Rework revolution: the changing face of fashion
When was the last time you brought a t-shirt on a whim, only to lose it to the wilderness of your wardrobe, never to be worn again? Or perhaps a hem came loose on your dress and you had no time or clue how to fix it.
It’s exactly this throwaway culture that spousal team Andrew and Elizaveta Bennett are looking to remedy, with their design studio Arkdefo. Named after a combination of their skills (Andrew comes from architecture, and Elizaveta has a design and fashion background), the brand helped by Virgin StartUp aims to reinvent the lost art of clothes-making with a series of online sewing courses.
“I’ve been making my own clothes all my life. It’s such a simple skill but somehow we’ve completely forgotten how to do it,” Elizaveta tells Virgin Red. “I’ve developed a system to teach people how to make clothing based on their own measurements – for pieces that will last longer and fit better than anything you’ll find in today’s world.”
With the fashion industry contributing between 2-10% of global carbon emissions, and Brits alone throwing away about 3.1kg of textiles every year, Arkdefo’s courses hark back to a different time in fashion.
Reviving lost skills
At the heart of the Arkdefo mentality is the long-neglected craft of upcycling; and how this helps people to make their clothes last longer, and hold more meaning.
“We want to empower people to extend the lifespan of their clothes,” says Andrew. “It’s about reviving that sense of care and attention in the making process. So many adults today aren't able to sew a button back onto a jacket, and therefore it ends up in landfill. And all because they don't know that core skill.
“That’s why our sewing and fashion design course with kids is so popular,” he continues. “Children are generally more willing to throw themselves into the design process without worrying about making mistakes. By teaching them how to make their own clothes in an engaging way, they’ll learn the value of those garments from childhood. They’ll discover what it means to make something for themselves, and that sense of connection will lead to a more considerate generation of shoppers.”
As Elizaveta points out, making your own clothes also gives adults the freedom to craft their own designs from scratch. With women owning on average 12% of “inactive” clothing – including pieces that don’t fit, or have gone out of style – it’s little wonder that we churn through 80 billion items annually, wearing each new buy a mere seven times before throwing them away.
“People think a circular approach to fashion is so complicated, but it’s not. To make your own clothes just takes practice, and the end result is you have something you really want,” Elizaveta says. “You just need to start testing and playing around, using materials you might otherwise have thrown away, like old bed sheets or curtains.”
Reconnecting to clothing
In Elizaveta’s mind, reinvesting love into the clothes-making process helps to reverse a culture that has become careless and disposable. “We have this huge emotional connection with clothing; they’re steeped in personal memories,” she says. “But with fashion so cheap and instantly available, we’ve lost the thread of that meaning.”
Part of the make-your-own movement is to design clothes from higher-quality fabric (Arkdefo students are given a list of fabric suppliers when they enrol), and that have a better fit that the standard, one-size-fits-all measurements of some mass fashion brands..
“If you’re designing your own clothes, you can add in whatever you like, from puffy sleeves to deep pockets or a garment that fits so-called ‘weird body shapes,’” says Elizaveta. “We are all unique, and there’s something so satisfying and expressive about crafting a piece especially for you.”
“When it comes to fashion’s climate impact, we talk a lot about new solutions – but first we need to sort out the existing problems,” Andrew says. “Once you learn how to make something new, you understand the principles of how. Then you can go back to your wardrobe and start remaking what you already have. It’s about reconnection.”
Reinvesting in yourself
Arkdefo’s design courses also have a personal appeal that comes into play, particularly when it comes to the topic of women, clothes and confidence.
“Say you try on a dress a size bigger than you usually wear, and it still doesn't fit. As a woman, it’s not uncommon to go to the shop changing room and end up in tears. You start thinking ‘I'm not good enough, my body is wrong’. But actually, there’s no such thing as a ‘standard’ size: clothes should be made to fit us, not the other way round,” Elizaveta explains.
“It’s a confidence killer,” she continues. “You end up in this compulsive shopping loop, where you’re buying clothes to try to make yourself feel better, but instead you end up feeling worse. Making your own clothes puts a stop to this cycle of crushing self-esteem.”
In an age where technology is eroding our manual dexterity skills, clothes design is also a prompt to get out of your head and return to a time-honoured practical ritual. “It’s a massive creativity booster and problem-solving process,” says Elizaveta. “And there’s a meditative quality to the making process that calms you down, which is important for both adults and kids.”
Reaping better choices
Above all, Arkdefo is about creating a framework for better choices.
“We want to do things differently; to drive behavioural shifts with a fashion process that is kinder and more connected on many levels,” says Andrew. “This includes using high-quality fabric, and treating the environment and ourselves with greater consideration.”
“We want to build a community that’s driven by more than what’s on-trend or 'new,’” agrees Elizaveta. “There’s huge creativity to be found in reusing or making your own clothes, or upcycling them. It’s like my grandmother used to do; have a shirt, wear it and wear it and wear it, maybe making it smaller along the way for the kids. Then at the point where it becomes unwearable, use the fabric as a floor mop, until it dissolves to nothing. That is the kind of circular vision we can build on.”