In my latest Inspiration Interview, I’ve been chatting with Claire Couchman, the Sustainable Tailor behind Couchman Bespoke.
Claire was first introduced to me at the launch of a luxury sustainable shopping platform, and we got talking about sustainable menswear right off the bat. We agreed that the while demand is behind womenswear, perhaps communications have to be different: talk less about eco materials, more about style, provenance, uniqueness.
Working as a Tailor in Canary Wharf, Claire creates bespoke garments made to last. She also runs her business as a Social Enterprise, providing skills workshops and donating 30% of her profits to a water charity.
It’s for all the above reasons that Claire is an inspiration to me. She makes quality clothing, is passionate about sustainability, and supports others following the same path. I hope you enjoy our interview.
1. What sparked your interest in ethical menswear?
I have always loved menswear since I switched from womenswear during a gap year at university, which my dad suggested.
Menswear, especially tailoring, was something different to me, unbroken from the tradition of jacket, shirt, and trouser silhouette. Even during university, I was trying to push boundaries, whilst keeping clothes wearable, experimenting through cuts and surface prints. I love the traditional aspect of menswear tailoring and am passionate about the construction and fit of garments.
As for the ethical side, I did my thesis on the cotton production cycle. This opened my eyes – but there was no-one creating a vision of a sustainable future.
Two years of leaving university, I decided to start my own label in menswear and came across a lot more on the ethical/ sustainable side of life. I began researching more and after going through the need to do everything myself and be 100% ethical in every way, I realised it’s ok to ask for help. I received a small amount of funding and was able to set up in a studio last year.
Since then my business has changed into an ethical tailors, as a way to talk to people about their shopping habits. I offer to alter the clothes my clients already own, thus reducing the need to throw things away.
Menswear is still at the heart of what I do creatively, and after a year of establishing my brand, I am looking to produce another men’s collection, especially because there is no other ethical tailors for men or women.
2. Mens tailoring is behind when it comes to ethical options – why do you think this is?[I think it’s because] it isn’t ever going to be a cheap option. Organic t-shirts and casual wear is easier to reproduce at a cost that is more friendly to more consumers and is a product style that is for everyday.
Tailoring requires higher costs for the time taken to construct each piece; there’s also the cloth cost to consider, and it’sa garment style that not everyone needs to wear every day.
For this reason alone there are not many men’s smart wear brands that are ethical.
3. As a professional tailor, how do you think we should best look after our clothes?
Follow the care labels and wash at 30 or less. Even hanging clothes to air is great so that each garment needs less washing.
I recommend having a combination of outfits that can be interchanged, so that no garment gets worn too often (though this is not an encouragement to buy lots!)
Care for your garments and repair them when needed. Have a trusted tailor on hand, should a repair job too big for you to complete.
Always hang the garments on a sturdy and suitable hanger too: plastic is fine, sustainably sourced hangers are best, but don’t use wire.
4. Who inspires you in your life and/or in your business?
Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Katherine Hamnett are all my idols within the fashion industry and have been for about 20 years. They each represent a different part of myself, and are who I rewatch catwalks and interviews of the most.
Alexander McQueen, with his artistic catwalks full, of deep meaning and raw creative outlook. There was always something different about how I watched his catwalks, they were like a theatre show.
Vivienne Westwood, who is so out spoken about issues in the world on any subject that fuels her. Creating a talking point around clothing, rather than it just being a t-shirt, she makes garments with a voice.
I came across Katherine Hamnett while looking for a work placement in 2006. The existence of such a brand that is all about animal welfare; a sustainable supply chain with some up-cycling too and involved with Fairtrade, was unknown to many at the time. I have followed her progress since, from before and after that point.
In recent years I have found much inspiration from other people, brands and ways to spread the ethical word from a range of communities through Facebook. Ethical Hour‘s community of ethical businesses is a great place to find new knowledge about packaging, ethical products, chat with like-minded people and get advice.
Up-cycle Cloth Collective has been of equal enjoyment with great community spirit. With lots of amazing ideas, a few collaborations have come from it for me and the business.
5. Finally, do you have anything exciting coming up that you can share with us?
First up, I will be running an after school club with a primary school local to my studio, on London City Island/ Trinity Buoy Wharf. The class will be centred around tailoring, with a hand sewn pair of simple shorts made. I’m super excited about it, and I hope that it leads to more classes in the next school year. I hope to educate the children along the way about appreciating clothes and the process involved.
I am also starting a crowdfunder campaign for a Tailoring Cafe. It’ll be a place where people can learn tailoring skills from design to pattern making and sewing. Tailors can come and rent a machine to complete a project or offer alterations to anyone visiting to cafe.
My aim is to make the practice of tailoring accessible and open for all, showing the processes and work involved, and invite people to work within an industry that can sometimes feel inaccessible.
Thank you Claire! You can follow Couchman Bespoke on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.