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“Sustainable Is Beautiful”: HRH The Prince Of Wales, Edward Enninful And Federico Marchetti Host A Fashion Roundtable

by Dana Thomas, January 21, 2022


Photography by Nick Knight

HRH The Prince of Wales’s passion for organic farming is well known. More than 35 years ago, he converted Home Farm, near his Highgrove residence, into a wholly organic operation – a move for which he was publicly chastised, as he recalled with a laugh to a fashion roundtable at Dumfries House in Ayrshire on Thursday. He has since proved to those critics – and everyone else – that he was well ahead of the curve when it comes to ecology and the environment.

He has also long championed the craft tradition – fashion included. As he likes to say: “Buy once, buy well,” meaning invest in good pieces that last. He heralds circularity – the practice of recycling items once we are finished with them. “I can’t bear any waste, including food waste; I’d much rather find another use,” he told British Vogue’s editor-in-chief Edward Enninful last autumn. “Which is why I’ve been going on for so long about the need for a circular economy, rather than a linear one where you just make, take and throw away – which is a tragedy, because inevitably we over-exploit natural resources that are rapidly depleting.”

Most recently, Prince Charles has turned his focus to sustainable fashion. Last year, he appointed Federico Marchetti, the founder and former chairman of Yoox Net-a-Porter, to be the head of the Sustainable Markets Initiative’s Task Force on Fashion. At the G-20 meeting in Rome in October, they introduced the Digital ID, a traceability technology, accessed via QR code or NFC (like Apple Pay), that tracks a fashion item from production to resale. In November 2020, Prince Charles and Marchetti launched The Modern Artisan, a training programme at Dumfries House, where fashion students designed a capsule collection of sustainable men’s and womenswear to sell on Yoox Net-a-Porter, to fund The Prince’s Foundation. “It was a huge success,” Marchetti told me during a visit to the textiles workshop on the Dumfries House estate on Thursday. “We sold half of it in two weeks.”

The meeting, held in the Tapestry Room of the 18th-century Great House, set on 2,000 acres and which Prince Charles has turned into a crafts and agricultural learning centre and wellness retreat, was hosted by His Royal Highness, Federico Marchetti, and Edward Enninful. Together, HRH and the roundtable members mapped out a major international event for early 2023, produced by Vogue and the Task Force, with support from The Prince’s Foundation, that will put green fashion front and centre. Details will be announced in the coming weeks.

“What we are trying to do is see if we can help,” Prince Charles told the group, which included Chris Gaffney, chief executive of Johnstons of Elgin; Amy Powney, creative director of Mother of Pearl; John Sugden, owner of Campbell’s of Beauly; and Patrick Grant, director of Norton & Sons on Savile Row and founder of Community Clothing (and a judge on The Great British Sewing Bee).

In his introduction, Prince Charles noted that the United Nations reports that fashion is responsible for up to 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. (McKinsey & Company pegs it at around four percent; what’s for sure is that the impact is monumental.) “It’s terrifying to think the fashion industry contributes so much to the [climate] problem,” he said.

Among the solutions His Royal Highness suggested were grassroots initiatives. At Highgrove, for example, “we’re about to start a project on natural dyes, which would probably make a difference if we could get some traction on it,” he said. “Having examples to show people seems to be of such importance.” Grant spoke of a similar project he mounted in Blackburn, Lancashire, during the pandemic, growing woad – a blue-flowering plant that creates a rich royal-blue dye. The endeavour grew into a big community happening, with locals stopping by the field to check on the crop, and offering to help in cultivation, harvest, and processing. “We had over 150 volunteers in total from the community,” Grant said. “They are all now engaged with nature and environmental practices in a way that they never were before.”

Marchetti spoke of regenerative farming – the practice of conserving and rehabilitating soil by nurturing biodiversity, conserving water, and bolstering ecosystems. As he points out in the Task Force’s 2022 mission statement: “For brands, the highest environmental impact takes place at the very beginning of the supply chain, at the raw materials level. Regenerative farming practices could represent a concrete solution not only to reduce emissions but to even reverse the climate crisis.” In its first year, the Task Force dedicated itself to solving traceability through the Digital ID, he said. In 2022, the focus will be on regenerative farming, so that fashion can source sustainable materials. “The third year – 2023 – we will join the two,” he said, so fashion items can be tracked from healthy fields to retail floors, and beyond.

Enninful pledged British Vogue’s full support of the Task Force’s work, and reaffirmed the magazine’s commitment to spotlight eco-friendly fashion. To that end, he announced a new monthly column, beginning this spring, dedicated to climate issues. “Vogue plays a key role in educating readers about sustainability, from how to be more conscious about what to buy, to the materials that we should all be looking out for,” he told Prince Charles and the panel members. “Our manifesto is buy less, buy better.”

As for the magazine’s own practices, Enninful said, “I’m happy to say Vogue's publisher Condé Nast has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and to eliminate fossil-based, non-recyclable plastic packaging from publications across its 12 markets by 2025. We were also the first media organisation to sign the United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, which aims to help the fashion industry achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and launched The Sustainable Fashion Glossary, an authoritative digital resource, in partnership with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion in 2020. Lots of good work, but still lots more to be done.”

Prince Charles agreed. Nevertheless, he seemed pleased by the news, and with the proposed resolutions. As he wrapped up the discussion, he concluded: “Sustainable is beautiful.”

Originally published in Vogue

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