Amy Powney, creative director of the London-based luxury sustainable womenswear brand Mother of Pearl, is passionate about the future of our planet. Indeed, this week sees the release of Fashion Reimagined which documents the designer’s extraordinary journey as she creates a sustainable collection from field to finished garment. Amy talks to The Glossary exclusively about how she implements eco-friendly and ethical into her day-to-day.
I’m a really casual dresser and mostly wear my own brand Mother of Pearl, especially as we do denim now. Very few fashion brands offer a fully holistic approach to sustainability – they just scratch the surface. When it comes to womenswear, Mara Hoffman and Maggie Marilyn aren’t UK-based [you can buy them widely here – in stores and online] but I like that they’re fully committed. Both brands are transparent on their platforms about their efforts around sustainability and their ethics. Same goes for Sheep Inc, who make hand-finished Merino jumpers and will literally tell you which sheep the wool’s come from. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t ever buy from the high street. For example, though I don’t love Arket as a full brand, I’ll go there for something specific, like a non-mulesed knitwear piece.
The other day I tried to find sustainable leggings as I have started going to the gym – it was a minefield. They’re either all synthetic, and even if they are made from recycled plastic they shed microfibres when washed, which end up in our oceans, rivers and soil – or they’re cotton with a load of elastane, which isn’t biodegradable. In the end I bought a pair from Varley which are made from recycled plastic. I also have a pair from Girlfriend Collective, a brand that seems to be doing innovative things with post-consumer water bottles, fishing nets retrieved from the seas, fabric scraps and other waste. It’s a whole new world for me, activewear.
I have a clear opinion when it comes to supply chains and raw materials, but I find footwear complex. Leather versus plastic leather? I don’t know where I stand. I really like Neous, an Italian accessories brand that uses long-lasting, natural materials and champions craftsmanship. I’ve just bought a pair of the Ran Knit boots that are fabricated from a wool knit – I am really pleased with them. And I’d love a bag from Uri – they do these amazing rattan bags; everything is handwoven and it’s big on transparency and circularity.
I’m not very good at buying vintage for myself as I only ever wear Mother of Pearl jeans and t-shirts. But I buy about 80% of my kids’ clothes [Amy has a three-year-old daughter and a son, seven months] from a website called Dotte, which offers the full circle: buying, selling, donating and recycling. A couple of girls I know set it up [Samantha Valentine and Louise Weiss] and it makes shopping for childrenswear pleasurable. I can buy brands I wouldn’t normally, as it’s all secondhand – I even bought my daughter a Frozen Elsa dress without feeling guilty. I’ll pass it on when she grows out of it.
We all need to consume less, consume better. Sadly, we need to assume that most brands are greenwashing. It’s hard for consumers, but we have to put time and energy into doing research and empowering ourselves with knowledge – I think it’s the only way. There are a lot of amazing people coming up with solutions, like Melanie Milham, founder of the pre-loved fashion resale platform Curate & Rotate. I love that she curates secondhand items, so they feel elevated and interesting. Platforms like Vinted and DePop are good too. We should also try and repair pieces rather than throwing them out. I’m not perfect with that stuff, but I think we need to stop looking at things as waste.
Arizona Muse introduced me to the natural, organic beauty brand Weleda – I love it. I use their calendula soap in the shower, it’s much better than having endless bottles. There’s a new holistic skincare brand called Reome, which has been set up by former beauty editor and acupuncturist Joana Ellner. She just does this one product called Active Recovery Broth; it’s a serum that hydrates, calms, brightens… it does everything. I use the Dede shampoo by Davines for my hair, which is more sustainable than a lot of brands. I never wear makeup but I do have a few products from Burt’s Bees, including their All Aglow Lip And Cheek Stick and tinted lip balm; and one thing I always do is get my eyelashes tinted and lifted. It makes you feel really fresh in the morning.
What Monica Vinader is doing in sustainability in jewellery is amazing. She’s very dynamic, very clever, very passionate. I have just done a second collaboration with her, but I also own lots of her pieces. All the gold and silver she uses is recycled and she’s launched a Product Passport so you can see the supply chain. What I also love is that while she’s a strong woman as a business owner she also has a maternal presence, she’s very nurturing. I admire these qualities in a leader. I also like Otiumberg, the jewellery brand founded by sisters Rosanna and Christie Wollenberg. They do lovely, understated layering pieces and they’ve got really nice sustainable credentials as well.
I don’t know as much about sustainability in interiors as I do in fashion. My husband Nick and I have just renovated our house in Walthamstow. We didn’t design it in a way that’s trendy – we kept it timeless. All our flooring is from the Copenhagen-based firm Dinesen, which only uses raw wood from sustainable forestry. We have a mix of vintage and new furniture – the sofas are from &Tradition, for example. Our kitchen is by the Brixton-based company Pluck; they’re passionate about sustainability and make everything locally.
We get most of our food from Riverford [the organic fruit and veg delivery service]. I love that they have a carbon limit on their produce – if something goes over the limit, they won’t sell it. Sustainability is part of their everyday language and I like the fact they’re educating me. We also have a farmer’s market in Walthamstow on Sundays, which we go to every week. There’s a bakery called Dusty Knuckle that delivers pastries on a milk float, and we’ve just found out the milkman has started in our area so we can get organic milk and orange juice to our doorstep.
I used to go everywhere by bicycle but then I had pregnancies and babies. We did look at bikes with the boxes on the front and the back for the kids. They’re great if you’re going somewhere local but not practical if you want to go far, so my husband and I have just bought a car for the first time. It was a real challenge in my head whether we should; we went fully electric, but I still know it’s not the best thing.
Brands need to be truly invested in sustainability – you’ll see that in my film Fashion Reimagined. It’s not just about finding organic cotton and creating garments from it – it’s about changing your entire approach and continually looking forwards, asking how you can be better. That’s the point of the film; Chloe [Marks, Mother of Pearl brand manager] and I didn’t know what we were going to find when we embarked on our journey. We ended up completely flipping the way we design at Mother of Pearl. Now we don’t design something and try and make it work sustainably; we find the supply chain we like and we design within it.
The film’s director Becky [Hutner] is the real heroine – I can be talking about sustainability until the cows come home but if people don’t tell the story, then we won’t learn. Sometimes you can walk away from a documentary, however valid and important, and feel a bit hollow and helpless. I like the fact that this film is quite hopeful and uplifting. Not just in terms of sustainability, but also the fact that this Northern caravan kid came in and made a change. I hope it gives people that little moment of ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’