Working towards Sustainable Fashion In Our Studio Practice

It’s no coincidence that sustainable fashion is on my mind as Black Friday dawns. We’ve all seen the facts. The fashion industry, and fast fashion in particular are named as one of the biggest pollutors. If you want to understand the major issues in a succinct way, this article may interest you. So today, when discounts are showered upon you to quiet that voice in your head that asks “but do I need it?” our gift to you is not a markdown but an assesment of how we are contuining to change our practices, so that we can take less from our planet.

Beaded applique overbust
Sheer mesh corset with beaded lace embroidery

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about our efforts to treat our resources with care- here’s my first post which covers the main areas of our studio practice, briefly:

  • All our corsets are made to order. This means no excess stock, no wasted pieces in sizes that don’t sell. When we cut fabric, it’s because we’re making your beautiful corset!
  • Fabric scraps from our efficiently laid out pattern pieces are saved, Some of these are reused within the business and the rest are saved for other enterprises- We are currently looking to work with other sustainable fashion brands or waste spinners who create new yarn from textile scraps!
  • If we already have the fabric you want in stock- you aren’t charged for it! This encourages use of materials that might otherwise sit around gathering dust for years.
  • We have designed products specifically to use up smaller pieces of leftover materials that are regularly used in the studio, like our Isolde neck corset! More on this later.
  • Keeping packaging to a minimum. Our bespoke orders go out in cardboard storage boxes designed to be kept, with cardboard mailers that can be easily recycled.
Golden silk corset with ribbon lacing

Then To Now

The biggest change I’ve made at Orchid is one that you have all shared in and contributed to- your orders go towards our 9 Trees subscription for carbon offsetting! 9 Trees is an organisation local to me who are planting and managing native trees in the UK designed to work within their landscapes and provide biodiversity, habitats and spaces for us all to enjoy. There are similar organisations out there but having met with one of the directors I am reassured that these trees are not just popped in the ground and forgotten, they are nurtured throughout their lives and you are kept up to date with their progress! There is due to be a site planted about 30 minutes from Orchid HQ, which feels like a wonderful thing for us to support, given how the landscape here has inspired me my whole life. Please do visit their site to learn more about what you’re helping them achieve.

I’m happy to say that I am seeing change in my suppliers as well as in our own studio. Our main supplier of components now sends every order in paper mailing bags, our silk supplier uses plant based biodegradable polythene to ship our orders, we can now buy ribbons made from recycled plastic, on cardboard reels! Each of these changes earned a happy dance from me! And if this sounds insignificant in the face of the challenge before us, know that we can do nothing without these initial steps. And every time I see a company make these changes, I make sure to support them wherever I can. Sustainable fashion isn’t about doing everything perfectly, it’s about making changes and building on them.

I’ve also made a switch in our packaging- Your shop orders now go out in corrugated paper mailers instead of jiffy bags! These new biodegradable mailers can be composted, recycled or reused, which is a big improvement. As before our shop orders are wrapped in tissue paper with our ink stamp of approval, so your corsets journey to you is entirely plastic free.

Ivory Flame and Gingerface model in ribbon corsets
Ivory Flame and Gingerface wearing plant dyed silk ribbon corsets shot by Sally Sparrow

Building on our initial plans to create products designed to minimise waste, we have two designs coming out any minute which will be limited edition to allow us to focus on using dead stock fabrics! If you haven’t come across this term before it means a fabric that has been discontinued or left over from industry use. Sustainable fashion brands are turning to this sourcing option more and more! I consider this to be a really valuable way of minimising our impact as it does not add to the increase of demand, or use further resources for manufacture. I also think this has the added effect of keeping things fresh- a style has to be reinvented as it sells out and can never be allowed to grow stale. I hope we will be able to do more of this in future!

Our business was never a very problematic one in terms of waste but every time a decision is made I try to run it through a conscious process. Is this necessary? Can it be made more efficient? Can I reuse instead of recycle? By taking this through small exercises like saving up packaging sent to us from suppliers to give away for local reuse, bulk buying items where possible, or delaying a supplies order so that it can be added on to a larger one in the near future, I’ve seen my non recyclable or reused items dwindle to practically nothing.

Feminine Corsets for Men
Scarlet silk corset with flossing.

The Future

The big thing I want to focus on next is finding sources for our silk fabrics and luxury trimmings that are more sustainable or use more natural dyeing processes as I’m aware that this is a huge part of the issue with our industry as a pollutor. The stumbling block I’ve come across with this in the past is meeting our quality standards for the end product but I hope there is more we can do on this front. Our main fabric is cotton coutil, and it’s nature as a specialist fabric with dwindling factories left who supply it means that alternative sources using organic cotton or more responsible dyes is non existent. However I will be writing to my suppliers to ask if this is a suggestion they can pass on.

I honestly believe that these are the things that will help us survive as an industry, because at some point our worldwide culture of more, faster, cheaper simply cannot continue. Hard decisions will be made and priorities changed. As a luxury brand we do not offer essential items like tools, food, medicine. But what we do offer is something that our clients connect with at a deep emotional level, as well as something that sparks imagination, passion, connects us to our sensuality and helps us realise identities that are fundamental to our sense of self. I want to keep making corsets for as long as you come to me with a story of how you waited years to make this call. For as long as I see the thrill in your eyes of opening that box. For as long as I see you proudly loving the skin you’re in. Please share your ideas for improving our approach to sustainable fashion, what elements matter the most to you? We are always looking to learn more and do more!

2017 In Review- A Year At Orchid.

Grey and black Adara corset

Here we are again friends, we wave 2017 off in a fanfare and think about our goals for a new year! At Orchid there has been a lot to celebrate, though I won’t pretend there weren’t a lot of difficult days inbetween! But I did want to share our year with you, a behind the scenes glimpse into life at the studio, and all the adventures we’ve enjoyed along the way. Thankyou to everyone who has joined us for the ride! Your support and interest make it all possible.

January

In the cold dawn on a new year, I began designing our Heartland collection, following a move back to my motherland of Wales in December. From the start I had a strong feeling about the designs, which felt cohesive and bold, and really just ran out the end of my pencil! I also began making plans with my web wizards at Moghill for a new streamlined website with a more accessible online shop. I felt so invigorated with plans and ideas for the business, and was excited to make them a reality.

Sketches for our AW17 Heartland collection of lingerie.

February

My 30th birthday! Working between Wales and England was starting to take it’s toll as I had a 3 hour daily commute to the studio and was trying to find a way of setting up a workspace in Wales. But every challenge is an opportunity, and while plans for that were underway I was using my train commute through the valleys to work out ways of accommodating the requests for wholesale orders I was starting to get from overseas boutiques! Cue the lovely Amy joining me for a training day!

Amy on a training day

March

At last- after 3 months of commuting I found a place to set up with space to move production! This left my lovely Shrewsbury space free to dedicate to client fittings, while allowing me a moment to redesign my workspace, with standing height bench for pattern cutting and pinning. I can’t begin to tell you what a difference it makes at the end of a long day without stooping! Having an extra 3 working hours back in each day meant I could get back to sampling the new Heartland collection and plans began to develop for the new website!

New studio work room

April

April was just packed with lovely orders, and fun photoshoot collaborations! A huge joy of the job is the unexpected combinations that clients bring my way, such as this ribbon corset, made in grey coutil with alternating fuschia and deep teal grosgrain ribbons. I will admit that I couldn’t quite picture the result when the client decided on it, but I had a feeling it would be stunning!

 

May

Speaking of joys of the job- in May I worked on a second corset for a very special client. We began working together in 2016 and in collaboration with the ladies occupational therapist I designed a corset that would work with her mobility limitations. My client was a wheelchair user and needed a corset that would offer great back support but be easy for her care team to put on every morning, we came up with a fully front opening and adjusting design. She liked it so much that in May this year, she ordered another in black!

Specialist back support corset

June

June was a tumultuous month for Britain. Still reeling from the Manchester bombing, we saw an attack on London, just days before the general election. I felt so proud of how our citizens reached out to those who were affected, donating blood, making cups of tea for the dazed survivors and opening their homes and businesses as shelters. In amongst the hatred of a few individuals, a nation came together. And of course, we carried on sewing.

Red silk overbust corset for a male tightlacer.

July

Well by this point, I had the Heartland collection complete and ready to go. But I had made the decision that I wanted to wait to release it until the website was finished, as the new shop would make such a difference to how people experienced it. So cards were still close to the chest! I passed my driving theory test (a “now I’m 30” resolution!) and these lovely ladies came to try on some corsets and get measured!

trying on corsets

August

My best friend from college, Emma, got married, and asked me to be her best man! I had the great pleasure of making her wedding corset, which was inspired by the Napoleonic uniform of the 95th Rifles- or Sharpe, if you’re a Sean Bean fan! Her husband is in the Navy, so they were both in uniform! A truly beautiful day, that ended with the Perseid meteor shower.

Sharpe inspired wedding outfit

September

Inbetween client orders I try to find some time to experiment and develop my skills. I finally finished the 20 panel corset I’d been making for myself (full blog post to come!) and embellished it in time for a charity Ladies Day I was speaking at. We raised money and awareness for Crane Counselling, which is building a nationwide service, based in Shropshire. I also gained my first US stockist! You can now buy our corsetry at the gorgeous Anya Lust!

20 panel corset with lace applique

October

Everything was gearing up in October. The site was nearly ready to launch which meant long nights of adding products, learning new systems and rewriting pages! I also took it upon myself to design a few extra pieces for Christmas, including our Isolde neck corset, which is designed to reduce our waste of luxury fabrics even further and add something different to our standard size collection!

Isolde neck corset close up

November

It was with great pride that we launched our new website and the Heartland collection! I’ve been so thrilled with the reaction to the new designs. It seems that many of you share my own favourite set- the Adara! There were some lovely orders taking advantage of our custom colour corsets. Oh and one other small thing… after nearly a year of lessons, I passed my driving test first time!

Adara lace waspie

December

December is always crazy, even in the slow fashion sector! The week before we broke up for Christmas was a real challenge. Making sure that January’s clients were ready to go when we got back to work, ensuring couriers got overseas parcels, and running┬áheadlong towards the last posting dates! When it all came to a close I was feeling victorious, but really quite run down, so it was really rather special to have a bit of a Christmas miracle.

You see, I’ve missed out an ongoing saga that has been running since August. I put an offer on my first home which was accepted! Through all the intervening months there has been a long struggle with mortgage applications and all the legal stuff that accompanies house buying. No stage of this has been easy, and at the end of the working year there still hadn’t been a final confirmation on the mortgage. I was resigned to there being no more progress till January, but on Christmas day, I heard that they had finally approved everything! As sorry as I feel for that person, working at 5pm while everyone else was sleeping off their dinner, it meant the world to have that piece of the puzzle in place!

So although we’re still waiting on a few more details, it seems pretty certain that in 2018, I will be able to move Orchid to a permanent home studio! This will change some of the ways we work on fittings with clients but the freedom and security I can now look forward to is very exciting- I look forward to sharing the adventure with you!

Attic space