BROWN THOMAS: Describe your approach to sustainability?
My pieces for this particular project involved me breathing new life into vintage scarves at my studio in Belfast, turning them into exclusive and unique luxury couture cushions. Made from vintage and antique silks on the front, and traditional Irish linen - from one of the last remaining linen mills still active in Ireland - on the back. I’m passionate about reclaiming and repurposing textiles in an environmentally friendly way, to prevent wastage and reduce the consumption of raw materials, while using a regenerative design process to cherish and celebrate vintage and antique items. In a world of throw-away fashion, I try to contribute to and promote sustainability, in a way that also pays tribute to a special Irish heritage.
BROWN THOMAS: Where do you manufacture your collections and have you visited all of your factories or suppliers?
All of my pieces are hand-crafted at my studio in Belfast, designed by myself and then finished by a small team of skilled seamstresses. The majority of the materials are sourced locally. I personally collect the linen cloth from a local linen mill, one of the last remaining linen mills active in Ireland, and I travel the world to source the vintage and antique scarves whilst on antiques shopping trips, which I’ve upcycled for this project to create the stunning fronts for these one-of-a-kind cushions.
BROWN THOMAS: Do you use any sustainable materials in your collection?
I try to make conscientious choices with all of the elements in my designs. The fronts of my cushions are high quality vintage and designer silk scarves that I sources on my travels, mainly from the brocantes I attend at Marche aux Puces in the outskirts of Paris. While there are so many affordable fabrics available today to choose from, I felt that it would be a unique and personal touch to incorporate vintage and antique fabrics into my pieces instead of using new materials. Not only does this breathe life into the cushion designs, adding personality and character, but it repurposes a beautiful and exquisite item so that it may be enjoyed in a new way. By creating cushions with upcycled luxury materials, I hope to dispel the myth that recycling isn’t glamorous or potentially high end. The backings of the cushion are all pure and undyed Irish Linen, maintaining a neutral and naturally beautiful oatmeal tone that has become synonymous with my designs to date. The other materials used, such as natural thread, recycled cotton lining, and a layer of organic bamboo wadding for structure, are all sustainably and responsibly sourced. My collection for Brown Thomas comprises vintage scarf cushions backed in new Irish Linen, but I also make a line of contemporary patchwork cushions that often include patches of vintage Irish Linen, adding a one-of-kind, ‘limited edition' quality to the piece.
BROWN THOMAS: Do you engage in any innovations or processes that improve the sustainability of the products you make?
I use natural and undyed Irish Linen, which maintains the oatmeal colour of the flax plant itself. This has become the signature of my designs, and unifies the collections. This was a conscientious choice, but also a decision based on the fresh, contemporary, and natural beauty of the oatmeal tone, especially in relation to interiors. The Irish Linen I use is certified by the Irish Linen Guild, and my brand is listed on their official website as a “trusted and recommended” purveyor of Irish Linen goods. All the pieces are one-of-a-kind and not mass produced, which not only makes them feel more individual and special, but makes them less likely to be discarded.
BROWN THOMAS: How do you think the fashion industry needs to change for the better regarding sustainability?
I have been involved in the fashion industry for some years now, having presented over 40 shows of Belfast FashionWeek. My own personal style includes an eclectic mix of high-end designer, non-brand, and vintage pieces, and I regularly recycle and upcycle my own garments, adding detailing and adornment to turn something old into something new. In my own experience, with pieces I have picked up over the years, I have often found that vintage clothing has been made particularly well with solid construction; hence the reason why they have lasted the test of time and are able to be reused by me today. I am aware of the significant influence the fashion industry has; as a result I am convinced that the industry itself needs to promote and contribute to a more sustainable way of living, where quality and unique-ness are valued over fast-fashion, rock bottom prices, and a throw-away fashion culture based on short-lived trends. I think Stella McCartney’s Winter 2017 ad campaign which took place on a Scottish landfill site was very inspirational. A recommended watch is ‘The True Cost’ documentary on Netflix where she discusses the current world issues on fast fashion, it really makes one rethink their shopping habits. I am a firm believer of the idea of individual expression through fashion, but I am also certain that this doesn’t need to be at the expense of society and the environment. Items that are well-made, and classic in taste, are timeless, and this same approach is what I try to bring to my own design business. My aim is to make pieces that can be proudly displayed, cherished, and loved, for many lifetimes.