It all began with a cup of tea in spring 2018 with Prince Charles and members of the British design industry committed to putting the British Fashion Council’s Positive Fashion sustainability initiative into action. Attending were design duo Vin + Omi, admired by both Beyonce and Michelle Obama.
"It’s so surreal," says Omi, who talked to The Hollywood Reporter by phone from London and, like Vim, goes only by his first name. "We were invited for tea with His Royal Highness, and it was just a passing comment he made, where he suggested using nettles from his estate and turning them into clothes. It was over tea — we thought nothing of it. Then the next thing you know, we were down on his estate, collecting weeds. It went from zero to 100 very quickly!"
Prince Charles volunteered an abundance of nettles in residence at his and Camilla’s Clarence House gardens known as Highgrove Royal Gardens.
Prior to talking nettles with Prince Charles, Vin + Omi were creating clothes woven from cow parsley and discarded bottles. Their collection opened London Fashion Week’s Spring 2019 shows in September 2018. The creatives blended cow parsley with flax, creating an eco-fabric called Flaxley produced by by attendees of a Gloucestershire employment programme to create the clothes seen on the catwalk. The Guardian writes that Vin + Omi also created hybrid metal fabrics, manufactured from cans collected by homeless people on a support programme in Birmingham, and bags made from fabric derived from plastic bottles discarded from the menswear shows in July and collected, recycled and woven by London College of Fashion students.
Vin + Omi have been focused on eco fabrics since 2004 with a focus on the environment and supporting local communities. Two of their big successes have been creating an eco latex from a rubber plantation they fund in Malaysia and vegan “leather” made from the skins of chestnuts.
On the subject of longevity, Omi reminds Hollywood Reporter readers that the Prince has been committed to sustainability issues for 25 years.
"The thing we learned about working with someone with of the status of His Royal Highness is that he is really well informed," adds Omi. "You would think someone who is so high up wouldn’t necessarily have all these cares and concerns for the environment, so it's quite humbling. His team is really well informed, too, with the plants and all the properties that go with them. We widened our knowledge about what the possibilities are of working with these species of plants."
As part of the collection, Vin + Omi partnered with art supply brand Daler-Rowney. "We are reutilizing their paint plastic tubes and turning them into fabric, so we’re helping with their waste issues. Then we have our own linen, which we grow in our fields, and we’re also up-cycling denim, to stop it from going to landfills. We want to stop old garments from ending up in the incinerator,” Omi says. Biodegradable latex is part of the upcoming collection, says Omi, stressing that that Vin + Omi really aren’t fashion designers. The duo considers themselves to be sustainability-focused artists and clothes are their canvas.
."Everything has been carefully thought out," says Omi. "The amount of attention we’ve been receiving ahead of the show is quite humbling. From Nigeria, Australia, it's been really crazy. We’re expecting a really crazy, big show."
Omi says the duo plans to send pieces to Prince Charles, who has been sending them letters of encouragement, "as a gesture of thank you." A piece from the collection is also going to the Victoria and Alfred Museum. "It’s nice that they will have a piece in their archive permanently for public viewing," Omi says. "The public will be able to go and see and realize that 'Wow, this is what you can do with nature.'"