Sustainability in fashion: Timberland's global creative director Christopher Raeburn on transparency, recycling, and 50 million trees
50 million — that's the number of trees outdoor lifestyle brand Timberland plans to plant around the world within the next five years. That might seem like an impossible number until the brand revealed that it has planted more than 10 million trees worldwide since 2001.
Sustainability has obviously been on everyone's lips in recent years. The fashion industry, particularly, has mostly played catch up on this front until August this year. Thirty-two major fashion and textile companies banded together to sign the 'Fashion Pact', an industry-wide agreement to tackle and minimise the sector's impact on the environment.
Timberland might not be part of the 'Fashion Pact', but it's certainly building on its long-standing commitment towards environmental sustainability, from responsible sourcing in its supply chain right up to its CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities, and the launch of its largest ever global campaign, "Nature Needs Heroes".
In September, it was reported that VF Corp (the owner of Timberland and several other clothing and shoe brands) will stop purchasing leather from Brazilian suppliers because of the problematic link between the fires in the Amazon and cattle ranching.
As the brand kickstarted its three-day 'Remade' upcycling pop-up in Shanghai, we caught up with its global creative director Christopher Raeburn to discuss these hot-button developments as well as his innovative fall/winter 2019 collection.
It was announced earlier this month that Timberland would be planting 50 million trees over the next five years, as well as stop sourcing leather from Brazil because of the problematic relationship between cattle ranching and the fires in the Amazon rainforests. Do these issues affect the way you design?
It's about transparency. Ultimately, Timberland wants to make good purposeful decisions as we continue to evolve. I'm so proud to be working for a company that's making these bold statements. We've already planted around 10 million trees in the past decade or so, but we're now going to plant five times as many in a lot less time.
Sustainability has become a key concern and buzzword in the fashion industry in recent years, but you were very much ahead of the curve when you started your own namesake label while studying at Royal College of Art in London. What strategies and approaches have you brought over from your personal brand to Timberland?
With Raeburn, I've always been interested with the idea of 'Remade' — which is recycled — from the very beginning. They're almost like art pieces that make up fully recycled collections. When I bring them to Timberland, I can make such a difference on a global scale.
An example of that is the fall/winter 2019 collection that was first done in the Raeburn Lab in London before being developed on a more bigger commercial scale. As we look forward to the coming seasons, you'll see this philosophy influence all Timberland products.
Timberland's fall/winter collection features a parachute jacket, something that you made famous at your label a while ago. You recently worked with pre-used tents as well. What exciting materials do you have up your sleeve for Timberland?
I'm proud that we've been able to implement the 'Remade' process. We also have a fantastic project called 'Construct 10061'. It's a complete open-source initiative. We work with designers from all over the world in our own factory in the Dominican Republic. Everything from pants, gloves, and bags are deconstructed and remade into boots and footwear. It's just one example of how Timberland brings creativity and responsible thinking into the design process.
Would it be possible to take us through some of your key Timberland products this season?
When we look particularly at the collaboration between Timberland and Raeburn, you'd see pieces such as the weather-breaker jacket, the fleece pieces, and even the T-shirts are all made from either recycled or responsibly sourced materials. The slashing of the material comes back to the initial reference of the parachute, so everything is consistent and has story behind it.
Timberland is closely associated with hip-hop music. Looking towards the future, who do you see embodying this new ethos of the brand?
We're so proud of our history at Timberland. Looking to the future, we are excited to create new icons. I'm so proud of the 12 eco-heroes who we've engaged around the world, and what they mean to the brand.
You've championed sustainability in fashion for about 10 years now. What are the key lessons that you've learnt so far in your journey, and do you have a game plan for the next 10 years?
In the last 10 years, the most exciting thing has been how much the industry as well as the global conversation around sustainability have changed. Today, individuals are so much more aware of the environmental impacts of the climate crisis, which wasn't so apparent 10 years ago. As I look to the next 10 years, I'm excited to see how I can evolve with Timberland. It's not going to be an easy mission, but I hope that the materials that we choose and the products that we make ultimately paves the way for a greener world. This would be the real game-changer for me.
Timberland's fall/winter collection is available in stores now. Check out its online store for all the products featured in the "Nature Needs Heroes" campaign.