Fashion is a second career for me, my first degree is in quantity surveying, two worlds collide if you’re old enough to know the Monty Python sketch about quantity surveyors. For eight years I worked as a cost consultant and then as a project manager for developers in the City. I studied a Fashion Portfolio foundation course and BA Fashion Design Realisation in my 30s.
I don’t remember learning to sew, I just feel I’ve always done it and I’ve always upcycled clothes. Growing up, I used to spend hours altering clothes in my bedroom and making hats from old garments. I wore this jacket to go to Macmillans nightclub in Liverpool, made from an old chemists coat of my dads and I wore his wedding suit the first time I went to the Clothes Show in Birmingham. I now have a lot of hand downs from my mum and dad in my wardrobe.
A chance meeting on a London street, a TV show about changing careers, I worked with a life coach who made me realise that clothes occupied a lot of my headspace and ignited a creative desire in me but I couldn’t immediately figure out a way to satisfy it. I did, however, decide that my future was not in construction so I left my job and went travelling, which is probably the experience that informs my ethical values today.
I loved studying fashion, I had decided where I was headed and was excited to be taking the next step. But when I started to think about my fashion career, I saw celebrity designers whose lifestyle seemed more on show than their clothes, unpaid internships with long hours producing clothes that I couldn’t afford to buy. On the high street there were mass market brands who seemed to be all about quantity rather than quality and ever changing trends; I wasn’t drawn to shop there, let alone work for them.
I did a few alteration jobs and one-off upcycling commissions, but the time it took me did not even cover my costs, let alone leave me with any profit; even allowing for my self-taught level of skill! I love sewing but I’m not a seamstress; I am self-taught and my skills are still very much in development. However, there is great satisfaction to be gained from making a garment and I have a growing appreciation for the amazing craft of garment making.
I tested a wardrobe restyling business with a friend based on using what you already have rather than encouraging people to buy more and it was well received. It also made me look at my own wardrobe. I realised that 80% of my wardrobe was second hand. Even when I was studying, immersed in the world of fashion, I preferred to scout the charity shops in Chelsea and Fulham for second hand bargains. And when friends on my course were excited about this amazing new high street store called Primark, I just wasn’t drawn to shop there (and I still haven’t ever bought a single garment there). I realised that I was drawn to second hand shopping because it offers something unique. I come from a generation where we strived to look different, I can express my creativity and individuality by upcycling. And I have always loved the idea of re-inventing a garment with history and a back story …. re-loving it! Second hand also suits my budget, I can get the quality I want at a price I can afford, finding the odd vintage bargain along the way.
Clothes have always felt important but as I searched for a new career path, fashion started to feel trivial and I couldn’t reconcile the passion I had with the industry I saw. I started to realise that fashion for me was more about an expression of identity rather than chasing the latest trends. This blog is the culmination of my life so far but it’s also my journey to find my new career. I’m looking for an ethical way to dress stylishly but also an opportunity to showcase and develop my skills and find some new ones.
“I don’t know if I’m a fashion designer, an artist or a voice for ethical fashion … maybe I can find a way to be all three?! I gave up a lot when I left my career in construction to retrain and start from fresh in a totally different industry. But I look back on my teenage years and see there was a creative in me then and I can finally make sense of my years of scouting charity shops and collecting hand me downs.
My other passion in life is yoga … it keeps my head, my heart and my body in check! You may find I refer to it a bit, I’m a big fan and I probably wouldn’t be doing this if hadn’t started practicing yoga. Treading more lightly on this beautiful world of ours is central to what I do.