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….