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From MA Fashion to tackling responsible design

Meet brothers Graeme Raeburn (MA Fashion Womenswear, 2003), Performance Director at Raeburn, and Christopher Raeburn (MA Fashion Womenswear, 2006) Creative Director at Raeburn and Global Creative Director of Timberland. They talked to us about why their experience at the Royal College of Art was so valuable.

Raeburn garment
Raeburn garment

Tell us a little about what you do?

Christopher Raeburn: Over the last ten years, here at Raeburn, we’ve been really lucky to grow a business that focuses on what we call the three ‘R’s: remade, reduced and recycled. We remake items, deconstructing and reworking original military things; from anything like parachutes to life rafts. We reduce – that’s a focus on waste reduction, local manufacturing – or we recycle. We focus on making the highest possible quality product in the right place to make it. 

Graeme Raeburn: My role here is to look at every aspect of the design and production process from the fibres, through to the end use, the way that something is disposed of and ensure that we are optimising it as best as possible into the most responsible, sustainable methods with the minimum impact.

Christopher Raeburn

Why did you choose to study Fashion Womenswear at the RCA?

GR:  There was the allure of the Royal College of Art, not just being purely fashion, but all of the other subjects and areas of research as well. That aspect of interacting with people working on architecture or automotive design, product design, anything and everything, was hugely appealing. 

CR: That cross-pollination of ideas is what’s very unique at the RCA. To be postgraduate and to be interacting with the calibre of individuals on a regular basis, I think that’s what gives you that pretty unique skillset to go out into the world.

From my perspective I was really fortunate to have Graeme almost as a pathfinder, three years ahead. The College gave that opportunity to immerse yourself and to experiment, and I’d seen Graeme go through that process and really relished that opportunity. 

Thinking back – what are your reflections on the way you studied and how it’s informed what you’re doing now?

CR: The tutors and the level of expertise that you have the opportunity to interact with is amazing, but at the same time it can be quite a self motivated experience and that’s really important. It gives you an incredible platform, but then ultimately it’s up to you to make the most of that platform.

GR: The opportunity for the individual is huge! There is so much to connect with and explore, such a huge, diverse range of collaborative experiences and learnings. The opportunity is in the self-initiated things, to spark those connections and participate in this really rich learning experience which often has very low risk, there is a safety net to actually fail. There is also huge opportunity to connect with industry through some fantastic projects and sponsorships. The ability to have proof of concept, real world testing, and empowering the individual to recognise their value as a designer, as a creator in the 21st century.

Christopher and Graeme Raeburn. Photo credit: Heiko Prigge
Christopher and Graeme Raeburn
Photographer: Heiko Prigge

How important is the network that you built at the RCA?

GR: The network that you create when you’re studying and researching, and post graduation, is extremely important and so valuable. Even at the moment we’re still re-establishing or forming connections with people that are current researchers, ex-graduates or people that actually were our alumni at the time

CR:  It’s amazing how often you’ll meet, or hear, or research about someone and then you realise they went to the RCA – that makes it a lot easier to connect as well. It’s happened a lot, over the last ten years for me. I’ve also been very proud that we’ve been able to bring in team members here at Raeburn who’ve studied at the RCA. There’s a certain mindset that comes with studying at the RCA, that pragmatism on the one hand, which is really important to marry with creativity, and then I’ve really noticed that entrepreneurial spirit, that really shines through at the RCA. 

Can you describe your ongoing connection to the RCA?

GR:  I run a platform for MA Fashion, called Sports as Identity, which looks at not necessarily sports, but actually optimising performance on every aspect, whether that’s inclusive design, or sustainable design, how can we optimise everything. It’s an area I care really passionately about, the opportunity for us to connect with and inspire the next generation of designers. Things are moving so rapidly and advancing so quickly, the opportunity we offer is a connection between real world industry and research and study at MA level.  

CR:  I’ve been really proud when growing Raeburn through some of the collaborations that we’ve been able to do that we’ve then had the opportunity to go back to the RCA to work with the young designers there. It’s been a really nice way to give back and with some of the industry partners that we’ve worked with, they’ve learnt so much by working with designers at the RCA. It’s really continuing from everything that I experienced and enjoyed nearly 15 years ago.

Graeme Raeburn
Graeme Raeburn

So how does Raeburn’s ethos connect to the RCA in terms of responsible design?

CR: Here at Raeburn we talk about responsible design and our obligation as designers - it’s something that we’ve both been really keen on since we were studying. The reality of the world that we live in today, forget about climate change, it’s already a climate crisis

GR: There’s a huge opportunity because of the connection between the Raeburn Lab and the Royal College of Art where we do things like run workshops and tours. We’re also in conversation with the Future Fashion Factory and the Burberry Material Futures Research Group at the RCA. 

CR: The amazing thing is the alignment that we have with the Royal College of Art and that need to marry, tradition and technology and innovation together to really make a difference. That’s super-exciting, whether you’re talking about fashion, industrial design, we all need to make good choices. We’re really excited the way that Raeburn’s almost become a catalyst in our own way to make change within the clothing industry, and certainly when we’ve worked on some of the bigger partnerships we really are driving big change, and that’s super-exciting. 

Christopher Raeburn
Christopher Raeburn
What is your fondest memory or the best thing about the RCA?

CR: My fondest memory is definitely the breadth of the work that I did and that it really challenged me at a point where that’s exactly what I needed. Certainly to be working on the range of projects that I did – everything from perfume companies through to high street, through to pattern cutting, millinery, having a go at designing footwear early on – I really value that. The portfolio of work that you leave with at the end, it’s pretty phenomenal. Now even over 10 years later, I still sometimes reference projects from my portfolio when I was at the RCA. So I would say the challenge is my fondest memory.

GR: It’s really hard, impossible to pin down, but the privilege of being able to interact with those different people and audiences and points of inspiration and these amazing tutors and library and resources...

CR:  So are you saying the bar?

GR: and to some extent, the social aspect of it as well, which brought this fantastic cocktail of experience which you could then create your own pathway ahead and focus on what really mattered to you.

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