In 2021 I have set myself a challenge, I want my millinery label to become more sustainable. I realise that Sustainability is the fashion industry’s latest trend and I have no intention of ‘green washing’. This blog will be an open and honest account of my journey into making my label more socially responsible, the good, the bad and the ugly…

The beginning…

This is an idea I have been dabbling with for years, but never had the time to put into practice. It all began during my Fashion degree over 10 years ago. My final project for University was a collection of 1940’s inspired Women’s evening wear completely from upcycled men’s suiting. At the time my tutors thought it was slightly ‘eccentric’ but embraced the concept as it was Art school and I guess that’s the time to do these crazy projects.

Fox fur stole
made from tweed overcoat
Strapless evening gown
made from WW2 parachute

Trench coat made from upcycled anoraks and waterproof trousers
Tuxedo jacket, with applique brogue shoes and pipe fascinator

After University I entered the fashion industry working for various stylists and designers, before retraining in Millinery. I set up Bee Smith Millinery in July 2010 at my lovely studios in Kingston, where I still am today.

Millinery as a craft is already pretty sustainable. All hats are handmade in our studios, I work small scale so nothing is mass produced. I try to buy materials from the UK and Europe and I keep everything (slight hoarder tendencies)

So what is the Sustainable Millinery challenge?

The challenge is the traceability of materials. For Spring Summer most hats are made from straw and sinamay. These are grown, woven and dyed in Asia. For Autumn Winter most hats are made from felt (I don’t use fur), but wool felt, is usually Australian/ New Zealand wool and then manufactured and dyed in China. Next step is hat trimmings, I use silk (produced in China), veiling (made from Synthetic sources), feathers (animal product)… to name just a few options.

I buy my materials from UK suppliers and have discussed these issues with them. They are all lovely and supportive, but do acknowledge the challenge and will be helping me along the way.

This isn’t a rant or judgement, I just want to see if I can adapt the way I work to embrace more sustainable options. I want to be totally honest, I know I won’t succeed in all of this. I know I will have to make some compromises. This will be my way of keeping a diary of the successes and failures and if it can help others to adjust to a greener outlook then even better.

Quick wins…

Immediately I could make easy changes for a more sustainable outlook:

  1. Packaging; All our packaging is now plastic free. The hat boxes come from a UK supplier, recycled tissue paper and brand labels.
  2. Threads; I’ve discovered a wonderful new brand of organic cotton threads (Scanfil) and recycled polyester thread, along with vintage cotton threads from my Aunty – almost too beautiful to use though.
  3. Working for a greener studio; Everything in the studio is recycled, energy efficient light bulbs and minimal fabric wastage. I know it seems silly, but every little helps.
  4. Hat hire; We have a hat hire range and plans to expand it. Renting your hat for each occasion whilst still looking fabulous! Hat Hire – Bee Smith Millinery
  5. Repair & restyle; This is always a service I’ve offered to breath life back into old hats, but now I’ve actually put it online. Repair & Re-style – Bee Smith Millinery

The next step

I am busy educating myself, asking a lot of questions and sourcing alternative fabric options.

I recently visited the Future Fabrics Expo run by The Sustainable Angle, which was an excellent source of eco friendly suppliers. They have an excellent online resources library: The Sustainable Angle

Also listening to lectures from Fashion Capital and Sally Wright and the Penny lecture season at Morley College

Any questions, suggestions or tips, please let me know.

Bee x