Wednesday, 19 November 2008
“ 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
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:
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.
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.
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."
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:
Thursday, 6 November 2008
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
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."