Mister Timbuktu Designer Rhianna Knight On Turning Trash Into Treasure

by: Rosie Dalton | 4 months ago | Features

Image: Mister Timbuktu designer Rhianna Knight. 

Mister Timbuktu founder Rhianna Knight is an inspiration. Not only is she passionate about introducing sustainable and minimal waste practices into her supply chain, but she also understands that ethical fashion is a journey, rather than a destination. It is for this reason that she is constantly looking to innovate when it comes to outdoor apparel that minimises planetary impact.  

In order to truly transform fashion from one of the world’s most polluting industries, to one of its most progressive, we need to see all brands introducing ethical values into their supply chains. But Rhianna believes this is particularly important in the context of activewear. As clothes that are “worn in beautiful yet fragile environments,” outdoor apparel represents a unique opportunity to remind us of the impact that fast fashion is having on the planet. And that is just what Mister Timbuktu seeks to do – with its raincoats made from recycled plastic bottles and leggings crafted from upcycled fishing nets.

So here, we catch up with the brand’s founder and designer, Rhianna Knight, about her journey to date and how Mister Timbuktu continues to evolve and innovate with each new collection.

Rosie Dalton: Can you tell us a bit about how Mister Timbuktu first began?
Rhianna Knight: Mister Timbuktu originated from the desire to spend more time outdoors in clothing that balanced style, sustainability and function. I was hiking in Patagonia, one of the most beautiful parts of the world whilst wearing some of the ugliest clothes in the world. No other brand was focussed on creating outdoor apparel that was sustainably minded and not entirely khaki or beige, so I decided to create my own. 

Rosie: What would you say are some of the core principles underpinning the brand?
Rhianna
: Mister Timbuktu aims to encourage women to spend more time outdoors. I think it’s so important for your physical and mental health, yet so many people don’t regularly adventure. Another core principle is the education aspect – as the fashion industry doesn’t have a great history looking after its people or the planet. So it’s important to educate our community about how they can become more sustainable.

Rosie: Why do you believe that it is so important for outdoor clothing to be made in a sustainable way?
Rhianna: I believe it is important for all businesses be moving towards a more sustainable supply chain. All businesses and consumers should be making changes to ensure they are not creating unnecessary impact on people or planet, in whatever way they can. However this is particularly true for outdoor brands. Activewear is worn in beautiful yet fragile environments, so it shouldn't damage [those environments] in the process.

Rosie: How does Mister Timbuktu seek to minimise waste – particularly through your use of recycled plastic bottles?
Rhianna: The business aims to create the highest quality product with minimal impact, from raw materials, to packaging for shipping and everything between. The process of sourcing these innovative recycled materials took months, to ensure the highest quality, most durable and sustainable product possible. This resulted in a fabric made out of recycled plastic bottles for the raincoats and a fabric made out of discarded fishing nets for the leggings and crop tops. Both materials upcycle waste that was previously considered unusable, so we are turning trash to treasure.

Image: Designer Rhianna Knight with models wearing Mister Timbuktu.

Rosie: Why is this approach so integral to the brand?
Rhianna: I’d rather not have a brand if it weren’t doing everything it could to minimise its impact and look after people and the planet. It’s a core belief that’s been ingrained in me from a young age; to always leave things better than you found it. This is why the brand does everything it can to look after people and planet within the supply chain; in addition to donating 20% of profits to charity, in order to further offset our impact and help those who need it most.

Rosie: Can you run us through the journey of your garments, from concept to creation?
Rhianna: It’s a long process from the initial design concept to production and eventually delivery to customer. It’s been reported that some fast fashion retailers can deliver products in under a month, whereas our process takes over 9 months, with a large portion of that time required to make our recycled fabric. The first step is design, with initial concepts of the product to determine what materials will be needed and whether it’s possible to source a more sustainable option than the mainstream conventional choice. This is not only more expensive, but also more time consuming, as recycled fabrics are generally not available and have to be made to order, due to low demand. Hopefully more brands will start using innovative, recycled fibres and they will become more accessible soon. After sourcing a fabric mill and garment manufacturer that we approve of – both for quality and their approach to ethics and sustainability – we start sampling and refining the design and fit, before moving into bulk production and delivery to our warehouse, ready for selling to the customer. 

Rosie: And what does ethical fashion mean to you personally?
Rhianna: Sustainable and ethical fashion is the future, however it’s not a benchmark that can ever be achieved. It’s a continual journey that involves implementing best practices as they become available. It is about never standing still, but about making ongoing positive change, however small it may seem at the time. Because, eventually, all the little changes add up to great change. For example, right now we’re using up the last of our cardboard mailing bags and are about to transition to a compostable bag for sending out online orders. This may seem small, but it is something we are so excited about.

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