Pharrell Williams may be best known for his uplifting hit song Happy, or for his fondness for oversize hats (a hat made in Luton, I hear from the local hat-making fraternity) His interest in sustainability is less known, but Williams also happens to be the owner and creative director of an innovative fashion fabrics company called Bionic Yarn.
Bionic specialises in fabrics and yarn made from recycled materials, and they’ve recently partnered with G-Star Raw clothing to launch a range of jeans called Raw for the Oceans – the world’s first jeans to be made from ocean plastics. They go on sale to the general public in August, but they’ve already got plenty of attention, winning the product design Grand Prix in Cannes. (No, I didn’t know there was a Cannes prize for product design either. This year’s was the first.)
The jeans are the end product of a larger partnership called the Vortex Project. This ambitious initiative starts with marine organisations such as Sea Shepherd and the Plastic Pollution Coalition, who harvest plastic from the oceans. Bionic then blend it with cotton to process it into fabrics and yarn. Partnerships with fashion brands will then see the fabric used in clothing, shoes, furniture and luggage. G-Star is the first, with the equivalent of seven plastic bottles in each pair of jeans. Adidas have just signed up, and more will follow. If Pharrell calls, after all, you pick up.
Harvesting plastic from the seas is not particularly easy or cheap, so we’ll have to wait and see how the economics work out. So far bionic have been using PET bottles that wash up on beaches, along with more usual recycling channels. They ultimately aim to harvest plastics directly from the water. Ecover have been trying something similar, you may remember, but they’re using plastics from fishermen rather than specifically targeting the trash vortex.
“I didn’t want to dedicate my life to wearing Birkenstocks. I’m not a tree hugger,” says Williams of his interest in sustainability. “When someone tells you that something’s sustainable, you think it’s going to feel like cardboard. The only way to dispel that is to express the cool.”
Fair enough, and as an influential player in music and fashion, it’s great to see Pharrell championing sustainable materials – even if, as a committed Birkenstock wearer myself, his jeans are likely to be too cool for me.