EFS ‘Upside-Down’ Upcycled Collection – Eco Fashion Sewing

EFS ‘Upside-Down’ Upcycled Collection

Interview by Marilyn R Wilson, first published on Eco Fashion Week Australia's website (Nov 2017)

​Edited by Mariana Kirova (Jan 2019)

Runway photos: copyright of Harry Leonard Imagery

Other photos: personal archive

Q: What drew you to become a fashion designer?

​I thought that I am not a designer-type person when I studied Fashion Design in 2012. I usually want to consider lots of things, including practicality and appealing aesthetic, so back then it was a big struggle for me. But my love for sewing and passion to save clothing and revive them for new exciting life pushed my creativity to develop. Now it is more an inspiring experience I enjoy and I don’t notice the struggle as such.

However, what keeps me going is to show and help people that they can be designers and do it themselves. If it wasn’t to teach others to re-design their unused clothing themselves, I wouldn’t be doing any of this. So, this is the real reason why I am into clothing upcycling

​Q: Why was it important to you to offer a sustainable, responsible, Eco fashion line and how do you incorporate ideals such a Zero Waste into your work?

Photo Eco Fashion Week Australia​ EFWA17 Media launch in North Queensland; Wool Vest Jacket by ​Mariana Kirova

The fashion world is changing. And it is time we acknowledge that people, the consumers, want to get involved. Fashion professionals have to offer helping tools and applicable knowledge, so people enjoy making fashion themselves. As a result we will see less cast-offs going to landfill. That lead me to the upcycled collection I’m presenting at the remarkable Eco Fashion Week Australia in our beautiful Perth.

All raw material I work with is abandoned clothing, remnants or off-cuts, op-shop finds and alike.

I have had a couple of designs incorporating all leftovers from the old garment into the new, yet just recently I started to consider more how to incorporate zero waste when re-designing. I use the leftovers to embellish or finish off the garment, or keep what’s left to use later.

Many DIY-ers do not think of their leftovers, so I find raising their awareness of that is important.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for new work?

​I think that the most important thing in finding inspiration is not where to look, rather to be long enough in that 'state of searching'. And really, to find something, we just need to keep looking or thinking about it. Therefore, many will say inspiration is everywhere. Indeed, you could find it everywhere. Only that it is the state of looking where lays the answer.

For me, most of the time the inspiration could come from something in the old garment, my found and saved raw materials. Could be its colour, texture, how it feels when you touch it, the drape, or its combination with another find. Certain feeling and aesthetic I resonate with, or pure practicality, for example, to extend a small size and make clothing wearable again – that I may find thrilling too.

Q: What materials do you work with – organic, reclaimed, etc.?

​I work with unwanted clothing. The ones that people keep in their closets and later decide to get rid of. I used to op-shop, but today I leave those garments to buyers that would wear them as is. Hence, today I source my material from a local charity organisation’s depot, a huge warehouse that looks like an animal rescue shelter. I go there and save whatever I find valuable, with main focus on natural materials.

If more than half of the fashion industry was reusing the unwanted clothing people discard, we wouldn’t be dealing with this huge textile waste we face today.

Therefore, my commitment is not to upcycle and produce, but to encourage and teach people how to make fashion themselves and thus, be truly unique with their own creative signature. If people are involved in making their own clothes they will love them more and stick to them way more longer.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you face as a sustainable designer?

My biggest challenge is to stay local and sustain financially to keep designing and educating others.

Today’s economic system allows businesses and organisations to exist only if they make a profit. Therefore, fashion, as an industry, initially doesn’t have the right position to change for good. It is trapped into the economic system. As long as it aims profit, all the rest will come second and be less important, including consumers, environment and future generations.

However, I believe that people are much more than only consumers and they care for the planet. People love to create and be involved, they are excited to repurpose and reuse. As consumers we have too much already, it is the creative opportunities that people crave.

I think that making fashion accessible to people to do it themselves would bring a fresh new perspective to the industry. Thus, my other big challenge is to find ways and make that happen as much as possible.

​The editor of Vogue Australia Clare Press (on the left) and Mariana"Ms Brilliant Trousers!", ​said Clare's to the ucycled ​pants made out of one man shirt (Mariana wearing them on the photo).

Q: How do you help customers understand the higher cost of sustainable garments when they are so inundated with sweat shop-produced cheap merchandise?

Mariana of Eco Fashion Sewing (on the ​left) with ​the upcycler and designer Bea Lorimer ​of Heke Designs, New Zealand and the innovative designer Hiroaki Tanaka of Studio Membrane, Japan

​So many of us hardly can afford to buy sustainable or high-end fashion nowadays. We prefer to spend the budget money for our family or kids. So, people who come along to learn sewing and upcycling with me often have no choice and thus spend on mass production and fast fashion. However, to answer your question, to make them understand the vicious circle of fast fashion I help them to see the ‘big picture’ they are involved into.

​Walking through some simple statistics helps. They see how much they spend (over $1400 for average Australian per year) and how much they discard (85% of clothing and material they buy). On top, they still “don’t have what to wear”. It is just too much ‘noise’ and mixed messages around fashion that cover the important points.  But seeing the big picture in this simple way helps people realise.

​Being in the niche of upcycling, for me it feels more important others to see the vicious circle of fast fashion and sweat shop cheap fashion and discarding it. Rather feeling guilty after yet another ‘shopping therapy’, I show people they have choice to do something else. Creating with your hands and heart makes you feel worthy, satisfied, proud and self-fulfilled – and, as a result, helps you shine with unique fashion makes. That empowers you to turn from passive consumer who only buys to active creator who changes their life by being involved in such wonderful activity as upcycling.

Aren’t you convinced to tackle making something upcycled of your own? :)

Q: What can we look forward to seeing on the runway at Eco Fashion Week Australia?

​My upcycled collection is called ‘Upside-Down’. I focus on creative ways of re-thinking existing clothing by using a technique I call ‘upside-down’. In some designs you’ll see it literally; in others I try to use parts of the old garment in a fresh new perspective, a repurposed way. I incorporate zero waste philosophy as much as possible into my designs along other criteria, such as to be practical or to be more flexible in terms of size, as with time we often need to abandon clothing because it gets too small and uncomfortable.

​Another important thing for my ‘Upside-Down’ pieces is to revive them into a simpler, humbled and calmer aesthetic. Often upcycled fashion is too noisy, full of colours or too patchy, but this doesn’t appeal to those who want simplicity and to feel well dressed without shouting for attention.

And the last, yet equally important in my collection, is to develop designs in such way, so to be easier later for makers to recreate them themselves. My intentions are to develop instructional booklet for each design later on, to be available for people to use and make it themselves.

Q: How do you incorporate sustainable living in other areas of your life?

​​Sustainability and creativity is soaking in almost all other areas of my life and that of my family. After watching the must-watch for all Australians ABC series ‘War on Waste’ with Craig Reucassel, I began to be more conscious. I already was doing different things, avoiding single-use plastic bags, for example. This documentary though showed me I could do so much more.

​When shopping for groceries, I started thinking of the packaging the same way as I was doing it for the product itself. The ingredients of the product need to be nutritious and healthy for me, but now the packaging is as much important – to be healthy for the planet. Degradable or card, paper, or else – I am more serious now than I used to be. Would definitely consider not buying something just because of the multiple layers of plastic packaging. Instead I look for products in bulk or loose.

​I noticed that by avoiding plastic packaging as much as possible and choosing bulk or paper pack alternatives, our family managed to reduce almost in half its recycling bin, the biggest waste we had before.

Also, I use raw ingredients to make home cooked meals, no take-a-ways or processed/ready-to-bake meals. Whenever I have time, I make homemade jams, preserves, vegetable relish/salsa; in winter we make sauerkraut (similar to Korean kimchi) and pickled vegetables. I dream to have my own garden to produce as much as possible fruit and veggies and to incorporate composting. One day that will come too.

Talking sustainability, another big thing for my family is repairing, reusing, repurposing or buying second hand and locally whenever we can, for all kind of things and only if we really need it.

​​If you love it we love you to share! :)

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Mariana Kirova

Mariana is passionate about garment upcycling and helping others making their own upcycled clothing. Graduated with Award in garment construction from WAIFT, Perth WA, Mariana is not a main stream eco fashion designer. She makes unique eco-friendly garments from unwanted clothes and materials and believes that small fashion professionals and DIY sewers can embrace sustainability in garment creation, thus changing the fashion world for good.