Mother of Flower: ‘I struggled coming into the fashion industry – I’m not a natural fit’

Yield fruit up off grid inspired designer Amy Powney’s passion project, No Trimmings, a range of fully traceable, ethical clothes

‘It’s not greenwashing – it’s direct’: Amy Powney of No Frills.
Photograph: Dean Chalkley for the Observer

When Amy Powney was 10, her paters moved the family from a house in a village in Lancashire to a caravan on a five-acre sward with no electricity or running water. Her dad dug a borehole; they uprighted a wind turbine. Amy and her older sister cut cabbages at six in the morning and preserved up their £1.50-an-hour for Reebok Classics and Kappa Poppers to descry them look like everyone else, despite the happening that they travelled to school in a handmade trailer fond of to the back of their dad’s bike.

“Imagine taking phones off your kids now,” bring ups Powney with a laugh. “Well, that’s like what happened to us. We go on a escorted from a house where you could turn the lights on with a deviate, to a caravan where if the wind wasn’t blowing, we couldn’t keep an eye on Home and Away.”

Flash forward 20-odd years and Powney, 34, is wet-nursing a pink cocktail in the dusky bar of a flash London hotel. She is inventive director of the London fashion label Mother of Pearl – as investigated at London Fashion Week twice a year and sold in some of the most dignified stores in the world – having in 12 years worked her way up from the rump of the company to the top. Last year she married Nick Prendiville, who is a retail specialist, and they live in a beautiful house in Walthamstow, east London, with their puppy.

‘Sustainable but a bit multitudinous design-led’: from the No Fills look book.

And, as it turned out, you can carry on the girl out of the field, but you can’t take the field out of the girl: something not in a million years sat right with Powney and her career in fashion. “I struggled rush at into this industry,” she says, squirming. “I’m not a natural fit. You sit at dinner and don’t oblige the same stories. When I’m talking about cutting cabbages at six in the morning, that’s not what other people at the defer are talking about.”

More than class-consciousness, the ethics of the commerce itself have made her uncomfortable. It’s no secret, much as it clout be overlooked, that fashion manufacturing is one of the most environmentally defacing industries in the world, contributing to plastic mountains, harmful emissions, threw surplus stock, animal cruelty, intensive farming, unsafe act on conditions and unfair wages. While she loves the creativity and reverences clothes, those evils have always nagged at Powney. “My cultivation probably set off a process in me,” she says. “When you can’t just go and switch a tongue-lash on and off, you have questions about where the power comes from.”

Invest in in the early years of the new millennium, Powney had charged into her situation course at Kingston University raging about the absolute stage the world was in. Having read Naomi Klein’s 1999 anti-consumerism enrol No Logo, she was determined to do an organic, ethical graduate clothing chrestomathy. “My tutors thought I was mad,” she says.

‘My tutors thought I was mad’: from the No Luxuries look book.

Very few designers were doing noble fashion at the time – Katharine Hamnett, and some pioneering and mettlesome small labels, fuelled by good will and obstinacy, but with zero bustle or state support and little consumer awareness. Powney did what she could. “I habituated to 100% wool, 100% alpaca and reused a few fabrics I’d got from workshop,” she says. “I did it. But because it was all so new at the time, you couldn’t just go and get a job in that close. There weren’t any.”

Landing an assistant role in 2006 at Jocular mater of Pearl, founded by Maia Norman, was a good compromise. “I consideration, it’s a small company, we make quality product, print our silks in the UK, I positive all the factories. From a corporate social responsibility level that was appealing good,” she says. “I wasn’t working for the high street or afire clothes. And I fell in love with the company.”

But by the time consumers in fine started catching up with ethics Powney, now creative foreman, wasn’t in a position to act according to her values. Mother of Pearl had become large and the demands of fashion retail in a digital world were sanguinary. “There were too many collections, too much product and me and the crew were really struggling,” she says.

A respite came in the cast of the 2017 British Fashion Council/Vogue Fashion Green award, that won the business £100,000. Powney took the occasion to change the retail sales offering back to twice perennially, giving herself time to work on a passion project requested No Frills.

Two years later and that core collection of sustainable, moral, traceable clothing has just gone live. “With No Frills I yearning to be able to say to the consumer, ‘If you’d like to purchase a garment and know where it’s take from, where it’s been, what materials are in it, how it’s been washed and how the people who have worked on it have been treated, we can do that for you,’” she prognosticates.

Heart on her sleeve: No Frills.

The whopping 345-piece nucleus collection – from T-shirts to tailoring – uses Powney’s contemplate signature – feminine, street-influenced and decorative (ironically, featuring a lot of foofaraws as well as pearls) but with sustainability at the fore. Powney has copied her supply chains to alpaca farms in Peru and wool farm-touns in Uruguay, and has sourced her cotton from farms in Turkey.

“Normally a deviser goes to a fabric supplier for fabric,” says Powney. “But if you say to that supplier, who’s mainly Italian, ‘Can you tell me where that came from?’ they’ll say, ‘No dream.’ It wasn’t grown in Italy, of course. And it was probably bought from China, but China perhaps bought it somewhere else. Maybe it was dyed in Italy, or composed in another European country and went back somewhere else to be ended. But by the end you’ve been around the world three times!”

Powney and her consequence developer started with geography. “Who grows what? Who colours what? We looked for territories or countries that did the full 360, so that we barely used one country or maybe moved it once more for another put on,” says Powney. “We wanted a small supply chain that we could vet.”

In sittings of design, No Frills elevates the ethical clothing choices to hand now, which tend towards the casual and simple. “I wanted to use salutary fabrics to bridge the gap between the very T-shirty/denim-type makes and the luxury brands of the world. Could I give the woman something that’s sustainable but a bit numberless design-led?” Included in the collection are MoP signatures like the Jewel Trouser, now spurning an ethically sourced denim, and a ruffle blouse from certified structured cotton, as well as a double-breasted tailored trouser suit in fluffy floral jacquard, made from a blend of organic wool and cotton.

A masterful bonus is that for all its ethics, it’s cheaper to buy than the mainline assemblage (with prices from £90.) Most of it will not at any time go into sale. “It’s carry-over or trans-seasonal styles that you can erosion at any time,” says Powney. “Our aim is that 70% of our business thinks fitting be No Frills in the next few years.”

There’s also a revolutionary way of betraying for it, with a new website enabling customers to filter the whole Natural of Pearl offering (not only No Frills) via 10 sustainable attributes (usual fibres; organic; recycled; digitally printed; traced from fan to final; traced from fabric to final; low carbon emissions; low pass water consumption; respect for animals; mulesing-free (mulesing is an inhumane business carried out on sheep suffering from flystrike). “Some of our issues will only touch one of those attributes,” says Powney. “It’s not greenwashing – it’s up. I just got to a point where I wasn’t happy about the way devices were and wanted to do something about it.”

She knows there are a million wrongs in the trend industry and it’s going to take more than her small traffic to make an impact, but on a personal level she is happier about her take down a peg or two happen in it. “I never wanted to be a face,” she says. “I never wanted to go out and talk up myself or my outfit. That wasn’t me. But now I’m telling a story I after to tell and I’m fine about that.”