Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Stitching Up Society

Her first creation was a tea-towel peg bag. Now, Paula Kirkwood is the Head Designer at Award winning ethical clothing line , TRAIDremade. Danielle Noakes reveals her love affair with discarded clothing, rubbing shoulders with Twiggy and how to be fun and creative with clothes with a clear conscience.

“ I like this one… I like a good challenge”. With her black glossy bob haircut, chunky statement ring, tribal wrist tattoo and vintage attire; the needle mistress herself ‘Miss P’ is the Queen of ethical cool. With such ease she assesses the situation : A green, floral flecked two-piece. Frock me. Yet she enthusiastically voices, “ I like taking something that’s prim and turning into a statement piece” and that she does. With the tools of scissors, sowing machine , pins and thread Kirkwood takes it back to basics, constructing an award-winning-esque corsage out of simply ribbon and a discarded button. The meek skirt is then cut, stitched and ruffled to create a beautiful high neckline and embellishment. The finished product is reminiscent of Westwood’s Harris Tweed, returning and celebrating the tradition of English tailoring. Seamlessly done. Bravo.

Watching her at work is like a nostalgic re-working of Blue Peter. Yet minus John Noakes and an Elephant. It seems that like the 70s, as a nation we have not only become more eco-aware but more thrifty with our penny- spending. The sharp rise in sowing machine sales is perhaps a tell-tale sign of what is to come. As the season changes from boom to bust traditional values of mending, darning and dress patterns are being stitched back into society.

This observation is taken off the set of the BBC2 s ‘Twiggy’s Frock Exchange’ where Kirkwood was the in-house designer - being given just 2 days to re-work 6 garments. The project led her to work closely with Eco-pioneer Joanna Yarrow and an electric creative mix of Twiggy ( “ A great, all round lovely person”), Handbag Connoisseur Lulu Guinness and Singer Roisin Murphy. (When questioned later on her perfect muse, Kirkwood ponders then gushes that Murphy is her perfect choice , “ She is the epitome of style that woman”). The collaboration came about when BBC Thread approached Kirkwood on giving ex-BP presenter Connie Hux a crash-course in updating, embellishing and customising two of her personal frocks.
Twiggy’s Frock Exchange was then the brain-child development. “ It was great fun but was carnage in places” So would she do it all again? “ I would do it again … the pressure makes you really buzz and think quickly on your feet”.

With a BA in fashion and textiles, Kirkwood visualised in Print Design at Brighton before taking her skills and passion to TRAID ( Textiles Recycled for Aid and International Development) . It was here where she stitched her path from sales assistant to manager to in-house designer at the award-winning sister label, TRAIDremade. After a short, successful self-employed stint, Kirkwood was once again approached by the ethical organisation to hold the position as Head of TRAIDremade. The ethical clothing line is the UK s most original. The antithesis to Topshop, TRAID works to protect our environment by diverting our cast-offs from the landfill and re-creating them into beautifully tailored individual pieces. Consisting of nine outlets, with four being destination stores ;Westbourne Grove, Brixton, Sheppards Bush and Brighton , Paula tells me excitedly about how the organisation has just bought a new store in Camden, which she’ll be able to get her grubby woollen knits on in February. It will be a pure vintage store whilst also showcasing a new collection; using brand new fabric ( meaning fresh cuttings from end of line and overstock fabric). Alongside this, Kirkwood will be presenting workshops from the temporary Covent Garden store over the Christmas period, from the 16th- 19th December.

When recollecting her successful 7 year career she shares a fond memory of her sales assistant days, “I remember when we would stand behind the cash desk and muck about with pieces that we couldn’t sell, embellishing and embroidering”. Taking redundant pieces and giving them a new occupation. Yet even as a child Paula took an interest in textiles:

"My mother always made my clothes as a child and the sowing machine always had a huge presence in our household. It was just natural to create your own clothes.” And what was her first creation? “ A peg bag made out of a tea towel! - It was wonderful!”

Fast-forward and Kirkwood’s home has been in the creative hub of Brighton for 12 years. The 18th century health resort turned liberal ‘ Gay Capital’ ; home of the Mods and Rockers rivalry, Fatboy Slim’s beach parties and the original Body Shop store. Has the vibrant city encouraged the fashion label to blossom? “Definitely… over the years I have interacted with so many different people… from Artists to Designers”.

So what is a typical day in an eco- fashion production house? Is it mood boards and macs or self-skills and sowing? Well, it seems a combination of the two: part 1978/2008.

“ Every Friday we get a delivery, which is stock which cannot be sold in our TRAID stores. It can be anything from knitwear to leather jackets. I am inspired with what people throw away, you never know what’s coming through the door… it’s a creative person’s dream. Every month we create a trend board and assess the different direction of mainstream trends.”

“ There is four of us working in the production house, with two full time seamstresses who work and reconstruct 14 garments a day. Then there is myself and the House Print Designer who over a 2 week period creates 8
designs; 4 for menswear and 4 for womenswear.”

With a penchant for Vintage and an admiration for Designers Westwood, McCartney and Emma Cook , Kirkwood favours hand-painted and embellished pieces that aren’t marked by the seasons, fashion with no boundaries and in a sense rules.

“ Be choosy about what you buy and be considerate of what you do to it… Take something on trend and have fun with the attention to detail”.

Woollen jumpers with vintage lace, Pink parkas turned handbags, beautiful knitted bows….

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Welcome to the Good Life

Self- professed Eco-centric Sarah Taylor sits forward and sips at her mug of fair trade coffee. With her knitted cardi, backpack and kinked dyed hair, the aesthetics resonate a young Dame Anita Roddick. Her passion and enthusiasm is contagious as she talks on her recent venture; as the founder of the UK's first non-academic allotment society, student self-sufficiency and how our nation has lost touch with the pre-war values of growing our own food. Her refreshing advice and vision will hopefully shed some light on how students, communities and governments can find their own way out of today’s intoxicating plastic bag generation.

The interview takes place at the University of Gloucestershire, at the Francis Close Hall campus. The setting is ideal for the subject matter; for the scene from the window is almost enraptured within time. The wonderful mock Gothic architecture embeds a beautifully preserved quadrangle, university chapel and a hidden secret garden. The Cardiff English Literature graduate confessed she chose the university due to its high green credentials and its continual commitment towards sustainable living. The university was ranked number 1 in the 2008 Green people and Planet league of Universities and has recently been awarded a green gown for continuous improvement. The institution's Sustainability Strategy intends to continue challenging unsustainable practice and changing mindsets and ways of thinking.

This is the mantra which Taylor seems to have incorporated into her project's ethos. The allotment society was created over the summer, the brainchild of Taylor after having completed eight months work experience with a variety of different environmental groups. Growing up in the Lake District her upbringing of outdoor walks and fresh home-grown vegetables rooted itself in her psyche. Speaking on her voluntary work, it seems she has always worn sustainability on her sleeve, "Yet it took me working within the groups to really realise how broad and diverse environmental issues are, as well as its large political base".

Keeping her green fingertips in ahem, all the local south-west pies seems to have paid off. When Sarah heard through the grapevine that the Gloucestershire independent Charity, Vision21 and Friends of the Earth were integrating together on an initiative, she approached the Student Union about creating a sustainable, organic allotment society. " I took the position as organiser as it is good experience on many levels. I do genuinely feel it is a very good idea." Yet as the conversation progresses, it seems her sound ethics are more deep-rooted:

"Everybody has a choice to eat well and fresh organic food should be more accessible, with the working classes having access to better forms of food".

The allotment society has won both national and local interest due to it being the country's first non-academic horticultural society. Taylor giggles when broached with the inaccurate report of the society comprising of Vyvyans, Ricks and hippie-esque Neil characters (from the 80s alternative sitcom, The Young Ones) - a perhaps unfair representation by a national newspaper:

“ I find it amusing. There are better ways of describing the lifestyle and organisation. It presents a negative stereotype of students who don’t care, but committee and prospective student members have the cause close to their heart”.

Students are the future and in turn seem to be creating a positive environmental difference. From the organic fruit and vegetable co-operative, wildlife conservation and Eco-holidays there is a feeling that the society will indefinitely grow. From television offers to horticultural therapy lessons, it seems the seeds have certainly been sown.
" I think it will grow. The University and the Student Union operate as different bodies, but both want to promote sustainability. We have the potential to be sourced locally, using our produce for the university cafeterias."

Yet she is not just focusing upon the small scale. " If the University had more land the spectrum would be much broader. It is all down to permaculture- maximising the use of space which you have.”

Having moved from Cardiff, which boasts a very "big green scene", Taylor is quick to promote the South-West's organic farming credentials.
“The South West is a great part of the country for organic produce and farming and there is a lot of potential to learn from each other".

But what about the rest of the UK? Does Taylor believe that in today's fast food, fast fix world we have lost touch with the self-sufficiency values of old? " We definitely have. There was a swift change after the War due to globalisation and mass production. We seem to have misplaced the natural instincts of the pre-war generation."

[“The specialist image is about to end, no matter what your age you can make an environmental difference. There is a greater demand for green space as many people in the cities do not own gardens. It is definitely becoming increasing more important”.]
With waiting lists for allotments surpassing those for beach huts and awareness of recycling and reusing, pockets of small communities are becoming more resourceful, and in turn more in control of their everyday lives.

Yet the Environmental Policy postgraduate is cautious of the media hype, a feeling dubbed "green washing". " There is definitely a shift of being aware but we need to see the nation as a whole practice what they preach."

Taylor's pioneering has worked to turn over the first new leaf, and it shan't be long before students, local communities and perhaps government initiatives work together to unearth the practices of old. Like Roddick with her 10 products in the original Brighton Body Shop store, Taylor's 10 'student' horticulturists ( comprising of 1st years, landscape architects and an award winning allotment owner-come lecturer) are " all learning together" to work towards a common ground.

Roddick once said, ‘ If I can’t do something for the public good, what the hell am I doing? A sentiment which seems to echo in Taylor’s voice when asked on her future aspirations:
“The project has inspired me more to be orientated around sustainability. To be at the heart of the community.”

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Children of the (DIY) revolution

Lyla Patel is the Head of Education at the charity organisation Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development (TRAID) which is based in both Brighton and London. Since 2005 Patel has become the voice of a new Eco-aware generation, whose programme has enlightened and inspired thousands of children, teenagers and teachers to the DIY revolution.

Lyla took a little time out to discuss TRAIDremade's ethos, affordable ethical fashion, RE: Fashion awards and being at the cusp of the UK's recycling revolution.

Patel enthuses that early on in life she held an interest in creating a sustainable future and wanted to make the world a better place. In essence, she has succeeded and talks passionately of the importance of education in raising consumer awareness.

" I tailor each workshop and explain the fashion industry through discussion workshops. Education is vital and introducing the issues at an early age is very important."

Secondary Schools are provided with customisation classes which enable students to customise and create their own garments. Patel reveals , " Because we want people to build upon skills which have been lost". Yet TRAIDs educational projects reach further than the blackboard and school sowing kit; with the organisation setting up fashion shows for students to showcase their talent.

" It is really exciting activity for young people and a really nice way of engaging them with fashion."

The result? Are Eco-Teens starting to care? " I am under no illusion of the Primark effect, people will always vote with their wallet.”

" We need to break down the stigma and ethical clothing needs to be more affordable”.

With a TRAID resource pack available to nationwide teachers by the end of the year and a nomination at the 2008 Re: Fashion Awards this week, is a textile based revolution starting to happen? " I think we are at the beginning of the Revolution, we just need it to seep into the general population."

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Take a leaf out of her book...

Suzanne Lee is a senior research fellow at Central St. Martins who's interest in innovative future fashion has led to the pioneering research and creation of a range of Cellulose Couture; an experiment that marries scientific discovery to design. We discuss the term Eco- friendly fashion, growing dresses in test tubes and gimmick trends within today’s fast fashion market.

So what is Cellulose Couture and how does the discovery benefit the environment and future forms of clothing? In short, bacterial cellulose is the only alternative to plant cellulose and as the world's forest resources deplete, so too do the natural resources and fibres. In this respect, bacterial cellulose is the key material to preservation of our natural resources. Yet is this a little too scientific for fashion?

Lee speaks passionately of her project with material scientist, Dr. David Hepworth:

" Within my project I worked with genetic engineers to create cellulose, to engineer microbes and orientate fibres.''

" We then began to think of a textile material that we could imagine making. We looked towards new ways of making a dress and thought, its the 21st century, lets grow a dress in the lab!"

Yet when broached on the notion of bacterial cellulose penetrating high street fashion, Lee becomes dubious, " The fact is that this material is pure cellulose and potentially a new fibre."

" I don't want to play that game and I certainly don't want to be a gimmick. What is a market? We produce garments and throw them away tomorrow."

So what does Lee hope to see in the sustainable designs of the future? " I am always excited by textile students and they have an opportunity to replace the fast fashion card; we are a long way from having sexy, well made, and ethically sourced clothing lines but that is not to say it is impossible. The whole picture of the product is the garment's complete life cycle and not just when it has left Topshop."

Friday, 24 October 2008

Hand Spun and Hand Woven

The Eco- Fashion pioneer took a little time out from saving sheep and the UK woolen industry to discuss her collections, influence and her New Year project, Grand Knit with lily Cole.

Izzy Lane’s A/W Collection 08 is a set of beautiful garments, all with a bittersweet story to tell. Collective heritage, brought back from the brink.

Izzy Lane has been woven from a long love with both clothes and animals. “ I always wanted Izzy Lane to be an animal centric label. I have been witnessing the maltreatment of animals for 40 years and now I want to give those animals a voice”.

Having recently won the 2008 ethical business award, Isobel enthuses about her ethos and collections, “ I agree that we should be boycotting throwaway fashion, in the past 20 to 30 years we have been frivolous. We are witnessing a credit crunch, but also a crunch up of our values. We will witness soon a revolution in spending habits.”

Like predecessors Vivienne Westwood and her Harris Tweed, Katherine Hamnett and organic cotton, Isobel Davies is now following the wool pack in hoping to save the final strands of the UK wool industry. “ It is in its early stages but I am hoping to salvage and preserve the last Victorian weaver mill in Scotland. We have moved Izzy Lane’s production up to the mill with the intention of buying.”

Alongside this, the company is collaborating with Lily Cole on a range of British wool sweaters named Grand Knit. All hand woven by the nana of your choice, just choose the pattern and colour and Mavis will sow her name into the label. The personal touch.

And look out for the A/W beautiful cardigans, wraps and vegetarian knee length shoes.

“ I take ideas from nature, without exploiting nature”.

Fashion with ethics. Stitching up society.

Spun from a different yarn...

In 2008, Britain seems to be witnessing a roots revival. Eco chic has high prominence in the autumn/ winter collections 08 ; with Dame Westwood reaching for a slice of childhood imagination in her latest jungle dwelling/ eco-warrior look and Eco- fashion pioneer Katherine E. Hamnett having campaigned for a quarter of a century to bring organic cotton to the mainstream UK market, has succeeded with a groundbreaking deal with Tesco. Hand make and don’t waste seems to be the new mantra of the millennium and with everyone following Lily Cole’s green fingerprints in reaching for Nana’s knitting needles and 60s dress patterns, being a Recessionista has never felt so good.

I talked to designer Jennifer Ambrose, founder of the Enamore hemp clothing line on the ‘best of british’ and the forgotten art of creating clothes.

Enamore for Enamore?

Think bedrock meets Burlesque. A politically correct Betty Boop.
The designs are beautiful, twisting the ethical ethos into something personal, hand tailored and appealing to the eye. Soft bras and knickers made from a soft bamboo jersey, candy pink satin bows and organic stretch silk. Unique dresses made to order in polka dot, geometric and floral prints. Strawberry Boleros, palooza garters and vintage tulip dresses. Limited edition and made especially for you. Sourced, stitched, constructed and sent in 21 days. Oh and all on a clear conscience.

Founder Jennifer Ambrose took half an hour out of her hectic schedule to talk to me over a quick cup of tea, green that is. The clothing line starting in 2004 and has continued to grow, leaving its roots now firmly established, leading to the recognition of a 2008 green web award. Yet it hasn’t been an all round flowery experience.

“ I started from scratch and from the age of 23 I began to teach myself the techniques of sowing, stitching, weaving and sourcing. I was doing 50 hour weeks ; juggling learning how to design with three low paid jobs”.

Yet Ambrose works with fashion and textile graduates from all over the UK and enables them to see the textile industry from within. “Eco fashion is a huge part of our future and self-taught education is the key” says Jenny.

She is clearly happy as she boasts about her array of helpers, yet her tone changes when we broach university fashion courses. “ My students are surprised when they realise I haven’t been to University. I feel they cloud the perceptions of the fashion industry. Everyone strives for the high designer positions, yet the UK industry needs pattern cutters and machinists. it’s a crying shame.”

So what does Ambrose hope to see in the budding fashionistas of the future? “Hopefully the next generation will be taking all lines of jobs and kicking up a fuss about environmental policies.”
And what can we hope to see from her? “ I am still a tiny company behind the online illusions. Yet for the A/W collection I want to work with hemp wool creating sexy tailored jackets, with a lady Penelope theme. Heritage with my own twist”.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Art you really surprised? For we are just two lost souls living in a fishbowl...

Banksy: Not one to sweep issues under the carpet

Pure genuis. Whilst politicians plunder in presenting any ecological, sustainable bill as an umbrella for the current climate; along comes our very own Bristolian Banksy with his bold tactfulness. Imfamous for his socio-political street art, the ambigious artiste's latest exhibition is, ahem, a pet shop in central New York. His reason?

" New Yorkers don't care about art, they care about pets. So I am exhibiting them instead."

Yet these are no cute Andrex puppies. Floating fish fingers, Chicken Nuggets in a pen pecking, um, tomato sauce and hot Dogs under a heated survelliance CCTV camera. As usual, his magic finger has led to his medicine being a bitter pill to swallow.

" I wanted to make art that questioned our relationship with animals and the ethics and sustainablility of factory farming but it ended up as chicken nuggets singing".

An artificial microcosm with a authentic moral undertone.