EcoWalk. Interview with Luxury Upcycled Fashion Designer of Linda Thomas Eco Design
“Whether you are in the public eye or not, rich or poor you can have ethical clothing. ” –Designer Linda Thomas, Linda Thomas Eco Design
When did you realize your calling was to become a fashion designer? What or who has influenced you to become a socially and environmentally responsible designer? I have always loved clothes and dressing up. One of the first things I learnt to do was change my outfit as a toddler by changing my pretty floral underwear! I won Young Designer of Nottingham when I was a teenager but went on to study medicine rather than fashion as I knew I could keep being creative on the side but a doctor without a qualification was not an option. My love of people and planet is reflected in my professional time shared between designing and healing work. I read an article in The Ecologist magazine about non organic cottonwhen I was pregnant with my son and that changed my whole view of fashion. I was horrified that the most pesticide greedy crop on the Planet was for clothing and not food and was devastating the land, water and the people working with it. I decided to change my shopping habits to new sustainable clothing, vintage or preloved. I thought it would be really tricky but on the whole it has been really easy. When I then returned to fashion designing years later, the only possibility and inspiration for me was to be an eco fashion designer. I see no beauty in clothing that is harmful.
How did the idea and concept of Linda Thomas Eco Design come to fruition? Linda Thomas Eco Design evolved from small upcycling projects of cutting up cashmere jumpers and wool jackets and then I took a leap up when my city was European Green Capital and it felt really important that fashion should be a part of that. Designing for the catwalk released the wilder side of my creativity again. Since then I have been creating unique gowns from upcycling luxurious materials like silk for weddings or to turn red carpet events into green ones. I still love creating clothing especially for shows, events or catwalks.
Could you tell us a bit more about your label? What is the ethos of Linda Thomas Eco Design? What defines your style? The essence of Linda Thomas Eco Design is to create luxury upcycled clothing for amazing women to celebrate their individual beauty. My style is defined by colour, texture and flowing shapes. No two pieces are ever the same and it is a really important part of the process for me that we learn to be kind to ourselves and our bodies. I love working around individuals requirements whether post-surgery or adaptations for disability or visible differences. I just love people.
In your own eyes, how has becoming a fashion designer changed your life? My life is always changing and changing career is a part of that but I feel like I am always evolving regardless of what I’m doing. My core is not about what I do rather just who I am and my values are fairly consistent it is just how I express that in the World.
What is your favourite part about being a designer? Do you have a favorite moment in your design process? My favourite part about being a designer is the people I meet. That might be a client or a photographer or the head of a charity or a journalist. It reminds me of my medical days as I was a generalist and you never knew who would come through the door. My favourite part of the process itself is waking with a creative vision that has appeared overnight and sketching that down ready to create.
Does the fact that you make sustainable clothing make it harder to stay on trend? When your clothes reflect who you are I don’t think you get that concerned with trend anymore. I want my clothes to walk the talk of real beauty and kindness.
People say that ethical and sustainable fashion is too expensive. How do you usually respond to that? This question of expense and sustainable fashion I discussed once as part of a talk. I asked the audience to come up with any budget and I would tell them how to shop ethically for that. A girl said £1, which is a pretty low budget, so I suggested throwing the coin in the air with a friend to see whose house they should do a clothes swap in! Whether you are in the public eye or not, rich or poor you can have ethical clothing. It is time we considered that what is unfashionable is slavery and clothing destroying our planet whatever the price tag. As there is no supply chain and just me it means the cost to the client is paying directly for my work. I can explain to them how long certain detailings will take and they can decide whether that fits into their budget or not. With bespoke clothing we are much more likely to feel amazing in it and wear it more often so that also increases the value. I’m not interested in garments to be worn once and thrown away.
You specialize in upcycling with luxurious materials like silk and cashmere. Where do you usually find the raw materials? I find my raw materials for upcycling from local charity shops and people also bring the garments themselves or sentimental vintage fabric to me for me to create their piece. I love it when someone has something made from incredible material but that is just boring and so they never wear it and I can transform it into something completely different and unique that they love.
Linda, where do your find inspiration for new work? Do you have an idea for a look and find the materials to make it come alive, or does your inspiration come from the materials you find? I am utterly grateful that I am never short of inspiration. I am very creative in my sleep and if I go to bed with a design dilemma then it is usually solved by the morning. Generally the material and the limitations of it (quantity or working around damaged areas) starts off the design and the colour palette by what a woman loves and feels good in.
What is the usual timeline from having an idea to actually creating the product? Shortly describe your design process from mood boards to picking out fabrics to production. What captures your attention when looking for the materials you use in your designs? The timeline is usually months but sometimes I don’t have that luxury and someone rings me up and says they have a special event in a few weeks and I try very hard to see if I can make that work. Higher profile clients often have the tightest deadlines although I have had a few brides only give me 2-3 months and we did manage it, just! Sometimes finding a particular shade of material can take months in itself and this is the one part that is harder than rolls of fabric. With the amount of textile in landfill, upcycling is also a very important part of my process so I embrace the challenge. I don’t do mood boards and designs evolve on the mannequin from the original sketch. The design process may begin with a client’s consultation, with a dream, with an incredible piece of fabric that I’ve found.
Do you have any specific fashion/style rules when putting an outfit together? Rules are there to be broken and so I would be guided by my client but if I’m just designing I tend to use a single bright colour with detailing in a number of other colours including one opposite on the colour wheel.
What are you fascinated by at the moment and how does it feed into your work? I am fascinated by how far I can push the boundaries with upcycling and how I can use clothing to highlight the drastic action that is required to help us and our Planet to survive and thrive. I think this will be obvious how this feeds into my work when my latest dress emerges.
What is something you learned about your customers since you have started your brand? I have learned that regardless of appearance the majority of my clients experience unkind self body talk (although sometimes unaware of it) and I take it to be a very important part of my job to help in celebrating their unique beauty. Switching the focus from “I hate my….” to “I love my…”.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a sustainable designer of handmade shop? My biggest challenge is how to help everyone to realise that something as seemingly trivial as what we wear is so vitally important in terms of the survival of the Planet and to stay connected with their head and hearts when shopping.
How do you go about getting your brand known? I am pretty active on Instagram and I get quite a few clients from there as well as word of mouth. I don’t find it particularly easy to market myself, like many creatives!!!
Can you tell us please a bit about your involvement in educational big ocean waste projects? What is one thing each human could do to help our blue oceans? In the last year and a half another side of my work has evolved where I have been creating dresses from ocean waste like the ‘wave of waste’ dress from 100 dumped surfboards or ‘99 dead balloons’ dress from balloons and their ribbons all rescued by the ‘2 minute beachclean’ community. Just one thing… realise the enormous power of the purse and only shop when awake. By that I mean if you find out about something then decide to action it. We could turn the whole thing around in terms of climate change and pollution in such a short space of time. We must understand that we must all be part of the solution.
In your opinion, what impact does hyper-consumerism and mass production have on the environment? Should we educate people more about the terrible impact of fast fashion? Fast fashion is the second biggest polluter after the oil industry. More slavery in the World now than pre abolition of slavery. Those two reasons are enough.
How have you seen the sustainable/eco fashion industry change/develop in the past five years? Where do you see the future of sustainable/eco fashion heading? I think sustainable fashion is becoming talked about more and more genuinely eco brands are emerging as well as massive polluting brands increasing their high profile ‘greenwashing’. I think upcycling and recycling is going to become more important in the future as we realise we can’t keep dumping all this stuff. I think innovative plant based materials are also on the rise so more of these will emerge.
Where can our readers find out more about, or follow, your work? Instagram @linda_eco_design.
What are your plans for the nearest future? Do you have any exciting upcoming plans that you would like to share with us? I have been working on my latest Ocean Plastic dress for the last 5 months and it is due to emerge into the World any moment now. A piece of wearable art about an extremely important issue. My pantyliner dress is continuing to be involved in exciting education projects about menstrual products and the impact on Planetary and women’s health.
What is your vision of your perfect working day? My perfect working day would be working on ocean waste in the morning and a fitting for a red carpet event or wedding in the afternoon with a gorgeous woman. With an organic lunch in the garden in the middle.
What makes you happy? Love and Kindness makes me happy.
One thing that bugs you about humans is that…? Unkindness bugs me, as does hypocrisy and ‘greenwashing’…oh no, that’s 3 things. Luckily there is a lot of love in the World so I don’t have to focus on this.
Please tell us one surprising fact about yourself. I am full of surprises, but one is that I have spent 25 years on a medical career before this.
Thank you, Linda Thomas.
Originally published in print issue of 2018 October/November Vol II: BUY NOW