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King Charles III: How the new King has backed sustainability and education in fashion

By Rachel Douglass


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King Charles III attending The Prince's Foundation x Yoox Net-a-Porter presentation. Image: Yoox Net-a-Porter

As the UK prepares to welcome King Charles III to the throne, FashionUnited is taking a look back at the times His Royal Highness (HRH) has been an advocate for the fashion industry, both in the world of sustainability and through educational initiatives.

His interest in the sector was already evident in the 2023 New Year’s Honours List, which saw the likes of the now deceased Mary Quant, founder of Boden John Peter Boden and Gymshark founder Ben Francis achieve acclaimed accolades recognising them for their contributions to fashion and beyond.

Ahead of his Coronation, scheduled for May 6, we take a deep dive into the new King’s past efforts and what this could mean for fashion under his rule.

Sustainable development in fashion

For one of the more recent occasions, King Charles participated in a fashion roundtable alongside British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful and CEO of Yoox Net-a-Porter Group Frederico Marchetti. During the event, which took place at Dumfries House, HRH’s 2,000 acre property that was transformed into a crafts and agricultural learning centre in January 2022, the panel members outlined a number of initiatives and solutions designed to support the acceleration of sustainability throughout fashion. Among the discussions were topics such as grassroot initiatives and regenerative farming practices, all of which were to be led by the Fashion Task Force, a group formed by HRH made up of industry leaders.

One of the collective’s main missions for the past year has been to set up a Digital ID system, created as an informative platform providing customers with sustainability credentials for their garments. The plans for the technology were initially unveiled during G20 2021, where it was noted that the group was looking to work with partner brands to implement the transparency and traceability solution, as well as new circular services, such as repair and recycling. Members of the Task Force, which includes Burberry, Chloé, Mulberry and Stella McCartney, have already committed to beginning the roll out of the Digital ID system, alongside the adoption of a circular data protocol.

King Charles’ efforts in sustainability haven’t just become evident in recent years, however. In 2016, the former Prince of Wales launched The Dumfries House of Wool Declaration, which linked to his previously established Campaign for Wool organisation, urging key players in the wool industry to commit to protecting the environment and upholding sheep welfare practices, extending his attention to animal rights. The declaration, which has nearly 800 signatories to date, agrees that the major wool growing countries conform to the strictest standards of animal welfare as embodied in the International Wool Textile Organisation.

HRH at the International Sustainability Unit board meeting. Image: Lindex

The following year, King Charles was also behind the launch of Sustainable Cotton Communiqué, formed in partnership with Marks & Spencer as part of HRH’s International Sustainability Unit. Among the signatories were Nike, H&M, Asos and Kering, each of which came together during a meeting in London to explore a commitment to sustainable cotton. The members also pledged that 100 percent of the cotton they used would come from sustainable sources by 2025. The shift saw the participating brands begin to turn towards Fairtrade Cotton, BCI Cotton and organic cotton in an attempt to act as a catalyst to spur more expansive adoption.

Later, in the year 2021, HRH launched the ‘Terra Carta’ (earth charter) as part of his Sustainable Markets Initiative, providing businesses with a roadmap to move towards a sustainable future by 2030. With John Lewis Partnership as the charter’s first signee, the retailer committed to becoming net-zero carbon across its entire operations by 2035, including throughout its logistics operations and its Waitrose supermarket subsidiary.

Educational initiatives and support programmes

Next to sustainability, education has been another focal point for the new King. Much of his efforts have come under The Prince’s Foundation, an educational charity he established in 1986 in order to support local communities and traditional arts. Among the programmes that have been launched under the organisation is The Prince’s Foundation of Traditional Arts, a school offering MA, MPhil and PhD courses that aim to bolster the arts sector. Another long-running programme is the Future Textiles group, which has been operating for several years, much of which has been backed with support from luxury conglomerate LVMH.

In 2018, it was revealed that Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant and Scottish textiles manufacturer John Sugden had been named co-chairs of the initiative, tasking the duo with providing training in traditional skills to school children across Scotland and adults looking for employment in the industry. In the same month, it was also revealed that LVMH would be sponsoring the refurbishment of an unused sawmill on Dumfries House estate to transform into a fashion and textiles school. The LVMH Textile Training Centre was to be used as a space for intensive courses in sewing, cutting and finishing fabrics.

Image: Yoox Net-a-Porter

One of the more notable initiatives of Future Textile was the Modern Artisan training programme, introduced in 2019 by HRH and Yoox’s Marchetti. Through the project, students in Italy and the UK were tasked with designing sustainable collections for Net-A-Porter, Mr Porter, Yoox and The Outnet, a mission that was supported by industry experts from Yoox, as well as several mentoring designer brands, such as Gabriela Hearst and Nanushka. Ultimately, a number of the project’s participants went on to be snapped up by large-scale brands or even launched their own businesses on the back of the collections’ success.

Bringing the efforts overseas, HRH’s foundation further partnered with Fashion Council Germany and Swarovski Foundation on ‘Fashion X Craft’, an educational programme for young fashion designers from German universities. The project, which began its application process in 2021, looked to promote new processes among young talent, such as handicraft techniques that aimed to boost more sustainable production methods. Participants of the programme took part in workshops on the circular economy and had the opportunity to stay in Highgrove, at the Prince’s Foundation’s Gloucestershire-based training facility. Much of the course centred around utilising materials that were rarely used in fashion, such as glass and wood.

While it is currently unclear whether King Charles will continue to bolster fashion throughout his time as King, his past has certainly shown his intentions to build up the industry with a more mindful approach. Whether it is supporting the British Fashion Council (BFC) by attending a number of its events, or funding the work of young students who are hoping to make a positive impact, it is clear HRH has an eye for pushing the boundaries of fashion and urging it to change its ways. It can only be hoped that the battle continues once he has firmly taken his place on the throne.

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