Wardrobe Wisdom: Debbie Luffman on Long-Life Style

Since moving to Bristol earlier this year I’ve been on the lookout for the best of the city’s ethical fashion offering. On hearing that cold water surf brand Finisterre was opening their fourth store here, I could barely contain by glee. Ok, so I’ve never set foot on a surf board let alone put on a wet suit but I love the brand’s ethos, story and functional yet timeless aesthetic. Plus they offer a repair service so you can cherish your favourite garments for even longer.

At the shop launch earlier this month I met Finisterre’s product director Debbie Luffman, who is quite the sustainable sourcing super hero. Involved in all aspects of their products from design to fabric sourcing and manufacturing Debbie combines traditional techniques and materials – Finsterre famously revived UK merino wool - with the latest textile innovations: the current collection sees the introduction of a virtually seam free waterproof jacket.

Debbie is deeply committed to creating collections that are made to last: a recycled polyester jacket that is made to be mended could keep you warm for many years and is certainly worth the investment. In fact, buying into a brand like Finisterre, that puts so much into ethical sourcing and product development, is also an investment in the future of an ethical fashion industry: Debbie and the rest of the team are pioneers paving the way for other brands to follow. You can see why I was so keen to ask Debbie to share her wardrobe wisdom...

What are your top wardrobe and care tips?

Buy the best quality you can afford, wash and dry your clothes with care on low temperatures and avoid tumble drying and fabric softener - they both limit a fabric’s lifespan.

Can you tell us about a treasured garment or accessory of yours? What's the story behind it?

My Grandma’s 60s midi length floral cotton dress which had a high neck and long sleeves. My mum lowered the neckline and took the sleeves off and used to wear it as 60s fancy dress. Then when it was passed onto me I shortened it and have lived in it since I was about 18. She’s had three new back zips on my watch and still has life in her yet! 

Debbie Luffman product director at cold water surf brand Finisterre

Do you have a 'go to' place for repairs or alterations, or do you take care of them yourself?

For running repairs like darning holes, de-pilling knitwear and reproofing outerwear I’ll do it myself. My mum is the master of letting out my daughter’s things when she grows out of them, and for anything technical, such as outerwear repairs I’ll ask Annie, the Finisterre repair guru especially nicely.

Finisterre’s Bowmont range is the result of some seriously good sourcing and relationship building - you tracked down British merino despite being told it didn’t exist. We’d love to hear more about the Bowmont sheep and the latest collection…

We met Lesley Prior around ten years ago after scouring the UK for British merino wool. Back then Lesley was the guardian of the last twenty eight Bowmont merino sheep on the planet. Capable of producing a fine fibre wool and surviving in UK conditions, a Bowmont combines the hardiness of a Shetland with the softness of a merino sheep. We had found the answer to our quest, and in the process secured the future of the breed.

The Bowmont merino flock is now close to 300 sheep strong, producing a yield of around 700kg of fibre a year. It’s a privilege to have pioneered this British merino success story and built a 100% British supply chain from scratch.

The 2016 Bowmont range is the first year we have had enough yarn to make a women's jumper, and it sold out in under a month from launch. For me the Bowmont jumpers are more than woolly pullovers – they are a celebration of the stories and passions of the people behind this very special supply chain.

Tom Kay, founder of Finsterre with a lamb from the Bowmont flock

Which innovations are new for 2016/2017 and what sourcing challenges did they present?

We’ve put a lot of development into our beachwear range from 2015 to 2016 and are committed to using as much regenerated fabric as possible so we have partnered with Econyl® who produce regenerated nylon from marine waste. The main challenge is finding a fabric which meets the functional swim/surf requirements as well as having the right look and feel, and all at a price and quantity realistic for production. I’m happy to say we’ve have had a fair few wins this season, but there are still a few outstanding, where we can’t quite achieve all of the above and maintain a regenerated source, but we keep on searching, testing and asking questions, plus further Econyl developments are afoot for 2017.

The Solatium XGS Jacket is a pretty mind boggling innovation which we have been developing over the last two years and launched this autumn. It’s essentially a body-mapped, three-dimensional waterproof technology – by reducing the amount of seams on the jacket, you are removing the main reason a waterproof fails to function. Also the outer fabric and brushed bonded inner are designed to be durable and last over time, plus the design is timeless and stripped back - we don’t believe in over-designing product as it only limits the time the garment is relevant and the wearer can enjoy it.

Another key sourcing ambition at Finisterre is reducing fluorocarbons (FCs) in our products which has been our mission for the last three years. Working closely with our technical fabric mills to develop and test waterproof alternatives to C8 and C6 flurcarbon finishes. 2016 sees the first FC-free waterproof in the range - the Solus Parka - but look out next year as we are aiming to eradicate all FCs from the supply chain by the end of 2017.

Virtually seamfree Solatium XGS Jacket by Finisterre

I have always been told that layering is vital when dressing for cold climes. Can you give us your insider tricks to keeping warm in winter?

I would always opt for wool as your first skin layer, as a good merino base layer and underwear will give you a comfortable breathable base, whatever the weather decides to do. Whether you opt for a mid layer or knitted jumper depends on whether you are doing activity and need low bulk, or whether you run hot or cold naturally, but you can’t go wrong with a lightweight insulation piece as either a mid or outer layer. We don’t think goose down is needed anymore and synthetic alternatives such as Primaloft®, used in the Finisterre Nimbus, offer lightweight, breathable low-bulk warmth, using recycled Polyester, without the need to ruffle feathers.

If you are going to be layering for the cold for activity, you don't want heaps of bulky layers, so lightweight packable layers are great. Lastly a lightweight waterproof shell is a good idea if you are expecting wet and cold conditions. Or if it is all about the cold and less about high activity layering, go for a super warm and waterproof coat, which will stand you in good stead over a fair few winters.

Nimbus jacket, Lantic Shirt and Beryan Rollneck from Finsterre

Are there any clothing or shoe shops that you always make a beeline for in the UK or elsewhere, aside from Finisterre of course?

To be honest, I’m not a massive shopper, though I love charity shops and vintage markets and love the thrill of the unknown. However one of the only down sides to living in Cornwall is that there are fewer second hand gems to be found, but with the new Finisterre store on Bristol's Park Street I’ve found a few new favourite retro shops nearby. Other than that I’m pretty shamelessly clad in Finisterre

What one main piece of advice would you give to someone who wants a more ethical wardrobe?

Look at what products are made of and where they are made. Is the brand transparent about how they make their product? If not ask them questions. The most ethical consumerism is to buy less and wear for longer, so buy with longevity and versatility of wear in mind, and buy styles and fabrics which will endure or are fit for purpose. Then make sure you look after them and try to repair and adapt where possible.

What do you think people ought to look out for when buying clothes? For example, should they consider whether they can be altered, repaired or recycled in future?

Yes for sure, but it’s not always obvious what and how to repair or adapt certain clothing, especially with more technical gear. I hope more brands will offer repair services, and I‘d love to see more repair information and education available. There are some great sites such as iFixit and Gear Aid's Repair Guide, and Finisterre plans to have more clothing care workshops next year.

Finisterre bodywarmer before the repair, from their repair serviceFinisterre bodywarmer after the repair

How does a garment's ‘use phase’ and end of life impact the design, sourcing and production at Finisterre?

We interact with all stakeholders along the supply chain, visit all suppliers regularly and have built up long-term relationships, to understand and evolve the Finisterre product. We are more interested in all other options to avoid end of life, and focus on quality and durability. Plus we offer a repair and reproofing service to extend the life of our gear and to understand and feed back into the design process any issues which have reduced their functionality.

Where we can source fabrics which are closed loop regenerated textiles, such as recycled polyester and recycled nylon, we do, as they are a better alternative to virgin fibres. But again the most sustainable textile is the one which is used and used rather than being broken down and turned into something new

Who or what is your wardrobe inspiration?
Iris Apfel for her love of colour, print, fashion and rule-breaking ecletic mashup. To quote her “when you don’t dress like everyone else you don’t have to think like everyone else”.  She’s far more glam than me, but if I could, I would. I’m just waiting for the invite to the ball!

In the interests of transparency it's important to mention that Finisterre kindly sent me a few gifts from their current collection ahead of their Bristol store launch. This post is not sponsored by Finisterre and has not been influenced by the gifts apart from the fact the very lovely and soft bobble hat has kept me warm whilst typing this as I can't bring myself to put the central heating on during the day just yet.

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Founder and Director of The Good Wardrobe. Lover of charity shops and mending stuff. New to Bristol. Follow on Twitter

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