It’s so much fun to meet new people. Even if you don’t actually meet them face to face. This was the case with Zoe. We decided to meet for a chat on a day we were both snowed in. We settled down in front of both our computers with a hot drink each and had a great chat. You might already know Zoe from her blog ‘So Zo’ where she entertains with her exploration into a more self-sufficient, responsible and enjoyable life. She is the lovely lady behind the Me-Made-May and Self-Stitch-September groups on Flickr and the Stash Bustin’ initiative.
E: So Zoe, when and how did you get into refashioning clothes?
Z: My mum used to be a dressmaker and has always done lots of alterations to clothing (plus my mum is only 5 ft so needed to do lots of alterations for herself!) so altering and changing clothing was something I guess I always knew was possible. She taught me some sewing skills when I was little, and I started making myself clothes whilst at University where I was studying Fashion Design. Altering and refashioning clothing kind of came from that.
E: If you were already making clothes from scratch what then motivated you to begin refashioning?
Z: Refashioning is a way to get a finished creation quicker and often cheaper than starting from scratch, but I think refashioning actually needs a slightly different mindset and skills set than sewing garments from scratch. You have to learn to look at things differently and this is something I am still learning, especially in this job.
E: Yes, do tell me a bit more about your new job?
Z: I work for the charity Traid which runs charity shops around London. Specifically, I work on Traidremade, a range of clothing which is created from some of the donated clothing and fabric. The Traidremade garments and accessories are sold in the Camden branch of Traid and online. The Traid shops get their stock from peoples’ donations collected in clothing banks around England. Some of the clothing they receive cannot be sold as they are for various reasons, so much of that plus donated lengths of fabric and sometimes seconds from some retail stores get sent to our workshop to be refashioned and created into new, hopefully desirable pieces.
I find it so shocking how much perfectly good, often unworn, clothing gets discarded in the West, and making something special from mounds of it all is a real challenge. I think what we do at Traidremade is really important and could also be inspirational for those at home. If people interested in refashioning see that there is a business producing 40+ refashioned pieces a week for charity, those people might be motivated into doing it at home for themselves and their friends and family.
E: Where do you get your inspiration for refashions?
Z: Well personally, I get lots of ideas from blogs and sites like Modcloth, Anthropologie, and Built By Wendy as well as my hoard of vintage dress patterns. They all give me ideas for silhouettes, details or fabrication. I’m obsessed with the Make Do and Mend era, and the post-hippie ecological movement. Their ideas of sustainability inspire me conceptually. I love to see the various ways individuals today are responding to the same issues.
For Traidremade, my boss recently decided to adopt a slightly new spirit for the collection now. I guess it is in part inspired by my joining the team (there are only two of us!), but we are going for a more vintage theme now, which is obviously where I am at personally. Most of the silhouettes or detailing we are aiming for are inspired by 1930’s to 1980’s. A lot of my vintage patterns that I get sent to the workshop inspire shapes and silhouettes. The garments and fabric we receive from the warehouse obviously suggest what our refashioning options are. We think about colors that work together, and how fabric textures and prints can be combined in new and fun ways, like using plain sweatshirts with striped mens’ shirting or using argyle knitwear with solids.
E: What’s your favourite refashions at the moment?
Z: Cardi refashioning is massively on my mind right now, as it’s so cold and I can’t knit! Just the other week I made a big horrible jumper into a 50’s style cardi. I’m really into reshaping cardi’s and changing the buttons. It’s amazing how simply adding different buttons to a garment changes it’s ‘personality’. I’ve also commissioned my mum to crochet some collars for more refashioned knitwear.
E: I love the idea of getting your mom involved, but where do you source all these clothes to refashion? Do you use charity shops?
Z: At the moment I get a lot of stuff from work, but before I would definitely go to charity shops, flea markets and boot sales. However, I’m finding recently charity shops are changing, becoming more sanitised and generic, probably to compete with other high street shops. I think they are getting prohibitively expensive for many refashioners. Gone are the smelly cheap ones where lots of bargains could be discovered. It worries me because people might be less likely to take refashioning chances if second-hand garments cost as much as some new high street garments.
When I lived in Barcelona I got stuff from a flea market called Encants, or stuff that was left on the street. That’s generally how people get rid of their unwanted things there; just leave them on the street.
E: Really, in bags or just thrown on the street?
Z: Sometimes in bags, usually just in piles. It’s a bit weird at first sifting through crap on the street, but you get used to it!
E: You don’t say! So do you have any great tips for the budding refashioner?
Z: My piece of advice has been learnt the hard way! I guess, I would say, do some research on the Internet or shops or magazines and figure out the kind of looks you are into and think about how you can achieve that. In the past I have definitely been guilty of making stuff for the sake of it, getting carried away with the simple desire actually and not spending enough time planning, resulting in garments that are totally not my style which subsequently never got worn. I don’t think there’s any point of sewing or refashioning just for the sake of it. Refashioning can be such a creative activity, coming away with something you actually enjoy wearing will spur you on to do more, and therefore encourage others to try too. These days, I have a HUGE file on my laptop where I keep inspirational images and I refer back to them a lot when I’m feeling low on creative spark. You can start to see trends in your own style that way.
E: I think we are all victims of just refashioning for the sake of it at some time or another – I know I have been. Let’s round off by talking about some of the initiatives you have come up with this year.
Z: Back in January, I came up with Stash Bustin’ which is basically an attempt to encourage myself and others to use up the fabric, notions, patterns, wool etc. that crafty people tend to have stashed away. Stash Bustin’ really comes from the same mentality as refashioning. Making the most of what we have rather than being on this never-ending quest for more stuff, you know? Just taking a break, assessing what we have, thinking creatively of how we can make the best from it. I realised that by signing up to the Wardrobe Refashion ‘Life’ pledge and choosing to no longer shop for new clothes, it could be very easy to simply transfer that shopping instinct to fabric and notions instead of new mass-produced clothing. I needed to do something to stop myself. I feel more accountable for my crafty shopping now, and definitely make more considered purchases. Trying to stem my addiction to vintage patterns has been the biggest challenge, one that’s evidently only been a part-success!
2010 also saw the Me-Made-May and Self-Stitch-September challenges. They evolved from my initial personal challenge, Me-Made-March, in which I spent an entire month wearing only clothing I had made myself (excluding bras, socks, tights and shoes). It was a success but felt I wanted to try again with more flare and garment variety, hence coming up with Me-Made-May, which I offered up to the online sewing community to see if anyone wanted to join me. I was expecting maybe a handful of participants, but the interest in the challenge was incredible! We created a flickr group in which to post our daily pictures of our handmade garments and/or outfits. It became a really supportive community. Most of us had such an awesome time in May, that I decided to repeat the challenge again, which became Self-Stitched-September, with another, even more popular flickr group. The aim behind these challenges is to become more forgiving of our self-stitched items, to see that we can rely on them as fully-functioning parts of our wardrobes. To show us that our handmade creations are just as good as, if not better than, mass-produced store bought garments. Keep an eye on my blog in 2011 for news on more challenges along this theme!
E: Well I don’t know about everyone else but I am ready to sign up for stash bustin’ as I already try to keep the buying to a minimum. I have actually just created a new stash of all my own clothes that I have not worn for months. I have had great fun chatting to Zoe and I hope everyone else will enjoy what she had to say.