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Art of Style

The designer interview: Mother of Pearl

Amy Powney (right) wears dress Mother of Pearl; boots Amy’s own. Vicky McClure (left) wears shirt and skirt Mother of Pearl; pumps Jennifer Chamandi

In just 13 years, AMY POWNEY has gone from sweeping the cutting-room floor at Mother of Pearl to taking the helm as its creative director, overhauling the brand in the process to make it as sustainable and ethical as possible. She talks to EMMA SELLS about creating fashion with feel-good values at the core

Photography Anya HoldstockStyling Naomi Barling
Fashion
Jacket and pants Mother of Pearl; pumps Malone Souliers; necklace and bracelet Loren Stewart; ring McClure’s own
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There’s no handbook on how to make a brand sustainable. But I wanted to know from start to finish where it was grown, who was making it, how much money people get paid… I wanted to know the entire thing before I could stand up to the world and shout about it. That has to be completely authentic to me
Dress Mother of Pearl; necklace Wwake
Dress Mother of Pearl; ring Catbird

Powney has been creative for as long as she can remember. Her mum worked in a fabric mill and used to bring off-cuts home, and her favorite childhood memories are of them sketching or making patchwork quilts together. Fashion came later, when she was a teenager and clocked how it fed into different tribes and identities. “I was the odd, weird kid living in a caravan who couldn’t afford the Adidas tracksuit,” she says. “It was the only thing I was unbelievably passionate about. The Spice Girls were wearing their three stripes, everybody at school was wearing them and I wanted to fit in. I did get one in the end; I had to get a job and buy it myself, and I’m really proud of my parents for doing that because it taught me a whole other set of rules, but it started my fascination with what image did for you, where it placed you or what you were allowed to be part of.”

You can trace her passion for sustainability back to the moment in her Lancashire childhood when her parents, inspired by British sitcom The Good Life, moved the family into an off-grid existence in a caravan in the countryside while they slowly built a home on the land around them. Unsurprisingly, 10-year-old Powney and her older sister were thoroughly unimpressed. “[We were] super not into that. Worst thing ever,” she laughs. “Now it seems brilliant, great for storytelling and it totally built my character, but at the time… It rains up north the entire time, so you’re living in a caravan in the rain and the mud and we had a generator so you couldn’t watch much TV. It sucked, basically.”

However, given the road that Powney is now traveling down, it clearly had quite an impact. “It’s totally connected but not in the obvious way,” she says. “I think the intrigue for me of not being able to just switch on electricity or turn the tap on and have water come out gave me a completely different outlook. I was a very inquisitive kid anyway, but I think not to have amenities like that makes you think about where this stuff actually comes from, and that’s infiltrated my whole life. It made me more inquisitive and more connected to questioning rather than just accepting things.”

Thanks to her relentless quest for knowledge and change, Powney has become something of a sustainable oracle, a go-to for journalists and editors in the industry trying to pick their way through information on the environmental and social implications of fashion. And, in her most recent project, she joined forces with BBC Earth: together they produced a short film designed to encourage all of us to consider the way in which what we buy impacts the environment; hosted a series of talks at London Fashion Week; and created a capsule collection, pictured here, whipped up from ‘Peace Silk’ (which is made without killing silk worms), environmentally friendly dyes and certified organic fabrics.

“For me, sustainability is a mindset,” she explains. “Once you’ve started questioning things and opened your eyes, it will naturally infiltrate into every single thing you do. It’s quite basic: just ask yourself, ‘Do you need it? What do you need it for? Is there a better way to buy this thing that I really want?’” What advice does she have for women who are trying to build a more considered wardrobe? “Number one: don’t buy so much, and buy the things that you really know you’ll love and wear and wear,” she says without missing a beat. “Number two: you can buy vintage. And number three: try and buy more sustainably, so if you can find brands that are doing it better, you should buy from them. And make sure you buy quality, so that if you do fall out of love with it, then you can resell it.”

Sustainability is a mindset. Once you’ve started questioning things and opened your eyes, it will naturally infiltrate into every single thing you do. Just ask yourself, ‘Do you need it? What do you need it for? Is there a better way to buy this thing I really want?’

She’s never lost sight of the fact that getting dressed is supposed to be fun and that, first and foremost, women want clothes that they can get excited about because of how fantastic they feel when they wear them. “Watching Vicky put those clothes on today and loving them, that brings me more happiness than any fashion show. She loves them all and she wants to wear them, and she didn’t do that because they were sustainable, she did it because she has to go out to the world and look good, that’s her job,” says Powney. “That proves you can still make fashion and make it sustainably, and hardcore fashion fans need to know that’s an option.”

Amy Powney (left) wears shirt Mother of Pearl; pants Alexander McQueen; mules Malone Souliers. Vicky McClure (right) wears dress Mother of Pearl; mules Jimmy Choo

The people featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown.