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Businesses are promoting the idea of slow fashion to bo...



Local business trends: Upcycling old T-shirts into new bralettes

Fashion trends are known to move fast, but local businesses are promoting the idea of slow fashion to boost sustainable and responsible behaviour. 

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Treasure Box Bralette, a limited-edition campaign by two small local brands, asks customers to send in a used T-shirt for them to upcycle into an undergarment that holds sentimental value while demonstrating the importance of “slow fashion”.

Loyde Villarroel, founder and designer of Loyde Triana Swimwear and Lingerie, has incorporated slow, ethical and sustainable concepts into her designs throughout the past 16 years or so of her career. 

“I believe there is a lot to do in the realm of producing fashion in an ethical way, ranging from fair payment to garment workers to companies being transparent about their pricing so their customers know how the supply chain works.”

Shona Macdonald, founder of Thursdays Lingerie and Swimwear, says a lot of underwear used to be manufactured locally but that the textile industry has since suffered, especially owing to increased international sourcing of products by SA retailers. 

“We hope to help educate our community on the reasons for the price difference between slow and fast fashion, and increase the value associated with garments produced sustainably at a local level,” says Macdonald. 

The campaign originated from a skills share programme the two brands put together for Mandela Day this year, in which they taught their community how to repurpose a T-shirt into a bralette themselves. 

Villarroel says the campaign is “the perfect opportunity to give our existing and new customers a ‘behind the seams’ of lingerie-making and educate them a bit about the work it involves”.

She explains that consumers are so used to buying new clothes that they are out of touch with the creation process, devaluing both the product and the work behind it. “To me this project means bringing new life to things we thought obsolete. It is not just about cleaning our wardrobes but cleaning preconceived beliefs about clothing: if it is ‘old’ it doesn’t have to be thrown away, it can gain a new cycle of life by becoming something else.”

Macdonald adds that “there is a widely shared misunderstanding that the components used in the construction of a garment are valued more than the hands that make [it]”.

Villarroel incorporates the concept of slow fashion more broadly into her business by focusing on timeless designs and quality manufacturing to extend the lifetime and use of the garments. 

There is a repair guarantee and “limited range and made-to-order systems, allowing [the] brand to minimise waste and limit garments overruns”. Garment waste is given to a local charity to repurpose into dog beds. 

Macdonald follows similar processes. “We are collaborative with other brands in our subsector, as we believe that growth in the value chain has a multiplier effect,” she says.

Villarroel says there are greater systemic changes to be made, such as governmental policies encouraging local production and fair wages, and educating garment workers. “What is also needed is a consumer base that supports initiatives towards industry change, specifically around slow and ethical fashion and support to local designers.”

Macdonald adds that “the Retail-Clothing, Textile, Footwear and Leather Master Plan is a good indicator of positive change. However, my concerns are that all the support is given to big business, while SMMEs and small brands continue to face red tape and barriers to growth.” She believes that small slow fashion businesses play a key role in the revival of the SA textile industry.

There are various other slow fashion businesses and initiatives under way in the country, for instance the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards 2021, which are currently open for nominations. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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