Sir Richard Branson has always had a reputation for pushing the boundaries and doing things differently. Recently, he made his mark again, by partnering Virgin Atlantic with renowned fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, to bring sustainable style to the skies.
In only the fourth upgrade to the uniform in over 30 years, Westwood was asked to reinterpret the signature red looks, as part of a collaboration that will run for a decade and follow a decidedly eco-friendly theme.
The uniforms themselves, inspired by 1940s French couture and futuristic looks, will be made from a selection of eco-friendly, recycled and recyclable fabrics, and will be worn by the more than 7,500 Virgin employees. Even the ground staff will enjoy a collection of bags made from unusual materials including discarded roadside banners and recycled brass. These materials are being sourced in Nairobi through the Ethical Africa Program in collaboration with the International Trade Centre.
Virgin Atlantic is also developing all items with closed loop recycling in mind. This new technology takes worn polyester clothing and turns it back into fibers that can be woven again into new fabrics and in turn new clothing.
Westwood and Branson may seem an unlikely pair, but they were first introduced in 1977 by Westwood’s ex-husband, Malcolm McLaren, who Branson knew from signing his band The Sex Pistols, to his label. When it came time to revamp the Virgin Atlantic uniforms, Branson told Vogue UK, “The one person in this world who could create unique designs is Vivienne. So it’s great to be working with her. What we don’t want to do is work with anyone who comes up with a design and just dumps it on the cabin crew. It’s glamorous, it’s stylish.”
A world famous fashion designer in her own right, Westwood has also recently become a campaigner in the fight against climate change. Back in 2005, she set up the Active Resistance Project to encourage engagement with environmental and humanitarian issues. She also designed a t-shirt for the Environmental Justice Foundation for a campaign to support climate refugees. She has made generous personal donations to the climate cause and not that long ago, unveiled her new manifesto entitled ‘Do It Yourself’, which suggests that fashion should be less about the ‘throw away’ philosophy and more about recycling, quality and utilizing key pieces.
In the official press release about the partnership, Westwood said, “My clothes have always got a very strong dynamic rapport with the body- they are very body conscious, they help you to look glamorous, more hourglass, more woman. I design things to help people to hopefully express their personality. I am always trying to find fabrics that are more friendly to the environment – working with Virgin Atlantic they managed to research into this and find more eco fabrics.”
The women’s outfits includes a waist-cinching jacket and pencil skirt, with the men’s look being a three piece Savile Row inspired suit in rich burgundy wool.
Although the full collection won’t be formally launched until next year, some Virgin staff will be trialling the new looks, so keep your eyes peeled!