Sustainable Welsh label MAKE wants to 'end surplus'
The mind behind the outdoor brand discusses the transformative powers of nature and community, and the future of textile innovation.
By Sophie Wilson
It’s no secret that the pandemic has worsened fashion’s waste problem. Since the coronavirus outbreak, the number of brands cancelling factory orders has risen exponentially, resulting in millions of yards of fabric going to waste. All too often, big brands are refusing to pay the factories or their workers when they make these mass cancellations. “We see the way that the mills have been treated as a form of prejudice,” says Sam Osborne, founder of MAKE, the Welsh label trying to reduce textile waste one sleek outdoor-wear garment at a time. “We want to talk about it because it's very upsetting to see people struggling so badly. The pandemic has made us more politicised. We’re not afraid to say that we have socialist values.” Having worked in textile design and development for 20 years, Sam has witnessed fashion’s waste problem first hand. But he has also had time to reflect on solutions. MAKE work exclusively with surplus materials from around the world, a sourcing process that has influenced the label’s eclectic aesthetic -- think colour block sports jackets, contrast logo jerseys, bright neoprene bucket hats. “The ranges tend to be influenced by where we're getting the fabrics from at the time,” Sam explains. “We’re not necessarily working towards trends.”
Instead of looking outwards to the fashion industry, MAKE look at local communities, connecting them with other creative communities around the world. To see how important this idea of community is for the brand look no further than their fanzines. Make Cadw a Thrwso spotlights local surfers John Purton and Greg Owen, people that Sam met throughout his years spent surfing on the Welsh coast who craft locally produced wetsuits and surfboards. MAKE is inseparable from this personal history. Homeworkers continues in a similarly intimate vein. The eerily prophetic zine, a portrait study of friends that work at home, was shot before most of us started working from home in lockdown. It shows the artists and collaborators that have worked closely with the MAKE brand, bringing behind-the-scenes into the foreground. Sam is passionate about maintaining this level of transparency from concept to creation.
For Sam, fashion is about people, making connections and creating a better future for the world and the communities that live in it. We spoke to him about MAKE’s values, sourcing surplus materials, his Welsh heritage and his work developing biodegradable materials.
What motivated you to start the brand?
I've been a material developer for a long time and I've seen insane amounts of material go to waste. It felt so unnecessary. Over the past couple of years, people have become far more aware of how much waste there is. A couple of years ago, I had one particular experience with a factory in Portugal. They showed me their warehousing and it was full of really beautiful fabrics from the last 20 years in the outdoor and sports area, which has always been my area. Most factories have stockpiles of surplus materials somewhere. You've just got to go looking and find them.
Tell us about how you source materials.
We get itineraries from the mills and factories that we work with sent to us. Then we go through and categorise them. We base the panels that we use for a collection on how much of one material is available. If we only have a small piece of a certain fabric in a certain colour, we'll only use it for a small detail. That becomes the story of the product. We're not trend forecasting. We're simply telling that story and finding liberation within that restriction. We want to end surplus. We don't feel you can really justify it anymore. The waste is only increasing.
Do you think that the coronavirus pandemic has worsened the textile industry's waste problem?
Absolutely. One well known outdoor brand cancelled an order of over a million yards of fabric. Another one cancelled 350,000 yards. They refused to pay for the materials so the stockpiles have gone up. There had been a long-held position that textile and fashion production is the second most wasteful industry on the planet. That was proven in an academic report just before the pandemic and then coronavirus happened and it just grew exponentially. There are fabrics everywhere. One of the things that we do is try and get rid of that fabric for our suppliers, so if we don't use it we try and sell it to other people. A lot of fabric mills are going to close because of this, because they can't afford those cancellations. It affects local communities and supply bases that have been very loyal to those brands.
There's a strong sense of community in the brand. Has that always been important to you?
Yeah. I'm from Wales. The brand is from Wales. We're a small country with its own language and dialogue. That's something that links really strongly with the suppliers and the workers that we go to. They're not people from the fashion hub, they don't really exist in that microcosm. Their values are quite family-oriented and locally based. And the natural culture of craft that exists in each area will find its way into the production and the style of manufacturing. You see that in Portugal. You see it in Indonesia. You see it in India and, of course, Wales also has its own craft that makes its way into the visual culture.
Why is Welsh heritage so important to the brand?
I'm not a nationalist. I think nationalism is a social disease. If you look at the MAKE logo, it's two birds. The bird on the top is a red kite, which was endangered until recently. It comes from a very small area of West Wales and it represents the strive to survive and living from waste, as it’s a carrion feeder. Then there’s the crow, which is the only bird that exists in every country in the world, at the bottom. It's about skill sharing, communication, outreach. From a Welsh perspective, we're trying to reach out and talk about our culture, how we see socialism moving forward as a model to fight the disaster of capitalism which is depleting everything in the world. It's about finding new ways to do things and solutions, and we use the Welsh culture to inform that, using what’s available to communicate a broader message.
What do you love about working from Wales and what are some of the limitations?
I get most of my ideas from being outdoors in nature. It’s as if I were going to an art gallery in a city. In Wales, I can go 10 minutes from where I work and be at the beach or the mountains. I love that I’m able to get out of the office after a busy, stressful day and just be enveloped in a completely different environment. It's almost surreal. I try and surf as much as possible and I can do that just half an hour from my door. I can go mountain biking and camping. All of that is very, very valuable.
MAKE is rooted in the outdoors. Do you think that spending time in nature can make people more inclined to care about sustainability and looking after the planet?
Definitely. The story that runs through the second look book, Seedling, is about fly-tipping in Wales. We have a really serious problem here with local people dumping trash on top of mountains or in hedgerows or wherever. With the pandemic, especially with the lockdown in Wales, people have started to walk in their local area and discover things for the first time. What a lot of people are finding, though, are things like these huge unofficial dump sites on the side of mountains. We're using that as a metaphor for the global situation. Looking internally and looking locally really helps you understand the threat the world’s under from this type of ignorance. Coronavirus has given us the chance to stand back for a while and survey the situation, realise how dire it is, and do something about it to create change.
What is the future of textile innovation?
We've been working on material development over the last couple of months to put out materials that are biodegradable. We're working on a fabric at the moment called resistance weave. It's a high abrasion material that lasts a very, very long time, but it has an enzyme built into the yarn, so it eats itself when it's buried. Biodegradable is where we see the future of fabric going.