'The Work That We Do Is All About Reducing Our Impact': Christopher Raeburn Explains His Collab With Aesop
To call the collaboration between Aesop and fashion designer Christopher Raeburn fitting would be an understatement. Not only do both brands match when it comes to design, the two share philosophies when it comes to operating sustainably, as well as minimizing the impact on the environment. It's also this common desire to do good for the planet that fueled the partnership.
When Raeburn started speaking to Aesop, the intentions of the collaboration were quickly aligned."We realized that we could implement our shared passion for responsible design in the form of a handcrafted travel pouch," Raeburn says. The shared goal of creating a meaningful project led to the Adventurer Roll Up—a solution to carry hand care essentials including Aesop's Ressurection Rinse-Free Hand Mist, Ressurection Rinse-Free Hand Wash, and the Ressurection Aromatique Hand Balm.
We caught up with Raeburn to talk about the collaboration, responsible design, and making the product accessible through an open source pattern.
How did the collaboration with Aesop come about?
We started speaking with Aesop in June 2020, and what was quite exciting was that Aesop had done lots of research on Raeburn and the way that we work and they understood the Raemade, Raeduced, Raecycled philosophy. But then also lots of our work are around craft and community coming together and it was really inspiring when we had the first conversation with Aesop, very quickly we realized that there was lots of alignment.
Of course, I knew Aesop anyway, and I had seen the brand grow from when I'd been traveling and here in London, and very quickly we were able to start discussing—if we worked together, let's really try to make sure it's a meaningful project and we're doing something that will be pragmatic and functional and help to encapsulate the way that we both design and the way that we make products. And it was very clear that we had very similar values to begin with which is always so helpful.
How is the Raeburn ethos reflected in the Adventurer Roll Up?
Well, I think the really key thing about the remade aspect, the work that we do is all about reducing our impact. So, by working with something that already exists, you immediately really help with the process. And, so I think it’s a really clear alignment with Aesop’s way of working and philosophy. It’s one example with the remade aspect, and also again with recycled cotton, doing things in the right way here but allowing things to scale, so higher volumes as well is another good example.
What are some of the things you consider before taking on a collaboration?
The combination of the incredible ethics and aesthetics. For us, whenever we are choosing or have the opportunity to work with any partner, so much about it is the alignment of bands. From early conversations, we realized there was a lot that both brands shared in terms of craft, creativity, and community—all of those things coming together.
From very early on when we were doing our research, I was really impressed by the amount of work that was happening at Aesop, more specifically The Aesop Foundation. This commitment to working with local communities and the company’s philanthropic output is really a key alignment for Raeburn.
What was the design process like? From defining sustainability to the production process?
Having worked alongside the Aesop teams both here in the U.K. and in Australia, and presented ideas particularly around the Raemade aspect of what we do with Raeburn, has been a really dynamic and fun experience. What's been wonderful is notably the 'phygital' creative process; the necessity to optimize digital so we can collaborate from anywhere, but then also to physically craft in the studio.
We began with three or four different proposals that have ultimately been honed together through sampling, development, and refinement in the Raeburn Lab. Whilst all of the limited edition Raemade pieces have been made in our atelier, partnering with Aesop has allowed us more manufacturing scalability. It's this combination that makes the process of creating a product together really exciting and enjoyable.
Adventurer Roll Up
How did the reclaimed maps come into the picture?
The first thing to say is I am obsessed by maps and have always collected maps throughout my career, building an archive of these. The two specific geographies of maps that we are using for this project are original 1960's aeronautical maps used by the Royal Air Force and then actually by other Air Forces around the world. One of them is around Borneo and the Java Sea; an area heavily affected by deforestation and Palm Oil plantations.
I think there is something quite symbolic about working with a map from the 1960s and reworking it in 2020, because that 40-year period is where we've seen the catastrophic acceleration of deforestation environmentally impact climate change. The second map is showing the Aral Sea, which was already being highlighted as disappearing back during my A-level Geography studies. It has now been replaced by desert, with ships standing as tall relics in the middle of what used to be rich waters. Looking at the Aral Sea as you see it on the map in the 1960s, it is significantly larger than what we see from above in satellite image—it's a stark contrast. Ultimately, we've chosen these two specific locations because they signify the environmental impact we are having on the planet. But beyond that, maps bind us all together as people, globally.
What were the challenges you encountered in doing the collaboration?
The project has happened at a time where there is a lot of hardship and challenges for all of us. To go ahead with quite a radical and completely global project, speaks volumes to both brands; particularly the trust of Aesop and that we within Raeburn we were still able to sample, refine and evolve the product, and then do the production of the Raemade pieces all at this time. At a time where COVID-19 has driven us further apart, this project has in fact helped bring us closer together.
Tell us more about the idea behind making the pouch accessible with an open source pattern.
The open source version is not a limited edition because anyone will be able to download it from the Aesop or Raeburn site so it's really up to how many people would like to make or where they would like to make them. So the good thing—we have some experience through Raeburn with this, you might know we make these mascots and each season we do a different animal and we use up the off cuts from the studio. But then we teach people how to make them in workshops and of course, when the pandemic happened we couldn't do the workshops because we couldn't have people into the space. So instead we open sourced the pattern, and then we had people making the pandas all over the world but from materials local to them so it was absolutely amazing for us to see the variety and creativity that happened. So I really hope we'll see something similar with the Aesop roll up.
With the Raemade ones—the maps are very scarce so they're very difficult to find so in fact, because each of them are made right here in the studio, we can't make so many anyway but we wanted to really make sure that each piece we made was very special and very significant so the maps have been chosen for a special reason. We chose two locations—one is Borneo and one is the Aral sea. So areas of great environmental significance. And we wanted to make sure the Raemade aspect made through the Raeburn lab was a big part of the project but if we only did that it would be very small.
So we then wanted to also make sure we could be making another item that we could do in a higher volume but of course still done in the right way and still done in a very high quality that will last for a long time, and as I mentioned earlier with a lot of flexibility also so that people could really adapt it for the world and the life that they're living.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.