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The fashion designer who hates trends

She transformed her super-cool label Mother of Pearl into a leader in sustainability. Now Amy Powney wants to sort out our wardrobes, too

You shouldn’t have to spend a lot of money to dress sustainably. I know lots of people can’t afford to pay £300 for one of my dresses,’ says fashion designer Amy Powney matter-of-factly. As creative director of London-based label Mother of Pearl – loved in fashion circles for its cool, contemporary pieces with impeccable sustainable and ethical credentials – Amy is well aware that the brand caters for a ‘small bubble’ of shoppers.

So for the past couple of years, Amy has taken her sustainable mission to the high street. In 2020, she launched the first of three exclusive collections for John Lewis, the retailer’s most sustainable offering to date, with the current range featuring organic cotton jumpers and mididresses made from EcoVero (a more sustainable form of viscose) for under £100. ‘If sustainable designers don’t get involved with the high street, how will anything change?’ she says. ‘You have to take the opportunity to talk to a wider audience, and brands like John Lewis have a very strong voice to the nation.’ Amy is celebrating 15 years at Mother of Pearl, but her interest in sustainability began long before she started working there. Her upbringing in rural Lancashire taught her to appreciate the environment from an early age. When she was 11 years old her parents moved the family ‘off grid’ to live in a caravan, getting their electricity from a small wind turbine and water from a well.

Later, when she studied fashion at Kingston University, her final-year collection focused on sustainability, years before it became the buzzword it is today. As a student, she also learned more about the social impact of the fashion industry. Reading Naomi Klein’s bestselling book No Logo and ‘learning about sweatshops and child labour’ was a turning point. ‘I thought, “What is this hideous industry that I am going into?”’

After graduating in 2006, she started as an assistant at Mother of Pearl, deliberately choosing to work at a small brand. ‘We made tiny quantities of clothes, so I didn’t think we were part of the problem,’ says Amy. By 2015, she’d risen to creative director. ‘Over the next few years, as the brand grew, the stores wanted more and more collections. It was all about newness. Everything was moving so fast, it felt wrong. I started thinking, “There must be a problem here. How can we be making stuff so quickly?”’

It’s why, in 2016, she undertook the huge challenge of overhauling every element of the business and turning Mother of Pearl into a completely sustainable and ethical brand. ‘I didn’t know how it all worked. There was a lot of researching and googling,’ she admits.

To transform the brand, she had three key issues to tackle. First, using fabrics that had a smaller impact on the environment. For Amy that meant choosing natural, biodegradable fibres – such as cotton, wool and silk […]

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