As she prepares to take part in a gruelling marathon challenge across the Sahara Desert, Leeds designer Bo Carter showcases her latest collection at The Leeds Library and tells Stephanie Smith why she is running to change the fashion world.
Bo Carter wears her heart on her T-shirt. Actually, on her own range of T-shirts emblazoned with the messages “Ethics Do Matter”, “We Do Care” and “Do Good, Look Good”.
This chimes with the current fashion mood which sees the hottest trends for 2020 centred on ethics and sustainability. But Bo is no bandwagon jumper, and she is concerned at the notion that caring is in vogue.
“If it’s become a trend then people will come and go, although I’m sure there are people who will stay on this journey,” she says. “I don’t like trending, so I’m slightly worried about that aspect.”
Bo has been leading the calls for ethics and sustainability since she became a designer 10 years ago, after entering a Leeds Fashion Week competition to find new talent. Instantly, it seems, she found her niche as an independent ethical designer who played with vibrant prints. Within months she had created a complete womenswear collection which she showed in the US at Virginia Fashion Week, followed by exhibitions in Malta, Iceland, Baltimore, Bangalore and around the UK. Now Bo Carter designs sell across the world, via her own website and also through independent-promoting online retailers including Wolf & Badger, Aequem, Brooks & Sharp and Some Fancy Name.
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Bo (short for Bozena) was born in Poland at a time, she says, when it offered little but empty shelves. At home, she created an imaginary world designing and cutting out paper clothes for her paper dolls. She moved to the UK when she was 21 and trained to be an accountant, then worked in the NHS for a number of years. She still works as an office administrator in Leeds and lives in Batley with her photographer partner Steve Gabbett and their three cats. Her studio is there too, where she designs and makes all her clothes, with the help of an assistant. The fabrics are organic, from a Welsh manufacturer she has worked with for years. In 2013 won Most Talented New Designer at the Peta UK Vegan Fashion Awards.
The shoot for her latest collection took place at the Leeds Library. Called Pop, it reflects her signature bold but wearable contemporary shapes, now teamed with luxurious textures and a striking colour block palette.
“Andy Warhol was in my head when designing that collection – trying to make the colours pop out,” she says. “With organic fabrics, there is still a limited choice when it comes to colours and prints, so it’s cuts and shapes that make the colours come out. The library was a place I’d always wanted to go. The history of it against the modern clothes was a nice clash – that’s what I like to do.”
The shoot features Jemima Robinson, Bo Carter house model and muse. Jemima has also been an inspiration for Bo’s latest challenge which in April will see her take part in the Marathon des Sables, a race over six days across the Sahara Desert covering 250km, with temperatures over 50 degrees centigrade, carrying all her food and equipment on her back. “One stage is called the long stage, which means two marathons’ distance with no break,” Bo says.
Jemima did the challenge last year. “I started thinking about it and I couldn’t let it go,” Bo says, adding that she is not a seasoned marathon runner, although she did complete one 15 years ago. So now she is training 50 hours a week but admits it is difficult. She runs outdoors near Batley and at home on her treadmill next to the radiator in the kitchen while Steve prepares dinner. “Food is a good motivation. I eat so much these days,” she says.
Her real motivation is raising money for two charities: Fashion Revolution, launched following the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh where more than 1,000 clothing factory workers died; and Tower Hill Stables, a sanctuary which cares for more than 500 animals.
“I’ve got less than three months to go and I am absolutely scared and excited and certainly panicking,” she says. “I have been training since last April, starting with just taking steps rather than lifts because that’s how unfit I was. After a month of steps, I ran my first 1.5 miles, and it wasn’t easy.”
But it’s worth it, she says, because, no matter how on-trend it is to care, there’s still far too much to be done to improve the ethics and sustainability of fashion production.
“People are becoming more aware but there’s not enough from the people at the top,” she says. “We can definitely bring more policies around sustainable fabrics, make big businesses pay more taxes on how they produce things. There are still cheap clothes and cheap clothes should never be a thing.”
Bo Carter’s fundraising page is: www.goldengiving.com/fundraising/boisrunning
Details of her fundraiser sale on February 20 can be found on her website and Facebook page. Find out more about Marathon des Sables at Marathondessables.co.uk.
All clothes by Bo Carter, online at www.bocarter.co.uk.