True to form, it’s spitting outside. Overcast, and hovering at just above 10 degrees Celsius, London is characteristically gloomy—or nostalgic—depending on who you ask.
But seated inside the Raeburn office, a former Burberry warehouse on the East side of town that’s just a stone’s throw from Shoreditch and Truman Brewery—the epicentre of London Fashion Week Men’s for the autumn/winter 2019 season—Christopher Raeburn and I are warming our hands on cups of black tea (with milk of course; we’re in the mother country, after all) and going through his second capsule collection for outdoor giant, Timberland.
It isn’t Raeburn’s first outing with the brand, having created a capsule for Timberland just last season, but this second time around the merry-go-round is decidedly different for one key reason: he is now the company’s global creative director. All eyes are set on the British designer known for his bugle cry of sustainable fashion: Remade, Reduced, Recyled. But how will he continue to champion sustainability at Timberland? Will design still hold true against responsible manufacturing? And will he be given the freedom to effect change in the first place?
Surrounded by Raeburn’s iconic jackets remade from military deadstock parachutes and blouses fashioned out of vintage silk maps—plus a welcome drop-in by Taiwanese-American singer, Will Pan, Timberland’s new ambassador for Asia—we peer at the path that lies ahead. Naturally, Raeburn is well equipped. Sporting the new Timberland x Raeburn Brooklyn boot, its silhouette inspired by the iconic Timberland yellow boot but crafted from recycled material, Raeburn is making his own mark. Conscious. Considered. And unashamedly green.
ESQ: Christopher, as an incoming global creative director for Timberland, what’s on the top of your ‘to do’ list?
CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN: I’m really excited about building on all of the hard work that’s been happening for the last 25 years with Timberland. It’s a company that’s very well-known for its responsible attitude—the way it makes its product and the way it engages with the community. So what’s really exciting for me is to come in, respect what’s been happening in the past, but then really push the business to the next level. Because I think there’s a really big opportunity to change, of course, the aesthetic, but also the materials used, the way some of the products are manufactured and how we communicate as well. Those are the big challenges for the company, and it’s really also about how we can organise those next steps for the business. It’s about setting the right seeds so the tree can continue to grow in the right direction.
ESQ: You mention communication, what do you mean by that? Do you feel that it currently lacks continuity from design to product and then to market?
CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN: I think Timberland does a lot of amazing things but people don’t know about much about the brand in certain parts of the world. And I mean that in a really respectful way. Actually, what we’ve always done at Raeburn is to try and communicate in a really meaningful way, so I’m really hoping that I’ll be able to bring a lot of the learning from my own business to Timberland where I can work with very creative teams around the world to help amplify the message.
ESQ: What’s your earliest memory of Timberland?
CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN: I remember the yellow boots from when I was a child, but the big thing for me was when I was studying at the Royal College of Art. Timberland released the Earthkeepers boots and I thought ‘Wow! This is incredible! A brand that big is looking specifically at how responsibly it can make its products!’. And it was super inspiring, because at that point I was 20 years old. And so, now, to be coming in as creative director, it’s a real honour.
ESQ: On the topic of boots, you’re wearing the new Timberland boots that you designed that’s made from recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and Timberland’s proprietary ReBotl material. How did you come up with that silhouette?
CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN: It’s really important that we respect the six-inch boots, they’re an icon of Timberland. But my interest is always how we can push things forward from the sustainability side. The boot I’m wearing is called Brooklyn Reboot. They’re made from recycled rubber, and as you mentioned, recycled PET and ReBotl material. So I hope it’s a really modern silhouette that will appeal to a younger community. We need to find the right balance, but ultimately this is about us pushing the aesthetic. Additionally, what’s so encouraging is that from all of our research, it’s the younger community that are asking for responsible manufacturing and materials.
ESQ: What will you do to celebrate the 10th anniversary of your eponymous brand?
CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN: For Raeburn? Well, for autumn/winter 2019 we brought back certain icons from our past but did them in a new, modern way. For example, typhoon suits reconstructed using a patchwork technique. But more importantly, I was able to bring everyone that had worked with us in the last 10 years together for our show at London Fashion Week Men’s. The show was a celebration, but then it was also an opportunity to thank everyone for all of their support. So I’m really excited for the next 10 years because it certainly feels like the momentum is growing from my own company over the last year or two—and now the partnership with Timberland.
ESQ: I noticed that your brand name has recently changed from ‘Christopher Raeburn’ to just ‘Raeburn’.
CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN: Yes! We changed from Christopher Raeburn to Raeburn because my older brother, Graeme, joined the company as our performance director—he was formerly working for cycle wear company, Rapha. Now you have two Raeburns. It’s no longer about me as an individual, it’s about the team.
ESQ: How many pieces did you create for the latest Timberland capsule collaboration?
CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN: With apparel, there are 16 pieces. Then we have six for footwear and another six for accessories. So altogether about 30 pieces. And everything is either recycled or organic cotton.
ESQ: Your own brand is built on the ethos of remade, reduce and recycle. What core values would like to communicate now that you’re the creative director of Timberland?
CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN: For me, when I look back over the last 10 years, I’m excited about the amount of development and innovation around responsible manufacturing in general. It’s much more accessible for designers to design in a responsible way now because the materials are more affordable and they’re easier to get. And so, I’m interested in how, socially, everyone can start to help each other. It’s up to big brands like Timberland to make a difference, small companies to push, and importantly, individuals to need the products as well. I think lots of people think they can’t make a difference by themselves, but of course if we all work together, we really can.
ESQ: What’s the biggest difference between this long-term partnership with Timberland as creative director and your previous single one-off collaboration for spring/summer 2019?
CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN: As global creative director, I’m able to work across the whole brand. With the previous collaboration, it was relatively concise. Timberland has 1,400 stores around the world, it has USD1.8 billion turnover and it wants to change—and that is super exciting. I now have a big microphone and, if we can improve, which we will, we’ll be making such a difference on a global scale.
ESQ: In a previous interview you mentioned that growing your own materials might soon be feasible. Can you share more about this?
CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN: It’s really exciting because even here in London, one of the finalists in a graduate fashion week had grown her collection underneath her bed. So if young designers can do this in a really ad hoc way, imagine what could big brands do? And although I can’t give out secrets today, and I don’t have the answer today, I really feel that we’re very close to closing the loop. So we can recycle and recycle again, and also start growing leather and organic materials. At the moment this is quite radical, very experimental and there are big issues around scalability—so you might be able to make one of something but can you then make it to a high enough quality? Can you make enough? So it’s going to take time, but I’m always interested in anything new and I’m going to keep on challenging myself and the business to innovate.
ESQ: Do you think there is a compromise between being eco-conscious and creating products that are luxurious and aesthetically pleasing?
CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN: I think there often is a compromise, but I’ve always approached it in a different way. The conversations are always design-led so I’m very proud that I went to the Royal College of Art here in London. And, I’ve always wanted to make products that people want to wear. Unfortunately, in the market, people have very good intentions in the way they make something, but the design is not quite there. I hope what we do with Raeburn, we find the right balance. So ultimately when you look around the studio hopefully there’s lots of things you would want to wear. We don’t try to always sell ourselves and say ‘hey this is sustainable, you should buy it’. We say ‘this is really cool’, and you know, ‘we’ve also done the hard work for you to make sure that it’s made in the right way’.
ESQ: You are known for reworking military parachutes into jackets. Why did you choose the parachute as a point of inspiration for your pieces?
CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN: Good question. Because it fascinated me that parachutes have a shelf life. After 10 years, even if it’s not been used, they get rid of them. So they have a lot of material that is basically brand new and unused; which is good news because the pilot didn’t need it. And for me as a designer, it’s so nice to then be able to have something to work with that has this authenticity—you know, so it’s not just a new material, it has all the seams, details on the stems and all of those things. And it’s also hard-wearing, you can wash it. It’s a really good material that we were able to access in volume and then grow. Parachutes also come in many colours. The only one we have to dye is black because people are always going ‘Oh love it, but do you have black?’.
ESQ: It’s true! People always want an option in black. What is the most interesting textile you’ve used so far?
CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN: I still think silk maps. It’s such a rare and beautiful thing. The garments you see in the studio are made from original 1950s silk maps—they are not reprinted—and that’s just so unique. At the moment, they’re also being exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum. So from the remade side of things, this is definitely interesting. And then with recycled, I’m really interested in not just using recycled PET plastic, but also how we can close the loop to make sure that this garment isn’t just recycled, but recyclable. So this is the next step, and again this is something that we will be looking out for Timberland moving forward. I’m taking what I’ve learned over 10 years at Raeburn and applying it to my new role at Timberland.
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