Closing London Fashion Week in true sustainable style, Irish designer Richard Malone was awarded the International Woolmark Prize at last night’s event, whilst New York-based menswear label Bode took home the inaugural Karl Lagerfeld Award for innovation.
The International Woolmark Prize brought London Fashion Week to a poignant close with a glimpse at a more sustainable future for the industry. This year, the prestigious event pioneered transparency and traceability, with upcoming designers A-COLD-WALL*, Blindness, Bode, Botter, Feng Chen Wang, GmbH, Ludovic de Saint Sernin, Matthew Adams Dolan, Namacheko and Richard Malone presenting fully traceable collections using Merino wool. Upcycled fabrics, natural dyes and transparent supply chains were all key motifs in the closing show, but it was Irish designer Richard Malone’s organic and regenerative approach to sustainability that saw him take home the prestigious International Woolmark Prize.
Each garment in Malone’s capsule collection is designed to minimise harm to our environment and work towards creating a circular, sustainable fashion system. From eliminating traditional chemicals to provide natural methods of dyeing to working with a society of incredibly skilled weavers in Tamil Nadu, India, the young designer is breaking industry norms to show how fashion can have a positive effect on the planet. “My way of operating a business is very old-fashioned,” he explains. “Everything is made to order, and we don’t wholesale or mass market anything. It’s quite exciting that [Woolmark] are willing to support something that is so radically different from the traditional supply chain.”
Malone is also exploring the acute connection between fashion and farming, having established a Fibershed-inspired regenerative farm in India as part of the initiative, which harvested its first crop in December. “It’s quite interesting that clothing can become so circular, from soil and back to soil again,” he commented. “It’s been a really exciting initiative because it’s allowed us to quite openly research, which you don’t often get to do at the speed of fashion. I think customers are moving away from wanting to buy loads of stuff, so it’s nice to be able to produce something that is proactively regenerative.”
The prize was awarded after judging of all the finalists’ work by a panel of industry experts across fashion, art and activism including Tim Blanks, Hamish Bowles, Sinead Burke, Edward Enninful OBE, Kim Jones, Takashi Murakami, Holli Rogers, Anja Rubik and Shaway Yeh. With this year’s competition shining a spotlight on sustainability, the designs were judged with both aesthetics and approach to the environment in mind. “I was inspired by the collective and individual vision and commitment to this area, and the fact that it is built into the DNA of each of their brands,” commented Tim Blanks. “Richard was the perfect marriage of the two qualities that we were looking for: he talked about his sustainability practices in great detail and depth, which have shaped his brand from the very beginning. It’s really organic to what he does and to his vision of fashion.”
New York-based designed Emily Adams Bode also caught the judges’ attention, seeing her crowned the winner of the inaugural Karl Lagerfeld award. Mixing deadstock fabrics found in abandoned factories, BODE beautifully marries the old with new to bring modern interpretations to traditions of the past. Her collection features overcoats and suits composed of reclaimed and remade equine show blankets, traceable and certified Merino wool jacquard knits inspired by stitch samples from a retired 1930s knitting factory, and housecoats built from hundreds of individually crocheted Merino wool fleurettes.
“When I first launched the brand it was made primarily from antique textiles, so as we scale it’s really important that we work with traceable fibres as well as companies and manufacturers that have really open and transparent supply chains,” said Adams Bode. “Going forward, winning the Karl Largerfeld Award is going to allow us to really invest in building on the relationships that we have made with people that we were introduced to during this prize.”
Judge and editor-in-chief of the CR Fashion Book Caroline Roitfeld presented the award, which honours Karl Largerfeld’s connection with The Woolmark Company by prizing a finalist who showcases outstanding creativity and innovation. “BODE’s story of working with old pieces and transforming them took me back to my childhood,” said Roitfeld. “When I was young there was no fashion like there is today so I would go to the flea market and my mother and I would sew patches onto clothes to make them new. BODE’s collection reminds me of this time and I like that.”
As the show came to a close, it was a message of positivity and hope that pervaded; there is a different, more sustainable future for the fashion industry, and it’s not just theory – it’s happening now. The work of the ten finalists demonstrated just how a combination of innovation and technology with a revival of age-old techniques can actively lower the impact of the fashion industry – from futuristic QR codes by A Cold Wall* detailing each garment’s supply chain, to Feng Chen Wang’s use of ancient Chinese medicinal herbs for her bold shades achieved though natural dying.
“I think working with traceable materials is important for every designer at the moment,” explained Botter’s Lisi Herrebrugh. “The International Woolmark prize really pushes you to research even further than you normally would.” Matthew Adams Dolan added that “there’s a lot of talk about traceability in everyday life, so to see it happen at this level gives hope. There’s a lot of talk and it’s really nice to see the actionability.”
Thanks to the ongoing mentorship from The Woolmark Company’s Innovation Academy, the finalists received a robust education with support from manufacturers and mentors across the supply chain. By setting out to help new generations of designers achieve more meaningful and sustainable product outcomes for both themselves and the manufacturer, the International Woolmark Prize shows just how education and creativity can adapt the future of fashion to keep people in planet in mind.