful glory. They are clothes to treasure, to turn to year after year, to make your heart leap. Now, thanks to a new collaboration with chef, author and Eco-Age contributor Jasmine Hemsley, they have responsible sourcing at the heart of a 23-piece range.
This week, friends gathered at Wild By Tart to toast the new collection with a plant-based dinner hosted by Jasmine and Hannah Coffin, the brand’s founder and CEO. It was set by candlelight arranged in an ombre of colourful glass votives down the tables, as well as lighting that cast stars across the ceiling. This setting reflected the principles of the collection, inspired by the wisdom of Ayurveda of which Jasmine is an advocate. They manifest in the elements, chakras and astrology in the embroidery, and even its placement across the designs.
Over cocktails named after the elements of Ayurveda (from a spicy ginger ‘Fire’ to a cool kombucha ‘Wind’), Jasmine and Hannah told me the collection was a true labour of love, 18 months in the making and not without many hurdles along the way. They were determined to produce from recycled raw materials alone, meaning they could reduce their reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels as well as waste. As is so often the way, out of challenge rises innovative design.
Founder & CEO Hannah Coffin, Jasmine Hemsley & Rosanna Falconer
The Sequin Conundrum
Sequins presented a particular problem for Needle & Thread’s head of sustainability and team in India: “Demand for recycled plastic sequins in Delhi remains very low and the path of least resistance would have been to import recycled plastic sheets from China. But this seemed counter intuitive to the end goal (particularly when considering the environmental footprint of the sequin) so, we decided to persevere and find a solution for locally sourced raw materials. We had to start from scratch, trialling which types of plastic waste could be turned back into fresh sequins sheets, some were too brittle, some couldn’t be dry cleaned, some wouldn’t dye; but eventually we were able to overcome these problems to create a high quality, durable recycled sequin.” The iridescent effect on the shiny sequins is now made from a material intended to coat old TV screens that would have instead ended up in landfill. An ingenious solution, as is so often the way in sustainable efforts.
Preserving Art Forms
In terms of the social side of things, Hannah has a design team in both London and India, with the dexterity of the latter being remarkable. “The intricate skills required by the artisan beaders are handed down from generation to generation and require considerable commitment to support the preservation of what could become a dying art form.” The brand provides a regular and reliable flow of work for the team, thanks to the embellishment which runs throughout all collections, regardless of the season.
The care and passion that results from such talent can’t help but influence the end consumer. As Jasmine put it to me, “each piece from this collection is designed to be an heirloom – this is the kind of attitude we should be taking in our purchasing and, while the collection tells a story about my passions and influences from astrology to kingfishers and rainbow chakra colours to my mantra of living ‘la vida veda’, there is something for everyone.” This was evident in the guests around us: from editors floating past in the rainbow tiers of the sell-out Chakra sundress to influencers in the Ether mini dress, ready to party.
I chose the Elements gown with its romantic embellishment that told a story. The embroidery was drawn by hand into each pattern piece so that the artwork scale fitted perfectly on each size. The five elements of Ayurveda are depicted in seven thread colours: from flowers and leaves for the earth to dragonflies and butterflies to represent air. The electric blue kingfishers are emperors of the design, a sentimental reference for Jasmine as they represent her father’s favourite bird. It was the first event I had been to since the birth of my daughter, five weeks ago, so I had much to celebrate. What a gown to mark the occasion but equally to go back to for years to come.
Living La Vida Veda
Queen of the night was of course Jasmine, in the Kalptaru co-ord, with the statement ‘Living La Vida Veda’ on display when the maxi skirt unfurled as she walked. Jasmine has long been an advocate of a sustainable lifestyle and made thrifting her pastime before it was a trend, “I was brought up in hand me downs, and when I started earning my own money just before the culture of fast fashion exploded I would shop in charity shops, car boots and jumble sales. I was sustainable because that was all I knew!”
Whenever I see her, I lust after her boldly printed skirts or chunky knit cardigans, which more often than not are pre-loved. As well as admire her eye for vintage, Jasmine’s knowledge on Ayurveda has been invaluable to me since she diagnosed me as a vata type (I use her book East By Westto adjust my diet according to this). The tenets of the movement are showcased across the designs, but does Ayurveda also affect the way we dress? “Ayurveda is the science of life and a philosophy for living your very best. It understands how our connection and interaction with our environment affects us on many levels even down to the choices of clothes we wear. It stands to reason that the clothes touching our skin for hours at a time will also play into our needs and emotions.” Jasmine cited the way a sparkly dress makes you feel as opposed to a tracksuit, or indeed how colour lifts the mood. It all encapsulates the authenticity of this collaboration: a partnership founded on a mutual passion with fundamentals that form both the inspiration and the final designs of the embroidery.
My final burning question, so often asked on sustainability, did the impetus come from the brand or the consumer? For Hannah, their customer is already willing to invest in special pieces that “surpass transient fashion trends and withstand the test of time” but at this stage, it was a brand initiative over consumer demand. “Our aim is to precede consumer demand, so that we are ahead of the curve.” To this end, they have a curated rental collection launching on their site this summer. Then, over the next 12-18 months, they will be taking the investment they made into this capsule collection and rolling out recycled raw materials and a reduction of non-renewable fossil fuels across all work. This sits alongside their regular environmental audits to assess and improve the impact of production on the local area.
The brand has its eye on the future; this collection marks the start of this positive progress. Jasmine sums it all up for me in her optimism: “The beauty of where fashion could go in 2020 is that after years of being oblivious and detached from the origin and impact of our clothes people are beginning to ask questions and demand to know the real story is behind the items… Buy well, making sure it’s something that you love, and take good care of it. Energetically you’ll feel better too.”
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