Archive for March, 2010

Livia Firth on From Somewhere

March 8, 2010

I love beautiful clothes and always cared a lot about the quality of a garment but I would never call myself a fashion person. I tend to keep my clothes forever and will wear them on and off throughout the years. So I’ve never had an ‘it’ bag or been a devotee of designer labels.

So it was with some trepidation that I began to get involved in the sustainable fashion scene. But through my eco lifestyle store, Eco Age, ( I had come across designers who were creating products with bigger aspirations than just ending up in landfill. It was only a matter of time before I began meeting designers attempting to do the same for fashion, providing an ethical alternative to fast fashion. I also met three friends Jocelyn Whipple, Lucy Siegle and Orsola de Castro who are all big proponents the ethical fashion movement. Together we began a programme at Eco Age ’12 Degrees of Ethical fashion’. Our mission was to give burgeoning design talent some profile, a little bit of shop space and to promote some of the pivotal issues of ethical fashion, from cotton production to the rights of garment workers.

Over the past 12 months I’ve been introduced to dozens of beautiful brands but From Somewhere, Orsola de Castro’s brand remains one of my favorites. In fashion circles she is known as the queen of ‘upcycling’, taking factory waste – often from extremely high end producers – and rather than recycling, which largely means turning waste into something less valuable, she makes it into exquisite pieces. But it’s not just the upcycling that appeals to me. She has an innate sense of quirky style that stands out from the homogenized style that seems to dominate fashion. She mixes classic style, reminiscent of La Dolce Vita with innovation. Every time I wear a From Somewhere dress, sweater or coat those pieces become the main topic of conversation.

I also love the idea of working with Orsola and developing designs with her. The beautiful thing about her shop in Notting Hill is that it feels a bit like going to a friend’s house. When I saw her wonderful ‘Carina’ black dress made from reclaimed fabrics, with accentuated chiffon sleeves I immediately borrowed it to wear to the Venice film festival for the premiere of Tom Ford’s movie A Single Man. It was made in the Cooperativa Rinascere in Italy, which Orsola set up to make all her clothes. The Cooperativa helps to rehabilitate disabled people and people with mental health problems. Orsola’s seamstresses used to work for top fashion houses but since becoming ill it has been hard for them to re-enter their profession. She says that when I wore the dress in Venice and it came up on the screen, the atmosphere in the Cooperativa was like a football match!

After Venice, Lucy Siegle challenged me to do the rest of the awards season dressing solely in ethical fashion. As we discovered non mainstream designers have a hard time accessing red carpets, so we launched the Green Carpet Challenge through my blog on Helped along by suggestions from readers who are following the journey, and a lot of input from designers and places such as London College of Fashion, I’ve so far walked down red carpets in a repurposed wedding dress, bamboo wool suit, milk fibre, fairly traded and mud dyed silk and sustainable cork shoes. The level and breadth of design has astonished me and I have met some amazingly talented designers who priorities social and environmental justice and deserve as much recognition as they can get.

On 7 March it’s the Oscars, and the end of this phase of the Green Carpet experiment. With this dress, I wanted to go for old Hollywood glamour and a bit of La Dolce Vita brought together with impeccable ethical credentials. I also wanted to bring the Green Carpet challenge back to where it had started. Of course we all know the perfect candidate: Orsola de Castro who will make the final Green Carpet Challenge Oscar dress. It will be very simple and very elegant, and entirely constructed from waste. I can’t wait!


The Cooperativa Rinascere by Charlotte Turner

March 8, 2010

Since 2002, From Somewhere has been producing its collections in the social Cooperativa Rinascere in Veneto, Northern Italy.  Rinascere, Italian for “reborn”, is a unique not-for-profit organisation that seeks to rehabilitate disadvantaged individuals and equip them to play a fulfilling and productive role in society.

The people helped by the Cooperativa include recovering addicts, in and out patients of local psychiatric units, and others with various disabilities who would be unemployed if not for the opportunities offered by the project. Rinascere is managed by a group of volunteers who have chosen to dedicate their lives to charity and to helping others. Their aim is to provide people in need with new skills and experiences in order to help them back into the world of employment.

The project offers incalculable benefit to those involved: through training and work they build up their skills base; through encouragement and support they gain the self-esteem and self-belief that they need in order to operate in the wider world.  The work provided is tailored to individuals’ needs, taking into consideration any disabilities or specific skills they may have, and varied training is provided for those without experience.  There are opportunities for creative input during projects, and, through being able to problem solve and make decisions, people develop greater self-confidence and faith in their judgement, which in turn benefits and eases their day-to-day lives.

This scheme provides a safe and welcoming workplace for disadvantaged people who have been unable to engage in typical employment.  Such positive surroundings and encouragement result in enthusiastic, dedicated participants who enjoy applying themselves to challenging and stimulating work.  However, even more importantly, it bestows hope for their futures by providing the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to lead independent lives.

From Somewhere to the Oscars by Orsola de Castro

March 3, 2010

Livia Firth has been a tireless supporter of ethical fashion and a key figure in the UK fashion scene, her commitment (from her shop Eco Age, to her work with Lucy Siegle for the Observer’s Ethical Awards and her recent blog for, and lastly ‘The Green Carpet Challenge’) is unquestionable. Yet, she is also a beautiful woman, very much in the public eye, and not one to compromise on her appearance, making her an honest and reliable judge of how and who to wear in ethical fashion.

Livia’s comments on the Oscar dress and ‘Green Carpet Challenge’ :  “When Lucy Siegle and I were discussing the options for the Oscar dress and the Green Carpet Challenge, the decision of going with Orsola was very natural as we have been working together for over a year with 12 Degrees of Fashion at Eco Age.   Also, the ‘Green Carpet Challenge’ began in a way when I wore a ‘From Somewhere’ dress to the worldwide premiere of ‘A Single Man’, in Venice; it feels so natural to end the challenge with Orsola and From Somewhere.  The Oscars will be, in a way, the end of the promotional trip for all of us with A Single Man – and the end of the Green Carpet Challenge.
With this dress, I wanted it to be “Old Hollywood Glamour” and a bit of “La Dolce Vita” – so even in this way Orsola, being Italian, perfectly understood that feeling and created the perfect representation for it.  The dress will be incredibly simple and elegant – and the fact that we could re-create that elegance and simplicity using waste is wonderful!”

The main ingredients of the dress are: our trusted black thick viscose fluid – part of a few rolls of designer obsolete stock – some black organza off cuts and tiny end of rolls, and some unfinished black chiffon petty-coats which we literally rescued from the bin.
The From Somewhere studio in Portobello has never been more hectic and full on, working evenings and weekends, each to her own expertise: Nancy on the pattern, Carina and Erin sewing and Kate and Andrea on the organza/pettycoat shoulder structure. Overall, a really good team, which is remarkable when considering that most of the girls, are just out of college – it goes to show that enthusiasm and passion can really drive you forward.

Luckily, we did have had a little bit of help on the way, from Tom Ford’s right-hand man David Bamber who came with Livia to the first fitting and was just brilliant, to the moral support provided by Dilys Williams at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at LCF ready to mobilise her entire MA army of students just in case we should need them, to Anna Orsini giving advice from Paris on the phone (Anna’s magic words: Everything is possible and don’t be afraid).

This dress will close Livia and Lucy’s Green Carpet Challenge, and I am glad that the word “challenge” is omnipresent throughout. It is my safety net – making this dress has indeed been a challenge, as it will be a challenge for Livia to walk the red carpet covered in exquisite fashion waste – a provocative, audacious choice.

We have to take risks to get where we want to be and say the things we want to say, we have to be brave to be of influence, so in the same vain we have to put a pile of designer fashion rubbish on the red carpet and hope we can convince you  that up-cycling is the way to go.

Orsola x