My ECO STORIES with Susannah Mitchell
Updated: Feb 14, 2021
Welcome to My ECO STORIES our interview series, where we chat to different practitioners within the fashion and textile industry about their thoughts on sustainability and the future of fashion.
Susannah Mitchell is a Textile Designer and Founder of her namesake Natural Textile Studio. After graduating from the prestigious Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design in Textile Design, Susannah developed her practice working in interior design in London for a few years. Before returning to Cornwall last summer to set up her own studio, with a focus on sustainability, materiality and inclusivity in craft.
Can you talk a bit about your practice?
My practice is rooted in viewing textiles through the narrative lens of social history, and the vast cultural heritage that the preparation, making and wearing of textiles encompasses. Moving home has enabled me to reset and given me the chance to explore traditional methods of craft I’d always wanted to learn. Learning to spin wool and natural dyeing has shaped my current work; it’s that emotional, tactile link to the past that I always return to. I’m at the beginning and looking forward to the ways the studio will evolve; my focus at the moment is launching a small collection of naturally hand-dyed textiles. In the future I’m planning on running workshops and openingthe studio space as a seasonal platform for other local makers.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Accountability - a commitment to both people and environment and the preservation of traditional craft
How do you make your practice sustainable?
Sourcing from small businesses and companies is an aspect of social sustainability, as well as low environmental impact that I didn’t want to compromise on. I’ve been sourcing materials locally and within the UK; raw wool from a local rare breed farm, linen from Irish mills and organic silk grown in Herefordshire. I only use natural dyes from plants and am planting a dye garden which I hope, when established, will be my own tiny-scale circular system, growing my own colours.
Which item of clothing in your wardrobe is the most important to you?
This 90s Comme Des Garcon reversible skirt, that also turns into a cape, which is genius pattern cutting and also it’s good to be prepared. Whenever I wear it, it reminds me of a really happy time.
Which small businesses are you loving at the moment, and would like to give a shout out to?
Story MFG is one of my favourite brands whose ethos I really admire; they collaborate with artisans based in India in a way that is socially conscious, rather than exploitative. More brands should be committed to fostering traditional crafts in a community-minded, positive way, rather than using ateliers abroad purely for economic benefit. Naturally dyed clothing possibly gets bad rep for being a bit 70s-vegetarian-mung bean, but their brand contemporises natural dyes via street-wear.
Community Clothing has a interesting business model and works as a social enterprise, committed to sustainable and ethical manufacture in the UK, bringing back job opportunities to former areas of industry. Their focus is toward good quality basics, rather than trend-led fashion and it proves than affordable clothing can be manufactured here with all the garment workers being paid the National Living Wage.
In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, what issue has been highlighted in the industry to you?
The need for a shift in consumer culture and a change in our values. Li Edelkoort has described our current fashion system as one in which it has become possible for an item of clothing to be ‘cheaper than a sandwich’. I listened to a podcast with her recently in which she talks about the pandemic as an opportunity for a cultural reset and a return to smaller-scale cottage industries that support local economies. The supply chain collapsing has left garment workers destitute and there is no accountability for their protection. The global scale of the problem is so economically entrenched, it’s hard to see how to make an individual positive impact, when ultimately only a seismic shift in consumer conscience will force manufacturers into more ethical and sustainable practices.
What is your hope for the future of fashion?
I hope that companies and brands are forced to be more accountable and transparent, so consumers can make more conscious choices. In the last week a lot of brands have been exposed for unethical and racist company cultures while monopolising on the brand of sustainability; there needs to be an overhaul of sustainability as a gold-standard, like a Organic certification, companies should have to prove their credentials.
Written by Bethan and Susannah @ theecostories