Holly Bell reflected on upcycling, the importance of supporting local fashion and the future of the South African fashion industry.
The following is a written version of our live chat session. Words by Holly Bell Beaton.
Image of Holly Bell Beaton wearing one of her upcycled creations
Holly’s upcycling journey
I have always been incredibly intimidated by my sewing machine - having resigned myself to using it sporadically over the years, thinking if I did not have the tailoring skills to perfect a garment then what was the point? But that changed with lockdown - I moved from my place back in with my folks, as I usually live alone, and brought my machine with. I started to see my clothes very differently; their potential to be something else. And I think the first time I thread my machine a few weeks ago, something felt so different; I let go of all my preconceived notions of how skilled I should be, or what a garment should look like and just went with the flow. I've to date made over 25 pieces of up cycled garments from my wardrobe, and hand me downs from my grandmother and mother; there is something utterly beautiful about taking a piece and giving it a fresh start, cutting and sewing and restructuring it to be something I would actually wear today. It's an empowering experience - and the process of figuring out what a garment wants to be can be more fun than the actual outcome. I'm really inspired by upcycling, raw hems and exposed seams and the anti fashion movements - some notable designers are Ottlinger, Marc Le Hiban, Maison Martin Margiela, Soup Archive and Guiditta from Garbage Core.
An upcycled dress by Holly Bell from her HAC ANSUZ collection
The online upcycling community
I joined the Soup Archive workshops for Fashion Open Studios and was so inspired to work online creating beautiful garments. There is a whole global community of young designers using what they have to create unique pieces, and I really appreciated the daily workshops via FOS to elicit connection and collaborative efforts.
Why supporting the local fashion industry is so important
In terms of local designers, we are a hub of creativity and innovation here in South Africa. I think it's important to note that large corporate companies are receiving massive stakeholder and government bail outs in order to facilitate their part in the elusive "economy", while smaller businesses will struggle to make ends meet with the parameters of lockdown and the foreseeable uncertainty of COVID19. Sustainability emphasises localism because it is through the intricate global supply chains that a lot of darkness is allowed to exist due to secrecy. When we bring production home and can be in control of it from start to finish, there is usually assurance of traceability - I have spoken to a few local designers who are totally frank about the team they work with, and the wages they pay.
Tips on how to begin upcycling
- For anyone, literally taking a pair of scissors and cutting a hem or loosening a neckline is a great start.
- Go through your wardrobe and pick out things you can practice on - garments that are old, or outdated, and search online for tips on how to hand stitch.
- Often, it's a mixture of contemplation and initiative to just play with what you have and don't have massive expectations. I think many people would be shocked at what they come up with - we are all innately creative beings! Hand stitching is really fun, and I think sewing in general such a useful skill to have in one’s arsenal.
What would you like to imagine for the future of the South African fashion industry when it comes to sustainability?
I'd like to imagine a greater consumer platform on the part of South Africans, for local brands from ready to wear to high end luxury. I would also like to envision more textile manufacturing initiatives, and bio fabrication labs where South African scientists and textile designers can meet and create biologically derived fibres. I think we have an amazing start already and if everyone in fashion is able to suspend their perceptions around how the industry should operate, realising that we are shifting an old paradigm - then we could really make magic happen. Continuing the conversation and having more events around sustainability, but ultimately, I think we need to turn to the indigenous communities and invite them to the table - whether their interest is in fashion or not - for the entire climate change, sustainability conversation. They are the guardians of the natural order and learning to live in harmony and humility with Earth is something we need to restore and relearn.
Holly Bell Beaton is a writer, stylist and sustainability activist.
Follow Holly on Instagram @hollybellb
Find Holly’s upcycling work @hac_ansuz
Read more of Holly’s written work here
Find more information on Fashion Open Studios here
Tune in to our next Sunday Reflections live chat on the HADEDA Instagram, @shophadeda