Innovation That Matters

Enlightened leaders: Anya Hindmarch, fashion accessories designer

Enlightened Leaders

Following London Fashion Week 2022, Springwise speaks to British fashion accessories designer, Anya Hindmarch, about innovation, circularity, and the awesome power of fashion to inspire change

Anya Hindmarch’s career has included some impressive firsts. In 2007, she became the first winner of the Designer Brand of the Year Award at the British Fashion Awards. She is also one of the first mainstream British fashion designers to embrace sustainability in her work. In 2007, her ‘I Am Not a Plastic Bag’ tote raised awareness about the issue of plastic waste. She later flipped this idea on its head with her follow-up ‘I Am a Plastic Bag’ campaign – which drew attention to circularity and the re-use of materials. Today, her current collection, ‘Return to Nature’, is created to biodegrade, compost, and return to the earth, nourishing the soil at the end of its useful life.

As a passionate advocate for British design and innovation, Hindmarch has long been vocal about the need to apply innovative approaches to a variety of aspects of fashion – from repurposing fabrics and looking at materials, to driving behavioural change.

And she is proof that innovative thinking around sustainability can be a valuable brand asset. In 2017, Hindmarch was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in recognition of her distinguished and innovative contribution to the British fashion industry.

Following London Fashion Week 2022, Springwise caught up with the designer to speak about her latest thinking on fashion, innovation, sustainability – and what it means to lead the pack.

What does innovation mean to you?

There are lots of different ways of looking at innovation, but fundamentally it’s about doing something that makes people stop in their tracks and think and behave differently. In this way, it’s a natural partner for fashion, which is always looking to the next thing.

Innovation is great, but we also need…

Behavioural change. Particularly when it comes to sustainability. In an ideal world, the fashion industry would realise that customers respond positively and commercially to brands that behave in a responsible way – and start being more responsible as a result.

However, right now, it seems more of a ‘nanny state’ approach is needed. The industry needs to be forced a bit. This might be through incentives – for example tax cuts on using recycled materials, or low carbon methods, or supply chains. Or it might be more of the stick than the carrot – say, fines. Hopefully more of the former than the latter – but definitely something.

Innovation can help, too. Whether that’s the use of great new materials as alternatives to leather and fur, or bringing people together. A great example of this is the Future Fabrics Expo – an exhibition that curates and collates all the modern fabrics that are better environmentally. Designers can go to that exhibition, and have lots of options at their fingertips, which just makes it very easy for them.

How do you apply innovation to what you do?

When you work in the creative industries, innovation is integral, because you’re always producing new collections. Newness is key. It’s also fundamental to the work the Anya Hindmarch brand has been doing in our set of sustainable projects.

For example, we have been looking how we deal with waste – specifically, how we can repurpose materials that would have ended up in landfill. That’s taken us on a very long journey from ‘I Am Not a Plastic Bag’, to then later ‘I Am a Plastic Bag’, and more recently to the project ‘Return to Nature’ – which is all about the question of whether we can make something that’s designed never to end up in landfill, but will instead return to nature as a compostable and biodegradable bag.

The question we asked ourselves was: could we actually mimic nature – in the sense that, like an apple, if it falls from a tree, it degrades and composts, making more nutritious soil to support better future plant growth?

We’ve also recently run a campaign called ‘Waste Not Want Not’ where we took all the scraps that would normally end up in the bin and tried to repurpose them into nice things.

I love innovation. I find it very exciting. So, we try to integrate it into everything we do. Sometimes that’s in the way we communicate to people. For example, when we launched the ‘I am a Plastic Bag’, we closed all of our stores for Fashion Week and filled them with more than 80,000 used plastic bottles. The aim was to shock people. It was part artform and part protest to make people look at landfill and realise that we are all connected to it.

Can fashion ever be sustainable?

That’s a really hard question! It’s pretty hard to be sustainable in almost anything, full stop – unless, perhaps, you live in the countryside, growing your own vegetables and somehow repurposing your own waste and water.

Fashion rightly gets a bad rap in the sense that it contributes hugely to landfill, carbon, and in a number of other ways that are pretty shocking. At the same time, I think it’s important to balance that with the fact that it’s a diverse, global employer, with a pretty significant contribution to the economy.

I think we have to be wary of hitting on fashion in a siloed, isolated way, and be a bit broader with our thinking. We all know, realistically, that one of the main ways we’re going to solve this [climate] problem is through some big changes to the way that we as nations behave. And we are probably going to have to subsidise some of the countries that need help – for example those that can’t afford to stop deforesting. That’s not just a fashion issue.

But certainly, there are ways the industry can make massive strides in terms of making a real difference. Importantly, we can use our platform to communicate change in behaviour. Fashion really does influence people. It always has done. If we can influence people to go from miniskirts to maxiskirts, then we can influence people to make behavioural changes that positively impact the planet.

About Anya Hindmarch

Anya Hindmarch is the founder and CEO of the Anya Hindmarch brand. She is also a Trustee of Tate and of The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, and an emeritus trustee of both the Royal Academy of Arts and the Design Museum. To see her latest Return to Nature collection, visit

About our Enlightened Leaders column

What does it mean to be enlightened about innovation and sustainability? In our new column, Enlightened Leaders, we’ll be featuring some of the most forward-thinking leaders, asking them about their attitudes to innovation and how it intersects with their work. What does innovation mean to them? And what kind of innovation gets them excited?

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