Thursday, 26 July 2018

Finding your vintage style at Make Do And Mend

If you’re feeling intimidated by the idea of vintage shopping, or aren’t sure how to incorporate vintage into your current look, my first suggestion would be: start small. I don’t just mean with accessories rather than a full outfit (although that’s an excellent way to add a vintage vibe to modern clothes) I also mean visiting a small boutique rather than a cavernous warehouse to try out vintage shopping. 

Make Do And Mend in Pop Brixton, the box park of food stalls and bars on Brixton Station Road, London is a small but perfectly formed shop, full of fabulous vintage clothes and accessories carefully chosen by Sarah, who started Make Do and Mend in 2013. As well as sourcing unique, good-quality stock from all over Europe, Sarah also works with local brands who upcycle old clothes, if you’re after vintage with a modern twist. We put together a selection of outfits to show how you can create vintage vibes from any decade, even if you can’t get hold of the real thing. 

If you can’t find it, fake it! 

Vintage clothes from the first half of the 20th Century are becoming rarer; they are likely to be expensive or very fragile, and probably not the most practical choice for every day. It’s really easy to create a mid-century look with clothes from later decades though: some 80s styles drew heavily from the 40s and 50s, and this pleated skirt could easily be worn with a t-shirt for a more modern look. 

A flower-print tea dress will always give you a 40s vibe, and this 70s jacket has the boxy shoulders and nipped-in waist that were a feature of 40s styling. Bring either of these pieces up-to-date by pairing with some denim or chunky jewellery. 

Select your silhouette

Although most decades are associated with an iconic look, that was rarely the only look around, and every decade was responsible for multiple trends: the 60s went from mini to maxi dresses, and from monochrome to psychedelia, in the space of a couple of years. Most decades will have something that will appeal to your personal aesthetic, but it’s always worth experimenting with something new. 

Although most decades’ signature looks focus on a specific idealised body type, most people (then, as now) didn’t have that body type and still had to buy clothes! Vintage shopping is a good opportunity to try out colours, fabrics or clothing proportions that have nothing to do with trends but are the style you’ve been craving and can’t find on the high street.

Be Bold

One of my favourite kinds of vintage find is a statement dress: something with a bold print that is instantly A Look even if I forget to put on any accessories. This is also a great first step into vintage shopping; with a statement dress there’s no worry about what to wear with it, and classic jewellery and accessories won’t detract from the impact.

But it’s also worth experimenting with something a little more unusual. Trousers often go unloved in vintage shops, but with fitted wide leg trousers coming back into fashion, now might be the time to try on those fabulous 70s flares. Trouser hems are an easy thing to alter (see my tutorial here), so the only “trick” is to find the proportion that is right for your body type. 

Create Self-Confidence

Most of us understand the power that the right outfit has to make us feel good about ourselves. Wearing clothes we love can make us feel more confident, and some well-chosen vintage can help you stand out from the crowd. Sometimes dressing the part even if we don’t feel it can give us the boost we need to make the right impression.

 I love the way the exaggerated proportions of 80s womenswear encourage the wearer to take up space, visually and physically, at work and at play. Any of these separates could be toned down by pairing them with modern neutrals, but sometimes part of the fun can be to go all in with a bold vintage look. 

Channel your Inner Child

Need reminding that you’re not as young as you once were (if your joints aren’t already doing it for you)? The clothes you wore as a teenager are back in fashion, although now they are “vintage”. At first my instinct was to shriek “why did I wear that?” as a rhetorical question, but as I dressed up as my teenage self I started to think about this question seriously. 

Buying clothes with friends rather than under parental supervision, sometimes with money I had earned myself from my Saturday job, was a key part of exploring who I was, and who I wanted to be, or could be. Clothing might be an ephemeral way of pushing boundaries, but it’s worth remembering that it’s an option that’s always available to us. With so much “advice” telling us what we shouldn’t wear, vintage shopping is a great way of discovering what we want to wear. If we buy clothes we love, we’re more likely to keep wearing them and take care of them, reducing our negative impact on the environment by keeping clothes out of landfill.  

All the clothes, jewellery and accessories I’m wearing in these photos are available at Make Do And Mend (except my shoes, which are from Po-Zu). Make Do And Mend is open 12-7 Sunday-Wednesday and 12-9 Thursday-Saturday. They are also involved with the Brixton Vintage Kilo Sale, in case your first taste of vintage shopping gives you a big appetite! Keep up-to-date with events and sales over on the Make Do And Mend Instagram. Pop on over to Pop Brixton and discover your vintage style! 

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Designing the way to sustainable costume

My career as a costume maker was the catalyst that set me on the path to leading a more sustainable life, but as well as exposing concerns about the fashion industry it also led me to the uncomfortable realisation that the film and television industry is also far from sustainable. Unlike workers in garment factories I am paid a fair wage and considered a skilled craftsperson, but I still couldn’t help worrying about the environmental impact of the job I love. Fortunately other creatives in my industry have the same concerns, so on a sweltering Friday evening, in a blissfully air-conditioned room at BAFTA HQ, we heard from a panel of experts about the changes we need to make as Costume professionals. 

Aaron Matthews, the head of industry sustainability, opened the session and introduced the speakers. First up was Sinead O’Sullivan, Assistant Costume Designer and founder of the Costume Directory, an open resource for responsible suppliers. Alarmingly, a film or television production can produce more waste in a week than the average household will produce in a year, and the costume department of any show is inescapably linked to the fashion and textile industries. While many of us might be conscious of recycling and waste reduction on a personal level, we are likely to tolerate more wasteful behaviours at work because of lack of regulation or time to source better alternatives. 

The ever-changing nature of freelance work in costume departments makes it hard to stick with the same suppliers; fabrics that were perfect for an 18th Century costume drama won’t be right for a gritty modern film. Similarly, costume departments can generate a lot of waste if multiple copies of a costume are needed to be broken down or damaged on-screen. Sinead stressed the importance of individual as well as collective change: the change has to come from the people working in costume departments as it isn’t going to come from studios or producers. 

Sinead asked us to think about the small changes we could make that would add up to make a big impact. She gave a pretty comprehensive list that I think all of us in a creative field could get some useful ideas from. 

Could we: 
  • Source more ethical fabrics?
  • Ask for more comprehensive recycling facilities at work?
  • Make ourselves aware of harmful chemicals in dyes etc?
  • Find ways to filter microfibres from our laundry?
  • Buy more costumes for contemporary shows from secondhand or charity shops?
  • Re-use on-set items?
  • Create less single-use costumes; make use of costume houses and reuse resources?

Next up to speak was Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution. Set up following the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, in which over 1000 garment workers, mostly young women, lost their lives, Fashion Revolution set out to ask high street brands “who made my clothes?” A question which, Orsola says, it was almost impossible to find answers to. For her, the first step towards a more ethical fashion industry is transparency (“you cannot change what you cannot see”), and we should all be more vigilant and scrutinise what we buy. 

Orsola sees the wardrobe department of a production as being three-quarters of the way through a garment’s life-cycle, from textile to landfill, and reminded us that there was such place as “away” when we discard unwanted clothing! In Orsola’s eyes, we are not using design cleverly enough. We are using design to create a problem (pollution and waste) rather than solve a problem (we all need clothes to wear). This is a criticism I have thrown at the fashion industry in the past, and while I think that my workplace does well when it comes to creatively using available resources (more on that later) it is definitely something we could all pay closer attention to. 

As well as changing our own practices, Orsola reminded us of our responsibility to inspire young designers and students to learn a more sustainable way of working from the start of their careers. There are plenty of free resources on the Fashion Revolution website, like their fanzine, as well as their Transparency Report on high street brands. She pointed out that sustainability is not a passing trend; it has been a way of life for thousands of years, and it is excess that is the passing trend. We only have to look at the history of the modern fashion industry that started with the Industrial Revolution to see how it is built on exploitation. We have an opportunity to change things and, in the words of Joan Crawford, “care for your clothes like the good friends they are”.

We also heard from Charlie Ross, founder and director of Offset Warehouse, the first textile company in the U.K. to exclusively sell ethical fabrics. Charlie’s journey from student designer to ethical entrepreneur began when she watched the film “China Blue” at fashion college. The film revealed widespread exploitation within the fashion industry, and Charlie realised that the impact of a product occurs right across the supply chain, including textile production. The garment industry is responsible for tragedies that aren’t as well-documented as the Rana Plaza disaster; for instance thousands of farmer suicides in India as a result of the exploitative cotton industry, or the draining of the Aral Sea for cotton production in Uzbekistan. The textile industry also uses harmful and toxic dyes, so fabrics can keep making a negative impact on the environment when they are being laundered. 

Her talk highlighted the importance of considering the impact of the fabrics we buy: giving our money to exploitative, wasteful manufacturers is giving our unspoken approval to their harmful practices. While (sadly!) there isn’t a magic fabric that can solve all our problems, if we keep making small changes, buying from textile manufacturers who pay fair wages and don’t damage the environment, opting for organic cotton and dyes, we can start to make a positive impact. 

Oscar- and BAFTA-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran joined the other speakers for a panel discussion and Q&A. Jacqueline spoke about creating a completely sustainable costume for Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast, talking through the different fabrics used on the costume, on display at the side of the stage. Inspired by the Green Carpet Challenge and Emma Watson’s personal interest in sustainable fashion, Jacqueline created a costume made from vintage wool and cotton, nettle fabric, sugar cotton and fabrics from Offset Warehouse, making use of the expertise of her costume team to custom-dye, print and paint fabrics using traditional techniques. 

Jacqueline discussed the benefits of working with actors who wanted to wear sustainable clothing (a focus on sustainability makes designers aware of each stage of costume manufacture, and all the boxes they have to tick) and the downside of working with experimental new materials (“we ordered some mushroom leather, and what arrived was just a mushroom”). 

Sinead, who has worked with Jacqueline on a number of productions, described the specific needs of the industry which the Costume Directory is trying to meet. She features suppliers who can provide low minimum orders, and fill and ship their orders quickly. She acknowledged that this was just the start of the big change that the industry as a whole needs to make, and that we all need to be responsible for contributing to this.

Jacqueline sees the goal as normalising sustainability in costume departments, and suggested that if we weren’t in a position to demand change we were in a position to ask questions and get a conversation going about sustainability. Some studios like to draw attention to environmentally friendly policies because it is good for publicity, whereas others weren’t keen to feature a particular sustainable initiative in case it drew attention to all the unsustainable practices.

One of the questions that came up was what happened to costumes post-production. A lot of costumes are hired from costume houses and are returned when a production wraps and can be used again. Some costumes made specifically for a production may end up in storage, as intellectual property rights for a particular production might prohibit their re-use. Sinead spoke about the problems with closing down a large department quickly when a film wraps; staff often don’t have time to carefully plan where items can be donated or repurposed.

The panel discussed the problems of textile waste; the current facilities in the U.K. are pretty poor so one option is to donate to schools or colleges, or to educational programs that teach sewing skills. The topic of how to teach sustainability was also considered, with panellists discussing the culture of immediacy that has robbed us of our ability to plan! With better organisation, we can make better decisions, but we need to create a new culture that pushes back against the need for instant results.

The evening left me with plenty of food for thought.  The costume house I work at is actually surprisingly sustainable when it comes to making and re-using costumes. We use a lot of vintage fabrics, and my colleagues and I often end up adopting a zero-waste approach to cutting and making up so we can use every scrap of a precious piece of antique fabric! As well as mending costumes from the hire stock, we often end up re-making clothing that is well past its best in order to save beautiful bits of embroidery or embellishment.

I’d be interested to see what changes we could make to become even more sustainable; all my colleagues have re-usable cups and water bottles, and our communal kitchen is full of recycling bins, but we often spend lunch breaks trying to solve our biggest sustainability bugbear: plastic garment bags. The research that several of us have done into textile and plastic recycling for our particular needs has revealed a lack of facilities that deal with this sort of waste. As well as focusing on the changes we can make personally, or as a company, we also need to ask for national change to tackle recycling on a larger scale as we plan for a more effective way of working sustainably in the long term.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Packing a plastic-free holiday wardrobe

Plastics now form a key part of our summer holiday wardrobes, from swimwear to sunglasses. Fabrics made from plastic, like polyester and nylon, dry quickly and don’t crease, and pleather is becoming a go-to alternative for vegan shoes and bags.

Plastic Free July is mainly aimed at cutting out single-use plastics, but if you’re looking to have less plastic in your life generally, get creative with clothes and accessories made from an amazing range of materials. And if you can’t avoid plastics, make sure they are recycled, or reusable.

Here’s my guide to top-to-toe natural fibres.

Nothing says summer style like a beautiful wide-brimmed straw hat, but if you’re after something a little easier to pack, this visor is 100% paper and rolls up to take up minimal space. It’s also surprisingly durable: I’ve had it for years, despite the fact that it was a high-street impulse-buy by a former colleague who passed it on to me!

It feels like the perfect summer fabric to me. It’s not without its problems: it’s not cruelty-free as the moth larvae in the silk cocoons are killed (unless you buy peace silk, where the moths emerge from the cocoons before the cocoons are harvested). I’m wrestling with my conscience on this one, but I’m still wearing vintage silk clothes. Charity shops are excellent sources of secondhand clothes made from luxury fabrics at this time of year; someone else’s fear of outfit repeating could be your bargain buy!

A cruelty-free, vegan alternative to silk, that is less damaging to process than viscose? Yes please! Lycocel is the generic name for fabric made from wood, and different brands have been experimenting with a range of ways to use this versatile material. The Sustainable Angle showed Tencel trainers at their Future Fabrics Expo, with every part of the shoe made from wood fibre. It can also be woven into soft drapey fabrics that rival silk, and knitted into a soft jersey that makes brilliant breathable undies.

I’ve raved about the excellent properties of bamboo leggings, socks and knickers in past posts. Bamboo fabric is moisture-wicking so it makes the perfect alternative to synthetic sportswear in this hot weather.

Plant Leather
My Pinatex Po-Zu shoes are perfect in summer weather; the coconut fibre and natural latex insole means my feet are supported but not sweaty throughout the day. If you're stuck in the city and you need to wear closed toe shoes to work (I don't want dressmaking pins getting stuck in my toes!) these flats are more robust than ballet flats but just as comfortable.

Plastic has become an almost unavoidable fact of life, but you can reduce your environmental impact by choosing plastic-based products that have been thoughtfully made, or by making thoughtful decisions yourself.

Recycled plastic
I bought bikinis from Davy J and Auria last year, but there are plenty of sustainable swimwear brands that are now using reclaimed plastics to make their products, whether you’re looking for activewear or something to pose by the pool in.

I blogged earlier in the year about my w.r.yuma sunglasses, 3D printed from recycled car dashboards! Another sustainable alternative is vintage sunglasses; if you need prescription lenses there are companies out there that will swap original lenses for new ones.

Buy less, choose well
Spending a bit extra on better quality clothes will mean they will see you through several summers, rather than having to go in the bin as soon as the temperature drops. None of us want to spend our holidays doing chores, but it’s worth spending a few moments a day looking after your clothes so you’ll look as fabulous as you feel on a well-deserved break.

  • Put on suncream as soon as you get out of the shower in the morning and let it absorb into your skin, that way you should be able to avoid sunscreen stains on pale clothing. 
  • Rinse swimwear when you get back from the beach or pool and hang it up to dry. 
  • Get a case for your sunglasses and remember to take it with you! Try not to sit on them. 

Do you really *need* a whole new holiday wardrobe? I love a warm weekend when I know it’s finally time to liberate those frivolous dresses from my closet; the ones that are too low-cut, strappy or see-through for work, but are perfect for lounging in the park, or as a poolside cover-up. They remind me of past summertime shenanigans and put me in a holiday mood! Those fun, floaty holiday clothes never really go out of style, so hang on to the ones you had the most fun in, and they’ll be ready for another great summer as soon as the weather is.