A curiosity about fabric is what sets her brand apart, says fashion designer Emma Longden. Her team, she says, “is always learning about textiles”. Since the ethos of Cape Town-based Sitting Pretty is based on environmental awareness, ethical trading and integrity, Emma uses eco-friendly and natural fabrics. Despite the challenges of sourcing these fabrics in South Africa, hemp, organic cotton, mohair and linen feature strongly in Sitting Pretty’s AW18 collection.
“Denim jeans were first produced in hemp due to its resilience and the fact that it actually wears better over time. But so many people still confuse the word ‘hemp’ with cannabis. It’s important to realise that hemp can be a major game changer for our world if used to its full potential.”
Hemp is one of the strongest and most durable of the natural fibres, and can be easily blended and mixed with other fibers to produce a ‘hemp-hybrid’ type of material. By blending hemp fibres, and adding the comfort of a softer, more refined fibre like organic cotton, the result is aesthetically beautiful and it retains its resilience. “It gives you a thick enough fabric for winter but still has a soft drape to it,” says Emma.
Absolutely nothing is wasted in the production process of the easily-grown hemp. This applies to linen too. “The linen we use in our range is made from the flax plant and much like hemp, it also uses far less water than cotton and the whole plant is used – again, no waste, ” says Emma.
Most organic cotton products are extremely soft due to the lack of harsh chemicals, dyes and bleaches added to the fabric. Without the application of anti-wrinkle chemicals which are used in conventionally produced cotton products, the garments feel softer and are comfortable to wear. “The cotton sourced for the knitwear in our latest range is 100% local and grown in Limpopo,” says Emma. Hemp and organic cotton are more costly than other fabrics, but the quality is good and it lasts.
“We predominantly use a hemp/ organic cotton knit mix from Hemporium. The summer weight fabric is perfect for T-shirts, and the winter weight option is ideal for tops in our winter range. It wears amazingly. My hemp tops are something I’ll never part with as they just get better and better with age. It’s a fabric that becomes softer, wearing in instead of wearing out.”
Emma also uses mohair produced in the Karoo* for knitwear and likes that the silk-like yarn made from the hair of the Angora goat is durable.
“We work with famers in the Karoo to ensure our mohair is sustainably sourced and that the knitwear is produced ethically. If the animals are stressed the hair becomes coarse and brittle, which is bad news for the farmers as it affects the quality of the product. I do trust that what I am getting from my knitwear supplier is as ethical as they claim to be because the yarn is very high quality. That said, I do believe we all need to take responsibility and look into where our mohair is coming from.”
Which is Emma’s favourite fabric? “Hemp. It has really grown on me and I love wearing it. It’s insulation properties are amazing and if you’re someone who is always cold, it’s perfect as you only have to wear one layer. Working with natural fabrics was a turning point for me, especially when I realised how they just knock acrylic out the park.”
What are Emma’s hopes for ethical fashion in South Africa?
“In five years, I hope to see more awareness around eco-fashion, but there’s a massive education drive that’s required, and this is the only thing that will result in a change in behavior. This is what I’m passionate about. I want people to buy my stuff because they love it and know it will last; I don’t want them to buy every garment in my range — that’s unnecessary consumerism.
“Clothing made from natural fibers may feel expensive, but it’s a better investment in the long run, and a better investment in the environment,” says Emma.
*Sitting Pretty works with The Strucken Group of companies who are committed to the establishment of fully traceable and sustainable South African mohair clip, supported by sustainable manufacturing practices that provide confidence to their clients and ultimately to the final consumers that mohair is an extraordinary, renewable and ethically produced fibre.
Photo credits: Images supplied (from Sitting Pretty’s lookbook / AW2018 collection)