Just ahead of London Fashion Week, The Green Stylist’s European Contributor, Veronica Crespi, had a chat with Orsola De Castro, founder of Estethica and upcyclist extraordinaire.
Orsola started her label From Somewhere in 1997, the first to address the issue of pre-consumer waste and reproducibility in recycling for the fashion industry. From Somewhere collaborations include upcycled collections for Jigsaw, Robe Di Kappa, Tesco and Speedo.
In September 2006 Orsola, together with her partner Filippo Ricci, started Estethica, the sustainable fashion area at London Fashion Week which she still curates and organises for the British Fashion Council.
The Green Stylist (TGS): Orsola, I know you’re excited about some new projects. Can you tell us more?
Orsola De Castro (ODC): We are going live with our new ‘baby’, Reclaim To Wear (RTW).
RTW is not a new project: it’s the company that’s always been behind From Somewhere’s off collaborations, such as with Tesco and Speedo. But then I thought: why not make RTW a brand in its own right.
As we do a lot of collaborations, we want RTW to become the space that houses them, separately from From Somewhere.
I think it will be beneficial for both brands to pursue this kind of separation, as at times in the past it got quite hectic running From Somewhere together with all the side projects. I remember March 2010, when we launched the Tesco line, and three days later we were at the Oscars for Livia Firth’s first Green Carpet Challenge! It’s been great fun and there have been amazing opportunities, but I think curating the two labels separately will simplify things – so we decided to give RTW a life of its own.
The launch of RTW sees Livia [Firth] as our first guest designer. She designed a beautiful dress, which she wore for the opening of the Biennale in Venice. This was an event of very high visibility, and thus an excellent opportunity for the cooperativa. [The dress is produced in limited edition by the Cooperativa Rinascere in Montecchio Maggiore near Vicenza in Italy, a non-profit organization that helps to rehabilitate disabled and disadvantaged individuals. It is sold exclusively at yoox.com, as part of YOOXYGEN, the e-tailer’s eco-friendly initiative.]
TGS: You found in Livia Firth a perfect ambassador for this new venture! Are there other collaborations in the pipeline?
ODC: Yes, the next lines will be co-designed with Topshop, Pearl Lowe, and a group of students of Central Saint Martins. We’ll be unveiling their work at Estethica during London Fashion Week.
The opportunity to design for RTW was given to the students as a contest. 10 teams of students, each made up of 8 students, so 80 talents from different pathways. Each team worked on creating a mini brand, so not just a collection, but lookbooks, videos, etc.
RTW is such an experimental platform, because on one side its very technical, but its also our way to share our knowledge – so collaborating with such talented students fits perfectly with the concept.
It is a massive opportunity for the students, but for us too. CSM students are very talented, and normally brands pay to take part in such projects. But in our case, CSM wanted to give the students the challenge to work with a brand with a different approach. And they are loving it. Upcycling is a concept that speaks to younger generations much louder than it does to us.
British street style has always been very individual. It’s also always been able to mirror and respond to a political situation, like in the 60s, or with the punk movement. Fashion can be political, and it responds very well to being political. I did my first lecture at St Martins the day after Occupy London, and the students were fired up by the recent developments.
Fashion is the social expression of a generation, and in this sense it is now a suitable medium to respond to the need of a more sustainable lifestyle. Upcycling speaks to the younger generation really loudly.
Besides, at the moment the upcycled look seems to be a major trend coming from the catwalks – with a lot of things that look like they should be upcycled. All of this shows me that this is our moment, this is how I feel.
TGS: Your approach is inherently innovative, and by developing new ways to conceive a fashion line, you naturally had to devise new ways to produce them. How do you hope to influence the fashion system with your work?
ODC: I want to be able to move production back to the UK. For me its all about creating fertile grounds to redevelop the production skills that made the British textile industry so important, but which have now been lost. To me, this is the only way forward.
I visited many factories abroad, which make billions of clothes – they have a successful business model. They are in poor countries, making money from our western demands, and I don’t feel I am in the position to ask them to change their model to accommodate working on my ‘rubbish’. My idea of production, I want it to be local.
As with From Somewhere we only produce a few thousand pieces per year, we’ve been able to produce in Italy, where runs can be of up to 10k pieces.
But in the UK, every single manufacturing unit stops at 250 pieces, which means I could never produce my lines in the UK. There is no demand for the small production runs that the UK is offering at the moment. The quality is wonderful, but they haven’t got the structure to manufacture in bigger numbers, which causes for the production to be moved abroad altogether.
Re-introducing skills to the UK is the only way forward for this industry. Fashion is the third biggest industry in the UK – it’s huge, we have the best design schools, we must be able to pair this with local manufacturing again. Luckily the British Fashion Council is getting involved with this issue.
This is my absolute crusade. Imagine a factory that can produce upcycling, and that you can also use as a hub to teach other designers!
[all images courtesy of Orsola De Castro, From Somewhere and Reclaim To Wear]