Artisans Go Green At Dumfries House

The Prince’s Foundation
By Gill Sherry

Home to many of The Prince’s Foundation’s flagship education programmes, Dumfries House provides opportunities for people to train in real life skills with a vision of creating communities for a more sustainable world.

The unique experiences available to youth groups, schools, local authorities and other organisations include Health and Wellbeing, Horticulture, Field to Fork, Farm to Fork and Hospitality. But it was their Future Textile programme that stole the limelight in early November.

November 3rd saw the official launch of the second Modern Artisan collection, the result of The Prince’s Foundation’s collaborative training programme with YOOX Net-a-Porter, a leading online luxury and fashion retailer.

Dumfries House itself was the perfect setting for the ‘big reveal’ of the responsible, ready-to-wear luxury womenswear collection, crafted by eight artisans in the Estate’s Textile Training Centre.
Four of the artisans were graduates of Politecnico di Milano, Italy. The others were all UK based, including Merie Phillips from South Lanarkshire who had recently completed a Higher National Diploma in Fashion Technology from Glasgow Clyde College.

Having met Merie prior to the evening’s spectacle, she told me how excited she had been to be accepted for the programme.

“I knew it was something I wanted to be involved in,” she said, “as it was all about sustainability and using high skill sets to produce the garments which I wanted to learn more about.

I never dreamed I would be accepted so when I opened my email to see I had been successful, I had to keep reading it to check it was right!”

Merie went on to tell me how much she enjoyed working with the mentors and understanding where the fabrics came from and what they were made of.

“I have gained so much knowledge from this experience… it has given me the confidence to go out and work on my own and hopefully build on a small business, being as sustainable as I can.”

Throughout the ten-month programme, Merie and her fellow participants undertook six months of intensive training in luxury small batch production, developing skills to handle silk, wool and cashmere and focusing on pattern drafting, sewing and quality control. They also received training and advice from industry mentors and experts, travelling to the YOOX Net-a-Porter Headquarters in Milan. The trainee artisans also attended a pre-COP 26 event in the Italian city (hosted by the UK Government’s Department for International Trade), promoting the Modern Artisan collection which has sustainable design principles at its core. In addition, the group took part in the Homo Faber international craftsmanship exhibit in Venice, organised by the Michelangelo Foundation. Homo Faber is a cultural movement championing artisans worldwide.

Another highlight for the trainees was meeting the then Prince of Wales at Dumfries House in January 2022 when they were able to showcase their work to His Royal Highness.

It was, of course, His Majesty who saved Dumfries House (along with its historically important collection of furniture and contents) when it was offered for sale in 2007. Subsequently, it was transformed by The Prince’s Foundation and perfectly demonstrates how the charity’s principles and philosophies have been put into practice.

Another of the Foundation’s sites, The Highgrove Estate in Gloucestershire, was the inspiration behind the latest Modern Artisan collection. Highgrove Gardens played host to the eight trainees as they sought ideas for silhouette, texture and colour. All eight artisans made reference to this inspiration as they presented their creations to a delighted audience at Dumfries House.

The shade of the Silk Evening Dress, for example, was inspired by the deep fuchsia hue of the Highgrove Rose while the flattering A-line shape reflects the curves of the Thyme Walk topiary. The contrasting check patterns of the Blanket Coat were inspired by the irregular textures of the garden wall
at Highgrove. As for the Silk Top, the tie fastenings at the shoulders pay homage to the workwear of those who tend the Highgrove Gardens.

But green, I noticed, was definitely the colour of choice. When it came to deciding the shade of the Shirt Dress, along with the other green items from the collection, this was born from the lush foliage on display in Highgrove Estate’s extensive grounds.

And how apt that green should be the dominant colour of this eco-friendly collection with wide-leg trousers, a silk top, a silk skirt and a knit vest all boasting this particular vibrant colour and all on display for guests to admire.

There’s no doubt the initiative afforded wonderful opportunities for those involved, providing a viable and attractive career path as well as skills that would otherwise be lost. But it was the desire to shape a more circular industry that led to the initial collaboration.

YOOX Net-a-Porter is committed to driving a more sustainable fashion system and was, therefore, the perfect partner for The Prince’s Foundation when it came to this particular project. Creating sustainable communities is a priority for the Foundation and with YOOX Net-a-Porter sharing its vision to be more planet positive by sourcing and buying responsibly and protecting our natural ecosystem, it was the ideal match.

The Modern Artisan collection was based on the principle of making loved clothes last, but this goes way beyond the high quality fabric and craftsmanship of the garments. By embracing next generation technologies, wearers of this capsule collection can access unique product insights along with care, repair and resale services. In short, it aims to evolve and enhance the customer experience.

Such technology also allows YOOX Net-a-Porter to share the story of how it worked with environmental consultancies to calculate, minimise and compensate for the carbon footprint of each garment. In fact, it is the first ever carbon neutral collection and supports the initiative’s commitment to preserving heritage skills and advancing sustainability in luxury fashion, supporting a more circular approach.

From the buyer’s point of view, they can be assured of a quality garment made from 100% natural fibres, locally sourced and made. Based on a zero-waste design it consists of pure blends and minimal trims with no dyes used. But, most importantly of all, it is made by next generation artisans using skills that without this unique project, they wouldn’t ordinarily have mastered.

At the pre-launch event on 2nd November, the talented artisans were piped into The Tapestry Room where they were welcomed by their appreciative audience and where they showcased their designs with much pomp and ceremony.

It was a proud moment for the group as applause rang out from the guests, including those who had travelled from Italy especially for the event.

But as much as everyone appreciated both the beauty and quality of the collection, it was the artisans themselves who attracted most of the attention. They were, after all, the stars of the show and once Piper Bryce McCulloch had led everyone down to The Pavilion, they were each able to tell their own individual story.

Also in attendance, were members of the first Modern Artisan initiative which took place in 2019. They wore their own eye-catching creations and looked every inch the skilled designers and makers they now were. In fact, they were living proof that the Future Textile education programme, as well as offering training in real life skills, also builds confidence and aids personal development providing participants with an invaluable platform from which to thrive. They really do have a very bright future indeed.

Ayrshire is fortunate to have the 18th century Dumfries House within its boundaries. Not only is the house (and its contents) of significant historic interest but the grounds are free to anyone who wants to walk, sit, admire or learn. And, thanks to the Prince’s Foundation, it provides extraordinary opportunities for those, like Merie, lucky enough to embark on one of their many and varied training programmes.
To view the 2022 Modern Artisan collection visit https://www. Fifty per cent of the RRP from the sale of the collection will be donated to The Prince’s Foundation to support the development and delivery of training programmes that help to preserve traditional skills.