In the wake of yesterday’s damning IPCC report, more people than ever are waking up to the reality of shady greenwashing tactics from big name brands, particularly in the fashion world.
As Greta Thunberg recently tweeted, “You cannot mass-produce fashion or consume ‘sustainably’ as the world is shaped today. That is one of the many reasons why we will need a [radical] system change.” The fashion industry is a huge contributor to the current climate and ecological emergency and – while not shopping new is always the best policy – looking closer to home for local innovative designers who are hand making to order is a great place to start when you’re looking for your next fashion fix. Today Fabric of the North meets Wirral-based designer Emma Atherton, and discovers her new size-inclusive fashion brand, EROSA.
“I have been a fashion designer for over 5 years,” she tells me, “after graduating from the University of Central Lancashire in 2016. I had already completed a year working on Matalan’s ladieswear design team by then, and ended up going on to work in everything from costume design, cruise ship wardrobe, theatrical millinery, occasionwear and bespoke headwear. I’ve had quite a weird career I think – I’ve definitely got a story or two! – and still miss doing pantos even now!”
In 2018 Emma started a bespoke millinery brand, Rose and Plume, and even went on to show at London Hat Week in 2020, but with the impact that Covid has had on both the wedding and event industries, she has since put the brand on hold, turning her attentions instead on her new venture. “In 2019 I had gone back to study for my Masters, at the University of Chester,” she says, “and since graduating in November have been asked back to help out in a support role for their fashion course. They’re such a fab department, I really can’t praise them enough! It was quite lucky really because it gave me something to focus on when the pandemic hit, while also helping to plant the seed for EROSA.”
I know from personal experience how much of an impact sizing can have on our self-esteem and mental health, and I didn’t want to create a brand that added into this cycle.
Designed to celebrate and include all bodies, Emma tells me the overarching philosophy stems from her own relationship with her body and fashion. “I have been everything from a size 8 to an 18,” she says, “and have never really felt comfortable in my clothes. During my MA I was looking into the sizing system in the UK for womenswear and noticed we don’t really have proper regulations. This is why we are all different sizes across brands.”
“I know from personal experience how much of an impact sizing can have on our self-esteem and mental health, and I didn’t want to create a brand that added into this cycle. This is why I created my own sizing system, based around colours. Using simple techniques, each of my pieces fits up to 5 different UK sizes, which takes into account our own unique body shape as well as size.”
“EROSA is about celebrating diversity in our bodies and I am directly inspired by people, their stories and their individual beauty,” Emma tells me. “I cannot tell you how happy it makes me that brands are becoming more aware of social and environmental issues. Awareness and educating yourself is the key to anything, so it is important we as designers are checking ourselves and our work. It is also important for consumers to do the same; do your research!”
“I think fashion gets so caught up with one particular image of ‘beauty’, in terms of the ideal body, the ideal face, age, skin tone and everything that makes up a person. This image changes so regularly, it is hard to keep up with as a designer, never mind as a consumer! Fashion has a habit of just pushing this one type of beauty on society, and some designers are well known for refusing to dress certain people because they don’t fit in this little rigid box. I don’t know why it happens, but it doesn’t sit right with me and that is why I am pushing for change.”
“We are getting better, granted, but it isn’t happening fast enough and I worry we are simply switching out one body ideal for another instead of advocating for ALL bodies and ALL beauty. The only way to address it is for brands to take the leap, to be brave and start representing a wide spectrum of people in their work. There isn’t a way to please everyone, and I completely respect and understand that, but it is our duty to push out the most diverse and inclusive narrative we can to the world.”
“I’ve always been a bit political and outspoken within my work, and often have social commentary undertones going on; I’ve tackled everything from gender expression to mental health and feminism over the years. I think my approach is modern and fresh because I’m doing my own thing. The further I’ve gone in my career the more I have stopped trying to follow trends, and am learning instead to trust my designer instinct. I think that is the only way to maintain integrity really. As long as you are being open and kind to people and the planet, then trusting your gut is the way forward.”
“I have also tried to educate myself better on social and environmental issues, and am not afraid to use my platform to speak about those things. Fashion design or not, we should be aware of the people and the issues around us, and try to be as positive and helpful as we can.”
“The fashion industry has so much to account for in terms of the huge impact it has on our environment, so I think it is the responsibility of all fashion designers to choose an ethical approach in their work,” she says. “The entire basis of EROSA is around multi-sizing, which means that pieces can evolve and adapt as our bodies change, giving these items much more longevity in our wardrobe – and therefore far less likely to end up in landfill. Plus everything’s made-to-order by me in my studio, so I also don’t run the risk of having boxes of unused stock heading to landfill either.”
When it comes to materials, Emma tells me she uses local suppliers as much as possible. “I think it is so important to support one another,” she says, “and it also means I am not adding an extra carbon footprint into my process because the shop is just round the corner! My packaging comes from a UK company, who utilises recycled materials to create the boxes.”
“My most important considerations when working are always, can this piece be worn again and again? Will this end up in landfill? Can this be recycled or reused? Those are the questions I ask myself with each and every piece. I am also doing my best to majorly reduce general waste around the studio. I would love to eventually become completely zero-waste and closed circuit, but I think that comes with time. I am not that far off though!”
Launching her brand during the pandemic has, of course, come with its own unique set of drawbacks. “The pandemic allowed me to focus my energies enough to launch the brand,” she tells me, “so I do have to be grateful in that way, however it has made things like organising photo shoots, having fit sessions and product testing that much more difficult. Ultimately though, it has just made me much more resourceful, and much more patient. I have to keep reminding myself that I could only do so much in terms of presenting things online because of these limitations.”
“I can’t wait to be able to do another show though, as London Fashion Week was definitely the best day of my entire life! I really want to have the chance to make an impact with people I suppose, and I feel like I have so much to say as a designer. EROSA has given me the opportunity to start sharing that, and my goal is to push the brand as far as I can, and hopefully reach more customers and begin to change their minds about what fashion can be.”
Photography © EROSA / Simon Lacon, used with permission.