HRH The Prince Of Wales Speaks To Edward Enninful About His Lifelong Commitment To Sustainable Fashion
BY EDWARD ENNINFUL
4 NOVEMBER 2020
A passionate champion of the craft tradition, HRH The Prince of Wales talks to British Vogue Editor-in-Chief about The Modern Artisan, a training programme co-founded by The Prince’s Foundation, whose students are about to launch a fashion collection with sustainability at its core. Photographed by Nick Knight for the December 2020 issue.
Edward Enninful: Your Royal Highness, I am delighted and honoured to be talking to you today. I wanted to begin by asking you about your own commitment to sustainable fashion. Your mantra is, “Buy once, buy well.” Have you always taken this approach to your own wardrobe?
HRH The Prince of Wales: Well, I’m one of those people who hate throwing anything away. Hence, I’d rather have them maintained, even patched if necessary, than to abandon them. The difficulty is, as you get older, you tend to change shape, and it’s not so easy to fit into the clothes. I can’t bear any waste, including food waste; I’d much rather find another use. Which is why I’ve been going on for so long about the need for a circular economy, rather than a linear one where you just make, take and throw away – which is a tragedy, because inevitably we over-exploit natural resources that are rapidly depleting.
So tell me, where did the idea for The Modern Artisan come from? And why did it appeal to you?
Well, two years or three years ago, we went – my wife and I – to visit the Yoox Net-a-Porter headquarters. And that was when I met Federico Marchetti.
I was there.
You remember? Who I found very enjoyable. I said to him at one point, “You ought to come and see what we’re doing at Dumfries House,” because we’d started a textile training project in high-end fashion and sewing skills. As you know better than I, these things are in shorter and shorter supply, because the older generation are coming to the end of their working lives, and not enough attention has been paid – sadly, I’ve always felt – to vocational education. So I was talking to him about it. He came to Dumfries House, saw what we’re doing, we talked further – and that was where the idea came from, to link Italian design students at the Politecnico di Milano with students here in Scotland; that link with Italy is so critical, I think.
The Modern Artisan trainees will soon launch their first mens- and womenswear collection, called Yoox Net-a-Porter for The Prince’s Foundation, online. Have you managed to see their designs?
Yes, I’ve just seen them today with Federico. And having not seen them since the beginning of the year, it was fascinating to see the full collection. And it was fascinating to see what they’ve been able to do and how their skills have improved; because what was so difficult for them at the beginning has now become almost second nature. I felt very proud indeed of what they’ve been able to produce. There are some very beautiful pieces, and I will be interested to see how this collection goes and what the reaction is. But the great thing is that now they’re all either setting up their own businesses or going on in different ways. And this is why we need to help develop these skills, because they go on to be really valuable members of the fashion community.
How important is it to you personally, and to Britain, to maintain, promote and protect our fashion and textile skills?
Well, it’s absolutely critical, because the British fashion textile sector is of enormous importance. But the trouble is, it requires constant investment in young people and in the development of real skills. We were told when we first came to Dumfries House that nobody was interested in anything like textiles. And of course, when we contacted colleges and we got people together, it transpired that in fact there was huge interest; so we developed our atelier system to promote the traditional skills that are so vital – whether it’s embroidery or sewing or cutting or tailoring, all these things are in short supply. And a lot of the students we train here are snapped up by local firms – the ones that are left in the textile sector. But it seems to me there are huge opportunities, particularly now, within the whole sustainable fashion sector, to counter this extraordinary trend of throwaway clothing – or throwaway everything, frankly.
That brings us to the importance of a sustainable approach to fashion within the overall climate change agenda.
Again, it’s absolutely vital, because of, apart from anything else, the amount of money generated by the clothing sector – what is it now, $1.9 trillion globally? And they’re projecting $3.3 trillion by 2030. At the same time, the textile industry contributes something like 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas, which horrendously – and surprisingly – is more than the entire aviation and shipping sectors. So it is critical that we address the whole issue around how we produce clothes. So many of the processes in textile-making involve toxic chemicals that damage the environment in a huge way. Then there’s all the waste and throwing away of clothes into landfill sites, which is why it matters so much if we’re going to tackle these huge global challenges around global warming and climate change. We have to decarbonise and improve the impact we have in terms of pollution on the world. There are interesting developments going on, as you know, in innovative materials. I had an interesting conversation with Vin & Omi, the two fashion characters I met at a tea for the Positive Fashion initiative, who have been making textiles out of nettles that they collected at Highgrove. That turns out to be an ancient system of using nettles. But the problem always is the processes involved in making these things. How do we reduce the impact they have on the environment and life generally? That’s the critical issue here.
Right. So tell me about the Sustainable Markets Council, which you launched earlier this year.
Well, that’s designed to tackle the issue of how we develop the solutions that exist, but have never been brought to the fore, because it’s always been considered uneconomic and nobody was very interested. But now, after years of trying in this area – nearly 40 years in my case – suddenly, the interest has become enormous, at the last minute, when it’s almost too late. We only have a very short window of opportunity to tackle each sector of the economy, to decarbonise those sectors. But we need to bring our ambitions forward, which is what I’m trying to do with the Sustainable Markets Initiative – from net zero by 2050, to net zero by 2035. Because otherwise we will lose this battle completely. And now suddenly, big investors and asset managers are all much keener to engage on these issues. So what we’re trying to do is develop round tables of companies from different sectors of the economy – whether it’s aviation, shipping, agriculture, whatever – to brainstorm and develop task forces.
I look forward to seeing more on that. I’ve always admired the way you dress, tell me about your sense of style. Where does it come from?
I thought I was like a stopped clock – I’m right twice every 24 hours. But no, I mean, I’m very glad you think it has style. I mind about detail and colour and things like that – and colour combinations. I’m lucky because I can find marvellous people who are brilliant makers of the things that I appreciate, and because of that, I try to keep them going for longer.
Like the suit you wore to The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding – I think it dates back to 1984 by Anderson & Sheppard. Did you ever consider wearing something new?
I’ve considered it. But in the case of that particular morning coat, as long as I can go on getting into it, I only wear it a few times a year, in the summer, so obviously you want to keep those sorts of things going. But if I can’t fit into them, then I just have to have something new made. But I’m not sure quite how radically different they can be at my age.
Do you have any advice for good wardrobe maintenance?
Well, I’m lucky, because there are kind people who help with these things. But yes, I happen to be one of those people who’d get shoes – or any item of clothing – repaired if I can, rather than just throw it away. And that’s why I think, from an economic point of view, there are huge opportunities for people to set up small businesses involved with repair, maintenance and reuse. Which is one of the reasons I’ve tried here, at Dumfries House, to start a kind of thrift market for precisely that purpose, where you can bring things in – whether it’s electrical appliances or anything – to be mended. When I was a child, we used to take our shoes down to the cobbler in Scotland and would watch with fascination as he ripped the soles off and then put new soles on.
This pandemic has been a chance for all of us to reflect and find a new normal. What does this new normal look like to you? Is there anything you’d do differently going forward?
Well, I rather hope it will accelerate awareness of what we need to do in order to rescue our world from disaster. We need to understand that nature and everything on this planet is interconnected; you cannot do one thing without having an impact somewhere else. We don’t realise half the time that what we’re eating has been produced in a way that is causing mammoth pollution, which ends up in the sea. It’s all out of sight and out of mind, but it’s creating dead zones in the ocean. So therefore, we have to clean up our act. But it can be done. There are wonderful things going on, but we need to scale up. This is why I’ve got the Sustainable Markets Initiative going – to try to build a global alliance between business and banking and investment and consumers. Because the consumer has immense power in deciding where to buy from, and the best companies will lead the way, we hope, in demonstrating that if you follow the right principles of operation, not only are you moving more and more towards net zero but also you’re removing pollution and emissions from supply chains. Thirty years or so ago, I decided to look at those companies that apply for my warrant, where they put “By Appointment To” up outside their shop with a coat of arms. And I said, you’re not going to get my warrant anymore unless you conform to the following – in those days, pretty basic – environmental requirements. And there were howls of protest and anguish and gnashing of teeth and they all said, “It’ll ruin our businesses.” I said, “Sorry, we have to do it.” So of course, they went away, looked at their supply chains, looked at the way they did things. Lo and behold, they came back and said, “Well, actually, it’s saved us money and made us money – to do it in a better way.”
The pandemic has allowed the natural world to heal a little. As someone who contracted Covid, are you at least grateful for that silver lining?
Yes, absolutely. But the tragedy, as we’ve heard recently, is that despite that, and despite lockdown, the rate of global warming is still accelerating. And we still haven’t been able to tackle this issue, which is so utterly crucial if we’re to avoid total catastrophe. Which is why, it seems to me, that the vital thing now is to buy more time in the battle to make the transition to an infinitely more sustainable, decarbonised economy. Because, again, there are extraordinary new developments in capturing carbon and finding new uses for the carbon you capture. But unless we take more of the emissions out of the atmosphere, particularly through coal-fired power plants and so on, we will never win this battle. We need to put nature back at the centre of everything we do in a circular bio-economy. Species are becoming extinct at a rapid rate. We can’t go on like this, but there are solutions, we just need to act – and now.
Your Royal Highness, thank you so much.
Not at all, really.