I'm Mariana Kirova, the founder, the owner, the online content creator and clothing upcycler behind Eco Fashion Sewing.
I appreciate your interest in my journey on how I got into my new life full of creativity and passion about transforming existing clothes into new unique and sustainable upcycle styles (fyi, still enjoying the ride!)
Welcome to possibly your creative new world as well! It is my pleasure meeting you :)
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…
Nevertheless, I do believe that anyone who pursues sewing in long term, professionally or not, would find a special point in life where hers, his or their love for sewing begins. I hope my journey will inspire you to stop resisting that flame you feel deep inside you!
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.
Most of the textiles and material suppliers my forefather traded with were in established, biggest for that time European textile centres, such as Manchester in United Kingdom and Venice in Italy.
He was reputable trader in his hometown Sevlievo, located in Bulgaria, a small East European country founded more than 1300 years ago (trust me, not good for the compulsory History class in High school there, first-hand experience ;).
During the time he had been trading, everything in the country had been in progress. That period of time, the end of the 19th and the beginning of 20th centuries, is referred to as 'the Bulgarian Renaissance' in this little country’s history.
I've been lucky enough that some of the tools and materials my predecessor used in their work were preserved from my grand-mother (his grandchild). It's truly special to be handed down such sentimental heirloom and artefacts, especially when they are sewing-related in my case :)
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. By saying this, my predecessors' children future professions though were much more "serious", such as dentist, engineer or similar. And this could be why I was always thought that "Artist can't feed a house", a stupid and yet deeply instilled, powerful stereotype that suppressed my desire for learning how to make and sew clothes for many, many years...
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.
At the time I was due to be born, the hospital was packed up with women giving birth, 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 already existing clothing and we laugh "What a sign, ah?". 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 continue to pursuing me later on too. 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 became "famous" within the circle of friends and neighbours with my passion for collecting different fabric scraps. I remember, my biggest dream back then was to make stuffed soft toys (and I made some good ones in the following primary school years).
I was living in a communist country in those days (today these are called “post-communist” countries or just known as "East European" countries).
The thing is that at the time "colours" and "exciting textures" were only presented in the Bulgarians traditional costumes. They were skilfully made by techniques like weaving, felting and other traditional crafts that had been well presented in traditional clothing from centuries.
However, regime changes and the uprising "modern age" slowly made Bulgarian traditional crafts shrinking away.
The Bulgarian Folk Dance ensemble "Bosilek" in traditional costumes
As a result I grew up in a time during which under the communist governance clothes were ordinary and textiles dull rather than inspiring creativity. Basically, our lives were metaphorically speaking "grey" (without the exciting 50 shades of grey that became famous recent years with that popular book title ;).
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 so attracted to every interesting piece of fabric in time of restrictions back then. There was some hope only in those school holidays in the deep country side. It was time of free child play all day long where people knew each other and the community was closely knitted compared to the dull big city life.
Some people still owned good fancy material from who knows where or what time. So, it was the best place to begin my interesting scrap collection. Neighbours, family friends, or just people who had heard, soon started bringing in 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 winding search of who I am and what should I do brought me to another path.
Just few years later my inclination to search for the deep reasons behind and kind of analyse human behaviour showed me the chosen profession I pursued in the following years. I was working as a waitress in reputable hotels and restaurants at the time, but I was missing something.
The feeling that my existence and life must have a higher purpose and fulfilment was my shadow for quite some time. I now believe that that made me listen to a few friends back then. Psychology graduates at the time, they suggested that Psychology might suit much better my analytical mind and personality than waiting even at high-end hotels and places. So, after serious considerations of "where to now" and my friends thorough observations, 5 years after graduating high school I decided to push further.
All this lead to my studies at one of the most reputable universities in the country, Sofia University, where later I graduated as Bachelor of Psychology, and a few years after Masters in Organisational Psychology. This is how I ended up entering the corporate world and my career path as a Human Resources Specialist and Recruiter.
"What about sewing?", I hear you asking. Well, sewing... simply had been left behind as something not serious enough to pursue.
Appears that that silly at a first glance stereotype of "Artist can't feed a house" is actually a powerful mind set tool after all, isn't it?
Following along my journey, during my university study I got married and had my beautiful son. The big change in regards to sewing though came a bit later after my husband and I decided we want a better place to raise our child, so we came to the decision to move far and come to live in Australia, and particularly Perth, Western Australia where we wanted to build our new young family life...
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 and that helped us a lot to go through this hard time. Like the famous Australian song goes, the day we felt we can “call Australia home”. It was the place we meant to be.
The big change made me see things from a different perspective in my personal everyday mum live.
I slowly began to reconsider my life choices on a deeper level. I wanted to stay more at home with my son creating loving and caring home for us as a family. I knew the corporate work in my HR field wouldn't allow me do so (little that I know here part-time jobs are waaay more common even in that profession).
Naturally, the next step for me was to reconnecting with my inner self, so to speak. So, soon my real passion emerged from deep down once again. The desire to go back to sewing was bigger than ever. So, I just found whatever part-time work and purchased a second hand sewing machine to reboot my sewing.
My attraction to fabric, colour and texture 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. She still enjoys it on her bed to date.
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 to me things I wanted to learn throughout my life, I now wanted to learn garment sewing professionally. So, 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!);
- The world of creative textiles revealed in its entire beauty and glory;
- And although might seem unrelated to far, I dived deeper in work with specialised creative computer programs and faced vast documentation used in the fashion industry, communicating and writing reports in English (important part in accelerating my second language written and communication skills, a big step as I realise now);
- But mostly, the sewing classes covering different areas, industry practices and techniques in making clothes were the heart of my study and those I truly enjoyed.
I was trained to work with different materials, designs and sophisticated details following high-end industry standards.
I also found myself attracted to colour and texture, to woven and knit fabrics, lace and soft leather. I was completely in love!
Alongside the information on industry practices, I also started uncovering though about mass production and fast fashion. My attention was captured by the profit-lead industry practices absolutely careless about the environmental and human impact as a result of overproduction and high level of consumerism.
Refashion project for my Sustainable Fashion Practices unit - transforming pillow from the verge into a woman's bag
I couldn't believe the horrific conditions and 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 which exposed that the glamorous world of fashion on the outside is only a dirty and ugly way of greedy for as as high as possible profit margins companies.
That finding disgusted me on a very deep level. Literally.
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 and so on. PROFITS.
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 love making preserves, sauerkraut in winter and now have our very first compost bin in the garden :)
- For healthier lifestyle, I try to balance my 'indoorsy' personality, by cycling whenever possible, excersising or walking. You shouldn't underestimate the role of getting a fresh oxygen on a regular basis in the maker's happiness ;)
I surprisingly rediscovered cycling when visited Rottnest Island close to Perth WA with my family at Christmas 2017