Over the next few months, we will be introducing you to each of the ten finalists for the Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion 2016, hearing about their projects and their thoughts on the Award process, ahead of the winner announcements in November. Since January 2016, these students have been developing and refining their sustainability projects, and presented them to an esteemed panel of judges from Kering, the London College of Fashion and each of our partner brands, luxury suit company Brioni and vegetarian, fur and leather free company Stella McCartney.
BA Menswear student Agraj Jain drew on his background as a Jainist to present ‘peace silk’ as an alternative luxury material for Italian suit company Brioni. Jainists are taught not to harm any living being, be it a plant, animal or insect, and it was this concern for natural life that inspired the starting point for his project.
Responding to the brief set by Brioni, which asked the finalists to focus on the brand’s main product and bestseller, the luxury men’s suit, Agraj started his project by thinking about ways to improve the sustainability of the materials they use. Ahimsa silk, or peace silk, is created using a process in which no silk worms are killed. Normally, the cocoons are boiled before the silk worms are able to hatch, however, in the production of peace silk, the cocoons are allowed to hatch naturally before the process of de-gumming and spinning takes place, and therefore no silk worms are killed. There was clearly a tight link between peace silk and Agraj’s own belief system, and therefore it made sense that it was this material that he decided to pursue for his project. According to Agraj’s research, silk is used in the linings of most of Brioni’s suits, as well as in shirts, ties and scarves. It therefore presented the perfect opportunity for Brioni to consider an alternative to conventional silk, with both reduced environmental impacts and a beautiful story to tell.
At the final presentations, he shared his research into the process of peace silk, an explanation of the process, and brought this to life with a prototype jacket that he crafted using the material.
We caught up with Agraj, to ask him about his project, and his experiences on the Kering Award.
What does sustainability in fashion mean to you, and how does it influence your work?
‘For me, sustainability is a ‘healthy’ positive lifestyle. That’s what I try to consider during my work: along with outer beauty a product should have a beautiful soul and the process of its production should be beautiful too.’
What attracted you to the Kering award, and what was the inspiration behind your project?
‘I remember, when I saw the application, the three things which attracted me the most were the Kering group’s commitment to and respect for sustainability; how brands like Brioni and Stella McCartney are promoting sustainability by demonstrating how sustainability can be luxurious; and finally, the opportunity to be myself during this project – to share my beliefs and show that sustainability can have a fun side.’
What challenge/ problem did you identify at the start of your project?
‘One of the biggest problems I faced in the beginning of the project was that the material was not available in London. I could find peace silk in a few places, but it was really rough, and not the sort of quality that Brioni customers would want from a suit. Therefore, to understand it more, I flew back to India to meet the supplier who is based in Hyderabad. That was when I got detailed information about the material and was able to actually give life to my project. In the production house in India, I felt the peace silk for the first time and developed a connection with it.’
What have you found most inspiring about the award?
‘During my eight-month journey through the Kering Award, I realised that we often think way too seriously about sustainability. For me, it was a fun, joyful learning experience. The regular meetings and conversation with Kering and Brioni staff were inspiring and hugely helpful, and made my project feel very special because I had the chance to update them about my journey and get their advice. Altogether the entire mentoring programme was a great help and a huge source of inspiration.’
The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion is part of a five-year partnership launched in 2014 between Kering and Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, UAL, to support sustainable practices and innovation in the fashion industry. The partnership is three-fold and also includes an annual lecture – The Kering Talk – and a co-developed Masters’ level curriculum on sustainable design.
Keep your eye on the blog to hear about each of the other finalists, and for the all important winner announcements in November. And you can find out more about the KeringxLCF partnership here.