In a perfect world, designers would have the ability to address all the environmental and social challenges fashion faces them with. For From Somewhere designer Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Esthetica, the sustainable showcase of London Fashion Week, it all began in 1997 when she started tackling the growing textile waste in the fashion industry.
The pioneering designer will be addressing her environmental journey in fashion this Monday the 29th at an event at Alain de Botton’s The School of Life. The event is part of the World Changers series, where The School of Life looks at individuals who have helped changed the world. The series features author John-Paul Flintoff who talks to prominent individuals who have made a huge difference in the world “and who believe that anybody could do the same.”
Ecoutere asked de Castro how she thinks she’s personally changed the world.
“I honestly don’t feel that I have changed the world, nor gone anywhere near it. I just had an idea that over the course of the past few years that has struck a cord, a creative design solution to an environmental challenge,” she says.
When de Castro first launched her London-based brand in 1997, she says she simply wanted to address the issue of pre-consumer waste, and the piles and piles of material created and yet never used by the fashion industry.
“For me it was a creative journey, not originally an environmental one. I liked, as a designer, reusing unwanted stuff, I liked the poetry, irreverence and sense of humour behind it. Then, little by little, factory by factory, it turned into something deeper, bigger and more powerful,” she says. Clothes began to have a message, a story behind them.
“It started with a cashmere cardigan with holes in 1997, and by 2002 I was knee deep in textile waste,” de Castro adds.
Author John-Paul Flintoff says of the designer “What I found inspiring when I first met Orsola de Castro was hearing how she takes a problem and turns it into a solution – specifically, turning the massive amount of waste generated in the fashion industry (essentially, off-cuts) and using that ‘pre-industrial’ material to create something extraordinary,” he says referring to her dress made out of Speedo swimwear which made him “laugh out loud with pleasure.”
Flintoff says that during the event at The School of Life, de Castro will encourage participants to find creative ways to turn problems into solutions, and how to find allies who can help you to make a bigger impact.
De Castro agrees that these “allies,” be they customers, students or colleagues are very important to further the message of sustainability through fashion.
“The world is a big place and my contribution infinitesimal. But each time someone wears a From Somewhere piece, or a student discovers upcycling, and each person tells this story, that’s the beginning of a dialogue that raises questions,” de Castro tells Ecouterre.
In a perfect world, how would she envision a more mainstream approach to fashion?
“Sometimes we need to look back to move forward. I would like to see a different approach, a more responsible approach to manufacturing as well as designing, a return to wanting and waiting and a stronger emotional engagement with the clothes we buy. Right now, many people buy because they can, not because they want. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s luxury or high street, I like being in love with the things I own.”