Textile Designer, Ophelia Dos Santos Contribution: Mindful Buying And Upcycling Your Wardrobe [@opheliaax]


The global pandemic has forced many of us to reflect on what we have; it has also given us less disposable income and more time to shop online. With the growing awareness of fashions environmental impact, we need to re-think our shopping habits and move beyond our comfort zones.  The amount of options for sustainable fashion can be overwhelming, from locally produced, clothing made from recycled plastic and reduced collection brands. It is easy to become desensitized to the climate change emergency and shop without intention, or consideration of the environment. 

As a textile designer, my works focus on the use of scrap and upcycled denim, building on patchwork I transform old clothing with simple embroidery techniques. Through my work I advocate for secondhand and vintage clothing, presenting benefits of swapping and renting as opposed to newly produced. Using hand embroidery, I bring forward a cycle of repair, re-work and recycle, demonstrating how your unloved clothes can be reinvented with simple stitches. Helping you to be kinder to the environment and your bank account.  

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It is often misconceived that sustainable fashion presents a limitation of colours, styles and desirability. Assumed to look unfashionable and comprising to your personal style and identity. Challenging this perspective, I will offer some alternative options for building your wardrobe, encouraging you to take up hand embroidery and browse for secondhand.

Exploring your creative side can be very empowering and rewarding, with many online resources and cheap starter kits available why not try it? Learning basic embroidery techniques such as back or blanket stitch, can also be helpful when an item of clothing becomes worn or ripped – meaning you don’t necessarily need to throw it away. Backstitch for example, is a simple embroidery stitch that can be both decorative and mending, as it creates a strong continuous seam. This stitch is achieved by making a running stitch, worked by passing the needle in and out of the fabric at a regular distance. It is finished by repeating back on itself to join the all stitches together, this is an effective stitch for refreshing dull clothing and suitable for most fabrics (step-by-step on my Instagram). If you are not confident with a needle, many fashion brands are now offering free repair services.

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Patchwork garment using backstitch and other techniques, photography by Archie Wells.

In addition to re-creating old clothes, an effective way to support green fashion is to avoid buying newly produced clothing, simply because vintage and secondhand clothing require no new energy for production, and zero waste. Many charity and second-hand shops are now selling online, Oxfam has recently relaunched its online shop (presenting vintage specials, accessories and bags) with a range of high-end brands such a Burberry, Ralph Lauren and Whistles. The site allows you to filter for brands, styles and sizes; which can be a lot more appealing than spending hours in a charity shop. Your purchases will go towards helping those who are disproportionally affected by the coronavirus, providing access to basic necessities such as clean water and food. You can improve the lifecycle of your secondhand by clothing only washing them when essential, at a low temperature then letting them dry naturally.

Another way to update your wardrobe is clothing rental or swapping, companies such as My Wardrobe HQ and OnLoan are connecting subscribers worldwide, to a system of temporary ownership of items by emerging designers and contemporary brands. My Wardrobe HQ is the UK’s leading marketplace for clothing rental, committed to sustainable fashion from its partnership with brands to their eco-friendly courier services. Its collection of items, including items from people’s wardrobes, are listed for a fraction of its recommended retail price, and it also gives you the option to buy if you want to keep your rental. Adding to the trend of renting, many people are now hosting swapping parties that today this might be done virtually. Attendees agree on a number of items they will bring to the event, providing they are clean and good quality – this can include accessories, bags and shoes.  Items are presented, swapping and donating begins. So that sizing isn’t an issue, its good to invite a mix of sizes so that each person has a least one other size match. 

It is true that newly produced, sustainable fashion does cost more, this is largely because the recycled materials used require more treatment/processing, it can also be a reflection of better work conditions and fair pay throughout the supply chain. An inspiration to my own work is British menswear designer Bethany Williams, who collaborates with charities to promote environmental and social change. Bethany’s work incorporates second-hand denim and hand-woven textiles to create entirely recycled collections. The stylish and contemporary pieces are a great example of how sustainable clothing can be colourful and playful. By shopping from independent brands, boutiques and local artisans you can shorten the cycle between you and your clothing. Products are often made-by-order which reduces waste and gives them a unique feel. An item of clothing that is has meaning to its owner and that will stand the test of time– buying less but buying better!

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Photography by Archie Wells

If altering or embroidering unloved clothing is not for you, there are many fashion brands that promise well-made items with sustainable production and affordable pricing – in addition to secondhand. As the fashion industry becomes increasing transparent, shopping sustainability can be convenient and engaging – it’s just about finding a preference, suitable to your style. If you do buy new, I suggest investing in quality over quantity, as it is important to emphasize durability. It helps to be informed; you can usually find a brand’s values and practices of sustainability online (including origin of fibers, locations of factories and working conditions). Having a complete, sustainably sourced wardrobe will not come overnight, allow yourself to grow and make gradual changes.

Find step-by-step videos of how to create a variety of stitches, and embroidery inspiration on my Instagram @opheliadossantos 

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