Yorkshire sustainable fashion brand Trad Collective transforms Leeds Festival tents into super-stylish clothes and bags
The graveyard of tents left behind at Bramham Park after Leeds Fest has become a familiar annual sight, yet one that still holds the power to shock, as James Fenwick found when he went to see it for himself in August.
“It was all a bit grim,” he said. “I had been told by lots of other volunteers what to expect, but you look there and you see the sheer amount of waste and it’s shocking.
“There seem to be a lot of people with a single use mindset, but tents aren’t single use.”
It was thanks to the advice of The Library of Things in Headingley - a community enterprise that allows people to borrow equipment and is now called Buy Nowt LS6 - that prompted James to contact the organisers and visit the Leeds Fest site, with a view to seeing what recycling potential there might be.
He took away with him 10 tents and 10 sleeping bags, and brought them back with him to Headingley to Trad Collective, the sustainable fashion and lifestyle shop (with a repair and upcycling business) that he runs with his partner, fashion designer Josefin Wanner. She got thinking and set about transforming them into super-cool bumbags, laptop cases, tote bags, coats, jackets, skirts, even a dog coat.
The magic happened in Trad Collective’s studio, which is actually in the shop and is where all the sewing, upcycling, altering and repair work is carried out by Jo and two colleagues Ruby and Emilie. “We have adapted this area as we have gone along,” James said.
“The disadvantage of secondhand clothes is that you can’t always get them in the size that you want, so if we are selling secondhand clothes that can be altered to fit you, you’ve got a lot more choice.”
Jo and James launched Trad Collective in Headingley two and a half years ago, a year after Jo started her fashion brand, Wanner Label. Now living in Kirkstall, Jo moved to Leeds three years ago. She is from Sweden and met James when they were both living in Milan, where she was studying as a fashion designer and James was working as a teacher.
James is from Northumberland and came to Leeds to study for his degree in Physics, after which he became a Physics teacher for eight years. He has just left teaching to join the business full time.
Tråd is the Swedish word for thread, and total sustainability is the thread that runs through and joins together all the strands of Trad Collective. The concept came about after they made a New Year’s resolution together to shop only sustainably, quickly saw that this would, in reality, prove very difficult, with a lack of outlets in Leeds offering new sustainable fashion and lifestyle products, and secondhand outlets that required much trawling to dig out the quality stuff. So they decided to do something about it.
They began by selling on market stalls in and around Leeds, taking Wanner Label designs and their curated second-hand clothes, building connections and learning what their potential customers wanted and needed.
Then they opened Trad Collective in Headingley, bringing together under one roof their three different threads of sustainability. First, to reduce fashion consumption by offering mending and alterations so customers can use their clothes for longer and consume less.
Second, to reuse fashion by selling high-quality, curated, pre-loved clothes. And third, to recycle fashion, stocking sustainable brands that use recycled materials in their production.
“There are quite a lot of challenges in running a sustainable business,” said Jo. “There were obstacles during Covid and even more so, I would say, with the cost of living crisis now.”
James said: “The biggest challenge we have with sustainable clothing is price conception. When you produce new sustainable stuff, quite often it has a high price tag. We had to reimagine a way that we could be sustainable but at a lower price point. Selling high quality secondhand clothes and upcycling and mending is the way that we found.”
Most of their secondhand clothes come from warehouses in Sheffield and Hull. These operations bales of clothes from the US and elsewhere, including Italy, which Jo prefers to use as the clothing tends to be of a higher quality, many in silk.
However, Jo and James are keen that their clothes have even less far to travel, so four months ago they brought in a new concept. James said: “We thought, why don’t we rehash this concept of a dress agency where local people can bring their clothes and we can sell them for them, take some of the profit and pass some of it back to them, and that way, it’s the lowest possible carbon count?”
Each customer can bring in up to 10 items for resale, displayed for 30 days. They are looking for long-lasting garments of good quality, so not from fast fashion brands, and they prefer items made from durable natural fibres such as wool, linen, silk and cotton. Clothes must be in good condition, washed and free from stains and holes. In-season items find new homes more quickly.They plan to expand this service when they move to Vicar Lane in the city centre, where they will have twice the room to expand, and also more space for upcycling and repairing workshops, so that customers can learn the skills they need to give their own garments a new lease of life.
The repairs and alterations have been very successful, with older and younger generations now coming to the Headingley shop to use the service. As for the Leeds Fest tents and sleeping bags, they intend to go again next year to salvage and then work their magic by turning them into covetable designer fashion pieces. As Jo said: “It’s a good way for us both to help out with the situation and get materia.”
Trad Collective opens at 80 Vicar Lane in Leeds at the end of November. See tradcollective.com and Instagram @tradcollectiveltd