Meet Arabella James

INSIGHT CONSULTANT, Strategist, Environmentalist, Futurist, Human

With over seven years experience working with clients across divergent sectors from food to fashion and utilities, Arabella positions human attitudes and behaviours at the heart of brand strategy.
She's into understanding human behaviour,the magic of cross-pollination when different industries and interests come together, and helping brands develop a socially and environmentally positive legacy, which is why we went straight to her when launching TRS.


We met up with Bella to discuss the changing attitude in the fashion industry towards sustainability...

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your own interests in sustainability?

A: On a personal level, I have always been passionate about ecology and sustainability, particularly having grown up in the countryside and in an environmentally conscious family - my Granny was one of the first councillors and an active campaigner for the original Green Party in the 60’s, which is something I’m really proud of. My mum has also had a huge impact on my relationship to fashion and clothing. She's eternally stylish, and she has always taken great care of her clothes; her wardrobe has become pretty infamous among my friends as i'm still discovering gems from even now. 

Since moving to London 10 years ago I have tried my best to buy local, organic products and shop without packaging where possible. I love Riverford and Hetu. The scale of the challenge is a constant reminder of the need for us all to take an active interest in long-term sustainability, and a major driver of my desire to help business take a lead on the issue.

I started my career in trend forecasting at The Future Laboratory and now consult for brands such as HSBC, Absolut, Louis Vuitton or Nike, to help their executive teams understand the emerging attitudes and behaviours of people around the world, as well as how specific sectors, entire industries and society as a whole are evolving. The macro socio-economic data used to contextualise companies’ future strategies are environmentally focussed and it is clear from any advert that many businesses are aware of the need to support positive social and environmental practises. I do feel we're in danger of becoming too comfortable with these issues and simply pay lip service to the easiest solutions in order to carry on trading in the same ways without fully recognising the challenges and suffering rapid global warming and other similar issues will cause.

I believe business has the power to change industry for good, and through my brand consultancy edify I am working with some brilliant, and brave, brands who are willing to challenge their business models and innovate for positive environmental and social impact.

Q: How bad is the fashion industry as a world polluter and is there anyway around it?

A: The impact of the fashion industry touches every part of the planet because of the global footprint of its supply chain. It is the second largest industrial polluter on the planet, second only to oil, as well as being the second biggest polluter of freshwater. It also accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions.

This scale of pollution is exacerbated by the amount the industry produces. Global clothes production has more than doubled since 2000 (just 18 years!), powered by the industry's seasonal trends and our insatiable desire to constantly buy ‘something new’ (enabled by fast fashion brands and encouraged by the media). The average person now buys 60% more items of clothing every year and keeps them for about half as long as they did 15 years ago. Buying less and buying pre-loved is certainly one solution to reduce production and therefore pollution.

Q: What does the life cycle of a fashion item currently look like?

A: Planet Money Makes a T-shirt by NPR is a great documentary into the beginning stages of an item’s life cycle. It follows the manufacture of a standard t-shirt, unlike the beautiful organic storytelling we often see in marketing, from growing the cotton to getting to the shops.

It doesn’t show what happens to clothing once it is bought and in the hands of the consumer, or alternatively not bought and becomes deadstock as we’ve recently seen in the press as Burberry’s seasonal burning has exposed the industries practise. This concept of waste is flawed and undermines the energy invested in the creation of these garments (from crop to cloth to clothes).

Q: How can RE-sale help the economy / have the most positive impact on the planet?  Will brands ever stop producing as much stuff?

A: Re-sale has huge potential to have a positive impact! It changes our perception of unwanted clothing. It encourages us to recognise there is a material and emotional value in items others no longer want or need. It also encourages people to become more comfortable with not buying brand new! 

Q: Talking about the circular economy movement - can you explain what this is? What brands are championing the movement and setting the best example?

A: In contrast to the current economy where business is linear with nothing maintained or nurtured, the circular economy removes the idea of waste and pollution, and strives to keep materials in use and regenerating the environment. You can get more information, and even do a short course, at Ellen MacArthur Foundation. They are leading the circular economy movement in Europe, partnering with brands such as Danone, Nike and Phillips. They are also pushing forward legislation for businesses to adopt circular business models. In May 2018 the EU Council approved a circular economy package of recycling targets and waste reduction. 

There are many smaller brands that are part of the movement (think: Toast Ale who brew beer from the 44% of all bread that is wasted) but also check out evian’s commitment to be 100% circular by 2025. Going from bottles that are recyclable, to recycled. This is a global organisation completely changing their production model to use only recycled plastic intercepted from the waste system and oceans. That means no oil will be needed to make brand new plastic bottles. This is an exciting move that will scale this material innovation and set high standards for drinks comanies, and beyond.