Whether you’re dusting off a midnight blue tux for party season or sporting something pastel for a New Year’s Eve bash, chances are you won’t think too much about how your suit was made when you’re getting ready, let alone how ethically the material was sourced.
Now, we don’t want to get all preachy, but we’re aiming to make sustainability our main style goal in 2020. The fashion industry has a huge social impact, and this isn’t limited to low-end or fast fashion. Whether you’re a tailor in Satwa or Savile Row, it’s time to start asking questions. Where are your clothes being made? Who they are made by and how they are made?
Founded by Matthew Benjamin and James Siggers, Benjamin Siggers is a Dubai-based luxury tailor that places sustainability at the core of everything it does. So much so that in the summer they made it their mission to travel to and see the supply chain live in action, leaving no stone unturned in a mission to educate themselves about the industry. This is what happened.
“So, this summer we went on a trip to Italy and Argentina to learn more about our supply chain and stay true to our mission of using sustainable materials by sourcing organic wool,” they explain.
“The trip started in Padua, Italy, which is where our buttons are made. The mother of pearl buttons on our shirts are sustainably farmed in Vietnam using wastage from the jewelry industry, while our suit buttons are made from organic corozo, which is harvested in Ecuador. This supports the local population, as they farm their own corozo and then sell it. The process of drying it naturally – which takes four to six weeks opposed to drying them overnight in an oven – is an important part of the process, making for a higher quality material and less waste.
“The finest of wool is measured in microns, the lower the number the finer the wool. 17.5 micron wool, which is an ultra-fine merino wool, can be typically found in Australia or New Zealand. But organic wool of this quality is extremely rare, which is why our next stop was Trelew in the Patagonia region of Argentina... were going straight to the source.
"Patagonia is ideal for organic wool because of its unique conditions. It is one of the driest and least densely populated places in the world – there are actually more sheep than people (4 to 1), and plenty of space for them to roam freely. The climate is important, too, because parasites need warm weather to thrive. As such, blowflies which cause flystrike do not exist in Argentina, so there’s no need for an unethical practice called mulesing – the removal of strips of wool-bearing skin from around the breech to avoid infestation – which is common place in Australia and New Zealand. Even the location of the farms within the Patagonia region is of importance. We learnt that less wind means less dust in the air, so less dust in the fleece of the sheep, which results in a higher yield.
“We saw three shearings in total, and the organic certification means that the animals are treated with the utmost care, with the farms even using special shears that leave much thicker layer of wool on the sheep afterwards compared to non-organic, meaning it doesn’t cut them and they stay a little bit warmer. Each sheep produces about 3kg of wool, so after a year of carrying around an ever-growing amount of extra weight, they actually look quite relieved to have it shorn off.
“Trips like this allow us to see first-hand how the people and also in this case, the animals, are treated. We’re able to gather so much more knowledge and insight than we could from a phone call, a video, or simply reading about it. I believe that we have a responsibility to be as knowledgeable as possible about our business, it is just as important for us to know about the latest styles, as it is to be informed about the supply chain.
“Having integrity shouldn’t be something that makes us different, but in a market where tailors claim to originate from England or New York, date back to the 1800s, or come over from the UK and tell customers that they make suits in Savile Row when it’s actually made in Asia, integrity, honesty, and transparency is vital.”