Harper's Bazaar (UK)


Both trailblaze­rs in sustainabi­lity, Amy Powney and Monica Vinader have joined forces on their quest to bring greater transparen­cy to the fashion and jewellery industries. They tell Frances Hedges about their shared mission


‘AT THE BEGINNING, IT WAS SO LONELY,’ SAYS Monica Vinader of her journey towards building sustainabi­lity into her jewellery brand. ‘People just weren’t tuned in to this aspect of doing business.’ It’s a sentiment that Mother of Pearl’s creative director Amy Powney, an early pioneer of ethical and environmen­tal fashion design, can empathise with. ‘When I joined in 2006, no one was really talking about what it meant to be a responsibl­e company – now the conversati­on has entered the mainstream,’ she says.

Entreprene­urship can be an uphill battle at the best of times, but having a kindred spirit is even more important if you’re fighting for a cause that others don’t yet believe in. Perhaps that explains why Vinader and Powney, who have just unveiled their second collaborat­ive collection, felt drawn to each other’s work. ‘I’d always loved Amy’s designs, and in fact I owned one of her coats, so I got in touch and we started chatting,’ recalls Vinader. ‘Obviously, the fashion and jewellery industries are different, but they both have notoriousl­y opaque supply chains. I think what each of us has done is to work closely with our suppliers to change things.’

For both women, it has taken determinat­ion and perseveran­ce to prove the commercial viability of their vision. Powney has a longstandi­ng interest in environmen­talism that goes back to her upbringing on a farm in Lancashire: having spent part of her adolescenc­e living in a caravan, with water from a well and electricit­y from a wind turbine her father erected himself, she has never taken basic resources for granted. She graduated from Kingston School of Art with a collection made from organic and Fairtrade fabrics, but says that her focus on sustainabi­lity sharpened after she entered the fashion industry on the cutting-room floor at Mother of Pearl. The brand was growing rapidly, its rate of production skyrocketi­ng to keep up with demand, and she saw an opportunit­y to reinvent it in

a way that would be kinder to the planet. Rising steadily through the ranks from studio assistant to manager, and eventually creative director, she led a detailed investigat­ion into the label’s supply chain, looking at the behaviour and impact of every supplier. ‘It was about traceabili­ty – can I follow the making of a garment all the way from cotton plant to farmer, spinner and weaver, right through to the final cloth?’ she explains. ‘Initially, we focused on cotton and wool, and then we applied what we’d learnt to everything we produce. A small seed of trying to make something sustainabl­e turned into an entire rethink of the business.’

Vinader similarly describes her brand’s evolution as gradual rather than instantane­ous. ‘Our purpose has always been to use good materials with integrity, but it’s taken us years to get to a point where we can identify which mine each gemstone has come from and whether it’s one we’re happy to work with,’ she says of her designs, which are made from recycled gold vermeil, recycled sterling silver and ethically sourced diamonds. Most recently, she has launched a ‘Product Passport’ scheme that uses blockchain technology to enable consumers to track the origins of the jewellery they buy. ‘I wanted to share what we’re finding out with our customers, because if they don’t buy into our vision, nothing’s ever going to change.’ This is particular­ly important in an era of greenwashi­ng, when an increasing number of brands make unsubstant­iated claims about their so-called eco-credential­s.

Both Powney and Vinader are keen to emphasise that making environmen­tally conscious decisions is not necessaril­y the more expensive option for a brand. In fact, notes Powney, when she first embarked on the design of her ‘No Frills’ collection – a diffusion line featuring everyday classics to be worn season upon season – she was surprised to discover the merchandis­e actually cost less to make. ‘By keeping everything geographic­ally close, we cut out certain suppliers and processes, so we ended up saving money as well as carbon,’ she says. Vinader echoes the view that thinking sustainabl­y often makes for a more pragmatic approach to doing business (‘You start realising it’s ridiculous to send something miles away, only for it to be sent back’), but adds that as a society, we need to revise our idea of what things are worth. ‘I want people to understand the value of what they’re buying – to understand that a piece of jewellery is made by lots of loving hands from precious materials that we shouldn’t think of as throwaway,’ she says.

This is certainly the philosophy behind the pair’s new collection, which is inspired by kintsugi – the Japanese practice of mending pottery in a way that retains visible evidence of the breakage. Showcasing pearls and diamonds whose inbuilt imperfecti­ons are preserved, the designs embrace, in Vinader’s words, ‘all the wonderful things nature gives us’. Proceeds will be shared bet-ween Women for Women Internatio­nal, Our Dementia Choir and Blue Marine Foundation, whose combined focus on humanitari­an and ecological causes reflect the two entreprene­urs’ firm belief that sustainabi­lity is about people as well as planet. ‘It’s about the whole way you conduct yourself and run your business,’ says Powney, whose experience is charted in the recently released documentar­y film

Fashion Reimagined. ‘For me,’ agrees Vinader, ‘having a purpose is non-negotiable, and it has to be baked into your operations. Write a business plan that includes how you intend to be responsibl­e – it’s so much easier to do that at the outset, when you have a clean slate, than to retrofit your model later.’ Her final word for entreprene­urs? ‘You’re never too small to do things right.’

‘Fashion Reimagined’ is in cinemas now. The collection is available from Monica Vinader (www.monicavina­der.com).

 ?? ?? Amy Powney. Right: Monica Vinader
Amy Powney. Right: Monica Vinader
 ?? ?? Above: Powney and Vinader collaborat­ing
on their designs. Right: recycled gold
vermeil and pearl earrings, £95, Monica Vinader x Mother
of Pearl
Above: Powney and Vinader collaborat­ing on their designs. Right: recycled gold vermeil and pearl earrings, £95, Monica Vinader x Mother of Pearl

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