This is the year of renewal and repair, and it starts with what we wear. Some of us might joke that we have items in our wardrobe older than those lesser-spotted bobbies on the beat, but if indeed we have, and we still wear those items, we are to be congratulated for our good sense, our thriftiness and our excellent garment husbandry – and, not least, for still being able to squeeze into them (just about).
Some apparel brands are old hands at sustainability. Barbour is celebrating 100 years of making clothes that last and renew, and this milestone was marked by a visit in November by the Prince of Wales - who, like his father, the late Duke of Edinburgh, famously keeps his clothes for decades - to the factory in South Shields where he opened its Wax for Life Workshop, a new facility for those famous jackets to be rejuvenated. Prince Charles also learned how to wax a Barbour jacket himself (see the how-to guide below).
Originally established by John Barbour in 1894 to provide outerwear for fishermen, sailors and mariners, Barbour says re-waxing has become more important than ever as customers increasingly look to make sustainable choices. Dame Margaret Barbour said: “If a Barbour wax jacket is re-waxed at least once a year with regular use, it can last a very long time and be handed down to future generations.”
Barbour Re-Loved is another sustainable initiative, a recycling and upcycling programme introduced in 2020 whereby customers can return Barbour jackets they no longer need in return for a voucher towards a new one. The old jacket is cleaned, repaired and re-waxed, ready to go to a new home.
In Ossett, near Wakefield, Mallin & Son is a small independent company that also specialises in re-waxing and repairing jackets in its own workshop, using traditional methods first developed by Northern seafarers.
It was founded by creative director Ryan Mallinson almost by accident, when he needed to wax his own jacket. “I soon realised there was a gap in the market,” he said. “We introduced a repairs service, employing a local seamstress with over 40 years experience.”
Ryan has since expanded his brand by introducing short-run ranges, each piece finished with a hand-printed patch, a symbolic nod to its repairs heritage. A range of hats, made in-house, uses wool from manufacturers in and around Yorkshire. “Our brand is built on fixing and mending quality garments. From there we have built a reputation for producing quality work, which in turn has earned the customer’s trust.”
Sustainable fashion, or eco-fashion, encompasses ethically, socially and environmentally sound ways of producing and supplying clothes and accessories, seeking to lessen the grip of so-called fast fashion, shipped thousands of miles around the world, then worn for a season before being dumped in landfill.
Bo Carter is an independent designer who prides herself on producing contemporary clothes in a responsible manner. She pioneered organic and vegan materials long before sustainability and ethics became aspirational tick boxes, winning Most Talented New Designer at the Peta UK Vegan Fashion Awards in 2013. “The key thing is, always look at the price – if something is that cheap, it’s not likely to be sustainable,” she said.
Bo designs and makes all her clothes in her Batley studio, with the help of an assistant. “We recognise that being ethical may mean different things to different people and that every decision we make has an impact on the planet in some way,” she said. “With each collection, we try to learn and minimise that impact.
“Unlike other fashion brands, we are totally transparent about how and where we source our fabrics. We are proud to have been working with the Organic Textile Company in Wales for many years now, where the vast majority of our organic fabrics are sourced. They are a small family-run business with a passion for working with small co-op fair trade fabric manufacturers in India. We also work with dead stock and roll-end fabrics.
“We use corozo buttons (buttons made out of nuts) or old, recycled buttons. All our packaging is 100 per cent compostable. We only make small batches and we never withdraw, burn or throw away any of our old collections. We literally sell them until they sell out or until we run out of the fabric to make them.
“Finally, we are not afraid to say no in the face of capitalism,” said Bo, adding that when a large US luxury department store approached her, the initial excitement she felt was short-lived. “Once we read the small print and found out that we would have to compromise on our ethics, we didn’t have to think about it. The answer was no.”
How to wax your jacket
As well as offering an in-house rewaxing service, Barbour also sells Centenary Thornproof Dressing, £11.95, so you can have a go at rejuvenating your beloved Barbour at home. Here’s how:
Clean it using cold water and a sponge, never hot, and never put a waxed jacket in a washing machine as it will remove the wax coating permanently and it cannot be rewaxed.
Take a tin of Barbour Wax Thornproof Dressing, remove lid and stand in a container of water hot enough to soften the wax. It should take about 20 minutes to melt to a liquid consistency.
Using an old cloth or sponge, work the melted wax well into the jacket, especially seams, creases and dry patches. Avoid corduroy collar and the insides of the jacket. Keep the tin in the hot water.
Dry your jacket using a hairdryer to spread the wax for an even finish.
Hang it up away from other fabrics and allow to dry overnight.
Next week: Tips on maximising your wardrobe with fewer clothes.