I'm Mariana Kirova, the founder, the owner and the creative mind behind Eco Fashion Sewing.
Below is the story of how sewing and reusing materials changed my world (which, btw, is still ongoing :)
I'm happy, because that's the reason we meet. It is my pleasure.
Have you ever heard those stories of sewists in which they always explain how their mother taught them to sew, or their grandmother had been a dressmaker and showed them so many things in sewing? Well, my story is nothing like that…
I believe that anyone who pursues sewing in long term, professionally or not, would find a special point in their life where hers or his love for sewing originates.
Anyone who loves sewing tells story through their stitchery, but then only few can read it truly
It could be more than just ordinariness behind my sewing inclination as well. And here is why I think so.
Is It In The Genes?
Thanks to my mum’s dedication to explore and document our family origins as far as possible, I can go back few centuries ago and discover who my ancestors were and what did their life look like. I was able to find out that my grand-grand-grandfather (from my mothers side) was a respectable textile merchant in the late 19th century.
He traded in his hometown Sevlievo, located in Bulgaria, small East European country with history more than 1300 years old.
The textiles and materials my grand-grand-grandfather purchased were from European textile centres, the biggest for that time, such as Manchester in England and Venice in Italy.
During the time when he traded everything in the country was in progress. The end of the 19th and the beginning of 20th centuries is known in this little country’s history as the Bulgarian Renaissance.
Some of the tools and materials my predecessor used in their work were preserved from my grand-mother (his grandchild) during the years. Thus today I can have my turn to treasure this sentimental heirloom and to keep the memory of our family predecessors alive.
The book my mum published for close circle of family members: my grand-grand-grandfather Hristo (1843-1921) and his wife Maria (1863-1892)
Meter ruler (from 1865) and scissors (from 1885) my grand-grand-grandfather had used in his work;
you can see the years engraved
Trunk from my grand-grand-grandmother, with some handmade crochet and embroidered table runners, also bed sheets from textiles from her husband, the textile merchant
So, instead of “My mother taught me and my grandmother was great with the needle”, I can only say my love for fabric might be running in my genes from a bit longer. And for good or bad, the professions my predecessors had were much more "serious", such as dentist, engineer or similar.
Was It A Sign?
I'm curious about things from very early age, here I'm 1 year and 2 moths old
In terms of fabric scraps and re-using already produced garments, there is something really funny connected to how my life began.
When I was due to be born, the hospital was full of women giving birth at that time, hence they just managed to provide a temporary bed for my mum in a corner of the hallway. Amusingly, when I was born, there were no baby swaddles or wraps available. Instead, nurses wrapped me in an old blue, disinfected nurse overall (uniform dress) to keep me cozy.
My mum often thinks about it when comes to my passion to rework clothes already in circulation and we laugh. Probably it’s not just a simple coincidence that this kind of wrap happened to be my first outfit during those first days of my life ;)
The First Love That Lead Me To Sewing
My love for textiles didn’t leave me later on. At 6-7 years of age during the summer school holidays my grand parents, brother and I were spending time in the village where my grandmother worked. Lovely place to escape the dull city and be close to the nature. There I started collecting fabric scraps from friends and neighbours. And my dream was to make stuffed soft toys.
I was living in a communist country in those days (today called “post-communist” countries or just "East European") where colours and exciting textures were coming only from the traditional costumes, weaving, felting and other traditional crafts the country has had from centuries.
However, all these were becoming part of the history and the “modern age” was transforming towns and cities. From decades Bulgarian traditional crafts in means of being peoples occupation were shrinking away.
Unfortunately, the communist governance didn’t offer inspiring alternatives. Most clothes were ordinary and the textiles dull. Generally our lives were metaphorically speaking grey (without the exciting shades that became famous recently;).
The Bulgarian Folk Dance ensemble "Bosilek" in traditional costumes
Following my mother and grandmother and other before them, I also didn’t have many toys, let alone soft colourful and cute stuffed ones. In comparison with West European countries, we didn’t have branding choice available and varieties for anything as the economy was centralised under the main political power that ruled the country. Things were very simple and not that colourful and fancy.
That was the main reason I was attracted to every interesting piece of fabric, of course, from my child's perspective in the restricted time back then. Mostly in those school holidays in the country, where people knew each other and had closer communities, I began my fancy fabric scrap collection. Neighbours, family friends, or just people who had heard, started bringing whatever remnant they thought I’d like.
My collection didn’t grow big, but soon after allowed me to make several stuffed softies: a bunny-pillow, a kitten, scrap doll to name a few. Of course, during the years, “outgrowing” my early passion, I threw all of them away. Afterwards, I was sewing this and that now and then, but never went to pursue sewing professionally.
Needless to say, my liking for soft cuties didn’t go away with time. Although not at all that strong now, it is somewhere inside me yet alive and sometimes I give that little girl something new to gladden. You can check my board on Pinterest “Sewing: Little Projects” where I keep my virtual softies for those moments, gathered from all over the internet and other pinners;)
Crafts Are Not Serious
My dream for making soft toys was alive during my teenage years. After graduating school I tried to get into The National Academy of Arts in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, where I resided at that time. My drawing wasn’t good enough though and the exams needed much better preparation than the one I had. There was nobody to tell me “Sewing isn’t serious, you have to find another professional path to follow”. However, this was a well known statement running from generations and much serious professions were honoured. Caring that attitude, my young personality brought me to another path.
Just few years later my inclination to analyse human behaviour and to search for the best “logical explanation” showed me the profession I pursued for the following years. I was working as a waitress in reputable hotels and restaurants at that time, but I was missing something. I was feeling my life and personal existence should have higher sense and I can do much more. Therefore, when I was advised from friends, graduated students, that studying Psychology will fit my analytical personality really well, I accepted that this could be my way to do something bigger.
Soon after I got through and enrolled to study at Sofia University and later graduated as Bachelor of Psychology and Masters in Organisational Psychology. That lead me to entering the corporate world so I found my career path as a Human Resources Specialist and Recruiter.
Thus, I left sewing behind. Got married and had my beautiful son. But when my husband and I decided to move and settle down in Australia, things changed...
Embracing My Passion Again
Our first year in Australia, at Perth's Zoo
Coming in a new country without knowing anyone, with a child and starting our lives all over was undoubtedly the hardest thing we've ever done. We loved Australia though and that helped us a lot to go through this hard time. Like the famous Australian song goes, now we “call Australia home”.
The big change made me see things from a different perspective and I slowly began to reconsider my life choices on a deeper level. I wanted to stay more at home with my son and care for the family. The corporate work though would not allow me to do so.
The next step for me was re-connecting with my inner self and soon my real passion was revived. The desire to sew came bigger than ever. So, I found part-time work and purchased a second hand sewing machine to start sewing again.
My attraction to fabric, colour and stitchery lead me to quilting, which was my hobby for awhile. The first quilt I made was for a very special person in my life, my mum.
Soon after though I needed more and because fashion and stylish clothing was important for me, I decided to learn how to make clothes. And, as all important things I want to learn in my life, I wanted to learn garment sewing professionally. That’s how I found myself studying Applied Fashion Design and Technology in The West Australian Institute of Fashion And Textiles in Pert WA (Polytechnic West TAFE).
How I Encountered The Ugly Side Of Fashion
I couldn’t get enough during my fashion study. Everything was so interesting and I wanted to take it all and treasure.
- I found the exciting world of designing;
- Slowly I got into and started to figure out pattern making (thanks to my best teacher ever!);
- In the world of creative textiles revealed in its beauty;
- I learned how to work with specialised computer programs and the vast documentation used in the industry;
- But mostly, the sewing classes covering different areas, industry practices and techniques were the heart of my study and the most enjoyable classes for me.
I was trained to work with different materials, designs and sophisticated details. I found myself attracted to colour and texture, to wovens and knits, to lace and soft leather. I was completely in love!
Refashion project for my Sustainable Fashion Practices unit - transforming pillow from the verge into a woman's bag
Alongside information about common industry practices I found about mass production and fast fashion as well. My attention was captured by the profit-lead industry practices careless about the environmental impact and the horrible unfair treatment of the workers in every thinkable aspect (pay, treatment at work, work and life conditions to name a few).
I learned a lot about these back then. Fashion turned into dirty and ugly way of companies to gain their profits and that disgusted me deeply.
Since then this is the only feeling I have whenever I read or see something in connection with fashion sales in stores, “new collections” offered to the masses, international brands expanding their businesses and so on.
It is interesting when new small sustainable company launches, a celebrity wears an upcycled outfit to an annual award event, or individuals and professionals transform a garment to create something beautiful. I kind of formed the attitude that “the bigger the fashion company, the more corrupted practices and unclear and hidden chain of production has”.
Of course, every business exists to make profits in order to sustain. Thus only bigger companies appear to have better chance to last. And the saddest thing is that in reality many small sustainable companies with responsible production, fair trade and transparent practices hardly survive for longer.
There was no time to tidy up my tiny room when I was studying Fashion Design
Particularly when reworking already produced clothes, the time to re-design and the need to work with each piece individually, by itself it leads to "failure" in business terms. Long hours and work on every particular garment collide with the important factors to sustain - high productivity for less time. In mass production hundreds of patterns are cut in few hours (or minutes with today's technology), but a small business is ways less efficient.
Price wise is the same. Hundreds (or thousands) of items from low price material, cut together for a short time, with no complicated seams and details, sewn in a high speed assembly line from specialized machinists, with a minimum wage from developing countries - this is the formula for your new trendy T-shirt to cost less than a beverage drink.
How I Got Into ECO And Upcycling
My love for sewing wasn’t affected, though, and I enjoyed every time when whatever I sewn had lovely looking finish. My punctilious nature finally was rewarded instead of criticised;)
After graduating with an Award in Garment Construction I started working mainly in the bridal and special occasion wear field. Perth WA is a place where the work is predominantly in small bridal design studios and special occasions boutiques and shops.
Some of my work on bridal and special occasion dresses
Comparing to other countries wages in Australia are high, so everything made in Australia has relatively high price. Therefore, the main portion of the fashion apparel sold in Australia is produced overseas. This is one of the common way Australian brands exist, by designing in Australia and outsourcing the production offshore. Many US brands are the same.
Generally, to keep production price low, the bridal and special occasion wear sold in the bridal shops and boutiques are manufactured abroad. The good quality that I was altering was designed in US or Australia and manufactured in China, but all made from synthetics, such as polyester, acrylics and so on.
To differentiate, local bridal design studios specialise in individually designed wedding dresses from natural fabrics, such as silk, on a much higher price range.
When you think, a bridal dress is the most unsustainable clothing. It requires lots of material to be made, it is undoubtedly very expensive and last but not least it is worn just once! So, from a sustainable point of view, that is a lot of wastage. And this was the thing in my work that wasn’t giving me rest day after day. I just couldn’t accept that I was adding more with my work, especially from a long-term perspective.
Alterations by themselves are great way to keep clothing in use and I love it as a method. Besides, working with complex constructions (some bridal dresses I was working had up to 6-8 layers of material) and particularly with amazing laces, embellishments and textures gave me lots of pleasure. That kept me going for quite a time. Nevertheless, at some point I just couldn’t bear it anymore and withdraw purposely from being part of all this.
Blogging It Is
With time I focused more on reworking thrifted clothing and materials. I already was gathering my raw materials mainly from charity shops, but also from other people, garage sales and similar. Meanwhile, I was continuously looking to find a better way to combine my passion for garment creation with the wish to contribute in reducing the textile waste and keeping good materials in use.
My recent upcycled garments, some of which I sell online in my Eco Fashion Sewing Etsy shop.
I found blogging the best channel for me to spread the word of upcycling. It is a wonderful way to connect with and help other sewers and DIY enthusiasts to discover creative ways to transform clothes and materials otherwise destined for the landfills.
There are many sewing bloggers and, fortunately, a lot of them create from otherwise designated to the landfills clothes and materials. Just observing that makes me confident there is hope.
Every one of us can have their tiny little impact and every person counts.
Just imagine the massive snowball effect of each small contribution how will accumulate with time! That makes me believe even stronger and excites me tremendously!
If you are on Pinterest, check my Pinterest boards below. It's this amazing source of upcycling inspiration keeping the creative juices flowing ;)
What Matters Is What You Choose Today
Let me tell you a secret.
In reality, it doesn’t matter how long ago you discovered sewing. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are with it. Neither is relevant if your mother or grandmother taught you how to sew, or if it runs in your genes;)
Trifting from charity shops is exciting way to collect raw materials, but also to maintain your personal wardrobe
What matter is what you choose today and what you'd do tomorrow. Would you keep buying cheap textiles that can’t last even few washings or you’d restrain to add to the landfills.
Would you fall into the beauty of new materials day after day or you’d rather be creative with what you already have. I’m not saying its easy. I’m not saying you have to do it all the time. But every single action counts.
If you like the idea to transform pre-loved clothing or to create with the unused in your wardrobe, then get on board and take action. Start small by keeping all you have and tweaking it to fit you now. With time grow bigger and expand on creativity.
… Few other things from my life story:
- I look for “sustainability” and “healthier” in other areas of my and my family's life. I love cooking and mostly cook our food 'from scratch', in other words from raw materials as opposed to pre-made meals from the supermarket. I do variey of preserves, sauerkraut in winter and now have our very first compost bin in the garden :)
- My New Year's resolution is to have healthier lifestyle. That to ballance my indoorsy personality. So, next to the healthier homemade food I’m adding also cycling few times a week. The fresh oxygen is doing amazing things already;)
I surprisingly rediscovered cycling when visited Rottnest Island close to Perth WA with my family at Christmas 2017