We recently met with Eirinn Hayhow, Fashion Designer and animal advocate to find out, in her own words, just why she took the bold step to join the conversation and pave the way to a brighter future for animal welfare in fashion.
So, Eirinn, tell us about yourself and how you got to where you are today.
I initially studied Fine Art, but always had an interest in fashion from a young age, even upcycling and recycling. As a child, I used to take plastic shopping bags, put my foot through them and wear them as dungarees. My mother didn’t let me have high heels, so I would papier mâché together tissue boxes and toilet roll tubes to make my own versions.
Within my creative practice, I was always questioning "why are we here?", "what does it all mean?" and looking at the countless connections between nature and humans, and always seeing patterns in things.
I often think about how we plagiarise the earth’s movements in everyday things, like the movement of the earth as the wheel of a car. It is like we have separated ourselves from nature, instead of working with it. The connection between science, philosophy and spirituality, really fascinates me.
What is BioCouture and what drew you to this kind of material as a fashion designer, as opposed to animal?
With this collection specifically, I looked into Kent-based herbs and plants that can help with all sorts of things like anxiety, depression and other medical conditions.
I lived in Berlin for a few years as a freelance artist exhibiting various video installations, but on the side I used to upcycle clothing and sell them at flea markets. I enjoyed this side of things and when I moved back to the UK I turned my focus to fashion, doing my MA in 2019. It was really valuable to learn the technical skills of tailoring and apply that to my upcycling methods.
When my mum got ill with terminal cancer, and with my dad having a stroke around the same time, there was this huge change in my life as I lived as a carer for several years. My creativity was my therapy. I was inspired by my mum who used fashion as her therapy, and it was because of her that I have now been sober for 7 years, leaving me really interested in wellbeing and holistic therapies. I thought about translating this into my fashion, thinking about all the plastic and chemical dyes that go into materials. Like for example with EDC plastics that seep estrogen into the environment, leaving some creatures unable to reproduce or causing cancer. I was left thinking "Is fashion changing the course of evolution?"
From then I decided, I can't just use waste materials in my work anymore, and instead I decided I needed to make my own plant based materials and natural dyes - creating fashion that could potentially heal as well as being great for animals and the environment.
Animal materials are often considered a "natural" alternative to plastics, which is something we try to 'debunk'. What drove you to focus on plant based and not animal materials?
I can understand the 'natural' argument, but killing a life, in an inhumane way, is not something that goes with any holistic lifestyle. I think a lot of people just don't understand how bad it is, or just don't care about animals enough. Animal fibers have been used for so long, people have got used to a certain way of thinking and consumers favor going to big brands because they understand them.
Most major brands will be using animal fibres, but I believe that through education throughout the design process, we can share how animals are treated, and allow those up-coming designers to make educated decisions on what they can do to be more ethical. Individuals must take the initiative to research alternative options, outside of the 'norm'.
I think that’s why I am now fascinated with bio materials and plant leathers in general because they do have the potential to change the way the industry uses leather and plastic.
You've recently been showing your line at London Fashion Week - what kind of response did you get from the industry?
I've had a really good response to my new collection, and some great press articles - even The Guardian came to my studio to interview me. Planet woo also covered me with a great article about my garments.
Overall, I'm really happy with how it went, and it's so important to me that people can see how you can make fashion without plastic or animals.
What are your plans for the future, are you looking at any other kinds of "next generation" materials for your future lines?
I know there are still improvements I can make with material for example making the material more waterproof, and I think I can do that naturally. I'm going to take another year, hopefully with some funding, to make these materials even better than they are at the moment.
I really welcome these conferences on sustainability and biomaterials, but I think more awareness is needed on the definition of sustainability and 'bio', and think an exhibition to see the full journey of how material is made would be great.
As well as my collection done, I actually teach as well. I really enjoy educating the younger ones coming up in the design world to understand the value of nature and our connection to it.
In your words, what is your vision for a sustainable and ethical fashion future?
We need more artists, creativity and thoughtful innovation in plant-based materials, and to be taught this throughout design education. I think old methods need to be replaced with ancient methods, and the new approaches to using them, in order to challenge the larger forces in the industry. And it’s also in part the duty of the consumer to put their money in the right places.
We have separated ourselves so far from nature, we need to better connect in order to be truly sustainable.