What Does Sustainable Fashion Really Look Like?

Namacheko’s Dilan Lurr discusses participating in the Woolmark Prize and the importance of traceability.

This year’s International Woolmark Prize, an annual competition held during London Fashion Week, focused on transparency: What material actually goes into a garment? Where did it come from? And is the manufacturing process sustainable? The finalists, which included up-and-coming brands like Ludovic de Saint Sernin and Matthew Adams Dolan, were tasked with presenting a collection that was completely traceable, down to the buttons and trim. The top prizes went to the American designer Emily Adams Bode, who is known for her thoughtful, creative work with antique fabrics, and Richard Malone, an Irish designer who has fully incorporated radical transparency into his process. For all of the finalists, including Dilan Lurr, who runs the Belgium-based brand Namacheko with his sister Lezan Lurr, the competition was an opportunity to reflect on their work and how they plan to communicate with their customers about the design and production processes going forward. We spoke with Dilan about one of the pieces from Namacheko’s Woolmark collection, balancing luxury and environmental consciousness, and what traceability really means for the future of the fashion industry.

Where was the wool that you used in your pieces sourced from?

It’s sourced from a company in Italy that we always buy merino wool from, more or less. They buy it from a bigger group in Europe, but they can trace it all the way to Australia and the specific farm that it comes from, depending on the fiber length. This one is a superfine quality, S120 plus. The European company buys it raw, then they comb it, spin it, and dye it themselves. The wool we used in the trousers is from a fully integrated company in Northern Italy, which can also source the raw fibers to Australia.

Is the dye they used also something that needs to be traced as part of the competition?

Not the actual dye, but we know it’s Greenguard certified, so it doesn’t have any awful chemicals in the process. We don’t do specific special colors, we generally work from other yarns that they already have—that also tends to minimize the dye batches, which is the sort of critical thing, I think, for young designers. When you do smaller quantities, you tend to create even more waste.

How about the leather gloves that were paired with the look?

Those were created from leftover leather that we sourced from our factory. We work in Belgium with quite a big manufacturer that works with all the big Belgian designers. There’s a lot of leftover fabrics there, and we found some leather bits and we created gloves.

Obviously you guys use wool a lot in your work. What originally pulled you toward the material?

Tailoring is the foundation of our brand, and there’s nothing that really can compete with wool in terms of how it behaves and how easy it is to also work with—how it falls and drapes and moves. But also the technical aspects: You have to blindstitch to build up good tailoring instead of gluing it—blindstitching on cotton would show on the outside, but you can blindstitch wool and it disappears. Both me and my sister studied civil engineering, and we wanted to work at a high-end level and not have any compromise in terms of fabrications. For us, wool was synonymous with luxury.

Has the process of participating in this prize fit in naturally with the way that you both do things, or has the practice of tracing every single element been a change for you?

We’ve always known whom we buy the fabrics from and where the origins are, but really going down deep into it and to start questioning the manufacturers and what they do—that has been encouraged more by this prize. We’ve never been afraid of buying expensive fabric, but we have found out that what we were buying had a lot of certifications that we had never really asked for. In this case, you’re pushed to question and to ask for these things from your suppliers.

Do you think that it will change the way you do things in the future?

Definitely. I don’t think we need to change that much, to be completely honest, but we will ask about things that we normally wouldn’t ask about. But there’s always stuff that’s very sensitive even to manufacturers—everyone’s a little bit suspicious. No one wants to really give out their source. I was even more interested by the challenge of how to present that information to the final customer in a relevant way for our brand.

Do you think that customers are demanding that level of transparency?

It’s very different from brand to brand. A lot of the other competitors or finalists of the prize, we build our brands on an identity. We’re creating a desire. I think for that type of clientele, it’s different. The hard part is that when it comes to a certain public discussion about it, then everyone tries to be very politically correct about it. But when it comes to the reality of it, everyone wants to have something that’s cool or desired.

Do you think that desire and coolness and this consciousness and transparency could ever meet in the middle, or that they’re diametrically opposed concepts?

I feel very positive and hopeful that it will develop toward more young people and more of our customers demanding this type of information. I think it is definitely looking like it’s going that way. It depends a little bit on how the next coming years will evolve.The biggest trends and driving forces for sales are rappers, celebrities, influencers, and things like this. And if these sorts of people can embrace this, of course that will go much faster.

Have you interacted with the other finalists at all? What do you think united all of you as a group?

We all felt that we don’t really need to defend ourselves, that we, in our different ways, were making the right choices. Our approaches were pretty similar to each other—creating things that will last, using fabrics that are good for the environment, and thinking longer-term than just selling a product. We think about the afterlife of a piece. None of us really can say that we’re sustainable. I don’t think that’s right. Even if I do something that’s completely sustainable as a product, we still sell a line. We still have to ship to our stock system. At the end of the day, if you’re really honest with yourself, the sustainable choice is to do nothing. We all felt that way, and that was the difficult piece: What could we say instead of saying “sustainable?”

Have you come up with a word that you feel more comfortable with?

In our case, it’s more about communication. Besides all the fantasies that you create around each collection, it’s also communicating about the fabrics and the choices and how things are made. It could be more transparent. I think the educational point of view is also very important.