Is this future of fashion? Students at Leeds Beckett University have been unpicking unwanted shirts and reworking them into unusual and highly desirable new shirts for a collection that will be launched at the ultra-swish East 59th Rooftop Bar & Grill in Leeds on Thursday, February 7.
The evocatively named Keepers of Lost Clothes explores new ways in which fashion can achieve a stylish and aspirational sustainability.
Showcasing a collection of forward-thinking, beautifully made - or rather, re-made - shirts, this is a thought-provoking collaborative research project by Leeds Beckett University BA Fashion tutors Katie Lenton, Jenny Prendergast and Harriet Wadsworth, examining how sustainability can be integrated into a fashion design curriculum.
“We believe that designers of the future will need to think more creatively and resourcefully than ever before and want to equip out students with the skills and knowledge to challenge fast fashion and produce garments that are both desirable and sustainable,” said course director Katie Lenton. “The project began from a desire to embed sustainability into our fashion design curriculum and to encourage our students to make conscious fabric choices that have a positive impact upon the environment.
“Our first year students were asked to collect second-hand shirts from charity shops, family and friends which were unpicked and used to lay their new designs onto. This has resulted in some beautifully soft fabrics, as a result of previous washing, and the transferal of interesting design details.”
An unexpected impact of the project was in the quality of designs that the students produced, said Katie. “When working with second-hand fabrics, the students had to be resourceful when placing their patterns and as a result we have seen the introduction of interesting panels, darned holes, visible labels and unexpected design details. For example, patch pockets traditionally positioned on the chest bodice have been transferred to a back yoke or elbow. Button stands that would traditionally be seen at the centre front have been transformed into belts and interesting cuff details.
“The design of the garments has been enriched in a playful and unpredictable way through the introduction of second hand, deconstructed fabrics.”
The tutors believe that the project points the way towards a change of thinking on the high street. Katie said: “We believe that consumers are becoming more and more aware of the impact their choices have on the environment and are therefore making more conscious and sustainable decisions when shopping. The desire for originality and product personalisation are increasing and we believe that the garments our students have produced will appeal to consumers on both a sustainable and aesthetic level.
“We hope to develop the project in future to provide a bespoke service, where clients can send their own second-hand garments to be repurposed.”
The students’ learning experience has also been enriched through adopting this sustainable approach, she added. “Before they could begin pattern cutting, the students had to unpick all of their second hand shirts, which provided an excellent insight into how individual pattern pieces look and the order in which a garment is constructed. The students have learnt to be both creative and resourceful, adapting their design ideas and construction methods to suit the fabric available to them.”
“I think the project has also dispelled any preconceptions that sustainable clothing is unfashionable and less interesting.”
*Leeds Beckett University BA Fashion launches Keepers of Lost Clothes on Thursday, February 7, 6-8pm at East 59th, Victoria Gate, Leeds. In addition to an exhibition of work, there will be a panel discussion with staff and students to discuss the impact of the project. See http://staging.keepers-of-lost-clothes.co.uk/