At the annual Kering Talk: Sustainability in Luxury Brands in London on Monday, Stella McCartney said that fashion "is getting away with murder."
It was a fitting start to the week in the British capital, where, on Wednesday evening, recent Central Saint Martins graduate Richard Quinn won the sixth annual H&M Design Award competition. It may have been his designs that caught the attention of the judges, but it was his commitment to ethical production that sealed the deal — something he learned from McCartney herself.
"Going into my MA, I didn't have any money, basically, and Stella McCartney sponsored the course, and they really taught me the way of ethical producing," Quinn says. "It opened my eyes to the damage some fashion does, and now that my eyes are opened; it's important to keep it ethical."
Keeping things ethical has become a recent focus for H&M, a company often criticized as being part of the damaging fast fashion cycle. But creative advisor Ann-Sofie Johansson would note that sustainability is a huge priority for the brand, citing the Conscious Exclusive Collection as another example of ways the brand is trying to move the needle. H&M has over 250 designers in-house, and to Johansson, supporting young, forward-thinking talent like Quinn is a way to inspire those designers, as well.
"He has such an ethical thinking, which for us as a company is really important, and which more designers should have today, to be honest," she says. "I think that in the years to come, the whole sustainability thing — you can't underestimate that. The young generation today wants to know how things are produced, and they are so savvy; they have so many questions."
Beyond his commitment to sustainability, Quinn also impressed with his business plan. After graduating in February, he jumped right into business, producing textile collections he sells to other designers through trade shows. Between that and his freelance styling and design work, he's able to fund his own collection right out of college.
Quinn won approximately $62,000, which he says will help fund his studio space in Peckham. Perhaps even bigger, though, is the year-long mentorship with H&M, as well as the chance to produce some of his award-winning designs to be sold in select stores and online. While his collection was a mix of couture, demi-couture and ready-to-wear, it's the more accessible pieces he'll be aiming to produce for stores. According to last year's winner Hannah Jinkins, learning how to produce a collection that is as affordable as it is beautiful is one of the most valuable parts of the whole experience.
"You do have that worry that when you're doing something for the high street, it's like, 'Oh my God, I'm going to have to cut so many corners, [but] I've got this beautiful collection that's at such a high standard,'" she says. "With H&M, for me, I know they have that ethical and conscious background behind everything they do, and I want to do things in a sustainable way — both financially sustainable and ethically sustainable."
Perhaps the current state of politics worldwide had some influence, but it was that concept that ultimately ruled the day. Judge and blogger Pernille Teisbaek, with her stylishly dressed baby bump, was also particularly impressed with Quinn's commitment to ethical design. As another facet of the industry with the power to move the needle for young designers, she says sustainability is at the top of mind when she's looking for new talent to support.
"It's so important — for my baby, and for that generation, it will be the most normal thing that things are more sustainable," she says. "I think it's going to have much more presence in the future; the new talents are the future, as well. You have to support them to make changes in the world."
Disclosure: H&M provided travel and accommodations.