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HIGHER founder Sara Arnold on Comme des Garçons, fashion as a service and the circular economy.

I have the fondest memories of the weekly toy library that allowed children to choose one toy from a selection ferried around inside a cleverly designed van. These were toys you wouldn’t ordinarily have at home, so to have something from the library felt exciting and privileged. HIGHER is a chance to borrow from what feels like founder Sara Arnold’s own wardrobe, one filled with pre-owned pieces from seminal designers including Junya Watanabe, Vivienne Westwood and Maison Martin Margiela.

Newer names like Ovelia Transtoto, HYDRA and Phoebe English partner with HIGHER to allow rental of their clothes whilst they retain ownership. The result being a luxurious library of options for customers and subscribers to experiment with their clothing choices more freely. We caught up with Sara to learn more about HIGHER’s progression and the future of feel-good fashion.

HIGHER is subscription based opposed to straightforward rental, why?

– Since April when we officially soft launched, we added a Pay-As-You-Go service in additional to the subscription service we initially tested. We believe that the future of wardrobes is a capsule wardrobe of owned basics and sentimental items supplemented by a rotation of items on subscription that allow you to experiment and fulfill a desire for newness.

– However, we’ve found that the Pay-As-You-Go service is needed too as this can be used to dress for special occasions when there is an obvious need for rental. Once users have a foot in, with time, they’ll realise the obvious benefits to the subscription service when compared to Pay-As-You-Go rentals.

– The major benefit to the subscription model is a feeling of ownership as you have more control over when you give the product up and return it. It’s like owning something but knowing that if you end up not being commited, it doesn’t matter – it will go to a good home after you and you haven’t wasted your money.

How has HIGHER evolved since its soft launch?

– I’d say from April 2017 to April 2018 has been our testing phase, and then soft launch phase since. Aside from adding the Pay-As-You-Go service, our testing phase utilised archive pieces from seminal brands such as Comme des Garçons.

– Our focus now is our partnerships with brands, which we are expanding gradually. This partnership is focused in allowing them to transition from a business model of creating in quantity to sell, to creating for longevity to rent. We believe it’s essential for this transition that the brands retain ownership so they can profit from a long lifespan and can modify, remake or recycle at the end of life. Therefore we facilitate rentals for them but they own the stock. We’ve also begun working with brands to create specifically for post-ownership with a number of items exclusively stocked with us.

Why is a circular economy a better economy?

– Currently the fashion industry only recycles 1% of clothing into new clothing and therefore its an industry that is almost totally linear with resources being extracted, used and discarded. If the fashion industry continues on this trajectory, by 2050, it will use 26% of the carbon budget associated with 2 degrees of global warming.

– On the other hand, a circular economy is one in which resources are used and recycled in a way that is regenerative and without waste. In an economic sense, we are currently running ourselves into a brick wall and the circular economy is a way to divert destruction whilst maintaining prosperity.

Tell us more about your selection of designers.

– The focus of the archive is seminal brands that have pushed creativity and conceptualism of fashion. For me, the holy grail of designers is Rei Kawakubo whose dissection of clothing is highly poetic. This integrity makes the clothes transcend trends giving it longevity. When you remove the ownership of fashion, fashion becomes largely about experiences. Personally, the best fashion experience is wearing Comme des Garçons.

– The brands we partner with are all about integrity in different forms. We have started with partnering with five brands and are gradually adding brands one by one. Phoebe English is all about deconstruction and reconstruction and the sustainability of fabrics used is carefully considered. Ovelia Transtoto provides versatility and voluminous shapes. Minki is girly and fun underpinned with clever pattern cutting to create exciting new shapes. Congregation are a design collective of anonymous creatives. And HYDRA is a brand that creates latex garments to explore the aging and regeneration of materials.

What’s on the horizon for HIGHER?

– The horizon is all about how we help our brands be ever more sustainable and more creative. Through using the business model to focus on longevity rather than short-sighted commerciality, designing clothes becomes about providing a better fashion experience, which means more user-centric innovation and creativity. Additionally, we want to help our brands design with end of life in mind and bring together an ecosystem that aids the transition from linear to circular design.

You can find HIGHER here and follow here.

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