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Saul Nash
Saul Nash

Saul Nash on his sustainability journey and the rise of B Corp brands

Powered by evian, the London-based designer talks through his triumphant AW21, the fashion industry’s responsibility to the planet, and how working together to make a positive impact is crucial

Climate justice is one of the most urgent, present issues of our times. The past decade was the hottest on record, with permaforst melting and deforestation rapidly increasing. Millions across the world have striked for climate action, scrutinized what they buy and consume, and demanded better from governments and brands alike. But words like ‘climate-conscious’, ‘ethical’, ‘eco-friendly’, and ‘sustainable’ and everywhere in culture, with brands quick to market around our newfound eco-consciousness and metabolise what they believe sells, without engaging in a way our planet really needs.

So how do you navigate all the supposed eco-credentials? That’s where the B Corporation certification comes through. Launched in 2006 by global non-profit organisation B Lab, the B Corp certification credits businesses to a high standard of how they impact the planet. It champions five pillars: the environment, governance, workers, customers, community. Each company who applies need 80 points across these categories to pass – nearly 4,000 have passed the test so far of 100,000 companies that have tried.

evian is one of those companies, as a brand that champions transparency and progress, with a mindset that it has growth and improvement too – launching its Drink True platform was testament to that. evian is also launching an online dashboard for consumers to track how far on their own personal journey to circularity they are, and how far they’ve got to go. The B Corp grouping champions community too – businesses coming together to elevate climate, community, and environmental goals that go beyond their own personal gains and profit. evian is tapped into culture to spread the message and do just that too, recently onboarding Dua Lipa as an ambassador. Here, we’re exploring this mindset in the fashion industry, its progress and work that still has to be done.

As one of the most polluting industries worldwide, fashion has been making it a mission to be more sustainable and conscious. Luxury brands and independent creators alike – from Gucci partnering with the RealReal, to Nike’s worldwide efforts – are evaluating their services, manufacturing processes, workers’ conditions, the materials they use, and carbon offset. Of course, there’s a galaxy’s more work to do, and consumers are demanding better. A recent study of 2,000 adults by evian found that over two thirds (67 per cent) of consumers say they would like to see brands do more to reduce waste when it comes to helping the environment, and almost half (49 pe rcent) say brands are not transparent enough when it comes to their wider sustainability goals. 

One designer, Saul Nash, leads a new generation of sustainably-minded designers. The London-based designer, dancer, and Fashion East alum’s cool, graceful, performance-focused reimagining of streetwear speaks to their passions as a dancer and ecological mind. His AW21 collection, showcased in the beautifully choreographed visual Twist, questioned perceptions of masculinity and sportswear with imaginative yet functional designs. As well, Nash’s dynamic work reflects an optimistic fashion industry, changing for the better. Below, he talks us through his own sustainability journey, and how fashion can align with the key B Corp pillars.

What are the most exciting elements of the fashion industry for you right now?

Saul Nash: I think the freedom for designers to express themselves authentically, and build their businesses in ways which are unique to them.  Thinking specifically about those of us in London, it’s really exciting to experience the sense of ‘togetherness’ of designers today... a genuine appreciation of one another, which is quite special, particularly when you consider how different we all are from one another. I suppose it links to a kind of levelling of the playing field. 

What are your thoughts on the rise of brands becoming B Corp, and do you think this is something the fashion industry should be joining?

Saul Nash: It’s extremely positive. I truly hope it’ll set a precedent for a future generation, where sustainability will be something instinctively integrated into their business models. I think that it’s definitely something fashion should be aligning with – we all recognise that every effort needs to be taken right now. Designers’ jobs are, fundamentally, to solve problems – so to collectively address the most dangerous issue of our time feels like it should be prioritised at every level. 

You work with North London manufacturers. Why is that important to you? How does this speak to a sense and importance of community?

Saul Nash: I think that a lot of great things start from home. Predominantly working with manufacturers within my home town has given me the ability to build incredible relationships; to align myself with people who genuinely care about my product. It also feels positive to support local business – especially right now. You feel a certain responsibility as a designer which I feel it’s importance to acknowledge and take action around. 

You’ve made huge efforts to use more environmentally friendly materials. How is that going and how do you prioritise it?

Saul Nash: It feels vital, and a part of daily consideration. It’s not always easy for a brand of my scale - particularly creating sportswear. However, I think with anything that’s challenging, it’s important to set tasks and goals - and work towards them to ensure that we fulfil the things we say we’re going to do. I think we all have a long way to go to reach our ultimate sustainable goal. If we all try our best to play our part, hopefully we can bring about the changes we want to see. 

I’ve really worked to ensure my work and practices are the most sustainable they can be, and keep pushing to make sure this becomes a seasonal elevation. Research is everything. It’s also so vital to collaborate: reaching out to the right people to share best practices is a huge part of lowering environmental impact. For AW21, we worked to significantly reduce the use of polyester throughout the collection, and introduced certified organic cottons in their place. We also look towards using dead-stock in a much bigger way, and reusing our materials as part of a circular model. As a designer you recognise that this mindset is going to define your working practise forever – as it should. 

“The perception around sustainability has definitely improved. I think previously it was quite a niche concept to care about the environment... it certainly wasn’t a discussion that I had when I was in school” – Saul Nash

What benefits have you found in sourcing locally and more dynamically?

Saul Nash: The changes in the state of our country have created a necessity around sourcing locally... but out of this, we can make sure we limit the amount of countries our raw materials have to pass through before our products can be made. Sourcing more locally also allows for a direct relationship with suppliers - it’s easier to visit them and have a face to face conversation... I’ve worked this way for such a long time, I forget what a rarity it can be in fashion. Direct dialogue and oversight of your product whilst it’s being made is so critical. 

How do you think the outward perception of sustainability and its values have progressed in fashion? Where does it have to get better, to do more?

Saul Nash: The perception around sustainability has definitely improved. I think previously it was quite a niche concept to care about the environment... it certainly wasn’t a discussion that I had when I was in school. As we’re all witnessing live the damaging effects that human consumption is having on the earth and its resources, my own perception has definitely been shifted. I have definitely witnessed positive discussions around the point within fashion. Hopefully, it will become an issue which is second nature. I also think there’s an enormous amount to be said for legislation – the issue needs to go beyond individual designers, certainly beyond smaller brands. The law has an enormous part to play. High street brands and luxury houses need to be regulated... it’s about impact, ultimately. 

How do you challenge outdated ideas of what sustainable fashion’s aesthetic is with your future-facing collections?

Saul Nash: For me, understanding what materials I’m using and the process through which they are made has become even more important. Whilst, say, upcycling garments may not be for everyone, there are definitely more sustainable options available to everyone - whatever their practice is - and I think it’s important to find a way that works for you. I guess my goal was not to set out to challenge outdated ideas, but more to look into ways that I could reduce the ways my product may impact the environment in the longer term. I think that if my product can serve a timeless purpose and create a sense of value for the wearers it would make me happy to know that they would value and cherish it. Possibly pass it on to their children... that’s a beautiful idea for any designer. 

Garment workers and their conditions/rights have become more a part of the necessary dialogue within fashion. How do you respond to this as a young designer, and the values you have imbued in your work?

Saul Nash: I think building relationships with the people you work with is important in understanding the people and hands that my garments have passed between from start to finish.

How have you responded to the restraints or issues that the pandemic has had on your work?

Saul Nash: The pandemic hasn’t been easy at all. It’s really brought about a need for adaptability and perseverance. It’s also caused me to think about, and kind of reframe, the idea of longevity. Much of this time has been spent planning to ensure that my business can continue to function in a sustainable way during such difficult times.

“Designers’ jobs are, fundamentally, to solve problems – so to collectively address the most dangerous issue of our time feels like it should be prioritised at every level” – Saul Nash

How have you seen your customers’ priorities around sustainability and environmentalism grow, as well as the wider market’s appetite for transparency, sustainable work, slower fashion?

Saul Nash: We have definitely seen this. I think vintage clothing is a great example of this. People finding huge value and a kind of magic in others’ unwanted clothing... I think that people now want to feel value in what they wear. The idea of status buys has completely shifted, particularly in the sportswear space. It’s less about ‘having loads’...! But more about having things of value. 

Why is transparency in the fashion industry important? Why is it important to you?

Saul Nash: It’s often difficult to have 100 per cent transparency because often things are passing through so many hands, more than, I think, fashion consumers realise. Transparency is key in ensuring that everyone is actively working  to implement sustainable practices at every level. 

On a day to day level, how do you imbue social responsibility and environmentalism into your life?

Saul Nash: I  think that I am trying to remain conscious of the different actions I take throughout my everyday life and to think twice before I take unsustainable actions.