29th December 2019 was just another Black Friday in Carnaby Street, London. But unlike its neighbours, the Raeburn clothes store was closed. A sign outside read, 'Buy Nothing Repair Something'. The sign is now a poster inside the shop,
Today we are closed for business and open for creativity. We've disabled our online shop and closed our physical stores.
Raeburn's design lab up the road in Hackney stayed open and offered a free community drop in repair service - of any brand or no brand of clothing.
Why is it that Timberland, The North Face, Disney and many others seek out Raeburn and, more specifically, founder and lead designer Christopher Raeburn? Why do they want to collaborate and co-create? The answer is simple: it's the company's integrity; approach to design and because of its care for our precious planet. Christopher says,
I think as a designer you have an obligation to consider what you are doing and why; ultimately, we want to make strong, sustainable choices...
Companies want his thinking. They want his why and his how more than his what. He'll help them remake their own what (their product) into something that's far, far more than it was before.
The Raeburn philosophy comprises 4Rs - the first eponymous, the rest world changing and we'll look at them here in turn:
There's a great deal of excess military clothing and equipment out there - unused, unusable or unsafe - and Christopher Raeburn hunts it down with archaeological rigour. It's then taken apart and rebuilt.
Imagine a bomber jacket that was once a fighter plane's parachute air-brake; a silk dress cut from a cold war battlefield map or a jacket that used to sit poised and packed as a Chinese air force parachute.
It's all about value, about thinking in lifetimes not days. Each garment is numbered so you know you've bought one of a small run. You also know Raeburn will repair it free of charge forever, and when it's beyond repair will remake it again: jacket to cushion to handkerchief to wallet is a wholly probable evolution over decades. Put simply, less clothes, lasting longer.
The principle: seek out the surplus, find the excess, bring it out of storage and make it into something new (but with a design nod to its heritage, its provenance).
RÆDUCED products come from new natural fibres; generally (GOTS Certified) Organic Cotton items, but also wool and silk. The RÆDUCED ethos looks at decreasing impact through addressing CO2/water/transport issues.
The principle: think long term across a product's whole lifetime - its birth, life, journey, changes and death - and only then judge its value and its cost. And ask, just how many clothes do I actually need?
If it can be used again, use it again. Wool can be respun, cotton can be respun. Plastic can be gathered and reformed. Raeburn sell a cashmere sweater. Not quite 100% - a mix of Tencel (from wood pulp), Polyamide (reused plastic) and reclaimed cashmere. They argue, why use new when used can be reused?
The principle: Why is it sitting there in landfill? What can it become instead and how can this transformation best happen?
Raeburn brand thinking is inspiring, necessary, and scalable. Its transformative and transferable. That's why, from this learning designer's perspective it is so compelling.
In an educational environment veering dangerously close to a retro and reductive 3Rs ethos, we desperately need this kind of 4R thinking.
The Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic will take care of themselves - these skills are functional, foundational and easily acquired through systematic proven programmes - which will become ever more effective once we fully commit to and trust machine learning and artificially intelligent products.
But currently that's all we seem to do - drill the basics - especially in primary schools. Children loose their childhood, their play, their chances to create. Design has been designed out of the curriculum; the future hobbled by a mis-remembered 'golden' past and troubled by an overloaded, anxious present. We must design and produce a transformation of learning through principles like Raeburn's Rs.
Something to think about:
In your day to day teaching, what can be remade, reduced, recycled - practically as in actual materials and objects, or pedagogically as in ways of teaching and learning?
What are your 4 principles of teaching and/or learning?
I'll be creating a series of resources this year linked to ethical design and principles like Raeburn's. Look out on the website and in the monthly mailing.
Contact Raeburn direct for lab tours and workshops.