Magazines that follow the Slow Fashion Movement have published widely about the value of ReUse, both in terms of investing in a more circular fashion economy, as well as the practice’s promise to keep clothing out of our planet’s landfill as long as possible. We pretty much know the statistics of this astounding by product of Fast Fashion consumers. One in two people throw their unwanted clothes straight into trash according to EDGE fashion intelligence. This boils down to 64% of the 32 billion garments produced each year ending up in landfill.
Not only do I have first hand knowledge of this phenomenon as I am the 'second hand rose' in my family, but as such, I cut my design teeth on a lot of this hand-me-down bounty. Some of the items were good to turn around and reuse: others gave me a design canvas with which to practice my up cycling skills.
My drive to learn to up cycle was inspired not only by the statistics mentioned above, but also by the particular value I saw in my stepmother’s discarded wardrobe. These treasures were fascinating puzzles. If I liked an item, but it didn’t quite fit, that was one puzzle to solve. If I liked something, but it was not quite ‘me’, that was another design challenge to embrace.
As an experienced seamstress, learning to up cycle was just an extension of skills I had already acquired. I was not afraid to use my scissors. But repurposing existing garments and home sewing are two very different animals. One gives you patterns to use, and very detailed instructions to follow. The other can only be described as the wild, wild west of designing. The good news about this lawless practice is that there are
Plus up cycling is much easier to learn than sewing from scratch. Much of your garment is already made, so you get to your finished product faster. But you do need some sewing skills, as I mentioned above, you cannot be afraid to cut.
I started my repurposing journey with t-shirts, as they are cheap and stretchy, and the world has way too many of them. So no matter what the outcome, you are doing the planet a favor. You can take them in, add panels to the sides to make them larger, cut new necklines, shorten or create cap sleeves, slice and dice the backs for all sorts of creative looks, or change the hem lines completely to dip in front and back, or create a high low hem for a layering garment (or to expose your gorgeous belly).
I graduated from my t-shirt boot camp with a perfect pant pattern that fit me every time. My ensembles often start with the pants, and I build them from there. This ‘pattern’ gave me the confidence to branch out into other garments.
My design process starts with the fabric of a pre-loves (used) garment, or a combination of fabrics from a couple of garments. The next step is determining what part of the garment can be reused. In the picture above, both yellow pants were repurposed from men’s shirts. The garments’ sleeves became my pant legs.
The teal shirt pictured in the middle outfit above is the combination of two shirts that complimented each other. The plaid added some eye-popping detail to the teal top. To add even more ‘pop’ to the top, a yellow necktie was combined with the plaid fabric for a whimsical accessory.
These ‘looks’ might not be everybody’s eye candy, but they do successfully illustrate that up cycling can be a fun and successful path to an incredible wardrobe. And one that you can be sure, can and will never be duplicated. So take the plunge and jump in. You will discover a new and refreshing side of fashion.
Designer/Model Darcy Fowkes
As part of the Fashion Revolutions Fashion Week next year, the Open Studios event will feature designers who are raising their voices to shout out the virtues of Slow Fashion, and putting muscle behind the words by bringing us heart throbbing collections. I nominate Sydney based Tamie Anthas for this opportunity (brand name Digitalkittn), who has most definitely demonstrated innovative and groundbreaking talent. Her commitment to Slow Fashion by using dead bolt fabric, bolt ends, and discarded fabric and clothing in her designs cements her qualifications to participate in this event.
But more than just wearing the hat of sustainability, and practicing the methodologies and practices of slow fashion design, Tamie brings the vision
of an artist to her creations. Her ability to paint a garment with the tailoring features of an existing garment is unprecedented. I commissioned Tamie to make me a vest last year, with only two
requirements: 1) a patten she had to follow for fit, and 2) I wanted the vest in a grey/blue/black colorway. What she delivered was breathtaking.
To bring you the personality behind this astonishing design, I interviewed Tamie Anthas to learn more.
Q) Tell us your earliest dream about becoming a designer, and what the circumstances were that inspired this dream?
A) I was about 9 or 10 years old, watching my mother put makeup on, and wearing, at the time, the latest 80’s fashion trend. My mother knew her fashion, and wore it impeccably. I was enthralled by the attention she received, or maybe more accurately, the power fashion had to attract attention, to demand the admiration of strangers.
Q) Is there a history of creativity in your family, or did you alone carry the torch?
A) Again, my mother is my role model for creativity. She could throw together the most amazing outfits, and she always looked fantastic. She was as good as the best of the world’s accomplished painters, only her art was ‘the art of dress.’ She painted her self with her clothes.
Q) When did you learn to sew, and when did the concern about the environment factor into your design direction?
A) I started practicing sewing at the age of 12, and thankfully I was young and resilient enough to not let the learning curve of sewing (broken needles, skipped stitches, ribbing out seams) disappoint me. It wasn’t until college when I saw“The True Cost”, a documentary by Adrew Morgan, that my design direction took a turn toward protecting the environment. Education is everything, and I don’t believe that anyone can walk away from this film without wanting to see serious change in the fashion industry.
Q) When you need design inspiration, what do you do, or how do you get it?
A) I get inspiration from everywhere, depending on what I am looking for at the time. This includes listening to music (ie Enigma, Deep Forest, Enya), watching movies, going to art shows or exhibits, or even observing what is right in front of me on the street or in a park can be theater.
Q) Would you recommend a fashion design degree for aspiring designers?
A) Absolutely! My education definitely has boosted my career, by not only teaching me how to work well with others, but also valuable skills and techniques that I depend on in all of my design work. Pattern making is a good example of a specialized skill set that would be difficult to learn on your own.
Q) What advise would you give yourself if you could turn the clock back 10 years?
A) My advice would be to trust myself, to be self-confident and speak up, and have a voice, especially when it comes to subjects that I strongly believe in. After all, the only way people can learn how to support you, is when they hear you support yourself!
Q) Where do you want to be in the next 10 years?
A) I want to be successful enough to be able to open a design studio with a shop front, participate in Sydney Fashion week every year, and teach awareness of sustainable and eco-friendly design production.
Q) Do you have a vision of how the fashion industry will evolve to achieve more sustainable goals and objectives over the next 10 to 20 years?
A) Well I certainly hope that consumers become more aware of the destructive impact fast fashion has on the environment, and consequently invest less in these clothes. As quoted by one of my favorite designers Vivienne Westwood “Buy less, choose well, make it last”.
Designer Tamie Anthas
In my almost seven decades on this planet, I have seen the fashion industry explode from one of the more expensive line items in a family’s budget, to a cheap runaway commodity that is out of control. The damage to the planet and population serving the needs of this industry are becoming more and more transparent every day, and yet as consumers, we continue to buy and throw away clothes at an alarming rate. Because our pocket books are fueling this disaster, it is our duty to withhold spending money on fast fashion as a matter of protest.
While we are learning more and more about this disastrous industry, it does not seem to be changing our behaviors. We continue to indulge in this fashion ’addiction’; buying cheap clothes, and tossing them. How do we change our behaviors when the destruction of the industry is over there, rather than here. How do we stop buying clothes when they are so cheap, and shopping is fun! Doesn’t it help third world countries that are making our clothes put food on their tables and afford roofs over their heads if we buy fast fashion?
I think we really need to ask ourselves what we need and why do we need it. We all want to look our best, just as we want to eat healthy foods and keep out bodies in shape. But learning to regulate consumption in our diets is just as important is learning to curtail spending on our clothes.
Labor is cheap and human rights a low priority in third world countries where fast fashion is manufactured. The factories producing these clothes are not regulated or inspected, so standards are non existent, and working conditions often unsafe. The well established corporations contracting for these goods are not responsible for the conditions of these workplaces; building owners are not regulated; no one is financially responsible for the devastation that this industry produces.
Fast fashion boils down to cheap fashion, which is one of the keys to understanding this industry’s problem. We are not paying the people who make our clothes a living wage. The money we spend on fast fashion is not financing a healthy industry. Employees are at risk, buildings are collapsing, pollution is widespread with no end in sight. None of the money we spend on fast fashion is paying to solve any of these problems.
For fashion to be healthy, the cost of your clothing has to have enough overhead built in to be redirected into improvements. The money you currently spend on inexpensive clothing will have to increase to account for these changes. The cost of fashion will have to cover reversing pollution and improving the infrastructure. So just as fashion used to be one of the more expensive line items in a family’s budget, for this industry to repair itself, it will have to become that way again.
As a circular fashion economy begins to explore and experiment with fast fashion alternatives, new cost structures are emerging that are both effective and fashionable. While some of them may go by the wayside, and others catch on like wildfire, my personal believe is that reuse is at the core of fashion health. Reuse keeps clothing out of landfill. None of the pollution that resulted in producing that original garment will be repeated. Business models such as trading or renting clothing provides the freshness of ‘new’ that consumers expect.
Reuse also buys us time. As we learn to shop responsibly, and keep the clothing that we have rather than replacing it, we are slowing down the fast fashion engine. And while reuse does not immediately invest in a healthy industry, it does allow us to step on the brakes while we reflect and build on more sustainable practices.
Fashion boils down to a simple common denominator: we all want to look good to others. The growth of the personal health and fitness industry is an excellent example of this. According to PolicyAdvice, this industry is growing at 8.7% year over year. Personal Trainers, a career that did not exist until the late 1900s, now brings in an average salary of $40,000/year.
So when are we going to apply our interest in health and fitness to style and fashion? When are we going to slow down and spend the same amount of time that we spend at the gym on our personal wardrobes? When do we adorn our beautiful bodies with environmentally healthy and personally flattering clothing?
My fashion advice is to invest in a stylist, friend or professional, who can help you understand and define your personal style. Take them shopping with you, or invite them into your wardrobe to help you evaluate what your best styles and colors are. This will go a long way toward helping you make fashion purchases in the future that will not end up in the recycle bin. Because frankly, you are worth it! And so is the environment.
Photo by @suzmcfaddenphoto
To follow Darcy Fowkes, check out her Instagram handles @darcyfowkes (for green fashion designers), @couturedarcy or @darcycouture2021 (for her upcycled fashion designs).
Designer Darcy Fowkes dresses identical 'twin' models in the same garments coupled with different tops and accessories to illustrate how extensible a few core garments can be. In this photo above, Darcy couples a repurposed pashmina scarf with baggy hammer pants (made from damaged linen yardage) as her core ensemble.
Both outfits are coordinated with different tops, hats, and belts. The outfit on the left picks up the blue in the vest, for a more spring/summer look. This outfit's cloche style hat is trimmed with a thrifted men’s silk tie that also picks up the detailed pattern on the vest.
The outfit on the right supports the brown colorway in the ensemble and a longer sleeved top for a more fall/winter look. Fish leather belts in blue and brown add detail at the waist for final accessory touches.
In this photo both models are wearing home sewn tie-dyed jersey capris coupled with two different tops and headwear. The oversized green linen top on the left is accessorized with a green snood scarf, repurposed from a t-shirt. The thrifted orange tank top on the right is accessorized with a hemp linen cap designed from seasonally discarded upholstery samples.
Again, the outfit on the left features fall colors and styles, while the one on the right is clearly a summer ensemble, complete with bare feet! Just by adding these two tops and their corresponding head wear to this one pair of pants, these capris can now be worn from summer to fall.
In this photograph Darcy dresses the twins in a pair of repurposed capris cut from a thrifted pair of bell bottoms. Darcy tops the outfit on the left with a gifted, altered top, and a matching cap and neck scarf designed from a piece of scrap lace. The model on the right wears a thrifted tissue jersey cap sleeve top with a coordinated thrifted scarf. Sandals are upcycled/painted with Jacquard Lumiere leather paints.
While both outfits are indeed summer attire, they do not look anything alike. Refreshing one pair of pants/capris with different 'looks' helps us keep our clothing out of landfill.
All three photographs illustrate how extensible any one item of clothing can be when you style them into different looks. This is an effective tool for updating core garments, keeping your wardrobe fashionable fresh all year long. Bottom line: by thrifting and repurposing, you can use extensibility to practice sustainability.
Photo Credits: Suz McFadden
Fashion can either help you differentiate yourself, or become inclusive. Cultures, corporations, events and activities can all have dress codes that can put you in one group or the other. The dress code of a conservative company will be similar for most employees, but I can assure you that code is very different from how software programmer's dress at a start-up.
To show solidarity or inclusion, many people wear the colors of their favorite team at a football game. At a wedding all attendees as well as participating family have socially understood dress codes. The bride as well as the mother of the bride are there to differentiate themselves: the attendants are typically dressed alike to illustrate that they are part of an inclusive or supporting group.
The fashion industry itself is a rolling roulette of competing differentiation. Designers and their brands have to stand out to get noticed. The more attention a brand can get, the better it performs.
For me fashion began as a way of differentiating myself. As a plain, small child with a slight disability, I was always the last to be chosen to play sports on a team. As the only girl in a family with 6 boys, I mostly played alone. I was slow to make friends, and awkward in social settings. At birthday parties I was content to sit by myself.
By the time I reached my teens, I wanted to make social connections but I didn't know how to. My childhood had not provided me with any experience. What I did know intuitively was that fashion was tool, or a path toward beauty, even if it was just on the outside. I knew this because my grandmother would bring her Vogue magazines when she came to visit, and we would both pour over them. The world of fashion was mesmerizing for both of us. I knew there was some magic to it.
So I tuned to sewing, first as a solitary hobby, then, as I realized the magnetically social power of fashion, as a way to stand out in a crowd. But more than just a vehicle for attracting attention, fashion gave me confidence. Because I was proud of the way I dressed, I was able to speak with more confidence and stand up for myself.
Now that I'm older, plainer, saner (from the lyrics of 'Lost on You' by LP), the fashion industry has evolved into the second biggest polluting industry in the world, both because of a runaway manufacturing engine as well as a first world consumption mentality that sees fashion as a disposable commodity. The industry embodies many injustices, the primary and biggest one being the damage to our planet, but from my vantage point I can clearly see that it separates the 'haves' from the 'have nots.' Those of us in the western hemisphere can eat healthy, go to college, get jobs that provide us with living wages, and buy as many clothes as we want. Those in the eastern hemisphere producing our clothing cannot.
Buying 'as many clothes as we want' not only exacerbates this inequality, it likely exceeds your wearability capacity, contributing to the industry's 'throw away' mentality. Please vote with your wallet. STOP. BUYING FAST FASHION. We are all only one person on this planet, but collectively our consumption practices as a group can have a huge impact.
At the Pivot Fashion Show at Mark and Anne's Art Party in 2016, the cameras (and audience) loved Ella, our model pictured on the left. In a crowd of 12 models all wearing beautiful hand crafted hats, one attendee came running over as she picked Ella out from our crowd of fashionable beauties. While it is obvious her hat, designed by Stella Shen (email@example.com), is sensational, it is important that our outfit supported rather than coordinated with this floral creation.
What this boils down to is that the hat takes center stage in this ensemble, and that the outfit supports the head wear rather than competing with it, or for that matter, matching it. If we had dressed Ella in yellow or green, the outfit would have cheapened, ruined, or tarnished the elegance of the hat. Instead, by dressing our model in the softer hues of the grasses supporting the blooms in the hat, the color pop of the flowers speak for the entire ensemble.
This is a good rule to follow if you do not want to be challenged with coordinating different prints and colors, which is hard to do tastefully. The term 'color pop' refers to a digital
image in which part of an image is shown in color, while the rest of the image featured in grey or a dull monochrome. In fashion, using color sparingly, but
dramatically, can often be a key to creating drama without going overboard.
Photographer Richard Arbuckle
Edgy, yet conservative, this kind of styling works for all ages, young and old. And most events, casual to dressy. In this picture we have featured a black and white design, but imagine the colors and patterns this style garment can support, and the combinations and permutations go as far and wide as the mathematical computations our minds are capable of can go.
Stripes and polka dots, contrasting plaids, primary color contrasts with trims to bring them together, the design palette for creating this garment is unlimited. And the garment itself provides a spectacular fashion lift to a simple camisole or tank top. And the beauty of this style is that it is simple to construct. No darts, princess seams, or hard-to-fit challenges. If you want some help designing your pattern for this top, let me know!
This pin was borrowed from Etsy, but the source was not available, so I do not know who to give credit to for this wonderful photograph.
The thing I love about upcycling is that I can almost always find an unloved garment that goes with something that could use a facelift. This ensemble combines old and new upcycles comes from 5 different garments, representing a collective ensemble of 12 shades of gray. The hat (a two year old upcycle) features a circle design of triangle stripes from a discarded t-shirt, and a band of silk from the man's silk tie that was used to make the neck scarf (a new upcycle). Capri length leggings, also new (folded under belt and shoe), are upcycled from a man's short sleeve t-shirt. The belt (a five year old upcycle) combines the collar and cuff of a man's snap front dress shirt, that circles below the waist. One of the cuff's snaps connects to the center front snap on the collar. which gives the belt an asymmetric curve.
Shoes are new (Blow Fish from Fine-Things in Arnold, California). Outfit was pulled together and designed to coordinate with the detailed pattern on the shoes. Tops
(second hand rescues not shown) are a charcoal gray tank top, and a dove gray lace top for dressier occasions.