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From us, to you: Cashmere

COS head of sustainability and brand strategy Francesca Lilley shares her tips on shopping consciously for cashmere and building a lifelong wardrobe that’s better for you – and the planet.

Ever since its launch in 2007, COS has been known for its cashmere. A firm favourite with brand loyalists, it’s both a winter staple and treasured investment. And with the highest-quality fibres being used in production and a fully traceable future on the horizon – there’s about to be even more to love…

With over 10 years at the brand, Francesca Lilley (now COS’s head of sustainability and brand strategy) has put the planet at the heart of both her career and her wardrobe. We spoke to Francesca to find out about shopping responsibly, her most-treasured pieces and how we can all make informed choices for a better future.

‘I have always been a lover of fashion and used clothes to express myself and my creativity. There have been times in the past where I have bought things based on emotions rather than functionality – but I have always tried to buy things that I want to keep forever and have that emotional attachment to. Over the years, and particularly since I’ve worked at COS, I’ve developed a greater understanding of the value of quality.

‘Learning about the impact our industry can have when we do things in a positive way has led me to even more sustainable behaviour in recent years. The more time I spend at COS around production and our sustainability experts, the more I learn. It matters to me that I have a positive impact on the world around me and the people in it – understanding the clothes that I buy have an impact on people’s lives, their ability to live a good life and be looked after.’

‘There’s lots to be done. One of the biggest opportunities I see is the shift from mitigating the challenges that exist, to overcoming and innovating to create new ways of sustaining fashion. I think as an industry we will make the most impact when we can ensure that we’re empowering the customer to take as much responsibility as brands need to. We have a huge responsibility as a business to look after our processes, production and ways of working – but we also need to enable the customer to make those choices. An individual customer alone can’t be held responsible for changing the world; it’s got to be a systemic change.

‘We are a big business and are present in so many countries: when we make better choices, we have a big impact. By working with suppliers that are doing good things – that applies a kind of positive pressure on other brands to make those same changes. If those suppliers can offer that great-quality production to other companies, everybody wins.’

‘An individual can’t be held responsible; it’s got to be a systemic change. When we all make better choices, we have a big impact.’

‘Quality can be hard, expensive and complicated to achieve. Sometimes the materials that the customer really desires have a lot of complexities behind them. But that's one of the exciting things too. With cashmere, for example, we’re now able to produce great quality with good value for money.

‘We need to change perceptions: 10 years ago, for example, there was the idea that sustainable fashion didn’t feel appealing or attractive. People didn’t want a garment that had been repaired because they wanted this idea of perfection. Now we know buying into sustainability isn’t a compromise on style, fashion or quality. We can offer a pre-loved garment, which looks as good as new. When something second-hand looks and feels great, it’s a real testament to that idea of quality.’

‘The production of cashmere has increased in the last few years because demand has increased. We have a responsibility to deliver not only an amazing product, but also to ensure that every person and process that it has touched along the way is high calibre too. For me, luxury is about being able to have a great product that feels luxurious and looks great, but that has been produced in a sustainable way.

‘With recycled cashmere, we’re making sure that we are retaining the value of the original fibre for as long as possible. With traceable cashmere, we can start to expose that journey even more – from the suppliers to the production of the garment itself, as well as the production of the fabric and yarn. We have also partnered with the Good Cashmere Standard to support the local herder community, protect the land and improve animal welfare. We can show that those high standards were present every step along the way and, by sharing this, empower the customer to be able to make more sustainable choices.’

‘For me, luxury is about being able to have a great product that looks great, but that has been produced in a sustainable way.’

‘I have loads of vintage COS pieces in my wardrobe – including a cashmere hoodie from 2009. It’s leisurewear but also makes a great, thin, warm layer to wear under coats. At some point in time it got attacked by moths, but I managed to repair it! It has a bit of a pucker to it, but it’s still perfectly usable. The garment has so many memories for me, I don’t mind that it has a little bit of a story.’

1. ‘Be mindful about consumption. I’m still consuming things, of course, but I’m thinking about what my needs are and aiming to buy things that I will keep for a long time.’

2. ‘Find out how to take care of the clothes you already have. Read more about it and understand what the word “sustainability” really means. Learning about the materials that are available, how they’re made and familiarising yourself with the terminology can be helpful.’

3. ‘Discover the world of garment care, and simple ways to look after your clothes. We all have busy lifestyles, and sometimes it can be tempting to discard or give something to charity when it has a hole, tear or stain. I’ve been improving my sewing skills and trying a lot of different garment care tools. I’m obsessed with my steamer!’

4. ‘Support your community. Use services for alterations, dry cleaning or repairs if you don’t have that knowledge. Our parents or parents’ parents would do this as a matter of course, but it’s sort of died out a little bit. Let’s revive it!’

5. ‘Invest in core pieces. Most of my wardrobe is navy, black and grey, because I know I’ll always be able to wear those colours as my look evolves overtime.’


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