Circular economy and sustainability combine with personal heritage and a passion for sport in the mind behind the virtuous brand RÆBURN

“When I was studying in college, people would ask me which designer or brand I was inspired by. I couldn’t answer, and I thought that was a problem. I was just obsessed with things from the past, especially original military garments. Many of my colleagues were already attuned to pre-existing companies or figures, while my point of view was different. I couldn’t define what kind of designer I was, but I started by pursuing my own ideas and got lucky in the end.”

Evolution derives from the past. Or rather, evolution comes from a new relationship with the past, its study, and its reinterpretation in a sustainable way. Christopher Raeburn has become something more than just a fashion innovator. Through his adolescent connection with military memorabilia and second-hand uniforms, he has changed the outlook of an entire industry, becoming a leader in a vital global process: the reinvention of an enormously destructive relationship, that of fashion and sustainability.

Born amongst the peaceful landscapes of southern England, Christopher founded the eponymous RÆBURN brand through passion and instinct, charting a path toward responsible and intelligent design dedicated as much to functionality and aesthetics as to environmental conservation. He and his team have been creating a worldwide following for over a decade, shedding light on one of the darkest taboos in the fashion industry. But let’s start from the beginning.

“I grew up in rural Kent along with two brothers. Our parents taught us to appreciate nature. Living in an isolated area helped foster my creativity: when you are a child, and the nearest store is miles away, you constantly have to find ways to entertain yourself. Between the ages of 12 and 18, I was part of the Air Cadets, an organization that brings young people closer to the Royal Force. I loved football, MTB, and DH, but once a month, the Air Cadets let us try out wonderful things, like flying airplanes and helicopters. We were all using these terrible old uniforms because they were cheap, so I started studying and buying more uniforms and materials. I was creating my own collection without even knowing it. Oddly, Kent also hosts one of the biggest expositions in Europe dedicated to military materials, and it always fascinated me. I used to go there on the first day to check out the rarest things and then again on the last day, because the vendors would leave behind piles of materials they thought were useless. When I started college, I realized those technical and waterproof materials were the same ones used by big fashion companies, and they were often unavailable. The decision to found a sustainable brand resulted from this natural cognitive process.”

From military expositions to the catwalk. That long-ago creative genesis gave rise to the concept of circular economy and the concept of remade. These notions continue to combine with personal heritage and awareness inside the futuristic RÆBURN labs, which have succeeded in becoming benchmarks for a myriad of primary and secondary players across the fashion scene. Based in London, the 40-year-old Christopher Raeburn directs a brand that has become a manifesto of the unexpected synergy between the natural ecosystem and fashion production. He does so by inspiring and being inspired, moving in a direction that is vital not only to the fate of his own industry, but to the preservation of all humanity.

“The fashion industry has the potential to renew itself quickly. It’s demonstrated that. Over the past decades, I‘ve also seen changes in the narrative related to sustainability. Twenty years ago, I designed my first remade jacket and it was viewed as a radical idea. A few later, everyone started to see tangible examples of how green philosophy began to permeate the visions of so many brands. Again, not many industries have the opportunity to evolve at the same pace as the fashion industry. These dynamics are driven especially by big sports brands, continually focused on finding new materials and eco-strategies. When I founded my brand, some recycled materials cost 30-50% more than non-recycled materials. Today, they cost the same. In addition, digitization and social media are helping us communicate certain values and actions, and technology in general is opening up endless paths for fashion sustainability. There is a lot of room to reduce pollution and waste in this chaotic industry; you just have to be smart about it. Everything can be useful: in the early days of my brand, for example, I discovered how valuable parachutes were. Imagine that each parachute, even if never used, is decommissioned ten years after its creation and its materials can be reused for clothing….”

Christopher Raeburn’s rational yet futuristic dogmas might seem complex to translate into action, but they are powerful, absolute truths. They are cornerstones from which every fashion house and production chain should draw, shaping a new collective direction. They represent progress that stops being style for its own sake, sublimating design into activism. That’s why giants like Timberland and Moncler have relied on Raeburn’s innovations and why iconic brands like Vans have sought collaborations with the universe driven by the ‘RÆMADE, RÆDUCED, RÆCYLED’ philosophy. This has moved Christopher to turn his attention to his beloved sports landscape.

“There’s only one real question: how can we effect change and make a difference on a global scale? I get to collaborate with various brands to pursue this goal. I am talking about universally recognized brands; for example, I’ve been developing a shared path for a while now with Timberland. My team and I assess every collaboration because we want it to be credible and fair. It’s true; we are sometimes cynical, but we have to protect our values. Sports is also part of this thinking. Our collection with Vans, for example, the iconic brand linked to skate culture and the concept of sports functionality. Or the recent development of the KIT:BAG project, entirely dedicated to football. Football has been a common thread in my life since 1991 when I fell in love with Tottenham, who won the FA Cup that year. I was nine years old and couldn’t imagine my favorite team ever losing again…. I always follow cups and leagues, and not long ago I began to wonder where the kits of the various Premier League teams ended up at the end of a single season. Every year, the Premier teams alone produce about 19 million jerseys for their fans, so many go unsold. This is a huge waste, and we thought we could reuse those jerseys to create special bags, which can then be recycled. The momentum is building now as more and more teams are taking an interest in this issue. And these numbers are just about the Premier League, can you imagine?. KIT:BAG and other similar projects can be replicated for other football leagues and huge associations like the NFL and NBA. We need help to fix this trend, so I’m trying to get other brands involved, as well as the athletes and sports clubs themselves.”

In Christopher Raeburn’s remarks, the word ‘responsibility’ comes up often. Responsibility for the present. For the future. The responsibility of an industry that has too often sacrificed this term on the altar of revenue. Today, Raeburn’s sense of urgency comes out loud and clear, as he alternates between dire future scenarios and a brighter horizon that awaits us if our collective action and sensitivity prevail.

“We have an enormous amount of work, because it would be silly to think everything is just fine. We can all do better, learn about the circular economy and teach it to others. The world is full of discarded clothing, and it’ll be tough to eliminate the enormous waste generated by the overproduction of garments and materials. But I’m hopeful. My hope is that a future that today sounds like utopia will eventually come true, where fashion will stop burdening the Earth and even come to its aid. Of course, it’s not going to be easy.”

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