I’d like to tell you all a story.
Once upon a time, just over a year ago, I decided to push myself beyond my comfort zone and attend an event I was invited to, alone. To overcome my crippling shyness in these situations,(I’m one of those strange creatures I like to call a shy showoff) I dressed up in one of my own creations: my heaven and hell kimono. Being dressed like this gives me an instant confidence boost. I added a goddess style headpiece from Pearls and Swine to complement it and set off on my mission : to attend the launch of a brand new sustainable ethical fashion line: Tengri. I didn’t know much about the company except that they used Mongolian Yak fibre to create hand made pieces. I was invited by their brand ambassador and wonderful friend, Miss Baby Sol.
The event , hosted by Tengri, was supported and powered by Bookabeat, a live music booking platform run by two amazing women, twins Makeda and Naomi Peter.
The launch party was wonderful, the Tengri collection was modelled by a troupe of dancers who really conveyed the spirit of the brand. It was there I met Nancy Johnston, the founder of the Tengri brand.
Fast forward a year, and the lovely Bookabeat twins asked me to be involved in one of their events, a Xmas party on December the 19th at the Century Club where they were to celebrate women supporting women in business. Nancy of Tengri and I were to collaborate on a fashion show where we combine skills . Dovetailing in with this , Nancy asked me first to be in a panel discussion From Herder to High Fashion: pioneering sustainable supply chain provenance where I was to be joined by knitwear designers Bertie Bertinez and Katie Jones and brand embassador Miss Baby Sol and Nancy to discuss sustainability and all things fashion in front of an invited audience of journalists , investors and those interested in fashion.
The event was a lively affair, much passion and enthusiasm and hope was expressed to change the wasteful and exploitative current methods of supply chains involved in the fashion industry. The spirit on the panel was one of resourcefulness and creativity, each one of us working with recycling, bespoke processes, handmaking and creative use of waste and scrap which acts as a welcome counterfoil to the excesses of consumerism with its high turnover and massive waste issues. We left the event feeling buoyed and hopeful for the future .
Nancy had given me a bag of off-cuts of the gorgeous felted and woven Yak cashmere Tengri fabric. Knowing just how precious this fabric was made me determined to want to use as much of it as I could to create a new piece that would best showcase the natural beauty of the fabric but also add the Diane Goldie/c.Art embellished touch. A collaborative piece was to be made to be auctioned off at the Xmas party to the highest bidder , all profits going towards Women for Women International , a London based charity that helps women survivors of war rebuild their lives.
I had a look these fabric off-cuts. It felt so soft and luxurious. It was also in natural shades of yak, being undyed, so the fabric came in chocolate browns, greys and beiges, not my usual bright coloured palette… I was just a little intimidated as again, I was pushed out of my comfort zone. I pulled out the larger pieces of light coloured felted yak.I knew that only 60m of this gorgeous pale soft fabric was produced each year. No pressure then… I draped it around my tailors dummy to find that it formed a natural collar and back of a shoulder cape. So I went with that idea, I let the off-cut shape inform my design. I complemented the matte, soft fabric with inserts of shiny grey metallic fabric with black floral print that I had in stock. It worked, I realised I was going to be making a piece that wasn’t about colour and painting ( as I make wearable art rather than fashion) as is my usual bent, but drawing which is about tone, texture , line and contrast. Once I had understood that, things fell into place.
The piece started to feel like soft armour, as I used the off-cut, piecing it together emphasizing this with visible seams sewn with my serger in luminous orange, this fitted beautifully with the theme of Tengri Warrior collection. Here’s a blog post from Tengri designer Carlo on the theme of Warrior. http://www.tengri.co.uk/blog/2014/8/27/mongolian-inspiration A very graphic , poster like portrait of Frida Kahlo rendered in black and white against a gold halo embellished the back, while the front was black floral with butterfies and a stag beetle representing the fragility and resilience of the natural world. Frida Kahlo , to me, embodies the spirit of the warrior with her beautifully connected sense of strength and vulnerability. Her pain became her strength.
So this was the finished piece, fastened at the front with the floral flap, with snap fasteners.
But I still had some precious fabric off-cuts left. I couldn’t just leave them. So , using the same process , I draped what I had of the brown woven fabric on my mannequin. I had just enough to create a back panel, two front panels and a hood. There was also a long piece of fringing which was the natural edging of the woven fabric. I had to use that! I had a look in my stock collection of fabrics and chose a complimentary blue and brown Dutch Wax ( African /Indonesian) print to make raglan shaped sleeves and cut out some of the large design for a patterned applique on the hood. I used the fringing to edge the front and the last two pieces as a tie front.
The body of the jacket ( which was creating itself) was a tad too narrow so I used a strip of the cotton print to create side panels. Design through necessity. I rather liked this process.
I used yellow luminous thread on my serger to compliment the accent colours in the print. Lastly I appliqued a hand painted screen print of my own design of a woman of African heritage in profile on the back. Being printed on a acid yellow cotton meant that the colours tied in very nicely to the brown yellow blue theme that was emerging . Here it is in its glory:
Now I was happy. I’d successfully used up all the off-cut fabric and created not one but two items of wearable art from the precious yak fabric to be auctioned off to a really good cause.
The limitations of the off-cuts and the limited colour palette had really pushed my creativity to a different place. It’s extraordinary how much freedom you can find within strong boundaries.
I’m really looking forward to the Xmas Bookabeat event, where these two items will be auctioned plus Nancy and I will be showcasing other pieces in our respective ranges in the form of a fashion show.
Get your tickets to this event here
There is beauty in using waste, in more ways than you’d first expect.
There is beauty in collaboration.
There is beauty in coming together .
There is beauty in diversity and contrast.