Podcast Ep. 71, SAVING THE PLANET WITH MOTHER OF PEARL'S AMY POWNEY
EPISODE 71 FEATURES MOTHER OF PEARL’S AMY POWNEY
Mother of Pearl is a British sustainable luxury womenswear and accessories brand that celebrates individuality and authenticity. The brand was established in 2002 by stylist Maia Norman, then wife of artist Damien Hurst. Amy Powney joined as a paid intern fresh out of fashion school 13 years ago. Nine years later she became creative director.
Today it’s known for its dark florals, satin bows, polka dots, ruffles and outsized faux-pearl trims - you could never accuse Mother of Pearl of being homespun or beige. Amy’s putting the glamour and fun into sustainable style, and it’s winning her accolades. In 2017, Mother of Pearl (along with Palmer Harding) won the British Fashion Council/Vogue Fashion Fund Award.
Last year, Mother of Pearl Launched No Frills, “a core collection of wardrobe staples that is sustainable, organic, socially responsible, has low carbon emissions and has generally created the minimum impact on the planet.” Powney’s team spent a year researching how and where to product these garments with the shortest, most local supply chain possible. “Turning the design process on its head, we started not with design but with geography. A typical garment can travel to five countries before it reaches you, sometimes even 10.” Pieces in the resulting line, which includes denim, has been to no more than four countries. For knitwear, just one or two.
Amy’s message: Consider every purchase and love our choices. Buy quality and consume less. Recycle and repurpose.
“As a non-stop working woman I also know the needs of convenience, which brought me to the dilemma of how to make a very complex subject accessible and easy to all,” she says.
In this Episode, Amy shares about how growing up off-grid - part of the time living in a caravan - informed her approach to waste, nature, resources, and trying to live lightly on the planet. She explains how and why she’s turned Mother of Pearl into an environmentally aware label. We talk about and how much she loves David Attenborough (don’t we all!), and have a frank, honest discussion about how hard it can be to get the message across about the dire environmental situation we face, while also trying to do business and stay happy.
THE 5 QUOTES CLARE READS BACK TO AMY
1. “Sustainability is not a simple term - it’s a mindset, a culture, a lifestyle, and one that is accessible to all.”
2. “Small things by all are greater than one person’s individual fight.”
3. “Sustainability has always been a passion of mine since growing up off-grid.”
4. “The lengths we’ve gone to at Mother of Pearl are just the beginnings of what I hope to be a global change, that I would like to be a part of, along with you.”
5.“In my opinion it is not the consumer’s duty to worry about the supply chain.”
“It’s movement building: that’s the only way this is going to work… no one can do it on their own.” - Amy Powney
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT…
LONDON FASHION WEEK AUTUMN/WINTER ‘19/20 This season, Mother of Pearl did a presentation, organised a day of talks, and launched a film. Phew.
In her speech officially opening London fashion week, BFC chairman Stephanie Phair celebrated this, as she outlined the three pillars of the council’s Positive Fashion initiative: Sustainability, Equality and Diversity, and Craftsmanship and Community. Phair said, “This fashion week we are excited to back a partnership between BBC Earth –responsible for Blue Planet - and Mother of Pearl designer Amy Powney that highlights to consumers the importance of sustainability through mindful consumerism.” The film launched at a swank reception at Spencer house, attended by Adwoa Aboah and Anna Wintour.
The talk series ran during the BFC’s new consumer runway event. Speakers included Frances Corner, founder of the Centre for Sustainable fashion at LCF; designers Christopher Raeburn and Teatum Jones, and Francois Souchet from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (Yes, they’ve all featured on the podcast! Listen via the links above).
“See? Sustainability can be fun,” grinned Amy Powney, creative director of Mother of Pearl. Dressed in a black velvet, she was throwing white plastic balls into the air. They might not be biodegradable “but they are fully circular,” she assured us. Not just in shape. Everything used to build her London Fashion Week installation was rented and reusable.
Powney hoped to inject some humour and light into what can be a depressing, heavy conversation around fashion’s impact on the environment. The hired balls filled a childlike “pearl pit” set up inside the Fitzrovia Chapel, an Italian Gothic jewel box of a building in a residential area of central London… '
WILLIAM MORRIS was a great British textile designer. It was down to him that Victorian wallpaper was so busy with highly decorative bird, flower and leaf motifs. Also an architect, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist he was key to the British Arts and Crafts Movement, and linked to the Pre-Raphaelites. He was born in Walthamstow in 1834, and his childhood home has been turned into a museum. Fashion has long flirted with Morris’s prints. In the 1960s, Granny Takes a Trip made blazers out of Morris print fabric - Beatle George Harrison bought one. Mother of Pearl used Morris prints for AW’14. The H&M/Morris archive collab Amy mentions dropped in October 2018.
KWIK SAVE is a cut-price British supermarket that went bust in 2007 (and was subsequently revived). In the 90s they launched the original own-brand, cheap line that kept prices low by eschewing flashy marketing and branding. You could buy a can of No Frills beans for way less than the Heinz ones but they were basically the same thing. No Frills started the affordable home-brand revolution - it was the one everyone copied. [Never thought I’d be writing about Kwik Save - the Ed.]
INGREDIENTS The MoP website lists sustainability attributes alongside size and garment type. Things like “organic”, or “natural fibres” or “responsible use of water”.
CERTIFICATION. Mother of Pearl works with Nordic Swan and GOTS on the traceable No Frills line. These certifications provide peace of mind for the small to medium fashion business that can’t afford, or logistically manage, to do their own audits, says Amy. As well as the eco cred, they ensure workers in the supply chain have been treated ethically.
GILES DEACON is the UK designer Amy interned for when she was studying fashion at Kingston University. Giles likes William Morris too.
DAMIAN HIRST is a British artist. In the ‘90s, he was part of the YBA scene (with Tracey Emin) that shook up the contemporary art world.
ALDEN WICKER is the founder of Ecocult. She broke the story on the non-fact about fashion being the 2nd biggest polluter on the planet: “The global fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world.” You’ll hear this repeated at panels, on blogs and news sites, and anywhere else sustainable fashion is being discussed. Intuitively, it sounds true.” Problem is… it’s not. Read Wicker’s 2017 article for Racked here. Read Vanessa Friedman’s 2018 NYT story on the exact same thing here. Now, count how many times you see/hear people quoting this.
A NOTE ON OUR MUSIC: IT IS BY OUR FRIEND MONTAIGNE, WHO SANG A SPECIAL ACOUSTIC VERSION OF "BECAUSE I LOVE YOU" JUST FOR US. IT'S FROM HER ALBUM GLORIOUS HEIGHTS.
THANK YOU FOR JOINING THE WARDROBE CRISIS CONVERSATION. WE'LL HAVE A NEW EPISODE FOR YOU EVERY WEEK. CAN YOU HELP US SPREAD THE WORD? WE'D LOVE YOU TO TELL YOUR FRIENDS & LEAVE A REVIEW IN iTUNES.
Until next time,