Alexander McQueen’s creative director Sarah Burton is donating hundreds of feet of unused fabric to fashion design students across the UK to use in their graduate collections. The archive of McQueen fabrics includes the iconic chiffon, tweed, and silks that Burton used in fabricating hundreds of collections during her tenure at the brand.
Not only is the donation a chance for students to be part of a historic legacy, it's also a massive financial gift. Besides university tuition and student housing, design students must also spend tens of thousands of pounds on materials themselves. Burton herself attended Central Saint Martins in London while she began working as an intern under the late Lee Alexander McQueen. “I was so lucky because when I first worked at McQueen, Lee helped me source fabrics for my final collection,” Burton told Vogue. “It’s even harder today, at a time when we all feel precious resources must be properly used.”
This kind of waste-not mentality is part of McQueen’s DNA. In the 24 years Burton has been with McQueen, she’s never seen a single bolt of fabric be thrown away. “The ethos at Alexander McQueen means that everything we use in researching and designing collections has always been archived and stored,” Burton said in a press release. Thanks to Burton, 14 universities across Wales, England, and Scotland have already gained access to McQueen’s unused materials. One University of Westminster design student, Steven Stokey-Daley, has already utilised the archive for his final project, which includes a raglan trench coat in tattersall check, a fabric that the brand previously used to create a now sold-out rose-embellished men’s button-down. “You go into studying fashion fantasising about making your final collection, but you have no idea what it’s going to cost,” Stokey-Daley told Vogue. Before the donation, he calculated that his show could cost him up to £15,000.
In addition to providing a financial cushion, the McQueen donation will also reduce the environmental impact of producing clothing.
Reports from 2018 documented that British fashion house Burberry frequently burns their leftover stock (over £70 million worth) to preserve the exclusivity of its products. The brand has since called it quits on this practice, with creative director Riccardo Tisci leading a large-scale push toward sustainability. Burberry is hardly alone; it’s often more cost-efficient to discard unused fabric than to recycle it. A Pulse Of The Fashion Industry report from 2018 showed that the industry roughly generates 4% of the world’s waste each year. Attempts to offset and neutralise these figures range from large-scale efforts to small but creative gestures: Gucci announced the launch of the CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge in November, and indie brands like Eckhaus Latta have utilized secondhand footwear for shows to show their commitment to sustainability.
In donating leftover fabrics, Alexander McQueen provides another small way for brands to shift towards a more sustainable future. By paying it forward, McQueen is helping a new generation of designers get a leg up, built on the successes of the past.