RiLEY studio is the new London-based contemporary fashion label with sustainability at its core. Its minimalist, sportswear-inspired collections are designed to be seasonless and appeal to both style and eco-conscious shoppers.
“We are style led and we develop a fabric around what we want something to look like,” says CEO Olivia Dowie. It’s a rigorous process and one that can prove limiting at times. “There are a lot of boxes that have to be ticked. We have to make sure all material is certified and free from pesticides and harmful labour before we commit to using it.”
How to be a truly sustainable brand?
Dowie’s personal passion for the cause is clear and it’s something that both she and the label’s founder Riley Uggla, have focused their careers on. “Riley’s experience working in fashion opened her eyes to the reality of its damaging effects on the environment,” says Dowie. “This is what inspired her to launch this label. There are so many elements to consider in order to be a truly sustainable brand. You have to feel very passionately about it to make it a success.”
It was during her time at cashmere label, Belinda Robinson, that Dowie discovered her own interest in the topic. “Upcycling was a huge part of the business and it gave me an appreciation for the importance of sustainability in clothing consumption,” she says. “I have some of my grandmother’s cashmere which I have repaired and given new life and I think there’s something really special about that.”
The rise in consumer awareness
She talks positively about sustainable fashion’s progression and the rise in consumer awareness. The biggest change, she says, is one of intrigue and perception; “People want to know where their clothes came from. They want to know who made them.”
RiLEY Studio’s design takes place in London and collections are made in Shoreditch and Portugal by talented, fairly-paid workers. These values play into the brand’s ethos and ultimate goal; to create a ‘meaningful’ capsule wardrobe and become the go-to destination for staples with timeless appeal. Its designs are gender-neutral and silhouettes are relaxed, easy to wear and ideal for layering. The simplicity of the shapes allows for fabric to share the spotlight with aesthetic.
It’s chosen meticulously and is sourced from a few key suppliers. Sportswear is made using ECONYL®, a version of nylon derived from abandoned fishing nets, carpet flooring and pre-consumer waste like plastic and clothing. To the touch, it feels just like non-recycled nylon and it carries the same breathable, stretchy qualities.
Q-NOVA® by Fulgar (an established man-made fibre company that provides fabrics for companies across the world) is another important addition to the brand’s portfolio. It’s made from the waste created by Fuglar’s Italian yarn production and it’s used to make the label’s unisex tracksuits.
Working with recycled materials
But most of these fabrics can only be bought in bulk. It’s an obstacle Dowie sees as potentially detrimental to small and young brands. “It’s a huge cost for newer labels to invest in big quantities of any fabric and I think the industry needs to become more accomodating in order to see more young labels going down a sustainable route,” she says.
What’s keeping her and Uggla motivated is the measurability of their efforts and they openly share the stats behind their impact. Since launching in August 2018, the label has already saved almost 600,000 litres of water, over 5,500 litres of oil and has recycled almost 2000 plastic bottles by working with recycled materials.
The certified Butterfly Mark
Dowie openly admits to a lack of knowledge when it comes to long-term possibilities but sees the project as a consistent learning experience; “We are always learning and finding things out. Technology is forever becoming more advanced and information is changing daily. New things are being discovered all the time and that’s exciting.”
Being such a young label, there’s a lot for those involved to look forward to. Currently, it’s the certified Butterfly Mark that Dowie is aiming to secure for the brand. It’s a recognised ‘badge of honour’ for luxury labels that meet certain standards of social and environmental performance.
On a more sentimental level, RiLEY Studio’s goals are clear; “We aim to change the mindset of fashion lovers and educate them enough so that they can make smarter shopping decisions,” she says. “One day we don’t even want to have to talk about the fact that our collections are sustainable. We hope that the industry gets to a place where it becomes the norm for fashion brands to operate in this way.”
Words: Sarah Leigh Bannerman