CEO of Toast Suzie de Rohan Willner shares her top tips for enjoying fashion in a conscious, and considered, way …
In a time of fast fashion and Instagram obsession, Toast has carved itself out as a brand that stands for something. Its celebration of slow living is present through its sustainable approach, the recipes it shares, the tutorials it gives on how to mend clothes, and its love of nature. And the fact it’s more than talk and pretty pictures: in a bid to be more sustainable, the brand has reduced the amount of collections it produces each year, a novel idea in the fast-churning world of fashion.
CEO of Toast Suzie de Rohan Willner is the living embodiment of the brand’s ethos. She has a wardrobe filled with future heirlooms (see a tour of her home here), passed on from one generation to the next, she thrives at a flea market or second hand stall, and she believes that sharing clothes is the future of fashion. Here, she shares why slow fashion trumps all …
One of the most cherished pieces in my wardrobe is my grandmother’s shawl.
It’s a long shawl with flashes of metal filigree throughout. It dates from the 1920s and was owned by my grandmother. She would wear it over an evening dress and it was beautiful. I always loved sitting next to see her and seeing how the metallics glimmered in the light. I throw it over my shoulders when I’m wearing a simple dress and it’s quite impactful. It’s got a weight to it that makes you feel like you’re being protected by it. It’s like an armour, of sorts.
It’s important to give your clothes a second life.
Toast runs workshops on how to mend clothes and homewares, and give them a new lease of life (see here for a list of virtual workshops, too). I went along recently and I was taken aback by how interested the public are in these things now; it was lovely to see.
I don’t buy new things that often, but when I do, it’s something I really like.
I think very carefully about any purchases I make, so I’m looking at what I need rather than what I want. I bought a pair of Fracap sandals. They’re a bit like Marmite, I think; some people just look at me and go ‘why would she wear them’. But I love them. I’ve always enjoyed a masculine shoe, I ditched teetering high heels a long time ago.
I think we’re going to end up sharing clothes more in the long term. There’s so much material in the world, it’s a logical next step that we lower our production; it’s about using what’s there and looking after each other.
The last book I read …
… was called To Paradise. It’s by the author of A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara. It’s fiction that shows us what the world will look like in 2093, should we keep carrying on the way we are. It’s a world with no trees, no water; people have to wear suits to go outside because of the heat. There are endless pandemics. It’s terrifying, but a good wake up call.
I’m a good haggler.
The key is you have to be willing to walk away. I’m a huge flea market person, I’ve spent a lot of time at flea markets in France and Belgium. Over there, they expect you to walk away; it’s all part of the process – you have to speak their language. Closer to home, I love Alfies in Marylebone. There’s a plethora of different stalls and you could spend a whole day searching. I go there for the second hand handbags, I love evening bags from the 1920s; the embroidery and the stones … they’re stunning.
My uniform is …
…. a kimono jacket, flat shoes and cropped trousers. The trousers have a drop crotch, which are quite Japanese, they’re made from slub cotton and have a straight leg that stops above my ankle. I prioritise comfort in what I wear more and more. I like to play on comfort and colour and texture.
Treat pieces like heirlooms.
I bought an indigo kimono from Toast before the pandemic and it’s getting better with each wear. It’s something I’ll keep in my wardrobe as I know it will last forever. It’s a great example of timeless fashion. My daughter currently wants it. My mother would love it. And I get joy out of it every day. I’ve got some Levi’s 501s from years back and they just improve with age. I resist washing things, I’m very careful about how I treat them. With jeans, in particular, I try not to wash them much.
Our obsession with loungewear is nothing new.
I’ve got a beautiful silk dressing gown that my grandmother used to wear. It’s from the 1920s, with these big arms and lace around the collar. She would wear it with a matching night dress underneath. It’s that idea of dressing for yourself in the home, long before loungewear was ‘a thing’. It reminds me of the nightwear at Toast, that’s made using hand block printing. I love the idea of wearing something that’s comfortable but beautiful and has a nod to craft.
My advice to someone who’s trying to be more sustainable is …
… that there is such a joy in thinking about what you’re buying. When I buy something fast it’s not going to last long and there’s always that sense of guilt there – it’s just three months or six months or one wear. Buying a piece that’s been crafted is not only amazing to see and admire, but you’re also supporting craftspeople around the world.
If you can’t afford to buy a new piece but you want to invest in something beautiful, buy second hand.
I would also learn to sew and repair these clothes, which are veritable works of art, and hand them down through generations. I think we’re going to end up sharing clothes more in the long term. There’s so much material in the world, it’s a logical next step that we lower our production; it’s about using what’s there and looking after each other.
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