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Material Girl in a Material World

Posted by Caroline Swarbrick Marketing Events & Digital Co-ordinator for Oxfam trading

2nd May 2012

Image of cut off jeans from M&S Shwop labs

Teresa Collenette writes from the Marks and Spencer Shwop lab...



As Deputy manager of the Westbourne Grove Oxfam Boutique, I see loads of jeans coming into the shop as donations.  Let's face it, fashion trends may come and go but jeans are a staple of every girl (and indeed boy's wardrobe!)  And we all own more than one pair: skinny ones, straight ones, that pair you hope you will be able to squeeze back into one day!  Denim is in fact one of the hardest materials to recycle especially the waistband with the rivets, so what should we do with all of these unwanted jeans, apart from donate them to our nearest Oxfam shop!

 Denim pieces waiting to be customised by Gary Harvey in the M&S shwop lab

Yesterday when I went down to the amazing and inspiring Sustainable Fashion Lab, the brainchild of a partnership between M &S, Oxfam and London College of Fashion's Centre of Sustainable Fashion, I met a man with some injeanious ideas!  Sorry about the pun!  Gary Harvey is eco designer extraordinaire who has created some fabulous couture dresses from a wide array of materials from newspaper to cardboard boxes to unwanted baseball jackets.  But denim is Gary's favourite medium.  As a poor young student wanting to create his own individual look, jeans from charity shops provided an accessible and economical source of fabric.  His love and knowledge of jeans then deepened whilst creative director with Levi jeans.  

Gary Harvey customising denim in the M&S shwop lab

When I arrived at the lab, Gary was busy pinning and snipping and the table was covered with a vast selection of jeans sourced from Oxfam's recycling plant, Wastesaver.  The project - to make a sweeping couture denim dress in only two days!   But Gary is a man on a wider mission this week.  He wants everybody to get out scissors, needle and thread and start sewing.  It is time, he told me, that as consumers of fashion we regain respect for clothing.  By understanding more about the manufacture of the clothes we wear, we will become less greedy in our consumption and also become more aware of the social injustices experienced by the people who are forced to make our clothes for an unfair wage.  As a result of this knowledge, we will hopefully be inspired to make changes in our patterns of consumption.

An easy way to start along this path is to adopt a more 'mend and make do' attitude to our clothes. Instead of leaving clothes unworn in our wardrobe and buying new ones, we should embrace our creative side and find ways to make our old clothes wearable again. Sometimes all you need to do to give a dress a new life, for example, is to shorten it.   And sometimes a dress can be revived simply by the way you style it with a belt or a scarf.  The important thing is to think before you buy. And if you do buy something new don't just shop, 'shwop!'

I can't wait to see how Gary's finished denim creation will look.  He couldn't show me a drawing because he keeps the vision in his head and allows it to evolve while he works.  I am guessing it will be absolutely fabulous! And I cannot wait to see what he designs next. He did tell me that he would love to create a dress from the parts of a car.  A dress with lots of va va vroom I'm sure!

All images by Unity, with thanks.

Blog post written by Caroline Swarbrick

Marketing Events & Digital Co-ordinator for Oxfam trading

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