Refashioned fashion

Wed, 11 Jan 2012 09:47:00 GMT

Karen Dennis

Karen Dennis - recycling clothes is about having fun, she says

How to customise clothes so they never wear out

IT is possible to make a fashion statement at the same time as displaying environmental awareness, according to University of Huddersfield lecturer Dr Karen Dennis.

Throwaway consumer culture – which can fill wardrobes with clothes that are barely worn before being discarded – means that the fashion industry makes a negative impact on the environment.  Garments, often made from non-biodegradable synthetic fabrics, can end up in bulging landfill sites and even when they are sent overseas to developing countries, they can damage local economies.

The solution is to recycle our clothes and get more wear out of them by keeping them stylish.  Karen  has demonstrate how this can be done at special workshops, including some that were a feature of  the University of Huddersfield’s Researchers’ Night in 2011.

There is an urgent need for recycled fashion and Karen shows people how they can take inspiration from the fashion scene and customise their garments.  Her workshops are hands-on sessions, with participants bringing along items of clothing that they had been on the verge of throwing out.  They will then be shown how to restyle them.  Her Researchers’ Night session culminated in a catwalk fashion show at which the new-old garments were modelled by their owners.

“It’s about having fun,” said Karen, who wants to show that everybody is capable of being a designer.  But she is also deeply serious about the underlying issues.

Her concerns began 20 years ago, while working with Oxfam and with a recycling project named No Logo.  When she came to Yorkshire for a textile design degree, she developed her research into the impact that clothing production made on development and the environment.

Now, in addition to lecturing historical and theoretical studies of design, she also runs a social enterprise, a Leeds-based workshop named Ketchup, where she makes and sells clothes from recycled materials.

Over the years she has occasionally struggled to put over her message, meeting some resistance from the fashion industry.  But she has begun to detect changes in culture and attitudes.

“When I first started selling recycled clothes, people would say ‘Ugh! It’s old stuff!’.  But that has changed, which gives me lot of hope and there are more and more companies in the field.”

She also supports clothing exchanges, where people actually swap clothes.  This has the added value of a social element, especially during financially-straitened times, says Karen.  

She lectures to students in a wide variety of design disciplines, and puts over her philosophy of recycling to architects as well as fashion designers.  The ideas are transferable, says Karen.

But she is also determined to make an impact with the clothes buying public, encouraging them to look in their wardrobes and think hard about the contents. Below, hear Karen talking about her ideas.....


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