Charlie Wilkinson: Kering Award Winner

Image: Charlie Wilkinson

Image: Charlie Wilkinson

The focus of Charlie Wilkinson’s work is the use of cork as a sustainable material in Gucci’s heritage luggage. Here she tells us more about her project and her thinking about materials in the design process.

Tell us a little bit about your project.
CW: My project focussed on the idea of backtracking the making process for Gucci’s heritage luggage and making material replacements from the inside-out. It was extremely important that the style and aesthetic remained unchanged, and so I weighed up the sustainability of the materials currently used for structure within the brand’s most popular suitcase.

My proposal, entitled ‘Sunday’ was to replace any unsustainable and excess materials with a cork material. I have previously worked with cork on accessories I designed and made for a project with the Ethical Fashion Initiative, and so was aware of its naturally sustainable and durable properties. In addition to this, when researching vintage luggage I came across a Cordite Carrier made from cork that was hundreds of years old and so knew that would be a material perfect for this project.

Secondly, ‘Sunday’ considers the product lifespan and consumer attitudes towards sustainability within luxury fashion brands through the development of seasonal and removable skins for the luggage. This aims to give the cases ‘heirloom’ status and encourages customers to keep, update and re-use. This affords Gucci consumers with guilt-free, ethical self-expression and could potentially attract new customers through the longevity and updatable attributes of the product.

In your opinion, how important is the idea of heirloom status for luxury fashion products?
CW: It is vital that all products within luxury fashion have a sustainable life cycle. Heirloom products encourage the consumer to make considered purchases that will stand the test of time and avoid landfill. Unfortunately the very nature of fashion is seasonal and changeable, and so it is very important that luxury brands keep product life cycle in mind with each new collection and retain a strong sustainable and ethical balance in doing so.

What does sustainability in fashion mean to you?
CW: I believe that there should be a broad, all encompassing approach towards sustainability within fashion. This concerns the wellbeing of all of those involved in the process, respect for the land raw materials used, as well as the lasting effects of the process itself.

Underneath this approach lies a backlog of popular products that are made using materials that perhaps not produced with this in mind. I think that there should be a great deal of focus in retrospectively replacing raw materials for these products that go unnoticed to the consumer but are incredibly beneficial to the environment that they may have previously put strain on.

How has your knowledge about sustainability altered your work?
CW: My knowledge of sustainability has encouraged me to question each material that is used within a product and to scrutinise it’s importance. A more sustainable replacement material can even end up being a better fit for the end product.

It has also encouraged my habits, and I aim to make changes in my lifestyle that can make a sustainable impact, such as water consumption, and consideration of the life cycle of the products I buy.