Deemed “the single-use plastic of the fashion industry”, sequins are catching our attention more than ever. We chat to one company developing the first ever sustainable solution to this huge problem.
“I wanted to work with something that was sparkly and bright and sustainable.”
Rachel Clowes’ embellishment brand, The Sustainable Sequin Company, offers up a sustainable option to the fashion market. We talk to this incredible female founder about how the idea came about, the future of the brand and, most importantly, how to get hold of these beautiful embellishments.
In this video you’ll learn:
- The adverse effects of traditionally manufactured sequins
- How sequin production can be developed to be more sustainable
- Recyclable materials suitable for sequins
- What’s next for the business of sustainable embellishments
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Rachel Clowes studied embroidery at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her dissertation addressed sustainability, but her practice didn’t incorporate it. Moving to the London College of Fashion as an embroidery technician, Rachel became involved in green activities, but her practice still didn’t address sustainable issues. Wanting to see how she could combine the two, Rachel decided to study for an MA in Fashion and the Environment, where she focused on sequins.
“I wanted to work with something that was sparkly and bright and sustainable”.
During the MA, she developed a dissolvable sequin that could be applied to a dress. Designed to be worn to a special event, once the consumer had finished with the piece they could wash it, at which point the sequins would dissolve, leaving a natural dye colour behind and dyeing the garment to turn it into an everyday, wearable article of dress.
About the plastic pollution problem, the issue with sequins Rachel is trying to solve:
“Sequins are the single-use plastic of the fashion industry.”
As they are often made with PVC, this causes problems throughout the manufacture, use and then disposal processes.
A sequinned garment won’t often get many wears – as they are usually party pieces and people don’t want to be “seen” in them more than once.
Is there anything being done at the moment to counteract their impact?
There is no reason they can’t be recycled, particularly the purely PET plastic ones. The fabrics and trims would have to be a pure PET fibre but there is no reason they couldn’t be recycled in a “closed-loop”.
Rachel’s sustainable sequins
All Rachel’s sequins are recycled PET, which is a better option than the materials currently widely used to produce sequins. The use of PET plastic means they’re not (currently) using virgin oils to create them, and the use of greenhouse gases is reduced in comparison to other plastics. Rachel’s sequin can be cut and made in a vast variety of colours and shapes.
Rachel has also been investigating the wastage from the manufacturing process. Some waste is unavoidable, but this is being minimised as much as possible, and the waste film is being used for other applications. Eventually, this waste could be recycled back into making more beads or sequins.
Sublimation printing (using heat to transfer dyes) is also possible for these sequins, so it’s possible to create any colour or pattern.
Rachel is also working to expand into biodegradable sequins, currently in development with Bangor University.
During her MA, Rachel experimented with different recipes for bioplastics. She made sure all the ingredients were vegan and also contained no oil.
- Running a business with two small children is difficult!
- Reducing the waste in making the sequins was very challenging. The machine couldn’t cope with the intricate designs, so Rachel found she was making more waste at first.
- Getting the punching machines up to the studio was also a logistical challenge!
Working with Gucci
Gucci wanted a few custom colours to create a dress for The Green Carpet Awards, which was worn by Hari Nef. The process was particularly interesting because Rachel had been guessing at what the industry would want, but as it turned out, what they wanted was something completely different. Rachel has some other exciting collaborations in the pipeline at the moment.
What’s next for the business?
Rachel is excited about producing bioplastic sequins from ethically-sourced, renewable materials and getting them to market. She’s also working on helping to create products that biodegrade at the end of their life.
What should people do with their existing sequins?
If you use Rachel’s sequins and you’re done with them, they are rPET, which means you should be able to recycle them at a specialist recycling centre.
If you have existing sequins, the best thing to do is to send them to charity shops, or remove them – just stop them from heading to landfill! They are unlikely to be recyclable, as they may contain PVC.