Making things by hand was part of the family culture I grew up in, whether it was cultivating a vegetable garden, home baking or knitting toys, there was always plenty of accomplished homespun creativity going on. It was just assumed that if you made something yourself it would have a uniqueness, be well made and of course, cheaper than shop bought. The more I reflect back, the more I realise that everyone had a creative side. My mother and aunt were dancers, my mother also sewed and knitted and my aunt made tassels, spirals and fringing from paper that she would use to embellish gift wrapping. My grandpa was a cabinet maker and made all of the furniture in my mother's family home and he was also a terrific gardener. My father was a physicist (scientists are creative, too), a serious gardener and very capable of DIY. Another aunt was an artistic window dresser for a department store in the 1950s as well as being a pianist. Even my brother, a self confessed tech nerd, among other things, has a side line in building bespoke amplifiers. Both of my grandmothers were seamstresses; my Grandma began by making lingerie for Liberty of London, then once married worked from home as a professional dressmaker with a steady flow of work as well as making ballroom gowns for my mum; my Nanna worked as a hat maker and milliner, then retrained as a tailor. Both were lifelong dressmakers, and made clothes for the whole family.
Undoubtedly, my family heritage has fed into what I believe in. I treasure those things which have been made by individuals, rather than on a production line, where it's evident someone has invested their skill, time and mastery to produce something that's worth keeping for a long time. This may mean repairing it when necessary, rather than buying new and appreciating the repair as a thing of value in itself instead of a flaw. It's also about the pure joy to be had from making for the sake of making. Mostly, creativity is about problem solving; how making turns nothing into something useful and hopefully, something beautiful. I may have been lucky to have so many makers and menders in my life, which fed into my own sense of what I can do myself if I try, but for everyone, using our natural creativity to come up with ideas and to make with our hands is in all of us and in my mind, has long been undervalued and gone un-nurtured in conventional education as well as discouraged in the prevailing consumer economy. Making and mending is important for two big reasons; it means we can take control of the stuff we choose to have in our lives and look after it instead of throwing it out to replace with new and it's good for the soul; the simple pleasure to be had from something handmade or repaired or re-purposed.
My Journey to Sustainability
To be honest, I didn't start out with a clearly defined ethos. At the beginning the plan was to design and produce in Ireland, well made garments in fabrics of natural fibres (linen, cotton, silk and wool) for a discerning clientele. That still remains, but in the space between getting started and now, there was a shift, both in my own life and the wake up call of the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh in 2013, enforcing a review of priorities and an opportunity to take stock. Slowing down and doing more with less became a way of approaching living and an unexpectedly welcome return to simple values: and the awareness that being born in the Western World was a lucky accident that comes with responsibilities.
So what is sustainable clothing? Many of us are adopting a new approach to what we consume; we've seen this in the emergence of artisanal food in the slow food movement, as we've become uncomfortable with how big food producers operate. Reports of sweatshops, child labour and factory disasters mean that we're now questioning the provenance of our clothing, too, never mind the shear volume of clothing that we've been buying. The concept of sustainable clothing, as opposed to sustainable fashion which implies a passing trend, is complex and there isn't a single definition; it means different things to different people in different circumstances, but certainly, as well as being about fair trade, fair working conditions and fair wages, it's about behaviour, relationships and a way of thinking.
It is an ideal and a constantly evolving one, but if I attempt to sum up what sustainability means to me in a sentence it is: to cause zero or minimal impact on the environment whilst enabling people to live and work safely, healthily and without hardship and for this to be a symbiotic relationship that is able to perpetuate.
Studio workshop - somewhere in West Cork
West Cork, where we're based, is a hub of inventiveness with artists, craftspeople and artisans settled in a community of likeminded creatives. Being away from city life and close to nature brings with it a different kind of aesthetic and a pared back lifestyle, which inspires a quest for clothing to be versatile. The design and sewing studio in West Cork looks out towards the Fastnet Rock lighthouse, with the Atlantic Ocean just 100 metres away. The sea, sky, landscape and islands are constantly changing with the wind and sun, inspiring clothing for all seasons.