Now that my organic silk dresses have launched on my website, and now on Yoox I realised that in my euphoria at collaborating with Ptolemy Mann and writing all about that, I haven't shared much background on the eco side of the work. It was hard for me to think of working with what I call 'normal silk' - ie. silk that doesn't have a sustainable angle, however beautiful it might be.
Maud Dress in GOTs certified organic silk in Ptolemy Mann violet feather ikat print, printed and made in London. Photograph by Alun Callender.
I came across a number of Swiss organic textile manufacturers when I was showing at GREENshowroom, which is part of Berlin Fashion Week in July 2010. I didn't know then that Zurich has a long, millenia-long, connection with the silk trade, and clearly with silk-producing lands such as Italy and China. Like Germanic-speaking countries, I tend to favour certification, where possible, and organic is the most rigourous in my view. GOTs (which is recognised by the British organic certifier, The Soil Association) organic certification covers both environmental impact at source and in processing but also human rights and labour-related issues. So I was delighted to find an incredible quality silk from Zurich-based Weisbrod. The silk is from China, and the whole process is well documented and certified as detailed here. The mulberry bushes are integrated into an organic multicultural environment with many other trees and plants, the silk worms are fed on a feed which is free of fertilizers, growth hormones and other nasties. Then the boiling off of the raw silk is done in a low-chemical environment and so on. In the same way as my organic tweeds, the feel of the silk satin I use for the silk collection has an amazing lustre to it and I feel it must be because of this organic processing. It's more than just the knowledge of the process; it's actually in the feel of the fabric.
Then came the printing. I have done quite a lot of research into natural dyes and it's really hard to achieve durability and quality. Plus the use of water is still very heavy. When I came across Ptolemy Mann's prints I started looking into digital printing. I discovered that digital printing has many environmental benefits, such as very low water-use and very low wastage. We used London-based printers Cameron Gilmartin, who use low energy machinery and hand-finish everything so we can be sure of top quality, which is something we couldn't compromise on for our beautiful dresses.