The word “artisan” might make you think of the past, or maybe of a faraway place where people still make things by hand. It alludes to something humble and crafty, unlike many aspects of this fast fashion-hungry, digital age. And still, artisanal work is relevant to hot topics like sustainability and history. For example, the conversation around fashion’s impact on climate change has re-centered the voices of artisans and indigenous people, whose practices were eco-friendly long before that was even a concept. YOOX Net-a-Porter’s The Modern Artisan collection, which was born in 2019 in collaboration with King Charles, president of The Prince’s Foundation, therefore serves to empower such artisans within the United Kingdom and in Italy. (Prince Charles started The Prince’s Foundation in 1986 to support Scotland’s heritage traditions in knitwear and tartan, architecture, design, and horticulture.)
The Modern Artisan collection aims to create and offer a platform for artisans to display their work after a 10-month period of training in the form of a ready-to-wear womenswear collection. This year’s 13-piece capsule is the second edition of the project and marks a couple of firsts for YOOX Net-a-Porter: It’s the first carbon neutral collection and the first to be completely aligned to the company’s Infinity Product Guidelines for responsible and circular design. Additionally, it’s the first time that Highgrove Gardens, which sits adjacent to the King’s private residence, has served as a backdrop for an editorial photoshoot, according to a YNAP press release. Half of all proceeds from the shoppable collection will go back to The Prince’s Foundation to support its training programs.
Each piece is embedded with a Digital ID, too, that contains insights like care instructions, as well as relevant repair and resale services. It also shares with customers how YNAP worked to calculate and minimize the carbon footprint of each garment. “We hope that consumers value fashion differently with a greater understanding of the skill and expertise involved at every stage of the production,” says Jacqueline Farrell, the Prince’s Foundation’s education director, to TZR in an email.
How were the artisans selected to participate in the program? In Italy, the collaborators worked closely with the tutors at the leading Italian design school, Politecnico di Milano, to select graduates demonstrating high levels of potential and suitability for this project, based on the recommendations provided by the university. Meanwhile, in the U.K., there was an open call for applications from fashion and textiles graduates with a keen interest in sustainability and a desire to learn more about responsible design and manufacturing.
The paid training program kicked off with four months of immersive design and commercial training guided by industry experts at YNAP headquarters in London and Milan for the British and Italian groups respectively. The eight trainees then undertook six months of intensive training in luxury small-batch production skills at The Prince’s Foundation’s Dumfries House headquarters in Ayrshire, Scotland, where they gained the skills to handcraft the collection to the highest of standards. The trainees worked with mentors who have major sustainability cred in fashion, like Gabriela Hearst, Nanushka, and Stella Jean.
“Our customers are looking to live and shop more consciously; the project embodies these principles in a tangible and exciting way while also reflecting our customers’ passion for supporting emerging talent,” says Vikki Kavanagh, managing director of Net-A-Porter and Mr. Porter.
For the artisans, the program was a surprising facilitator of self-exploration. “The contrast between Italian and British fashion has shaped the collection in ways I didn’t expect, and the synergy between us artisans has led me to discover more facets of my creative vision and personality,” says Adam Benbarek, a program participant, to TZR. “Sharing these with my mentors and colleagues made me feel part of an ideas incubator where you grow and learn from each other.”