Great British Sewing Bee judge Patrick Grant on why he wants to stop fast fashion

The Great British Sewing Bee judge, Patrick Grant, has a new book out urging us to stop buying fast fashion. Hannah Stephenson meets a fashion designer who says he hardly buys any clothes.

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Patrick Grant, Savile Row king, Scottish fashion designer and co-judge of The Great British Sewing Bee, is exasperated by how fast fashion has adversely affected the industry – and the planet.

The sartorial guru, who with co-judge and fashion designer, Esme Young, is generally calm and measured as he offers tips to help budding tailors and seamstresses create beautiful clothes on the BBC One show, is passionately opposed to the shoddy, unethical practices of fast fashion.

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His latest book, Less, is a call to arms to stop buying so much rubbish and how fewer, better quality things can make us all happier.

Patrick Grant. Picture credit: Community Clothing/PA.Patrick Grant. Picture credit: Community Clothing/PA.
Patrick Grant. Picture credit: Community Clothing/PA.

“Fashion has become a gigantic, ever-moving machine that is just spewing out insane quantities of, frankly, just garbage,” he asserts. “A lot of the clothes now that are being produced by the fast fashion companies are just being generated by AI. There’s no thought to them, there’s nothing about them.

"There’s no story, there’s no love, it’s just stuff that we don’t need. And it’s it’s causing so many terrible problems, both environmental problems and human problems. At the end of it all, it doesn’t make our lives any better.

“Whereas, at least when fashion was just that small, amazing thing, even if most of us couldn’t afford it, it somehow was a lift and employed skilled people – and it was an outlet for greatly talented people like Lee McQueen, who wasn’t an academic youngster but there was something about him that shone through when he was given the chance.

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“We have just lost sight of something that is supposed to be lifting and has now become just grim commerce for the sake of selling more stuff.”

Yet when he lectures and gives talks on fashion design, he gets the feeling things are changing.

“It is becoming cool to say no to buying all of this stuff. It is becoming a badge of honour to say, ‘Look, I’m only buying second hand clothes for a year’ or ‘I’m just not buying any new clothes altogether’, or ‘I’m only going to make an upcycle’.

"Statistically, sales of second hand clothes are growing five times faster than the sales of new clothes, which is brilliant and extraordinarily encouraging. But we need to go beyond that.”

Grant, 52, says he hardly buys any clothes these days.

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He keeps a small wardrobe of clothes at his girlfriend’s house in London and a bigger one at his house in North Yorkshire, plus boxes of archive clothing from his years of working in the industry.

Today, he’s wearing a faded 1980s plum sweatshirt his granny gave him shortly before she died, which she found in the charity shop where she worked.

His everyday wardrobe is small and he says he wears the same things most days – two types of heavy cotton trousers, one which he designed for the men’s clothing brand E Tautz and which are now made at Community Clothing, the British clothing brand and community enterprise he founded in 2016, based in Blackburn, Lancs. He has five pairs in three colours.

The second is a more recent design, the ‘cameraman pant’, inspired by a workwear pant worn by one of the camera guys on The Great British Sewing Bee in 2022, he explains. They’re heavy canvas, with a wide tapered leg, patch pockets and a drawstring top.

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He always wears them with navy-blue crew necks – T-shirts in the summer, sweatshirts when it’s colder. He also has a few hand-knitted jumpers, as he was brought up to put on a jumper rather than the heating. His everyday clothes are well-made, old and comfortable.

“I buy almost nothing,” he reveals. “I’m wearing a pair of trousers today that I’ve probably worn 99 days out of 100 since I first put them on in August last year, and that plum sweatshirt that I’ve been wearing for 20 years. I don’t feel like I need to wear something different all the time. Some of the designers I know are the least ‘fashionable’ people I know.

"You develop a personal style that you feel comfortable with and you relax into it.” The book not only offers a detailed history of the clothes industry, but also examines the workmanship and exacting skills it takes to create lasting garments, skills that he says have been eroded by fast fashion.

“We’ve chucked away all this brilliant knowhow and all for nothing,” says the fashion designer and director of bespoke tailors Norton & Sons of Savile Row, although there are still bits of the fashion industry he enjoys.

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He’s worked with great and the good including Lee McQueen (Alexander McQueen) and the Scottish fashion designer Christopher Kane, and rubbed shoulders with Vivienne Westwood in the Nineties. Grant will be judging as usual in the 10th series of Sewing Bee, which starts later this month, with Young and new host, actor Kiell Smith-Bynoe.

“It’s just such a warm and comforting and generous show,” he enthuses. “It’s reminding people that the things we wear and the textiles that are around us in our homes are important and valuable and should be treated with respect because people made them with great care and they should be cherished.

" I think quietly Sewing Bee has had a very big impact on the way we think about our clothes and about all of the textiles that are around us in our home. We’ve always done this challenge – it began with altering and now it’s making something new out of something old and I think it’s reminded people that that’s a good thing.”

He moved from Lancashire to North Yorkshire this year, and when he’s not working he loves renovating his house and pottering in his garden. Simple pleasures clearly make him happy.

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“You know, just sitting in the sun up the hill with a flask of tea genuinely makes me happy, and taking ourselves away from the anxiety of the consumptive machine that’s always trying to push stuff on to us.”

Less by Patrick Grant (William Collins) £22.

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