#WeAreTesting Sustainable Venues: Sisu London Rooftop Retreat

Bag-laden Oxford Street shoppers can rejoice this summer, for finally a rooftop retreat has opened that doesn’t involve navigating the perfume section of John Lewis. A security man, an un-marked door and four flights of stairs are the only things lying between you and your next summer drinking hole, but is it worth the climb? 

Words: Kyra Hanson @kyra_sian

Sisu London off Oxford Street. 

Sisu London off Oxford Street. 

Sisu describes itself as a 'utilitarian nature reserve' with a 'greenhouse' restaurant offering 'organic vibes' and 'Scandinavian surrounds'. After reading the press release I was all but ready to grab some binoculars and settle in for a bird watching session. However, rather than the 'smörgåsbord of leafy green plants' promised, the spider plants were dry as a bone and the poor potted plants on our table were dead beyond recognition. The shrivelled leaves flaked off in my hand as I sipped a very strong Old Fashioned from the coin-operated cocktail tap – the most expensive drinks vending machine you’ll encounter at £8 a token. So, nil pois for green fingered bar staff.

If it’s cocktails you’re after opt for the Swizzle, a fizzy mix of Appleton Estate Signature blend, pineapple juice and Velvet Falernum (a spiced-citrusy-sweet liqueur). It’s a little on the sweet side but doesn’t arrive in a jam jar, so you get more booze for your buck. There’s also a drinks selection from Camden Town Brewery. Food was perfect for a light bite but I wouldn’t recommend turning up here ravenous. Before ordering, I searched the food and drinks menu for those 'organic vibes' to no avail. The aubergine taco with chili and fried onions would have benefitted from some sauce. The cauliflower cheese arancini was tasty but titchy, at least the chicken waffle was free range.

We were informed via email “the whole menu is not entirely organic, however the food mainly uses organic ingredients, and the drinks also strive to use organic produce whenever possible.” If this is the case why not make mention of it on the menu? Surely it’s a selling point for the health conscious, eco-consumers of today?

This rooftop is surrounded by taller buildings, which hogged the sun on our visit, however the RetrEAT (design by DENLDN) was a welcome addition. More shed than greenhouse (it being constructed of wood not glass), the thick blankets, chilled playlist and use of natural materials did manage to meet the relaxed, Scandi-cool brief. Heated concrete seating was a nice surprise though not exactly ethical. And there are two tiny toilets in which no matter where you stand you will set off the hair dryer.    

"More shed than greenhouse (it being constructed of wood not glass), the thick blankets, chilled playlist and use of natural materials did manage to meet the relaxed, Scandi-cool brief." 

So, does Sisu get any sustainability points at all? Well, we were told the plates are biodegradable and the furniture has been upcycled by the Sisu team. This is a well-located urban hideaway, which you’d be pleased to stumble across after navigating the snap-happy tourists and queues of Primark shoppers below, just don’t turn up for the organic vibes. 

Sisu serves food and drink between noon and 10pm every day, from now until late September.

http://www.sisu.london/

Textile Designer Nelly Rose: Honouring Global Artisanship with a Voice

For the London-based textile designer Nelly Rose, on top of placing elements of traditional craftsmanship and up-cycling in the centre of her eccentric textile artwork, the power of collaboration is key. The main themes running through her expressive textile lines are female empowerment and creating a ‘voice’ through her conscious craftsmanship. Nelly Rose is extremely concerned about the de-valuing and vanishing of traditional techniques that should be cherished and preserved instead. Through her vibrant, empowering prints — forever, if we may.

Photo by  Marilu Venditti.  

Photo by Marilu Venditti.  

What led you to sustainable approach in textile design? How unique is your approach in London vs on a wider, global scale? 

I have studied Print, Knitwear and Embellishment, and all of these have led me to make more conscious decisions about the materials I was using and where the techniques derived from. In London, my approach is very much inspired by the concept of 'upcycling' and DIY-culture. On a global scale, my work is lead by my curiosity and passion for handcrafts and discovering their origin; nothing excites me more than being able to include them in my collections. I am currently exploring Japan, absorbing the culture and discovering all kinds of beautiful craftsmanship [from the region].

What are the values your brand encompasses? What are the main themes you are keen to explore? 

My values as a brand lie in working on projects which focus around female empowerment and creating a voice through a creative medium. I have worked in various projects from ‘shop window stitch-ins’, raising awareness about the Rana Plaza factory collapse, to the first modest wear runway collection in the UK made entirely in artisan houses in Indonesia.  

I tend to use a lot of typography in my work, which I guess contributes to the idea of raising a ‘voice’. Overall, the main themes I explore in my work are: Handcraft, Messages and Storylines, Protest and Equality, Printed Textiles, Creative Campaigns.  

"The brand I strive to create is my expressive vision of what I consider to be ethical in my own way, whilst still being loud, bold and a little eccentric." 

Photo by  Marilu Venditti.  

Photo by Marilu Venditti.  

How does Nelly Rose as a person and as a brand differ, if at all?  

Interesting question! I would say my personality as Nelly Rose mainly focuses on networking and bringing people together, who have similar mindsets about changing the world in creative ways. I guess Nelly Rose is my rainbow vision, my compassion and my voice.  The brand I strive to create is my expressive vision of what I consider to be ethical in my own way, whilst still being loud, bold and a little eccentric.  

Your work was recently showcased at the Green Fashion Week in Milan. What does the experience mean to you? 

Green Fashion Week was a brilliant experience as it fused together my interest in global climate change, as well as having fashion at the forefront.  The new collection I showed was of hand painted up-cycled garments, ranging from denim to leather, which I salvaged from a textile waste plant.  My highlight of the experience was the photo shoot I directed at the Bosco Verticale alongside designer Silvia Giovanardi. It fused the relationship between sustainable fashion and architecture, and it was very inspiring to witness my work being a part of that. 

Although I love the ‘calendar’ fashion weeks, I also have to express my love and connection to other global fashion events such as AFWL (Africa Fashion Week London) and the recently participated in GFW. I find that there is an open dialogue and a more personal level of fashion presented.  

"I tend to use a lot of typography in my work, which I guess contributes to the idea of raising a ‘voice’."

Photo by   Marilu Venditti.  

Photo by Marilu Venditti.  

What are the most meaningful collaborations you have done so far? What do you consider perhaps your biggest accomplishment? 

I consider my biggest accomplishment to date the Co-Identity collection which has been showed at the Jakarta Fashion Week and then London Fashion week via Fashion Scout. The collection was a collaboration with Dian Pelangi and Odette Steele in which involved fully immersing myself in Indonesia as an inhabitant and creating the textiles for the full 24 Looks of Modest Womenswear. These consisted of fully hand rendered techniques ranging from hand painted gowns, Batik and Songket weaving.  

Making of: Nelly Rose Artisanal Textiles. 

Making of: Nelly Rose Artisanal Textiles. 

What irritates you about the fast fashion industry? Why do we need a slower approach? 

The fast fashion industry irritates me mainly because of mass consumption and the de-valuing and plagiarising of traditional techniques.  I believe in a slower approach to prevent the de-humanisation of garment workers in the supply chain, thus preventing the capitalisation of poverty.  We take such an avid interest in the ingredients that go into our body or our pharmaceuticals, so I don’t understand why we don’t have the same mindset about what we wear on our skin.  The industry deliberately makes it hard to question, and easy to ignore, so it is imperative we constantly ask #whomademyclothes.  

Do you personally feel it is more difficult to deliver work using ethical and artisanal approach? 

I believe that in order to deliver a luxury product, there should be a transparent process. In my personal work, the initial process is more difficult, as it can be more costly as a young emerging designer; however I am constantly trying to inform myself in ways I can maximise the artisanal approach. I have a vision of working with artisan communities across the world to collaborate on beautiful creative outcomes, and I will carry on finding the most efficient ways to deliver these collaborations.  

"The fast fashion industry irritates me mainly because of mass consumption and the de-valuing and plagiarising of traditional techniques." 

 Nelly Rose, credits: Laila Cohen / Imprint Magazine. 

 Nelly Rose, credits: Laila Cohen / Imprint Magazine. 

How would you categorise yourself in the fashion world? What's the most important message you aim to deliver as an artist? 

I predominantly refer to myself as a designer because I like to create wearable pieces which tell a story. However, as designer refers to the process prior to a piece being created, I also refer to myself as a creative director because I love to work with a concept in various forms, such as film and installation. Ultimately, I aim to deliver an outcome through the power of collaboration, which reflects the journey and honours the craft. 

http://www.nelly-rose.com

Les Sublimes: Pairing the 'Ethics' with Parisian Chic

Apparently, organic has been a thing in French women’s grocery lists for years, but what does it take to introduce the word ‘organic’ into their everyday fashion choices? Sometimes the answer lies in an accidental research trip to the Himalayas in Nepal, during which long-term friends Kachen Hong and Alexis Assoignon experienced their own Eureka! moment, leading them a step closer to revolutionising the world of wardrobe staples in France. Les Sublimes surely serves as a complement filling in the gaps in the quintessential, timeless 'Parisian chic' style directory…in a delicately sublime way. 

Les Sublimes A/W16 Campaign

Les Sublimes A/W16 Campaign

What does Les Sublimes represent?

Co-founder Alexis Assoignon: Les Sublimes is France’s first sustainable luxury brand sold exclusively online. Les Sublimes is a brand that doesn’t make you compromise on your needs, while also making you look and feel good on the inside and out. That is what we define as being Sublimes: the combination of inner and outer beauty.

What are the ethical principles you have incorporated into your brand?

[When creating Les Sublimes] we were driven by a desire to improve environmental and social conditions around the world, as well as a desire to create sustainable wardrobe alternatives that we wanted and couldn’t find in the marketplace. In fact, no one in France is making the everyday clothing pieces — those items that make up 80% of our wardrobes — in a socially-fair and eco-friendly way. We were sick of having to choose between style, affordability, comfort, quality and ethics.

As a responsible company, we integrate ethics and transparency into every element of our business, from design and production, to corporate culture and customer service.

What’s the personal story that links together the creation of Les Sublimes?

My co-founder Kachen Hong and I have been good friends for over 10 years (we met while studying at Sciences Po Paris). In 2014 we both quit our jobs and met in Nepal for 2 weeks. We had both been thinking about starting something of our own in our respective fields (Kachen, a Consultant in sustainable consumption and Alexis, a fashion Account Executive), but we weren’t sure where to start. 

Les Sublimes: Alexis Assoignon and Kachen Hong

Les Sublimes: Alexis Assoignon and Kachen Hong

In Nepal everything started falling into place. There were long, scenic treks with lots of time to talk and share ideas. We also went to visit a group of Tibetan refugees spinning yarn for weaving and a small group knitters making sweaters in a remote village. We saw the women working so hard, for so many hours, and earning so little. Less than a $1 per day! We could see firsthand the immense need for better quality jobs and living wages. Speaking with the women, they felt hopeless about their employment situation. We quickly discovered that by marrying our own skills in fashion and sustainability, we could create a solution for these women in underprivileged communities, and also solve a personal problem — the lack of desirable and ethical, yet affordable fashion in the marketplace. So, in the misty landscapes of the Himalayas, Les Sublimes, a lifestyle brand for worldly women with big hearts, was born.

View of the Himalayas

View of the Himalayas

Tibetan refugee spinning yarn

Tibetan refugee spinning yarn

I see every new startup as a collective effort, no single person can change the world alone. Bring an example of the power of teamwork. 

I couldn’t agree more. Within the Les Sublimes team itself we choose to hire based on personality and purpose rather than a fancy resume or a corporate background. Because everyone on board is motivated by something bigger than themselves, the dynamics of the team are totally different. The work will always be rewarding because we share a common goal of making a difference. We also recognise that every person on the team has value. 

“We quickly discovered that by marrying our own skills in fashion and sustainability, we could create a solution for these women in underprivileged communities…[…]. So, in the misty landscapes of the Himalayas, Les Sublimes, a lifestyle brand for worldly women with big hearts, was born.”

We also believe that there is enough room on this planet for all of our [like-minded] businesses to thrive. So if we can work with our fellow entrepreneurs to reach our collective goals, then we are all better off. That’s one of the reasons why we choose to be fully transparent as a brand.

Describe your personal style. How is sustainability represented in your personal wardrobe choices?

My style is a mix of modern West Coast staples and effortless Parisian classics. I love to dress in something easy and comfortable, but still look chic and presentable in the city. Influenced by French dressing, I’ve always taken a position of quality over quantity, investing in well-made classics and essentials that I can easily mix and match with other items in my wardrobe. My mom always took me along to second-hand stores growing up, showing me how to find hidden gems at bargain prices. Nowadays I have taken my values a step further by actively seeking out products and brands that are environmentally fair. But the options are still limited, which is one of the motivating factors behind creating Les Sublimes.

“For me personally, living sustainably is about taking baby steps and slowly shifting to a more conscious lifestyle. I don’t try to be militant about it, because it can be overwhelming.”

What would you say about a typical French woman’s style in that respect — are they into sustainable choices, or it's only now that this mindset is starting to ingrain?

We were surprised to discover that France is definitely behind other markets, such as Canada, the U.S., Germany and Scandinavia, when it comes to shopping consciously. The French care a lot about the quality of their foods, and eating organic has quickly become a trend here. But as far as that expands into fashion, they are still learning. On the flip side, however, French women naturally shop with a philosophy of quality over quantity. So in terms of consuming less, they trump North Americans any day. They prefer to invest in high quality pieces from brands they trust, and take care of those items, so that they will last for years to come. The bulk of her wardrobe is very thoughtfully curated.

How does Paris as a city inspire your work?

Paris is an inspiring city - there are so many incredible museums, exhibits, shops, restaurants and monuments; it’s almost hard to stay focused on any single aesthetic! One trip to the Louvre and you want to introduce Roman inspirited jewellery, the next day you’re dreaming about empire waist dresses.

Les Sublimes A/W16 Campaign

Les Sublimes A/W16 Campaign

 What are the 100% natural gems on your beauty counter? Reveal us a secret conscious brand we all should know about.

I learned a lot about natural beauty products when I spent 2 months travelling through India a few years ago. I discovered great oils that can be used on the hair, skin, face, eyelashes — and they work better than any fancy cream. My favourite is almond oil. It’s the same stuff you cook with. You can buy a large bottle for a few dollars in any Indian supermarket, or for a bit more at your local grocery store. Nothing keeps my legs moisturised during those dry winter months like almond oil, and it even keeps me warmer, preventing a chill.

What's your attitude towards negative connotations linked to ethical fashion? Do you feel that ethical fashion still sustains the absence of glamour? 

I do think that ethical fashion is still perceived by many people as being unglamorous – I call it folk festival chic. The public perception is that ethical fashion is unattractive, avant-garde, hippie-esque, or super ethnic. Products are rough, poorly packaged and overpriced because they are labeled ‘organic’. But this is definitely shifting. There are so many incredible brands emerging that are disrupting this old attitude towards sustainable products. And we are here to help the movement along.

“One trip to the Louvre and you want to introduce Roman inspirited jewellery, the next day you’re dreaming about empire waist dresses.”

What are the widely circulating attitudes about ethical fashion in France now?

Honestly, there isn’t much of a discussion at all yet. It’s still fairly new in France. The food industry has become a hot topic these past few years. Recently supermarkets have banned plastic bags, and the government has just put a stop to disposable cups and plates. There are so many organic grocery stores popping up everywhere and the supermarkets now offer a great assortment of organic foods. The bus system in Paris is going completely electric as well. So I think ethical fashion will be the next big thing.

Les Sublimes A/W16 Campaign

Les Sublimes A/W16 Campaign

What's the hardest part in this process of promoting sustainable fashion? 

One of our biggest challenges is educating the consumer that doesn’t already actively pursue a sustainable lifestyle. She may not have ever thought about shopping differently or doesn’t realise the impact of her conventional purchases. But once she understands, there is a permanent, albeit slow, shift in her buying habits. 

We realised early on that most shoppers see ethics as a bonus, not as a driving force behind their purchasing decisions. That’s why we are focused on developing this concept of no compromise consumption — so that she doesn’t have to choose between integrity and everything else.

Les Sublimes A/W16 Campaign

Les Sublimes A/W16 Campaign

How are sustainability principles incorporated into your own everyday?

For me personally, living sustainably is about taking baby steps and slowly shifting to a more conscious lifestyle. I don’t try to be militant about it, because it can be overwhelming. I choose to live simply, in a small apartment, with less — which incidentally also means I save money and have less stuff to clean, manage and store. I recycle, reduce my energy consumption, walk or bike when I go out, buy organic at the supermarket, eat less meat and dairy, and invest in quality, durable products. In the end, leading a sustainable lifestyle generally leads to less stress, better health, more time and saving money. It just takes a little time to get there.

If you could introduce only one major change into the fashion industry today, what would it be?

Tough question! If I had to choose, I think we must put a stop to the pollution caused by factories that is destroying the environment. The devastation that results from processing and dying our garments is beyond control. As passionate as I am about supporting workers’ rights, I can’t ignore the urgent need to slow down climate change.  Nature has no voice and we are running out of time!

https://www.les-sublimes.com