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Sep 18, 2019
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BFC's Positive Fashion Designer Exhibition: the ones to watch

Sep 18, 2019

The British Fashion Council’s curated Positive Fashion Designer Exhibition had a different slant from what the Designer Showrooms used to offer during London Fashion Week with an interesting line-up of new names, all with a strong focus on sustainability.

The British Fashion Council’s curated Positive Fashion Designer Exhibition - Sandra Halliday

The show, which was also open to the public, tore up the rulebook in terms of the BFC’s approach to its twice-yearly event, morphing from a more traditional showcase for brands seeking to connect with buyers to one that was also mainly about new names, new ideas and, as the name suggested, a positive approach to sustainability in fashion.


Erika Maish, an LA-born textile designer with an MA from Central Saint Martins, has been creating one-off garments that are more like accessories than clothing and that are made from… used ring pulls. Yes, that ultimate disposable item has been collected (“via eBay or rejects from factories”), washed, bent, linked up, airbrushed and turned into fantasy-but-wearable creations. Think metal trench coat or pin-stripe suit. There are also recycled beads turned into swimwear (with a “massage effect” thrown in too). 

Erika Maish uses repurposed ring pulls for her designs - Sandra Halliday

“I’m creating tailoring using materials you wouldn’t normally think of,” she said. “They have collars, belt loops, pockets, they’re seamless and modular so you can transform the shape. This method of construction means you don’t have any waste. My work is really craft-focused. It’s ‘slow making’. I’m inspired by thinking that nothing has to be done a certain way and I wear these pieces more like jewellery.”

Maish is working on developing her ideas more commercially and for interiors product too, such as art, lighting and even place-mats.


On the Graduate Fashion Week stand at the event, a quartet of young designers offered up plenty of sustainability-meets-creativity ideas. Sally Mankee, for instance, is all about slow fashion and investment items that can be kept forever. A print specialist who graduated from UCA Rochester, she was showing a collection in which “each piece is based on a fictitious muse who loves collecting a certain type of item,” she explained. For instance, the first garments were a cape and matching skirt printed with images taken from a Harrods catalogue of 1890, all of them screen-printed onto neoprene. “This is for a collector who loves to go shopping,” she said.

Again, her approach is very much about the slow fashion as her work is hugely labour-intensive but is intended to “last you through your life”. 

The detail was impressive from a skirt with different prints on each side of the pleats or one printed with decanter labels from spirit bottles, or a teddy bear coat. A stylised dog called Hector also came as a “handbag on wheels”, which she said had proved very popular with the public at the weekend.

Will such elaborate pieces actually sell? Well, Mankee said there's a waiting list for some of her pieces.

Sally Mankee is a slow fashion print specialist - Sandra Halliday

Meanwhile Estonian Janislav Solovjov was showing a very different print-focused collection using natural fabrics and based on the folk costumes of his homeland.

But rather than being a faithful reinterpretation of traditional looks, he's used digital printing along with a suite of other digital techniques to reduce wastage. “Instead of actual pattern cutting I was doing it digitally on the computer,” he said. “And instead of toiles and prototypes I was using 3D avatars. I'm trying to put together modern technology, sustainability and Estonian folk heritage to interpret the traditions in a modern way.”

Janislav Solovjov minimises waste through using digital processes

His print imagery came from museums and archives and was recoloured and used in very different ways across the collection. For instance, the star print was a woman in Estonian dress. Her face and body were instantly recognisable on one piece, but magnified multiple times she appeared simply as a diffused stripe on another.

He also used digital embroidery inspired by folk heritage, and with all of the pieces produced in the UK it added up to a strongly sustainable story.


Hannah Stote is another one to watch as she applies a slow fashion approach to knitwear. The winner of the GFW 19 Catwalk Knitwear Award graduated from Bath Spa University, and didn't actually train as a knit designer for her main discipline so winning the award is all the more impressive.

She chose knits as she loves texture and the process of crafting her fabric from scratch. Her all-wool collection was inspired by 18th-century fishermen’s Guernseys and fishing nets and makes use of reclaimed wool via “jumpers that have been unravelled and reknitted,” she said. 

Hannah Stote recycles yarn for her slow fashion knits - Sandra Halliday

“I'm really interested in circular production and the whole collection has been designed so that it can be unravelled and remade into something new so the yarns can have a second, third, fourth life. A main driver was thinking about the end life of the products, so that also means things like no zips or buttons.”

And in an interesting move that further adds to the slow fashion theme, each label carries a note about the number of hours the item took to knit.

Meanwhile Mariah Esa had a very different and surprising approach to reusing waste materials. The winner of the Shein People’s Choice Award for GFW19, she repurposes labels thrown away by the fast fashion industry to create her pieces.

Mariah Esa creates new fabrics using leftover fast fashion labels - Sandra Halliday

Those labels might otherwise be sent to landfill or burnt, “so I took it upon myself to think how I could repurpose them. The reverse side of each label created an amazing pattern and once put together they create phenomenal textures and great designs.” Each individual label is stitched together “to give people the idea that you can repurpose anything,” she said. 

As the winner of the Shein award, she’s now collaborating with the fast fashion label to create a deadstock collection designed to be the complete opposite of the wear-it-once-for-Instagram philosophy that many people associate with fast fashion.


Mariah Esa isn’t the only one to have gone to the industry in order to create something new from the waste it produces. Patrick McDowell, who graduated from Central Saint Martins last year, works a lot with Burberry and Swarovski to use their waste materials and has also created ethically-produced knits this season in conjunction with Wool & The Gang. 

Materials in Patrick McDowell's collection are largely recycled - Sandra Halliday

His collection has a fire-fighting theme (“it’s inspired by my mum in Liverpool and how women tend to ‘put the fires out’ in families,” he explained). 

He's taking efforts to minimise waste very seriously and pointed out a pair of trousers that were actually made from a jacket from his first collection, while other waste scraps went to making bags. And his T-shirts all have QR codes in them so you can scan them and get a full traceability report too.

Meanwhile an oversized coat was made using fabric from the AW Hainsworth mill, “which is actually the producer of all the Fire Brigade fabric in the UK,” he said. “It's run vertically so the fibre goes in and get spun, woven and dyed in the same factory.”

His Burberry link came when he interned there and asked Christopher Bailey if he could use some waste fabric (“not to be sustainable but because I was really poor,” he explained). That's turned into an ongoing relationship with the brand and it seems to have paid off as the high-quality fabrics he uses lend themselves well to his volume- and detail-focused aesthetic.

And our last pick is Ancuta Sarca, a London-based Romanian designer, who took advantage of some Nike deadstock she was given by the sports giant.

She has an interesting way of using items for a second life, fusing trainers with a more formal approach in footwear. Like Hannah Stote, she wasn't trained in the area in which she now specialises but she’s certainly making an impact. Her collection of mules features materials and details combining sneakers with kitten heels. The collection is made up of items that were being thrown away or were coming apart, plus those pieces from Nike. 

She wanted to "find a solution to rework them instead of discarding them and her casual/formal combos are undeniably Instagrammable.

Ancuta Sarca is making an impact with her recycled trainer/formal shoe combos - Sandra Halliday

The designer, who previously worked at Ashish in London while running her own side hustle, said she was very keen “to go into upcycling. I just think we're producing too much from scratch. There are so many products out there that we should be thinking about reusing. As designers we have the ability to think of these things and find new ways of producing that are more environmentally friendly.”

She seems to be set fair for an interesting future having showed with Fashion East this season and with a capsule collection due to hit concept store LNCC. “I've had lots of buyers contacting me at this event,” she said, “and I’ve got lots of new followers on social media too!”

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