Late last month, designers Liam Hodges and Carri Munden welcomed a small group of fashion fans to a vintage upcycling workshop. It was an intimate event, but one designed to make people reconsider what to do with their own clothes, or vintage clothes more generally. “We wanted to engage with people on another level,” says Hodges, “as well to challenge the life-cycle of clothes and encourage visitors to be hands-on.”
This meant guiding them through every step of the way. A selection of vintage tees – in different sizes and designs – were sourced ahead of the workshop and laid out for guests to choose from. They were also given access to a bank of vinyl graphics by the two designers, as well as the tools to create their own. “Everyone that took part would then walk away with their own upcycled, vintage tee.”
As social awareness of the climate crisis continues to raise, workshops like these are beginning to crop up more frequently. Designer Lydia Bolton has built a brand around upcycling, and recently collaborated with NICCE on a capsule line made entirely from the company’s deadstock. After toying with the idea of a workshop for a while, she’s planning to host her first event – a t-shirt upcycling workshop – in London, which was scheduled for this Saturday but has since been postponed indefinitely due to coronavirus.
“Most people I know have so many old t-shirts lying around, so I thought it would provide a unique and practical experience for them to recycle them and create a new, individual t-shirt,” she explains, also highlighting that the average tee takes 2,700 litres of water to produce: in other words, enough drinking water to last one person almost three years. “It’s really important to value the resources used to produce t-shirts, and to reuse them.”
In terms of location, Bolton already rents a space in [fashion school] Fashion Antidote – so it makes sense to use it. This also allows her to make the workshop “welcoming and relaxed,” as well as a place to inspire conversations around how best to make the most out of old clothes without them going to landfill.
There’s also the element of learning new skills, which can be important for aspiring designers priced out of fashion education. Alexander McQueen knew this struggle himself, which is why he left a vital legacy: The Sarabande Foundation. Since his death, creative director Sarah Burton has continually nurtured the foundation and made it a place for artisans of all kinds to come together, share their skills and build their talents, but last year she announced a particular focus on helping out students, dedicating an entire floor of the Bond Street flagship to fashion education.
Alongside toiles, fabric swatches and sketches of recent collections, students can also get up close and personal with his iconic archive. Then, there are the seasonal exhibitions, created in collaboration with (credited) students, and a fabric donation scheme conceived to sustain working-class creatives shouldering the costs of creating a final collection. An events programme wraps up the initiative, featuring workshops and panel conversations with industry professionals.
These efforts all link back to sustainability (the fabric donation scheme in particular) and longevity, allowing designers to carve their own path in a notoriously competitive industry. But they also offer a glimpse into fashion, signalling that designers across the board are fighting to make it more accessible.
“Insight can give people an increased appreciation of their clothes, and the value of the resources and labour which have gone into making them.” – Lydia Bolton
Bolton aims to expand a workshop programme which runs monthly, “with each one focussing on different things: creative mending and covering stains, upcycling dresses and patchwork projects.” In her eyes, the time is right to invite people in, and to give them a deeper understanding of how their clothes are actually made. “That insight can give people an increased appreciation of their clothes, and the value of the resources and labour which have gone into making them.”
Liam Hodges echoes this sentiment, saying that he can see these events becoming more popular in future. “People have an appetite for exploring ways in which we can all become more responsible with our consumption habits, plus learning to repair, edit and update our clothes is becoming more and more vital.” These workshops and interactive events tick all of those boxes, but they also add a layer of experience: after all, how cool is it to collaborate with a designer on your own custom piece?