Showcasing a collection of forward-thinking, beautifully made - or rather, re-made - shirts, Keepers of Lost Clothes is a thought-provoking collaborative research project by Leeds Beckett University BA (Hons) Fashion tutors Katie Lenton, Jenny Prendergast and Harriet Wadsworth, examining how sustainability can be integrated into a fashion design curriculum.
The collection was launched at the 59th Rooftop Bar & Grill in Leeds on Thursday February 7, where Katie, Jenny, Harriet and students involved in the project discussed how it came to be and what it all means.
Can you give an overview of the project and what inspired it?
Jenny Prendergast: "The project centres on embedding sustainability within the BA Fashion curriculum at Leeds Beckett University, increasing awareness of the industry’s impact upon the environment and encouraging our students to adopt a conscious approach to fabrication and production.
The project has been delivered alongside first and second year modules in pattern cutting and garment construction and has culminated in the production of a selection of individual shirts and coats. Each garment has been made from clothes that other people have fallen out of love with; found in the back of the wardrobe, the bottom of the drawer or jumbled on a charity shop rail. These garments have been washed, ironed, unpicked, dismantled, cut and re-stitched to create new clothes to fall in love with. We’ve encouraged the students to use second hand garments from family and friends to enhance the narrative connection and it’s been great to see students re-working old school shirts with hand written, now embroidered, good luck messages for the future, alongside shirts from fathers, brothers and uncles that each come with a personal meaning."
Keepers of Lost Clothes is an interesting title, is there a story behind this?
Katie Lenton: "The title is a reference to Ruth Hogan’s The Keeper of Lost Things, which is a really beautiful book I read a couple of years ago. It tells the story of three unlikely friends, who become the custodians of a collection of lost things. The items have little monetary value, things such as hair bobbles, umbrellas, pens or teacups, but have all been collected, catalogued and advertised online for collection. The reader learns the stories behind the lost items and I just loved the sentimentality of it all. I recommended the book to Jenny and Harriet and we thought it would be a great idea to develop a research project that explored similar principles through clothing."
The photoshoot provided some striking images for 'Keepers of Lost Clothes'. What adjectives would you use to describe the brand and what is the customer demographic that the brand is aimed at?
Harriet Wadsworth: "In terms of Brand Adjectives we’d use to describe the brand would be: creative, sentimental and beautiful. When it comes to the customer we believe that consumers are becoming more and more aware of the impact their choices have on the environment and are therefore making more conscious and sustainable decisions when shopping. The desire for originality and product personalisation is increasing and we believe that the garments our students have produced will appeal to a wide range of customers. I think the students have done a wonderful job at designing clothing that is both sustainable and aesthetically desirable and I think it’s difficult to assign a target demographic, we’ve been really surprised at the variation which currently ranges from 21 – 50."
Why is it important to you as tutors to engage in sustainable design practice?
KL: "We believe that designers of the future will need to think more creatively and resourcefully than ever before and we want to equip out students with the skills and knowledge to challenge fast fashion and produce garments that are both desirable and sustainable.
I think it’s important to introduce this from an early stage, to challenge any preconceptions about sustainable clothing and what it may look like. As tutors we want our students to have a positive impact not only on the industry, but on our planet and embedding sustainable design philosophies in their study means we can encourage them to make conscious choices at various stages throughout the design process. The students have responded so positively to the project and it has been wonderful watching them devise innovative solutions to the challenges that working with second hand fabrics presents."
Did teaching in this way impact teaching and learning for first year students?
HW: "The students learning experience has been enriched through adopting a sustainable approach to fabrication. Before they could begin pattern cutting, the students had to unpick all of their second hand shirts, which provided an excellent insight into how individual pattern pieces look and the order in which a garment is constructed, which is really valuable information for first year students – some of whom may not have worked with pattern pieces before...
...Students have commented that they felt less pressure working with second hand fabrics, which has enabled them to adopt a more creative approach to design...
...Happy accidents have resulted in innovative and thoughtful design details..."
Did teaching in this way present any challenges?
HW: "The students have had to learn to be resourceful with their fabrics and have had to panel/patch-work sections together before pattern cutting to ensure they have enough fabric for their designs."
Has working in this way impacted design outcomes?
JP: "The design of the garments has been enriched in a playful and unpredictable way through the introduction of second hand, deconstructed fabrics...
As Harriet says, when working with second hand fabrics, the students had to be resourceful when placing their patterns and as a result we have seen the introduction of interesting panels, darned holes, visible labels and unexpected design details. For example, patch pockets traditionally positioned on the chest bodice have been transferred to a back yoke or elbow...
Designs have continually evolved in response to the fabric available."
To the students involved - what differences did you experience when developing your shirts and the coats?
Keisha Quison: "Although working on the shirts gave us experience of using second hand fabrics, the coats were more challenging as we had to consider internal design details such as pockets and linings...
It helped that we could introduce organic denim into the coats, as we could then use salvaged second hand details as accent colours."
Do you think taking part in the project may influence your approach to design and fabrication in your final year of study?
Beth Cordukes: "I think it will. Before we did this project sustainable clothing could be a bit boring, sometimes over priced and often less exciting than 'Ready To Wear'. But after doing this project I now think that working sustainably can produce even more exciting garments than what we see in the shops and on the catwalks, I love that every piece is totally unique and all of our work looks so different.
...I’ve already introduced elements of this project within my trend forecasting module, where I’ve designed a collection of sustainable festival wear, I even managed to source some sustainable sequins!"
The website provides a wonderful opportunity for customers to have an online experience of the brand. Will you be using it to educate the customer about fashion and the environment and how will you do this?
KL: "We have planned a collaboration with creative writing students at the University, who are going to create narratives or poems for each of the garments, telling the imagined stories of who owned them in a previous life. The narratives will sit alongside the garments and remind the customer that the fabrics have been salvaged to create new from old...
I think this will be a creative and engaging way to educate the customer. There is a research section of the website, which contains some much more extensive information on fashion, sustainability and the environment, but wherever possible we want the customer experience to be creative and more importantly, engaging."
Do you have plans to develop the site for the future?
JP: "At the moment plans include ideas such as creating a graduate section, developing a bespoke service...
We also want to develop Instagram and Twitter hashtags that customers can engage with and share new stories about their clothes to continue the narrative...
...Continue collaborations with creative writing students to develop interesting narratives for the garments...
We'd love to establish a link with Fashion Revolution to help promote awareness of sustainable design."
Credit for All Images
Photographer: Abigail Wright
Model: Samantha Thornhill
- More about Keepers of Lost Clothes
- More about the School of Art, Architecture & Design.
- More about the BA (Hons) Fashion course.