"It was a great surprise to have been invited by the editor to contribute to one of the defining journals of world fashion—a surprise owing to the fact that I am not entirely sure I fit the description of being "fashionable." Sometimes there have been those generous enough to call me "well dressed," but if they knew how much of what I wear is many years, even decades, old….
I have a passion for reusing things and repairing them (think of all the new small-business opportunities this presents). On the whole, the older some things are, the more comfortable and familiar they become; they can even be adapted to look new in a different context. For example, someone has been imaginative enough to make sets of cuff links out of the previous engine from my 40-year-old Aston Martin and to sell them in aid of my Trust for young people. I even have a pair of shoes made from bales of leather salvaged from an eighteenth-century wreck off the Southwest of Britain. They are totally indestructible and will see me out.
Not so long ago, wearing old or secondhand clothes—never mind recycled ancient artifacts—tended to be an embarrassment to many, and yet now "vintage" outfits are seen on red carpets all over the world. This sets a trend that others follow, and in Britain, secondhand shops and "upcycling"—taking old clothes and refashioning them with a modern twist—have become hugely popular. This is a perfect example of why I believe fashion has a role to play in helping to confront some of the environmental challenges we face. For this trend is not only about an attraction for retro design and the charm of the old, it is very much about the future.
It is clear that on every front mankind is overexploiting nature; the more we waste, the more we have to use our irreplaceable natural resources and prejudice the lives of our grandchildren. This can be seen in the depletion of our ocean's fish stocks, not to mention the destruction of the world's rain forests. When you add the threat of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions, few can doubt that our lifestyles will need to change if we are to avoid environmental catastrophe.
Unfortunately, up until now the central message of change has largely been communicated in negative terms—we have been told endlessly what we should not be doing, rather than what we should be doing. What we have failed to do is explain to people the benefits, for them and the planet, of adopting a more sustainable lifestyle.
This is where the fashion industry can help. Vintage clothes and upcycling are just the start because they save scarce resources and avoid waste. The great strength of the fashion world is that it knows how to make new ideas attractive and to do so rapidly and on a grand scale—something that is essential if collective action is to have a genuine impact on the problems we face. Fashion clearly makes people feel good, but now it has to do the world good, too, by contributing to the creation of a virtuous circle, with nature protected at the center. An excellent example of this is the use of wool for clothing. It is natural and renewable, it has a far smaller environmental footprint and is far less flammable than man-made fibers, and it is fully recyclable. I have already started promoting the rediscovery and reuse of wool and will, later this year, be launching a campaign for wool in partnership with designers and retailers to try to persuade people that this natural fiber is infinitely more "sustainable" than artificial fibers made from oil derivatives.
It is this sense of a sustainability revolution's being a "good thing" that inspired my new project, called simply Start. Start is about showing people the easy steps they can take to tread more lightly on our planet; and where better for Vogue readers to start than with what they wear? Leading designers are already producing clothes that are appealing, genuinely desirable, and, most important, don't harm the environment. Those who design these fine things and those who wear them can make a huge, positive, and long-lasting impact on the environment.
I hope many more people will see how solutions that work with nature rather than against her will make our lives richer and more fulfilled than we can possibly imagine. I can only urge you to join me in making a Start in this way, and if by chance you find yourself in London this September, when we are opening up the gardens of Clarence House for a twelve-day sustainability festival complete with a fashion show, please come and see the modest beginning that we are working on here."
For more information, go to startuk.org.