British Designers Use Weeds From Prince Charles' Garden to Create Sustainable Fashion Line

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Charles, Prince of Wales

"It's very humbling to see someone so passionate about the environment," says fashion designer Omi of the label Vin + Omi, which has created ten styles made of 3,000 nettles from the Highgrove Royal Gardens for an eco-friendly collection to debut at London Fashion Week.

It all started with a casual comment, reportedly made in an attempt, at the time, to defer questions about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s upcoming wedding. But a few words uttered by Prince Charles at a tea last May with members of the British design industry (including design duo Vin + Omi) in support of the British Fashion Council's Positive Fashion initiative put into motion a line of clothing that takes sustainability to a whole new level. 

"It’s so surreal," says Omi, who talked to The Hollywood Reporter by phone from London and, like Vim, goes only by his first name. "We were invited for tea with His Royal Highness, and it was just a passing comment he made, where he suggested using nettles from his estate and turning them into clothes. It was over tea — we thought nothing of it. Then the next thing you know, we were down on his estate, collecting weeds. It went from zero to 100 very quickly!" 

After the conversation about the nettles — Prince Charles said he had "lots" of them — an invitation arrived from the official residence of Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, Clarence House, for Vin + Omi to harvest nettles directly from their back garden, known as Highgrove Royal Gardens. A year later, the designers, whose eco-friendly, avant-garde style has found fans in the likes of Michelle Obama and Beyonce, are ready to show the fruits of their labor.

Their collection, Sting, features ten pieces that will debut at the end of London Fashion Week later this month. The duo promises "a very British affair" when the show takes place on Sept. 17 at London’s Savoy Hotel, where the hotel’s doormen wear Vin + Omi uniforms made from fabric created out of the hotel’s own plastic waste.

Up until the chat with Prince Charles, Vin + Omi had been creating clothes woven from cow parsley and discarded bottles, as they showed in their spring/summer 2020 collection. "We’ve been experimenting with various techniques," says Omi about what it’s like to work with nettles as a fabric. "It’s a cross between a general fabric and a hybrid. It’s not necessarily something you would expect a fabric to look like. It’s not like you’ll recognize it as nettle when you see it on the catwalk in two weeks’ time."

Although the collaboration may seem surprising to some, Prince Charles, as patron of Garden Organic UK and the Soil Association, has developed a reputation for being passionate about organic gardening. "He’s very hands-on with what’s happening with the plants, and he’s very involved with his estate," says Omi. "He has always been a pioneer in eco-projects and a great supporter of environmental issues. We’ve been doing this for 17 years, but he’s been doing this for 25 years — looking at sustainable approaches and green energy."

While the aesthetic of Vin + Omi may make the pairing seem, at first glance, to be an unlikely one, Omi points to the beliefs the designers share with the 70-year-old heir to the British throne. "There is a synergy between how we look at the environment. It’s nice to have the opportunity to harvest from Highgrove. The association with Highgrove gives the ideology that we have about the environment a wider push," he says.

"The thing we learned about working with someone with of the status of His Royal Highness is that he is really well informed," adds Omi. "You would think someone who is so high up wouldn’t necessarily have all these cares and concerns for the environment, so it's quite humbling. His team is really well informed, too, with the plants and all the properties that go with them. We widened our knowledge about what the possibilities are of working with these species of plants."

Vin + Omi have been pushing sustainable approaches to the business of fashion since 2004, when they started developing eco-fabrics and supporting local communities. But they admit they still have a long way to go. "It’s still a struggle over here [in the U.K.] with the institutions and governing bodies that tend to skirt around sustainability issues with ethical fashion," Omi says. He wishes they had more support from the British Fashion Council on their sustainability efforts.

But he adds that stars like Debbie Harry, who walked in their show last year, help with spreading their message. At the upcoming show, British Olympic stars will wear the designs. "Our shows usually have a lot of celebrities involved," says Omi. "Debbie Harry is one of our best friends. There is a lot of support from celebrities because they all support the environment. It’s like a family affair when the celebrities turn up. I think when we say [our aesthetic is] Camden punk, we don’t mean we are that. We mean it’s a family unit, like back in the day where everybody gets together for a greater cause. It’s nice to have those people who support the ideology."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Omi says he and Vin don’t actually consider themselves fashion designers. "It’s just a medium we use, just like an artist uses pen and paper," he explains. "Because fashion touches everybody — even before you’re born, your mum is choosing your clothes for you. We use fashion as a language to bring a very important issue out. Also, fashion is the second- largest contributor to landfill and the environment."

As part of the collection, Vin + Omi partnered with art supply brand Daler-Rowney. "We are reutilizing their paint plastic tubes and turning them into fabric, so we’re helping with their waste issues. Then we have our own linen, which we grow in our fields, and we’re also up-cycling denim, to stop it from going to landfills. We want to stop old garments from ending up in the incinerator,” Omi says. The collection will also feature biodegradable latex. "Everything has been carefully thought out," says Omi. "The amount of attention we’ve been receiving ahead of the show is quite humbling. From Nigeria, Australia, it's been really crazy. We’re expecting a really crazy, big show."

Omi says the duo plans to send pieces to Prince Charles, who has been sending them letters of encouragement, "as a gesture of thank you." A piece from the collection is also going to the Victoria and Alfred Museum. "It’s nice that they will have a piece in their archive permanently for public viewing," Omi says. "The public will be able to go and see and realize that 'Wow, this is what you can do with nature.'"