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Minna: an interview with ethical fashion designer Minna Hepburn

We've been loving up stylish ethical designer Minna for sometime here on Amelia's Magazine. Here's an excerpt from her piece in Amelia's Compendium of Fashion Illustration.

Written by Amelia Gregoy

Vintage fashion, stomach illustrated by Matilde Sazio

Vintage shop, price illustrated by Karolina Burdon

What gave you the idea for Preloved, Reloved in the first place?
Well I always like to dress a little differently. My style is mainstream with a retro edge, I suppose. I always seem to end up with a daft New Year’s resolution – last year I cycled from London to Paris for The Institute of Cancer Research. I like using my time to help others and spread awareness.

Were you a fan of vintage and upcycling before you started the project?
Yes! I always admire my friends’ outfits; well, those who wear vintage and second-hand fashion. Upcycling is something I have experimented with for ages at home and now is the time to make sure I actually finish some projects!

Where will you source your outfits?
Charity shops, vintage stores, eBay, my mum’s wardrobe…! I made a lined cape last night from linen and satin for balmy summer nights (booking a holiday soon!).

Charity shops, illustrated by Rukmunal Hakim

What does the project hope to achieve?
I want to raise awareness of numerous charities related to my Dad’s illnesses. I want my friends to know that too much of an unhealthy lifestyle is probably going to lead to an early demise. I also want to raise the profile of vintage and second-hand fashion; I remember as a kid we use to take the mick out of anyone who dressed from a charity shop. I myself as a student had a stigma against them. Now it’s become kitsch, cool and quirky. It’s good for the enivroment.

How much do you hope to raise and what are the funds likely to be used for?
£2500 is my Just Giving target – it goes directly to Macmillan. However, with my shopping at many different charity shops, my cash goes straight to them – win win all round! I have my thinking cap on about how to expand the project though.

eBay! Illustration by Avril Kelly

Why did you choose Macmillan?
My dad (and his dad) had cancer – he died last week unfortunately. And it wasn’t the cancer that killed him, it was his heart and his adult-onset diabetes. A poor lifestyle in his twenties and thirties caused it and he was only 57 when he passed. So as I said before, this project benefits other charities focussing on these causes too through me spending money at their outlets.

Not that far in, but have you come accross any problems so far? Has anything that happened that you weren’t expecting?
Avoiding shops is quite hard as I realised I can’t just pop into the Topshop sale and treat myself – which I suppose is good for my wallet and I’m going to do less impulse-buying on the way home from work.
With my Dad passing, I haven’t had as much time to go browsing shops as much as I’d like. This weekend, however, I’m going to the Girls of Guildford vintage fair and gig – for some serious retail therapy, cupcake-nomming and also to check out some great live music away from the bustle of London.

Vintage, illustrated by Jess Holt

What are you wearing today? Where’s it all from?
Dark blue skinny jeans, leather knee boots that I already owned with black and cream patterned blouse from River Island that I bought from Cancer Research UK. I’m also wearing red rose earrings from Magnolia Jewellery.

Do you plan to make or alter any of your clothes? If so, how?
Yes – I love sewing and making jewellery too – I made a cape last week and have upcycled a pair of old, torn jeans from my uni days into a denim mini. I have a small collection of retro patterns including a lovely dress with a pussy bow. I love being able to create something out of fabric I love: last year I went to a lovely Indian wedding and couldn’t find The Outfit – so I made a purple maxi-dress with a halterneck and glammed it up with ribbons dangling down my back. Saved myself a fortune too!

Illustration by Gilly Rochester

What else do you get up to?
I run Never Enough Notes – a music e-zine, and I’m cycling the London-Brighton this summer with my brother and friends to raise money for the British Heart Foundation.

What would be your perfect Preloved, Reloved outfit?
For daytime it would easily be vintage jeans, brown boots that look a bit worn-out, a floaty shirt or cheeky tee, a tweed jacket and a battered satchel.
For evening, I love ball gowns and retro dresses so would be something glam that I could wear with a pair of 1970s heels! Oh there’s way too much choice, I love it!
Faye West Gossypium Sewing Kit
Gossypium with Amelia’s Magazine Sewing Kit A/W 2008, mind featuring print design by Brie Harrison. Illustration by Faye West.

Gossypium worked with Amelia’s Magazine and Brie Harrison to create a Clothkits-inspired kit fashion dress and bag to accompany the final print issue of Amelia’s Magazine. Run by Abigail and Thomas Petit, it is a family business based in Lewes, East Sussex.   

What is your process of creating your garments?
We do things the opposite way around to the rest of the fashion industry. I was working as a textile engineer with Indian farmers when we started Gossypium, so fabric comes first: from the spinning of the yarn to the final stitching of the garments is a long and complicated process. We have an extremely close working relationship with our producers and a huge respect for their hard work and care of the environment.

Why is transparency more important than certification?
In some instances enforced standards have some value, for example it is good to be able to label something organic or fairtrade, but sometimes the point of certification gets clouded and this can limit good honest business practice. Transparency and brand trust are the most precious and valuable assets. Knowing our trade and suppliers so well shows in the quality of our products, and this benefits our customers. And it means that no one can copy us or take those relationships away.  

Why did you decide to collaborate with Amelia’s Magazine and Brie Harrison?
We are pioneers who have built our entire business from scratch so it was lovely to concentrate on something that was more fashion-based for a change. Working with Amelia’s Magazine allowed us to have a fantastic burst of creativity and we sure enjoyed that moment. Nula Shearing, who is a daughter of the Clothkits family, has just created a lovely tea towel for us, and we hope to do more fashion-led designs in the future… 

Read the rest of this interview with Gossypium in Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration, alongside interviews with 44 other ethical fashion designers and 30 fabulous fashion illustrators. You can buy the book here.

You can still buy issue 10 of the Amelia’s Magazine which comes with a free Brie Harrison designed kit bag from my website here, and you can also still buy the kit dress from the Gossypium website here.
Minna S/S 2011 by Gemma Milly
Minna S/S 2011 by Gemma Milly.

How has the way you create your clothes progressed since you first started out?
I think fashion should be fun; I just love to put on a dress which brings a smile to my face. We have kept our feminine, patient vintage inspired, view playful style but the collection is a bit more grown up, ask which has helped us to find a new audience. Lace still plays a big part in the collection but we have also started to use heavier fabrics such as wool jersey. I prefer to keep our colourways simple but we are designing a print to use for linings and dresses in our next collection. The recession has also played a role in our design process – we have had to think about our price points and make sure that our pieces are multi-functional. We still focus on UK-made fabrics and all production is based in London, since this is integral to the brand.

Minna 2010 by Faye West
Minna by Faye West.

Where do you source your fabrics from?
Sourcing fabrics is a big part of the job so we do a lot of networking. I am lucky to have designer friends who are happy to share information about their suppliers, and sourcing fabrics online has improved massively over the last two years, but I still find it very difficult to source UK-made fabrics: we desperately need a good supplier database. Sourcing vintage lace is a fun part of the job because I love strolling around antique markets. Unfortunately I have very little time to do that these days so I go on Ebay instead and when travelling I can’t resist visiting the local antique fairs. Lace can be very expensive if you go to proper antique shops so I rely on local grannies who know where to buy it in bulk.

How do you ensure a commercial collection?
We buy Scottish lace in massive quantities and mix it with other fabrics, but we don’t produce entire one-off pieces because these would be tricky to sell online. However, because most of our pieces are embellished with offcuts and antique lace they are unique. This is very labour intensive so the price has to reflect that…

Read the rest of this interview and see more illustrations of Minna’s clothing in Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration, alongside interviews with 44 other ethical fashion designers and 30 fabulous fashion illustrators. You can buy the book here.


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