John Lewis and Mother of Pearl mark Earth Day with joint fashion line

John Lewis and the fashion brand Mother of Pearl have chosen Earth Day for the launch of their sustainable fashion collaboration, specifically for its geopolitical symbolism.

Earth Day, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on 22 April, seemed an appropriate day to launch a collection bringing rigorous standards of ethical design to mass market fashion. A launch date that pays homage to the planet rather than the artificial seasons of fashion, and dovetails with the concept of timeless, seasonless clothes designed for wardrobe longevity.

The date was decided on six months ago, and arrives carrying a rather different significance. During an unprecedented shutdown which has seen consumer demand crushed, and with all 50 John Lewis department stores currently closed, John Lewis & Partners + Mother of Pearl will go on sale online only.

It is a strange moment to be selling clothes, concedes the Mother of Pearl designer Amy Powney. “When you strip everything back to basics, you question what you need and what you don’t. This time at home has made everything feel more sacred. Every purchase, every walk, every conversation with friends and family.”

Earth Day has been growing in profile as a key date in the fashion calendar. The sustainable sneaker brand Allbirds, which marked Earth Day 2019 by donating proceeds from the sales of limited edition shoes to the protection of birds endangered by climate change, are marking this year’s date by becoming the first brand to label their products with a carbon footprint counter, along the lines of calorie information printed on processed food. The brand’s bestselling Wool Runners come with a carbon “price tag” of 7.2kg. For comparison, a pair of jeans averages 29.6kg, and a plastic shopping bag 1.6kg.

Powney believes that the most practical way to tackle the problem of fast fashion is to offer consumers a desirable alternative, and sees lockdown as an opportunity to steer consumers in a new direction. “Fashion most certainly isn’t a top priority right now. But seeing the world’s carbon emissions start to drop as the world comes to a standstill is a clear signal that if we collectively change our habits and everyday actions, we can make better decisions to help our planet heal.”

Featuring breezy polka dot dresses, striped shirting and an elegant caramel-toned trouser suit with her label’s trademark outsize pearl buttons, this collection is an opportunity for Powney to take her “mission” for sustainable, ethical, traceable fashion to a wider audience without compromising her principles.

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“I really appreciate that John Lewis don’t sell trend-led, fashion-crazed collections,” she says. Prices start at £59. “In my opinion, some of the prices you see on the high street elsewhere are so low that you don’t need to know about supply chains to work out that someone has lost out in the making of them,” she adds.

The collection’s ethical credentials are centred on sustainable fabrics, with all pieces produced either in Tencel or organic cotton, both of which are biodegradable. Tencel wood-pulp fibres are derived from sustainably managed sources, processed into fibre by the sustainable textile manufacturers Lenzing via a closed-loop system designed to minimise water and energy usage. Virtual sampling, in which garments are trialled on digital avatars without any fabric being cut, has been used to cut down waste and minimise the carbon footprint of transportation.

“We completely understand that today is a very different moment to the day we began this collection,” says Jo Bennett, the head of buying for John Lewis, of the lockdown launch. “But we are still looking for some escapism, and moments of joy.”

A plan to mark the launch with a pop-up buy-back scheme at John Lewis’s London flagship was mothballed by store closures, but the sustainability drive continues online, with personal stylists offering video appointments to advise on wardrobe clearouts, “to help customers rediscover treasured items and build outfits”.

While store closures and the stay-at-home orders have hit clothing sales hard, Bennett says online sales of coloured and patterned tops – ideal for smart video conference calls – have bucked the trend. But Powney, currently juggling caring for her three-month-old daughter Niamh with the stress of keeping a small fashion business afloat, admits she has let her aesthetic standards slip. She describes her working from home wardrobe as “a total disaster … leggings and my husband’s T-shirts, mostly.”

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