When John Lewis & Partners launched its fashion collaboration with cult responsible label Mother of Pearl just over a year ago, it felt like something of a coup for the high-street stalwart.
Twelve months of strong sales later, the first homeware collection is here: a 21-piece edit of bedlinen, throws, cushions and organic silk eye masks.
‘Fibres and fabrics is what I know,’ says creative director Amy Powney, who has steadily worked her way to the top after landing a role as a studio assistant nearly 15 years ago. As Mother of Pearl pulled firmly ahead of the curve on responsible fashion, she became an industry figurehead almost by accident, advocating for materials that can be named and traced, and that secure a certain amount of social responsibility.
Here, that means organic silk and cotton, certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard, and flax linen both sourced and manufactured in Portugal. If it sounds like common sense, that’s because it is. ‘In most cases, sustainability is more logical and makes better financial sense. There are age-old farming methods that we’ve abandoned in favour of pesticides.’
What follows is a whistle-stop tour through the ins and outs of crop rotation, depleted soil and contaminated water. It’s clear that Powney knows her stuff.
Fans of Mother of Pearl’s often graphic womenswear (and there are many) might find the collection surprisingly muted. Save for contrast stitching on a throw, a simple check on a sheet and a splash of earthy colour – inspired by a trip to Morocco’s rural Berber Lodge retreat – it’s wholly devoid of superfluous detail.
‘After a year at home our customers are looking for pieces that bring a sense of calm and restoration to their space,’ says Philippa Prinsloo, head of design for Home at John Lewis. ‘These timeless designs will look stylish for years to come.’
As a self-confessed Marie Kondo, Powney is equally wary of our capricious attitude to trend. ‘It’s about forever pieces. You can use all the sustainable fabrics you want, but it’ll never be sustainable to create a one-hit wonder no-one keeps.’
Growing up off-grid in a farming community, she knew ‘from a very young age that electricity doesn’t just appear in your house and food doesn’t just appear in your fridge’. By the time she left for Kingston University and a more connected kind of life, it had made a lasting impression. ‘It’s where that thought process first started: where do we get these things?’
She recalls being met by blank faces at a fabric trade fair four years ago, when the project was in its infancy. ‘We would ask, “where does your yarn come from?” and we thought, well, if these people don’t know, how are we going to work this out?’ She went straight to source – to fields, to speak to farmers directly; online, to tease out the web of global politics and its implications for the textile industry.
Powney pulls no punches when it comes to the insidious power of marketing spin, citing greenwashing as the biggest problem faced by the industry. So how does a consumer clock the real deal? ‘You’ve got to get into the nitty gritty, the product level. Look for brands that are talking about their fabrics, and their certifications.’
Beware the sweeping statement and the sudden pivot to sustainability messaging, too. ‘What we want to achieve has no quick fix,’ agrees Prinsloo. ‘It takes time and a lot of diligence. Ethics and sustainability have to be integrated into each touchpoint to enact real change – it’s about making adjustments through the supply chain, changing attitudes and communicating clearly to our customers.’
Canny shoppers will already be able to spot the differences here – the waxed cotton tags, the fact that the bedding arrives in a cushion cover rather than plastic wrap.
And as provenance goes mainstream, attention is gradually – and gratifyingly – shifting to what Powney calls ‘the circularity side’. ‘Rent and resale. Thinking about the end use of that product.’
If it all sounds like a minefield, there’s a simple mantra to keep in mind. ‘The single most important thing that consumers can do is to buy things that they know they’re going to keep for a long time.’ Above all, she is hopeful. ‘The desire is definitely there,’ she says. ‘Now it’s about action.’ johnlewis.com
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