HRH Prince of Wales Talks to Edward Enninful about his lifelong commitment to sustainable fashion

Edward Enninful: Your Majesty, I am happy and honored to speak to you today. I wanted to start by asking you about your commitment to ongoing fashion. Your mantra says, “Buy once, buy well.” Do you always take this route to your closet?

HRH Prince of Wales: Yes, I am one of those people who hates to throw away anything. Therefore, I prefer to keep them, or patched them if necessary, rather than leave them. The difficulty is, as you grow older, you tend to change shape, and it is not so easy to get into clothes. I can’t carry any waste, including food waste; I would love to get another use. That’s why I’ve been going on for so long about the need for a round economy, rather than being a line where you just do it, take it and throw it away – which is a disaster, because we definitely use too much natural resources to get rid of it quickly.

So tell me, where did the idea for The Modern Artisan come from? And why did it attract you?

Well, two or three years ago, my wife and I went to visit the headquarters of Yoox Net-a-Porter. It was there that I met Federico Marchetti.

I was there.

Do You Remember? Who I found most interesting. I said to him once, “You should come and see what we are doing at Dumfries House,” because we were going to start a textile training project with high fashion skills and sewing skills. As you know better than I do, these things are still young and young, because the older generation is nearing the end of its working life, and not enough attention – sadly, I have always felt – in vocational education. So I was talking to him about it. He came to Dumfries House, saw what we were doing, and talked about it – and that’s where the idea came from, to connect Italian design students in Politecnico di Milano with students here in Scotland; that link with Italy is very critical, I think.

Modern Artisan trainees will soon be launching their first collection of men’s and women’s clothing, called Yoox Net-a-Porter of the Prince’s Foundation, online. Have you been able to see their makeup?

Yes, I just saw them today with Federico. And since I haven’t seen them since the beginning of the year, it was interesting to see the full collection. And it was interesting to see what they could do and how their skills improved; for what was difficult for them at first has almost become second nature. I felt very proud of what they were able to produce. There are some very good pieces, and I will be interested to see how this collection goes and what the answer is. But the good thing is that now they all start their own businesses or continue in different ways. And that’s why we need to help develop these skills, as they continue to be the most important members of the fashion community.

How important is it to you personally, as well as to Britain, to maintain, promote and protect our skills in fashion and textiles?

Yes, it is very important, because the British textile industry is very important. The problem, however, is that it requires continuous investment in young people and in real skills development. We were told when we first arrived at Dumfries House that no one was interested in things like fabrics. And then, when we connected with colleges and got people together, it turned out that there was actually a lot of interest; so we have improved our atelier system to promote the most important traditional skills – whether decorating or sewing or cutting or sewing, all of these things are lacking. And many of the students we train here are taken by local firms – those left in the textile industry. But for me it seems there is a great opportunity, especially now, within the entire sustainable fashion industry, to fight this amazing trend of discarded clothing – or all that discarded, frankly.

That brings us to the importance of a continuous fashion trend within the global agenda of climate change.

And, most important, because, apart from anything else, the value of money made in the clothing industry – what is it now, $ 1.9 trillion worldwide? And they raised $ 3.3 trillion by 2030. At the same time, the textile industry supplies something like 1.2 billion tons of thermal electricity, which is alarming – and surprisingly – surpassing all aviation and shipping sectors. It is therefore important that we fix every problem about how we produce clothes. Many textile processes involve toxic chemicals that are harmful to the environment in a significant way. Then there is all the pollution and garbage disposal in landfills, which is why it is so important if we are to meet these global challenges in terms of global warming and climate change. We must make decarbonise and improve the impact we have on global pollution. There is an exciting development going on, as you know, in new things. I had an interesting conversation with Vin & Omi, two fashion characters I met at the Positive Fashion stage tea, who had been making fabrics with the ornaments they had collected at Highgrove. That eventually became an old-fashioned way of using worms. But the problem is always the processes involved in doing these things. How do we reduce their impact on the environment and health in general? That is a sensitive issue here.

On the right. So tell me about the Sustainable Market Council, which you launched earlier this year.

Yes, that is designed to address the issue of how to build existing solutions, but which have never been prioritized, because they are always considered to be disrespectful to the economy and no one was more interested. But now, after years of trying in this area – almost 40 years for me – suddenly, the interest has grown, at the last minute, when it is almost too late. We have a very short opportunity to deal with each sector of the economy, to determine those sectors with discarbon. But we need to bring our aspirations forward, which is what I am trying to do with the Sustainable Markets Initiative – from zero zero by 2050, to zero zero by 2035. Because otherwise we will win this war completely. And now all of a sudden, big investors and asset managers are all too eager to get involved in these problems. So what we are trying to do is to develop the surrounding tables of companies from different sectors of the economy – whether aviation, transportation, agriculture, whatever – thinking and developing forces.

I look forward to seeing more of that. I always recommend the way you dress, tell me about your style concept. Where does it come from?

I thought I was like a fixed clock – I was sure twice every 24 hours. But no, I mean, I’m very happy when you think it has style. I care about details and colors and things like that – and color combinations. I’m lucky because I can find some really good people who do great things that I love, and as a result, I try to keep them going for a long time.

Like the suit you wore to the wedding of The Duke and the Duchess of Sussex – I think it started in 1984 by Anderson & Sheppard. Have you ever considered wearing a new one?

I have considered it. But as for that morning dress, as long as I keep getting into it, I only wear it a few times a year, in the summer, so obviously you want to keep those kinds of things going. But if I can’t get into them, then I have to do something new. But I’m not sure how different they will be in my age group.

Do you have any advice on proper storage of clothing?

I’m lucky, because there are kind people who help with these things. But yes, I might be one of those people who would get a pair of shoes – or something to wear – if I could, rather than just throw it away. And that is why I think, from an economic point of view, there are great opportunities for people to set up small businesses that are involved in repairs, maintenance and re-use. One of the reasons I have tried here, at Dumfries House, is to start a kind of market that will develop that goal, where you can bring things – whether electrical appliances or whatever – that need to be fixed. When I was a child, we used to take our shoes to motorcyclists in Scotland and watch with interest as he took off his saliva and put on new saliva.

This epidemic has been an opportunity for all of us to think and discover new trends. What does this new standard look like to you? Is there anything you can do differently going forward?

Of course, I hope it will speed up awareness of what we need to do to save our world from disaster. We need to understand that nature and everything on this planet are connected; you can’t do one thing without having an impact elsewhere. We don’t realize half the time that what we eat is produced in a way that causes a lot of pollution, which ends up in the ocean. Everything is invisible and out of mind, but it creates dead spots in the ocean. Therefore, we must cleanse our act. But it can be done. There are good things happening, but we need to measure. That is why I have received the Sustainable Markets Initiative – an attempt to build a global partnership between businesses and banks as well as investments and consumers. Because the consumer has great power in deciding where to buy, and the leading companies will take the lead, we hope, in showing that if you follow the right operating principles, you not only move you to zero but also remove dirt and releases from supply chains. Thirty or more years ago, I decided to look at those companies that applied for my permit, where they put “By Appointment To” outside their store with a coat of arms. And I said, you won’t get my permission unless you comply with the following – in those days, which is a good foundation – natural needs. There were cries of protest and grief and gnashing of teeth all said, “It will ruin our businesses.” I said, “Sorry, we have to do it.” So, they go, they look at their supply chains, they look at the way they do things. Look at them, they come back and say, “Well, actually, it saved us money and made us money – to do it in a better way.”

The epidemic has allowed the natural world to heal a little. As someone who has received COVID-19, are you grateful for at least that silver frame?

Yes, indeed. But the tragedy, as we have heard recently, is that in spite of that, and despite the closure, global warming is still accelerating. And we have not yet been able to deal with this issue, which is very important if we are to avoid total disaster. That is why, it seems to me, that the most important thing now is to buy more time in the battle to make the transition to a more sustainable economy, done by the colonies. Because, again, there are new developments common to carbon capture and the discovery of new carbon uses. But unless we take a lot of extraterrestrial emissions, especially from coal-fired power stations and so on, we will never win this war. We need to put the environment back in the middle of everything we do in a circular economic cycle. Species are disappearing at an alarming rate. We can’t go on like this, but there are solutions, we just need to do it — and now.

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