An Interview with Brett Staniland

25th January 2024
Charlie Vowden

Seated beside his grandmother, the model and fashion environmentalist Brett Staniland has an assortment of garments laid tidily across his lap. Haute couture, second-hand or borrowed from his identical twin brother, Scott, each item requires a tweak, a touch of tailoring or a repair. “It’s become… kind of a thing,” alludes Brett, as he watches his grandmother at work.


With a lifetime’s knowledge of stitching and fixing, Brett – who has modelled for fashion houses such as Giorgio Armani, Helen Anthony and Paul Smith and trodden the Vogue runway – maintains that 79-year-old nan “can do anything,” and will forever be his seamstress of choice.

“Whenever I go home to Derbyshire, I’m like ‘nan, can you tidy the hem on these trousers, put the button on this, sew the hole in this pocket up.’” Spending time together at the sewing machine, in her exclusive, family-only atelier, is a ritual that he treasures, which has developed, in part, because the 30-year-old wants to nurture the mending techniques he was taught as a child. He adds, for clarity: “I supervise.” His mum, Sue, made sure he knew how to use a needle and thread, but his lack of confidence stems from a lack of practice.


A sustainable fashion campaigner whose Filofax includes names such as Stella McCartney – a standard-setting pioneer of conscious clothing practices – Brett is leading the fight for systemic change in the fashion industry as its impact on the planet has reached a critical point. He is an impressive, empowered character, but at home he is humbly in awe of his nan. A link to the past, she also holds the key to a more sustainable future: “it’s all about fostering a connection to our clothes again.” This used to be a “lot easier” nineties-born Brett believes, because people bought less, more locally and more consciously. The rise of fast fashion, he insists, has distorted that relationship. 

“I like going into vintage stores, particularly when I travel, and finding really special pieces that I can add to my wardrobe, which I share with Scott.” A mutual penchant for playful, strong silhouettes and a muted palette keeps the arrangement harmonious. Choosing an eighties Valentino overcoat as one of the most iconic, and precious, pieces they co-own, Brett retells the tale of its discovery with aplomb. 

Milan is such a treasure trove,” he begins, before describing a joyful rummage through rails of one-of-a-kind vintage pieces, until, he finds the one. “I put it on,” he recalls, dreamily, “and my mind immediately went to who might have brought it new and what kind of life they had – probably a really cool corporate guy with a lot of money.” The act of wearing the “timeless” tailored herringbone weave coat, that’s both sophisticated and practical, is transformative. To allow others the experience, he frequently lends it to friends. “I now feel like I’m part of its story. If I look after it, which I will, hopefully it will outlive me.”

Brett's reminiscence of pre-loved shopping is romantic, and inspires hope. “People are shopping vintage and second-hand more than ever, rather than being swayed by fast fashion trend cycles, because these pieces speak to them personally. I’ve never followed trends to define how I dress myself, I go out and I try stuff on.” This shift in consumer behaviour, to circularity and reuse, in turn reduces the need and demand for new. Going green is the new black.


A twice attendee of Goodwood Revival (“I’m a big car person, I prefer classics”) Brett finds the idea of dressing in-period beguiling. A celebration of the glamorous, as well as the workaday looks of the forties, fifties and sixties, flares are his signature piece. “I love the sixties and I love a good flare, people know me for wearing flares, they’re my go-to.”

Finding swagger in suits tailored by Edward Sexton, whose house was founded on Savile Row in 1969, “I love that street so much, I’m obsessed with pattern making and cutting, I’m glad it’s having a bit of a revival,” Brett cuts a dramatic silhouette. “A lot of my suits have that tower dynamic; wide leg trousers, a really cinched waist and strong shoulders.”

Borrowing an on-era ensemble is an eco and frugal manoeuvre, Brett did so for Revival in 2021, and lists items from his own wardrobe on the rental platform, By Rotation. For keeps, pieces from seasons past can be acquired in charity shops, and as retail ambassador for the British Heart Foundation, which has 750 shops across the UK, Brett is qualified to offer advice. “They also have an eBay shop which is incredible.”

Watch old films and television to find what era of style you think is cool and then build on that aesthetic, then, create a mental mood board for the outfit you want to curate. For menswear, charity shops are such a great place to go because they are dominated by tailoring.

Brett Staniland

The key to success? Have a look in mind before you go. “Watch old films and television to find what era of style you think is cool and then build on that aesthetic,” then, create a mental mood board for the outfit you want to curate. “For menswear, charity shops are such a great place to go because they are dominated by tailoring. Trousers are a good place to start and then build on the silhouette from there, ignore anything that’s slim, no skinny lapels, go big, go broad, go shoulder pads.” Secondhand sites such as Depop, Vinted and Facebook Marketplace also make for rich hunting grounds.

It was in 2017 that Brett entered the “rabbit hole” that is the fashion industry when he was scouted as a model while walking down the street with Scott. Studying for a PhD in Public Health, (he passed and became a Doctor in 2021), it was a profession he’d “never really considered,” but within which he has excelled. Shooting up to fifty looks a day for a single brand in the early days was routine, but he felt uncomfortable and conflicted, “you’d literally wear an outfit for a couple of minutes, then take it off and shoot something else. All that clothing needed to be sold.” 

In 2020, troubled that his image was being used to promote a disposable attitude, “I was on set when I first acknowledged my role in the industry as a marketing tool,” Brett stopped working with fast fashion retailers. It was a brave and costly pivot. “By only aligning myself with brands who have similar ethics and values to me I was signing myself up for less work and less money.” 

Inevitably, some, including his peers, rebuked his stance: “I remember models messaging me saying I thought I was better than them because I wouldn’t do certain jobs. I’d ostracised myself… it was tough.” Several agencies and bookers dropped him. “By prioritising my ethics, I hoped I’d be able to show people that you can still have a decent career but do it in a more responsible way. That’s when the activist within me started to speak out.” 

A year later he put himself forward as a contestant on Love Island; the reality TV show that, in previous seasons, has been styled by fast fashion brands I Saw It First and Missguided. It was an eyebrow raising move. “I was the first contestant to turn down all those free clothes and sponsorship deals that go with it,” explains Brett, who promises he was looking for love, too. “I would only do it if I could do it my way and on my terms. I took my own clothes and didn’t take part in any of the advertising or marketing.” For daytime, he packed resortwear that included terry-toweling polos and swim shorts from Orlebar Brown, and for after dark, he donned shirts from Nanushka, King & Tuckfield and Lemaire. His chosen brands had a track record for being ethical and responsible.

By refusing to be a clothes horse for brands that normalise single-wear designs, “they’ve shortened people’s desire to keep, rewear and restyle their clothes,” Brett made himself an outsider once again. “It was a sacrifice I was willing to take because the fashion industry is a monster. I will continually challenge and provoke it because I want it to be better.” 


Impassioned, he continues: “I don’t think people really understood me or what I was trying to do but it was an opportunity for me to have those challenging conversations with people outside of the fashion circuit echo chamber. I opened myself up for a lot of abuse and he [Scott] took a brunt of the backlash too, but we have the same moral compass – we’re in it together.” The secondhand marketplace eBay has since been Love Island’s main sponsor.

With brands like Boohoo frequently hiring the most popular contestants, Brett prefers to lend his sphere of influence to ethical causes. In 2022, he joined a protest against unfair wages for factory staff outside Molly-Mae Hague’s London fashion show as she launched her latest PrettyLittleThing collection. She is the most followed former contestant on Instagram. “Influencers have a lot to answer for with regards to clothes waste and the climate crisis,” says Brett, intensely. “The influencer model was built upon promoting peer pressure, not wanting to be seen in the same thing twice and seeing your followers as customers to get rich from rather than a community, which is something I really dislike. It’s essentially capitalism on social media.”

The briefest encounter with Brett’s Instagram or TikTok grid forces you to think. “Most of the products sold on Black Friday will end up as pollution almost immediately, never biodegrade and impact communities everywhere,” reads one post. Others hint at a forthcoming documentary about Kantomanto market in Accra, Ghana – where mountains of used clothes from the West go to die – that he has worked on in his role as ambassador for World Vision UK.

“Historically they could sell and utilise those clothes within the community but the people that work there told me 80% of the stuff in the bails that arrive now, which they have to buy on face value, gets dumped in landfill because what’s in them is such low quality. That in turn pollutes their water, or if they burn it, it pollutes their air.” The insight was harrowing, says Brett: “We’ve created this mess with our incessant need for clothing and they need our support. I didn’t know whether to cry, be furious, or really motivated.”

Choosing the latter, Brett supports the Or Foundation, which has launched a “stop waste colonialism” campaign. “I want people to understand that everything we buy and throw away goes somewhere, it doesn't just simply disappear. That should make us more conscious of what we purchase.”


Buying once and buying well is his mantra. “Look at what you wear the most and buy really good versions of that because you’ll get a really long life out of your clothing, you’ll get a really low cost per wear and you’ve stopped yourself from making repeat purchases. It’s about implementing manageable things that you can do long-term.”

Brett’s father, Mike, a Rolls-Royce trained engineer, is largely responsible for his make-it-last mindset. “If we were going to buy anything he’d be like, you need to really look after it.” Handmade shoes, for example, were a coveted, saved for and cared for item in the Staniland household: “my dad’s shoes were passed down from his dad, and eventually they’ll come down to me.”

Classic British brands such as Church’s won the family’s affections and loyalty for their well-constructed designs. “When a sole wore out, you got it resoled.” Indeed, if anything needed mending, “dad would find a way to fix it,” explains Brett. “It’s like Trigger’s broom, but what we now call sustainability was to us, just being poor and working class.”

Frugality and thriftiness wasn’t an ultra-hip modern maxim, it was second nature. Prolonging the life of clothes meant learning how to read care labels. “It’s not working class or low income families that are propping up fast fashion,” he adds. “That’s a myth, the business simply wouldn’t exist on the scale that it does if that were true.”

For Brett, sustainability means taking more responsibility for knowing about the maker, the materials and the manufacturing processes that go into the clothing you choose. “The worst thing you can ask me is where something is from – I will stand there for twenty minutes and explain everything. I’m so deeply connected to my clothes and when you meet someone who is passionate, it captivates you, it inspires you, and that’s how you can get people to change.”

A constant and encouraging presence, Brett’s grandmother “a lifelong lover of fashion,” who has made her own clothes “from Vogue patterns and the alike for years,” supports her grandson in his tussle with the industry they both adore. “She loves that I get into trouble from time to time for doing the right thing!” His hope is that others will follow suit. Flares and shoulder pads, though, are optional.

Look at what you wear the most and buy really good versions of that because you’ll get a really long life out of your clothing, you’ll get a really low cost per wear and you’ve stopped yourself from making repeat purchases. It’s about implementing manageable things that you can do long-term.

Brett Staniland
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