Let’s say No to Mass Production

Cambridge Design Collective

Written by Camilla Sampson

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The Four Seasons Charity Show was in aid of Oxfam and the British Heart Foundation. The design brief consisted of buying charity shop clothes and styling or adapting them into something new and stylish. As a textiles student I embraced the customisation route: deconstructing, reconstructing, decorating, sewing, pleating, ruffling and so on until I could unveil works which were truly mine.

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The collection made its way down the catwalk, and to my greatest delight, people enquired about buying the pieces. Encouraged by this I am incorporating a recyclable theme into my A2 textiles, which induced designer research. Focusing on using items considered as junk and turning them into fashionable and hopefully wearable pieces. Some of the designers I investigated include People Tree, Katharine E Hamnett’s slogan t-shirts, and Edun. All of their manifestos contain aspects of Fairtrade, organic resources, sustainability or tackling of other global issues.

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Katharine E Hamnett promotes her campaigns on the consumer’s organic cotton (manufactured under tight ethical standards) chest: Free Burma, World Peace to Save the Seas. Hamnett presents her political beliefs and encourages us to do the same.

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Edun focuses on creating sustainable employment in developing countries, specifically sub-Saharan Africa. Just from these two brands you can see the multiple schemes that have been put into place to begin tackling global issues – they just need more recognition.

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I first experienced the concept of eco-fashion – typically – as a younger sister, when presented with my older sister’s hand-me-downs. At the time, I was probably disappointed by the lack of brand new clothing, and yet now the wearing of second-hand has become more fashionable than ever. Take the explosion of vintage clothing and the increasing presence of designers who re-use old clothes to make new creations, such as the brand Junky Styling. In more recent years my interest in eco-fashion has expanded from an initially disgruntled youth to advocator of Ethical Sustainable Fashion.

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This passion for re-making and vintage stems from television shows such as Twiggy’s Frock Exchange, and local fashion workshops, which I help to run as part of The Cambridge Design Collective. The workshops provide tips such as: turning old dresses into handbags, or learning how to distress jeans. The amount of people who have become involved and the techniques I have subsequently learnt demonstrate that we do not need mass production. We just need to get together and be a little more creative!

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In Frock Exchange, Twiggy encouraged the mass consumers of the UK to stalk out previously owned garments and transform them into beautiful bespoke items. The moment which propelled me into a world of eco-friendly fashion arrived in the role of a floral, floor-length Laura Ashley dress. The item was altered into the most amazing mini dress before Britain’s eyes. Energised by the programme I began to participate in clothes swaps and search for the independent retailers of my local town who do not mass-produce.

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My research revealed sustainable resources, such as the amazing Emporium 61, a boutique charity shop, which stocks vintage and even sells top brands such as Miu Miu and Prada. The shop also sells redesigned second hand clothing under the label 50/50. Cambridge has a lot of charity shops, independent outlets and vintage clothing, and yet so few people seem to know about them – something I hope to change by helping to publicise these stores better.

The achievement you feel when an item is successfully given a new lease of life, or at knowing your small decision is one tiny step towards helping the world (whether it be anti-child labour, or increasing climate change awareness), is definitely motivation to decrease high street consumerism. The High Street may hope it doesn’t use slave labour, child labour, unsustainable resources and more – but can you really imagine anything less fuels this mass producer? And what happens to all the clothes that aren’t sold? Huge piles of waste clothing?

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Eco – Fashion requires effort and if we really want to combat climate change and abuse of worker’s rights isn’t it worth it? Especially when you discover a hidden gem such as locally stocked labels: Rutzou or Milly Moy.

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I believe eco-fashion can be fashionable: even London Fashion Week has its own eco-friendly selection in its Esthetica exhibition! Of course some charity shops may still bear the stereotypical musty image, but if you look closely enough and do a little transformation you’d be amazed. If you’re not a designer yourself try a clothes swap, or vintage shopping in the beautiful Brick Lane of London – a perfect excuse if ever I heard one.

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