In 2017, spurred on by winning the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Award, Amy Powney, creative director of Mother of Pearl, embarked on an ethical and creative odyssey to explore how sustainable her fashion house could become. Becky Hutner’s documentary follows Powney and her team over the next three years as they set out to reduce their products’ carbon footprint and ensure their material is the result of ethically sound activity.
Fashion Reimagined brings us from the fashion houses of London out to rural Uruguay, factories in Turkey, and beyond. Here, Powney searches for supply chains that will ensure the interconnected requirements for her No Frills collection, which she intends to present internationally. Powney’s conditions are all-encompassing, demonstrating a strong commitment to a sustainability that is rarely seen in UK fashion circles.
And, indeed, it soon becomes clear how her ethical decisions have posed significant challenges to an established system that thrives on ease of access, speed, and mass production. While making business connections with sheep farmers and sewing houses, Powney and her product developer Chloe Marks struggle to find supply chains that don’t span multiple countries, while many of the suppliers working with Mother of Pearl are unfamiliar with the fast-paced schedules of London design workshops.
Sustainability is, however, a driving passion for Powney. Growing up off-grid in an ecologically-conscious family in Lancashire, coupled with reading Naomi Klein’s anti-brand manifesto No Logo at university, appear to have given Powney the impetus she needed to persevere. Hutner’s documentary similarly hits the viewer with statistics and figures on the devastating impact that fashion has on the planet, its inhabitants and ecology – were the fashion industry a country, it would be the third largest polluter in the world – but also highlights the manufacturers that are discovering and implementing more environmentally-friendly methods of producing longer-lasting clothing made via methods using minimal amounts of water and chemicals.
Just like the focus of the documentary, Fashion Reimagined is a sleek and elegant production, with editor Sam Rogers’ fast-paced shots from British catwalks later replaced with more relaxed scenes of green fields and diligent industry in factories around the world. The regular infographics which educate the viewer on the holistic challenges of the fashion industry do a commendable job of connecting issues that may often initially appear isolated.
It’s unfair to expect a single documentary to take on the world – or even the world of fashion – but there remains a nagging feeling at the end which is never addressed: while transatlantic high fashion may have been slow to tackle issues of sustainability, what about fashion worldwide? Are there initiatives from people of colour that predate Mother of Pearl’s action? Surely there is a history of ethical fashion that could have been nodded to? Perhaps I’m jumping the gun, but that usually seems to be the case in such ventures.
Having said that, Fashion Reimagined certainly succeeds on the level of Powney’s own personal and business philosophy: that of keeping the enjoyment of fashion while thinking about its impact on the planet. Informative and practical, it doesn’t shy away from the considerable efforts demanded from the manufacturers, designers and consumers in pursuit of a better world.
Fashion Reimagined is currently in Irish cinemas.