Meet The UK’s Leading Fashion Changemakers

In partnership with Swarovski, the British Fashion Council's Changemakers Prize celebrates nominees' pioneering work in sustainability, diversity and preservation.

IMAGES Courtesy of the British Fashion Council

Back in April, the British Fashion Council announced the launch of the BFC Changemakers Prize in partnership with Swarovskia new initiative celebrating the unsung stars cultivating positive change in the fashion industry. Open to all working in fashion across the UK, the prize saw a staggering 500+ applications from workmates, friends, employers and businesses, with a judging panel including BFC Chief Executive Caroline Rush, Vogue Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful, and model and activists Lily Cole and Munroe Bergdorf.

And no wonder the competition is hot – the judges will be evaluating outstanding work that aligns with one of the three pillars of the BFC’s Institute of Positive Fashion: Environment, People or Craftsmanship and Community, and each winner will receive a mentorship package that offers support to continue their work within the industry and a cash prize of £7,000.

With less than two weeks to go until the finalists are crowned, we caught up with some of the nominees to discuss their award-nominated work, their hopes for the future of fashion and their advice for future changemakers.

PEOPLE

Laura Johnson & Zoe Proctor

Leading the “inclusion revolution”, Laura and Zoe set up Zebedee Talent Agency, the first and only of its kind, representing models with disabilities and visible differences and hoping to change attitudes, creating a more inclusive industry. The agency has since expanded to represent other marginalised groups on its books, such as visibly different people, transgender and non-binary people.

What is the primary focus of your work, and why?

We founded Zebedee to increase disability representation in the media, and that is still our primary focus to this day. 20% of the world’s population are disabled, and we believe this figure should be reflected in media representation. 

What inspired you to create change within your industry?

We had enough of the lack of representation that was present in the industry. I worked as a plus-size model in the industry, and also as a disability performing arts teacher. I could see first-hand how the media was not accepting of disabled talent. Laura, our other co-founder and director, shared my feelings, and we decided our skills could come together to create a brand-new inclusive agency. 

What one piece of advice would you give the next generation of changemakers in your field?

Ensure that you realise you are capable of much more than what society deems you to be. Zebedee exists to push disabled talent to the forefront of the modelling industry, where they can prove their place. 

What are your hopes for the future of diverse representation in fashion?

We want to see 20% of people in the media have disabilities. This is the qualitative equivalent of the world’s population. 

Rahemur Rahman

Designer, filmmaker and campaigner, Rahemur focuses on representing the British Bangladeshi communities in London and transgender rights in Bangladesh through teaching and community outreach. Rahemur Rahman Ltd launched in 2019 to highlight artisanal textile and cultural references from South Asia and the UK, aiming to decolonise craftsmanship through fashion design and creating spaces for underrepresented voices in luxury fashion.

What is the primary focus of your work, and why?

The primary focus of the brand is people, community, and the planet. We are working to preserve, elevate and establish craftsmanship through sustainable naturally dyed textiles, exploring kinetic pattern cutting and finding ways to repurpose production waste into garments for the brand’s clients and customers, also known as ‘rebels’. We call them ‘rebels’ because engaging with the brand and its products acts as a form of rebellion against systems and structures in society. Every piece in the conscious collections is designed with the death of garment in mind, through this lens thought is given to every element of the products production; natural fibres, dying process, fabric production, thread, and all labels. Keeping the focus on the people who create the products and their well-being as well as the impact each piece makes on the planet through its production.

I felt it was my duty to create change so that the next ‘me’ would never have to experience what I have. Together we can create a better way of working, together we can be better to each other, and only together can we make sustainable change.

Rahemur Rahman

What inspired you to create change within your industry?

Being a queer, working-class South Asian Muslim man from East London means I have experienced the fashion industry and the world in a different way than my other peers. Through my lived experience I learnt very quickly what I didn’t like about the way the world existed and how it impacted the people and planet. Using this lived knowledge, I was able to contextualise it through extra academic learning so that I could build a business model that doesn’t harm people or the planet. I felt it was my duty to create change so that the next ‘me’ would never have to experience what I have. Together we can create a better way of working, together we can be better to each other, and only together can we make sustainable change.

What one piece of advice would you give the next generation of changemakers in your field?

The one piece of advice I would give is to talk less and do more. I can see how the industry and the people in it are finding ways to use language to elude to systemic change when in actuality their actions aren’t matching. So I hope and pray that the next generation talks less and do more, through people’s actions we will make true change for the generation after them.  

Can you tell us more about the work you’ve been doing creating spaces for underrepresented voices in luxury fashion?

Being an underrepresented voice myself, I make sure I work with new and emerging talents in our industry to help more people have access and build their portfolios. The brand also works continuously on creative youth projects where the outcome is always for galleries and exhibitions in established prestigious spaces, this is to help raise the attainment of young people in the creative industry from marginalised communities. Giving them access to free courses where the focus is put on creativity and exploring career options with practising professionals. This also allows for museums and galleries to broaden their reach to those who engage with art and fashion in their archives and exhibitions, especially from marginalised communities in their local area. 

ENVIRONMENT

John Hickling

John is the founder of Glass Onion in South Yorkshire, a vintage and remade clothing provider to the Highstreet who have recently launched a DTC website. Sorting and grading tonnes of used clothing each week, they are growing a factory that only ‘remakes’ vintage clothing – cutting, sewing and remaking 12,000 remade pieces per month.

 What is the primary focus of your work, and why?

The primary focus of my work is to try and excite and inspire our customers whilst looking for better ways to reduce our impact on the planet. We have the resources to make great products from materials that already exist.

What inspired you to create change within your industry?

I was inspired to create a business around a hobby (vintage fashion) which just so happens to have recycling at its core. The more successful I can make the business, the more I will be able to contribute to reusing and recycling clothing.

What one piece of advice would you give the next generation of changemakers in your field?

Enjoy what you do and try to be better every day.

What is your favourite second-hand or vintage clothing find/item from your own wardrobe?

I love my 1960s Levis “Big E” jackets. They are classics that are really rare and well made.

Patrick McDowell

Patrick is an innovative young designer making great strides with his eponymous label and as Sustainability Design Director for Pinko fashion house. In addition, as Global Ambassador for the Graduate Fashion Foundation, he works with mentees at the foundation and institutions across the UK to explore more sustainable methods of working with a holistic approach.

What is the primary focus of your work, and why?

There is a huge waste problem in fashion. I work with other brands to reimagine their ‘waste’ garments and fabrics into a higher value product. Working across Design, Marketing and sustainability. Moving businesses towards a circular economy and proving that sustainability can look and feel great. I’ve worked across the fashion industry and hope to push towards a more modern way of working. 

What inspired you to create change within your industry?

As a working-class, Northern, queer kid, I started making new things from old things out of necessity, and only later while working at Burberry and studying at St Martins did I realise it was called sustainability. It’s been incredible to work from within to drive change. 

As a working-class, Northern, queer kid, I started making new things from old things out of necessity, and only later while working at Burberry and studying at St Martins did I realise it was called sustainability.

Patrick McDowell

What one piece of advice would you give the next generation of changemakers in your field?

Create your own job titles, the roles of the past do not serve the future of this industry and we must redefine and rename the roles that we now need. I think it’s such an exciting time to be working in the industry. Be yourself and be proud of who you are. When I started embracing my background was when I started to do really well. 

What advice do you find yourself frequently giving to your mentees through the Graduate Fashion Foundation?

Do what you believe in and what you love the most, over what you think you should be doing. The reality is that it is your life and so you should do what you feel the best doing. Just because something has happened in a certain way before doesn’t mean that’s how it must continue and perhaps it’s actually even better if it doesn’t. We need to rewrite business plans and brand ideas for the coming decades and I am so lucky to be able to work with such bright and inspiring young people.  

Natalie Glaze & Zanna Can Dijk

Co-founders of Stay Wild Swim – A sustainable essentials and swimwear brand creating products from ocean plastic – the pair have developed the world’s first fully circular swimsuit and created ‘The Circularity Project’. The project accepts broken and unwearable swimwear and then sends it on to be recycled and repurposed into eco-industrial products.

What is the primary focus of your work, and why? 

The goal of Stay Wild is to produce items that are not only ethically and sustainably produced but are functional and flattering. We want to prove that you can create pieces that are beautiful and don’t compromise on a conscious ethos. You can do both.

What inspired you to create change within your industry? 

As soon as we realised that you could turn a threat to thread, crafting fabric from regenerated ocean plastic we thought “why isn’t everyone using this material?”. We felt highly driven to use this as an opportunity to shake up the fashion industry and show how swimwear could be made sustainable. Every decision we make with Stay Wild has the people and planet in mind, and we hope that by pushing for change in the industry, it will make it easier for more brands to take positive steps in the future.

What one piece of advice would you give the next generation of changemakers in your field? 

The obstacle is the way. Don’t be put off when you are stopped in your tracks over and over again, there are always new routes to be carved. By pushing through the challenges which face those trying to slow down fast fashion you’re creating a blueprint for future changemakers and showing that there are new ways to reinvent old systems.

What are the biggest obstacles facing a circular fashion cycle, and how are you tackling them? 

The sheer quantity of new items hitting the market every hour of every day. The never-ending cycling of newness means we have more waste in fashion than we can handle. We are tackling this by going seasonless. Instead, we release key pieces and small collections based on what our customers want and need. Slow fashion is at our core.

COMMUNITY & CRAFTSMANSHIP

Andrew Kenny

Owner of The London Embroidery Studio in East London, Andrew uses traditional skills to generate new exciting techniques with cutting edge embroidery machines. Marrying new technology with the exportation of new techniques is at the heart of his creative strategy, developing embroidery for large and small fashion, interior, lm and TV clients worldwide. This is alongside offering courses to the local community, o en with discounts for disadvantaged members/those on a low income.

What is the primary focus of your work, and why? 

We create bespoke hand and machine embroidery primarily for fashion clients but also for theatre, film, TV, interior design and artist clients. Digital machine embroidery is our main focus and we have invested heavily in large-bed custom-made embroidery machines that can stitch normal lock-stitch embroidery combined with chain stitch, sequins, beading, cording, coiling and taping so that we can create really intricate, textural designs that might only have been able to have been produced by hand before. Machine embroidery is still very time consuming but we are able to produce work in a fraction of the time it would take to create by hand and this makes it affordable to produce this work in London by our highly skilled artisans.

What inspired you to create change within your industry? 

My first job was working as a menswear designer and, as a keen embroiderer, I was very keen to use a lot of embroidery in our collections. I found I was having to do this myself or try and source factories abroad as, at the time, there was only very traditional military embroiderers based in London who primarily did hand metalwork embroidery or hand-guided machine embroidery. This inspired me to quit my job and start the studio. Education of embroidery was also very important to me and at the same time that I started the studio, I also started teaching at London College of Fashion on their textile course. I later contributed to setting up the BA (Hons) Fashion Textiles: Embroidery course to further promote the innovation of my craft. This course combines hand, freehand machine and digital embroidery tuition in the same way that the studio does and has the best range of equipment in the UK. 

What one piece of advice would you give the next generation of changemakers in your field? 

Make, make, make! Keep making your work and developing your practice. It’s difficult to make a living a living from your craft in the UK but if you keep creating, eventually people will take notice and you will become successful.

The enforced hibernation of the last year has seen traditional crafts such as knitting, crocheting and embroidery significantly rise in popularity, particularly in younger people. How can the sustainable fashion community maintain this interest in craft post-COVID? 

Embroidery, knit and crochet are all processes that are perfect for any sustainably focussed brand. Embroidery can be used to decoratively mend or reinvent garments and can be easily made from recycled or re-purposed textile items. Knit is similar but it can also be re-made and is zero waste. Now that people are re-engaging with making, the best way for fashion brands to maintain this interest would be for them to include films of their textiles being made alongside the photos and films of the final products and include interviews with their makers.

Cozette McCreery

Cozette is a connector and brand ambassador at Iceberg. An integral member of the Emergency Designer Network, researching, funding and bringing together designers and technicians across the industry to make PPE for the NHS for COVID, Cozette worked with the likes of YNAP and Matches Fashion to support the logistics for this project.

What is the primary focus of your work, and why?

To make the fashion industry a safer, nicer place for everyone. No to bullying, racism, sexism. ageism, homophobia etcetera, and don’t get me started on pay or lack of it!

What inspired you to create change within your industry?

I’ve been lucky enough to have really done it all: I’ve modelled, I’ve run my own label, I’ve supported Creative Directors and Designers and I’ve seen both the good and the bad in each position. I usually start a job having a specific role which can be research, design, show coordination, casting, PR and PA work but once I start a project or job, I become aware of negatives. This could be anything from a supply chain problem to an intern who isn’t getting training right up to an uninspired design team. I love this industry and make it my mission to at least try to make everyone working within it feel heard and supported.

I’ve been pushing from the inside since I was 15, I’m now 53 and feel that there is still much more we can do. It’s tough not to get complacent or disheartened but we should remember that we are lighting the way even if some days it feels like we’re moving backwards.

Cozette McCreery

What one piece of advice would you give the next generation of changemakers in your field?

Bring wellies and a big spade! I’m joking with you. It would be: DON’T GIVE UP! 

I’ve been pushing from the inside since I was 15, I’m now 53 and feel that there is still much more we can do. It’s tough not to get complacent or disheartened but we should remember that we are lighting the way even if some days it feels like we’re moving backwards. As a friend said to me at the beginning of Covid when 3 projects I was about to through myself into stopped overnight and I had a wave of exhaustion and depression, “don’t forget you’re not starting from the beginning, you’re starting from where you are now with all that experience supporting you”. 

What excites you most about the fashion industry’s changing landscape? 

That as an industry we are more open to discussion. When I worked in menswear it was wonderful to feel the camaraderie of the designers, editors, and stylists. We’d share information freely, something I never really saw happening in all my years working in womenswear where we guarded all our contacts zealously. Thankfully and probably due to all the problems we’ve been collectively facing (Brexit, Covid, store and brand closures) this is changing. I can’t say I’m a fan of cancel culture but I understand why it happens and promote that if you have a voice and see injustice you should use it. And I’m learning about things like that all the time and addressing and adapting my own views accordingly. Even an old sod like me has gotta move/keep up with the times! 

Daisy Knatchbull

Founder of The Deck London – the first-ever solely female shop front in Saville Row history. The Deck is a made-to-measure tailoring house for women and by women. Daisy is paving the way for more female tailors and those who want to break barriers.

What is the primary focus of your work, and why?

The Deck London is Savile Row’s first Tailoring House exclusively for women, by women to have a shopfront on the street. With specialist knowledge of the female form, we are dedicated to offering unrivalled service and attention to detail, ensuring women are never underserved in the tailoring world again and have the opportunity to bespoke their wardrobe. The Deck cuts a suit to fit a woman’s body, not the other way round. 

We ensure our clients feel at home from the moment they pull up a midnight-velvet armchair at our atelier or within their homes of offices. A place where they choose one of our signature silhouettes as well as the cloth, lining, buttons; what we accentuate and what we minimise, unique to each client. Creating a timeless outfit that will eventually be passed down to the next generation. 

Each silhouette can be interchanged and adapted to fulfil the needs of each client whether it’s a suit for picking the kids up from school, heading to the office, meeting someone for lunch or a black-tie dinner. The versatility, durability and longevity of our suits take our clients from day to night. Keeping centuries-old techniques and traditions thriving, our highly skilled team of artisans and tailors ensure that each piece stands the test of time, designed by you. 

Sustainability and mindful purchasing is an intrinsic part of The Deck philosophy. We value the considered, not the impulse purchase. By producing only on a made-to-order basis, each piece is made, only when a client decides they need it. With no inventory or bulk order fabrics, we are able to eliminate waste from our business, counteracting the devastating scale of overproduction that is currently going on in the fashion industry, the majority of which often ends up in landfill. A small, versatile and considered wardrobe can be mighty – particularly for the planet. Should anything need repairs, we do these free of charge for life. 

Whether it’s a three-piece suit, jacket, trousers, waistcoat or skirt we provide tailoring that stands the test of time, designed by you

What inspired you to create change within your industry?

The Deck’s ethos lies in the belief that no two women are the same. The beauty of what we do is we cater to every size, shape and age. Women are tired of continually feeling ’the wrong shape or size’ and often apologise for their body shape. I wanted to stop that. It has never been a better time to be a woman and things needed to change and so The Deck began – a business for women that understands the needs and wants of today’s females and empowers them through one of the greatest forms of expressionism – the way one dresses

Our vision is to co-create a world where there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to anything, least of all clothing. Because a world in which every woman is celebrated as an individual, is one where they can be exactly who they want.

Maybe a suit can’t change the world. But we believe that the women wearing them can. That a woman who believes in herself is more likely to speak up; to go after what she wants. And inspire others around her to do the same. A woman in a well-fitted suit that believes she can do anything? Sounds exactly what the world needs to me! 

What one piece of advice would you give the next generation of changemakers in your field?

I think it’s important to always have a dream. Whether that’s small or big – something you can chase and to know that if you truly believe in something and want to make it happen, anything is possible. Don’t be scared to leave your comfort zone and challenge yourself by wondering what you would attempt to do if you knew you couldn’t fail. It’s so often the fear of failure that holds us back. Starting your own business will always come with its challenges. The highs are really high and the lows, very low. But it’s all a part of the process and that’s what makes it so exciting. Enjoy the ride – it will be the most rewarding thing you do.  

What is a misconception that the fashion industry has about womenswear?

That the ‘few sizes fit all’ approach doesn’t work for every woman and it leaves many women fearing shopping or trying anything on at all. We wanted to give women the chance to be focused exclusively on tailoring and challenge the conception that being fitted for a suit is often an ‘intimidating process’ by offering an empathetic women-for-women service; understanding their needs and emotional relationship with clothing.

The pandemic has also allowed women to spend time consolidating their wardrobes and understanding what they do and don’t wear. They want to buy less and buy better, invest in their wardrobe and the planet whilst also ensuring it will stand the test of time. 2021 brings a renewed sense of purpose, identity and the beauty of what we do is it allows total freedom of expression through the way you dress. 

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