Sustainability Strategist | @kelliedalston

Uncovered: Kellie Dalton

I started I started at an early age, when I first came to the UK. I was eight and I couldn't speak any English. At school, it was really difficult to communicate. I was given pen and paper, lots of colouring pencils, and I spent most of my time drawing; it was my way to express how many siblings I had, the kind of place I lived in Bangladesh, etc. At that time, I had no idea that I was any good at it, I actually didn't even know what art was but everything I drew went up on the wall in my school so that is when I realised I must be good at it. However, art isn’t really something recognised or well respected in my culture. Even though I did well with my A-level, my parents still wanted me to have an arranged marriage, which was something I wasn’t interested in. I wanted to study and wanted to break away from that kind of system. It took a lot of convincing from my art teachers at school - who were just fantastic and very supportive - and my uncle to change my dad’s mind to let me pursue my future with art. 20 years; a privileged position she continuously utilises to encourage and inspire the fashion industry for the better. 

On getting into sustainable fashion…

I’m from Dublin and Dublin was kind of the starting point. It had become a very trendy capital city. Because Ireland is so small, people are really willing to embrace change. There is this new generation and a huge groundswell of support for social and environmental change. When I was coming out of university, I just got lucky to be surrounded by people who were interested in it. I was also into fashion in my spare time. My mum was a dressmaker and had her own knitting café so all the influences around me started to come together.

During my course I had a very good lecturer who made us read Naomi Klein’s book ‘no logo’. I was really blown away by it. I had just got really into that. So after finishing a degree in marketing in 2005, I started to do a PHD on sustainability in the fashion industry.


On starting her career…

At the time, there was definitely talk about sustainability but only from two or three fashion designers. What I had to do as part of my PHD was to find a company to do a study on.

One of the issues in Ireland is that the creative industry is quite small so usually people leave. Only one or two Irish local designers stayed in Ireland. I don’t think people have that much connection to clothes and that’s because there’s no fashion industry or it’s very much based on the UK high street. I had been following what was happening in the sustainable fashion scene in London, and there weren’t that many people back then. Katharine Hamnett was the only high-end designer I could really find. I wrote her a letter and luckily, she wrote back asking me to come to London. Which I did. I won a scholarship for my research and the study led to employment. I ended up working there for 2 years. For me it was career defining.

Then I went from Katharine, to Burberry, where I stayed for 4 and a half years. I worked on their corporate responsibility, same kind of work as a full-time role.

On working approach…

I do everything from the idea of the initial training and information around all the issues there are in the industry but also what the solutions are as well, and then where you can match that to what your brand is able to do because depending on the size of the brand, it just changes. If you’re a massive multi-national brand with big budgets and big teams, you can do a lot more, but it takes a lot longer to change. If you’re a smaller brand with smaller teams and smaller budgets, you’re at the beginning of your journey, there’s only certain things you can do in the industry, and then you have to wait for innovation to come along and regulation to change.


On best practice … 

We’re so used to hearing about sustainability in mainstream language now, and fashion narrative we presume we should know but I think the biggest thing for the everyday consumer is to:

Choose the best Materials option - A huge amount of the environmental and social impact comes from the choice of raw material. Recycled polyester, nylon, acrylic, natural fibres are definitely better to focus on and trying to find the more sustainable and traceable options within those natural fibres.

Get connected to the functionality of your clothes - It’s interesting to find out, why do we wear cotton at certain times of the year or wool. I think everything has gotten so fast we’ve forgotten why we wear things.

Choose brands you trust for supporting their workersIt takes a bit more effort for customers to find this out, unless the brand communicates it. Knowing that a brand supports the people that makes their clothes is so important to know. We shouldn’t shy away from supply chains; we should be looking at them and thinking what amazing skills they have. Try and start to shift our focus to them as their work being as valuable as our work is at a brand level and be respectful of them meaning paying them what they’re worth.

The best thing for people to do is to choose brands you trust: it's the classic buy less, choose well, make it last. It's about trying to buy what you want and love and that you'll also wear forever. No brand is 100% sustainable, its just about trying to make better choices in the right direction.

On challenges and hope…

Working in sustainability is an emotional rollercoaster! You find out quite a lot of intensive information about things that are wrong in the industry and the world. You then have to present that to your client and bucket them hope and present them solutions. There are lots of different reasons why people can and can’t take action, often to do with team size, budgets, etc. They are dependent on lots of reactors. It requires kind of all stakeholders within the fashion industry to change at the same time. You can’t just expect one group to change, that’s the challenge.

However, solutions are coming thicker and faster than they ever did before, there are more people, organisations, reports, solutions and initiatives. Theres still a lot of improvement needed but there are far more conversations around legislations changing, waste, human rights, deforestation, modern slavery, etc and far more hopeful and interested people. It's an amazing thing to imagine that it can happen, and that people want it to happen.


On London experience…

My heart is in Camden. I lived there for 20 years. Now I live in south London with my husband, but I have such amazing memories there. It was obviously the very Irish experience of moving to London and moving into Camden because there’s such a history there: you have the kind of character of London, the grittiness of the high street but then Regent’s Park is just so beautiful.

For food, I love Mildred’s in Soho. It’s a chain of plant-based restaurants. I’ve been vegan for probably 4 years now. I was vegetarian for a long time and then became vegan from knowing everything I know in the industry.

On personal style…

My style changed with sustainability over time, because obviously when we’re younger we all follow trends, but the more I have learned the more I appreciate wardrobe staples, classic styles and investing in pieces. You need to think about how you spend your money. It is about being sustainable and supporting independent designers. So, I have lots of pieces from 20 years ago. I like classic pieces, interesting shapes, clean lines. My go to outfit is a pair of tailored trousers, and an interesting pair of shoes.



Photography: @aurianedefert