Interview & Portraits Kirk Truman

Christopher Raeburn and I meet on a grey day at his studio in Hackney Central, better known as the Raeburn Lab. Brightening the gloomy morning, he tells me a compelling story of innovative and responsible design in the heart of East London. Christopher is a designer whose work was born out of a passion for utilitarian garments that utilise and repurpose military fabrics, and almost by accident he has found himself engaging with some of the most important ethical and environmental issues of the day. He explains to me how Raeburn, with his brother Graeme Raeburn now on board, plans to evolve into a unique brand in the future and about their new SS19 collection.

Tell me about the origins of Raeburn and your founding concept.

I studied at the Royal College of Art. After I graduated, all I knew was that I wanted to work for myself. I had a pattern-cutting job up in Hendon and I was offered a space in Luton. I set up a studio there where I continued to work on ideas I had already played with at the Royal College with my brother, Graeme. At the time, I had no commercial concept in my mind. I was reusing German snow camouflage to create garments. I begun to look at what other brands were already doing, like Maharishi, and realised that my ideas weren’t too disconnected from this world. I already had my eyes open to sustainability and my own thoughts about it. The Ethical Fashion Forum ran a competition that I was fortunate enough to have won, which helped me to become recognised as a designer.

Remade. Reduced. Recycled. Tell me about this process and how this idea came about.

What we do is a happy accident for me. I have always been in love with military fabrics and the idea of repurposing something. With our first parachute collection, we started with this concept of Remade in England only. As the business has grown, we have evolved to develop the quality of the product, while enhancing and expanding our collections. This in our 10th year is clearer than ever for us. Remade, Reduced, Recycled for us is about responsibly sourced fabrics, manufacturing, and improving the quality of our product wherever we can. I feel the functionality of the product blends with the fashion element to deliver a unique aesthetic in the market. That said, what we do will never be linear. We create responsible, utilitarian, adventurous streetwear.

How do you go about sourcing the fabrics which Raeburn uses in its design process?

There isn’t anywhere I haven’t tried to source fabrics from during my career to date. I’ve spent a lot of time sourcing fabrics from military warehouses in the UK. It’s fascinating now how fabrics can be sourced online from all over the world, often by weight. You can buy anything from ex-military fabrics and materials which were once anything from a jacket, to camouflage, a parachute or even a dingy. It’s a broad way of sourcing fabrics. You would be surprised to hear that you can actually find some of the most interesting fabrics out there on something as well-known as eBay! However, I should point out that if what we did with Raeburn was solely about producing Remade products, we would probably be so niche so that we wouldn’t have a business!

How can the design industry as a whole help to move towards a more sustainable and responsible future?

If you think about it, what fashion and design does as an industry is totally bonkers. Taking garments and putting them in physical spaces in the hope that somebody, somewhere will come in, like it, buy it and take it away – the risk is phenomenal and the need for more is frightening. As a business, I feel we have an obligation to be challenging and to push through the industry however we can. There is an unprecedented change in our world which is occurring right now. It is real; it is happening; it is a threat. Fact. We have to open our eyes and we have to begin to think differently. I’m not saying that we have to create products which are totally Remade, what I’m saying is that it’s about trying to do your part. It’s about rethinking the where, the what, and the why of design as a whole. This is something I have also taken into consideration when wearing my other hat as Creative Director of Timberland. I suppose that sustainable isn’t a word I like to use. For me responsible best describes what we do with Raeburn, and I feel the design industry as a whole needs to embrace this, for its own good and that of our planet.

Tell me about the Raeburn SS19 collection.

Entitled React Now, our new collection reflects the current changes in our planet. Things such as climate change are totally real and our SS19 collection addresses this in a confident, responsible manner, utilising recycled materials throughout and featuring NASA satellite imagery of the disappearing Arctic ice and glaciers.

What is the future of Raeburn?

I think that it’s important to always feel uncomfortable and to remain humble in my work. We are always looking to review how we operate and how we go forward, though now it feels like we have come full circle after 10 years. My brother Graeme is now joining Raeburn permanently, coming from Rapha as Performance Director, so from now on we’ll lose my forename from our title and will be known simply as Raeburn Design. The future for us isn’t just about fashion – it’s about design as a whole. And that will mean expanding beyond fashion and becoming more of a lifestyle business which utilises our founding philosophy: Remade, Reduced, Recycled.