BRICKS Contributor Joshua James Small talks to designer Chloe Baines about her new capsule collection released this week exclusively under Selfridges’ ‘Bright New Things’ platform.
WORDS Joshua James Small COVER IMAGE Artwork by Mat Maitland
Passionate up-cycler Chloe Baines discusses her new capsule collection, released this week exclusively under Selfridges ‘Bright New Things’ platform. This comes as the department store launches its Project Earth initiative, encouraging shoppers to consume more responsibly.
JJS: Briefly introduce me to Selfridges ‘Project Earth’ Initiative, and explain to me how you got involved?
CB: Project Earth is a new initiative, with the aim of implementing positive change to the future of Selfridges retail structure. There’s an unmissable neon yellow ‘Let’s Change the Way We Shop’ type font emblazoned across the front of their Oxford Street Store; their recent campaign is commendable. As Daniella Vega, Director of Sustainability for Selfridges previously stated, “Project Earth is about us taking radical action, ensuring that the most environmentally impactful materials used right across our business come from certified, sustainable sources.” Before I launched my brand, I had worked with Selfridges on a freelance basis. Working in visual merchandising and styling for events, I gained a greater understanding of the importance of launching my own work under the store. I started experimenting with upcycling tents a few seasons ago and met the ‘Bright New Things’ team whilst assisting with the management of the VM kit during this time. We initially spoke about the work that I do, and it just evolved from there. I felt connected to the ‘Project Earth’ initiative; it’s a great enterprise, giving independent and sustainability-driven brands a foot in the door.
The project Earth Initiative encompasses a number of different aims/goals to which the brands involved adhere to. Describe the elements of sustainability that define your brand?
I’m committed to reducing waste. This collection is made from recycling tents, with the woven pieces being manufactured in North London by weaver Alexandra Lucas, formed from cuttings and old prototypes. The tents are all waste product and were collected after festivals and donated. The linings and facings are made from the inside linings of the tents, and the facings are upcycled from denim pieces that we found in charity shops. Any additional fabric and hardware were sourced locally. The T-shirts are also made from certified organic cotton and are produced in a factory that uses renewable energy.
I felt connected to the ‘Project Earth’ initiative; it’s a great enterprise, giving independent and sustainability-driven brands a foot in the door.
Talk me through why it was important to you as an emerging designer to have the support of Selfridges and why being one of Selfridges ‘Bright New Things’ is helpful to emerging designers?
It’s fantastic that Selfridges are investing in small, emerging brands. Particularly those who work ethically, and are driven by sustainability. We’re taught from such a young age how difficult it is to crack the fashion industry, yet this initiative feels like a bit of a queue jump. I used to go into Selfridges in Birmingham when I was younger, and everything felt so out of reach. It’s a privilege to now be stocked among many other established designers. Selfridges are challenging current retail structures, and bringing new methods to the forefront of their business. Young designers are key to positive change. New ways of working are challenging existing brands, so it’s interesting to see change. For instance, it’s quite fascinating how established brands such as Prada and Louis Vuitton are restructuring their ways of working.
Explain to me your design process?
I tend to work in 3D. I’m a huge fan of draping, and I’m quite hands-on. When I first started upcycling tents, I really struggled with the initial design stages, because I was stumped by the design of the existing features. Through draping, I found I was able to utilise the existing features to my advantage. My collaboration with Alexandra Lucas also allowed me to visualise the variety of different ways the material could be used and adapted. It’s exciting to use waste fabric because of the range of potential – even the smallest offcuts have their uses.
How do you work, and how has your practice developed since education?
I’ve found there’s been quite a difference between working as a designer and studying design. While this project feels like I’ve been thrown in at the deep end, it’s motivating to know I have the support of such a credible platform to launch under. You need to be able to evolve essentially, and learn to have conviction in your decisions.
I understand you work with upcycled materials, mainly utilising festival tents in recent work. Where does your interest stem from with regard to upcycling? Why do you work with the materials you have?
I started using recycled material during my art and design foundation course. This was initially due to lack of money. I was also living in Coventry and honestly had no idea where to source anything. Then when I started at London College of Fashion, I really became aware of the environmental impact of fashion. When you start educating yourself, it spirals, and you can’t un-see the problem. I had a really inspiring seminar in my second year at university from Christopher Raeburn, who talked us through his process of using discarded parachutes. From this I started to become more and more interested in the various ways of upcycling to reduce waste. I also find it really inspiring to repurpose something. I like the fact that people can make a connection with the material’s past life, reinventing the idea of ‘new’.
I like the fact that people can make a connection with the material’s past life, reinventing the idea of ‘new’.
Considering the current impact of COVID on the fashion industry, how have you navigated the past 6 months in a professional sense? What was your biggest challenge and what, if any, were the benefits of a slowed pace of life for you as a designer?
Everyone has had to make changes to their ways of working. Thankfully for me, I work multiple jobs on a freelance basis. When I was unable to continue with my freelance work, because of lockdown restrictions, I focussed a lot more time into my brand. Like many, I faced personal challenges along with uncertainty, but having time to be alone and work on my craft, has definitely helped me to grow. I think it’s quite important that there’s a reduction in consumption across all levels of the market. While I understand there are many different perspectives, both positive and negative, industry levels of manufacture and consumption were out of control and unnecessary. Of course, I want people to buy the clothes that I make, but I have a level of understanding that collectively, we need to be responsible and look at the bigger picture.
You talk of an involvement with local community and craft, alongside a passionate engagement within the LGBTQ+ community. How important is the idea community and localisation with craft, to you? Do you think this influence or benefits your work, or vice versa, do you think your work benefits the community?
Craft is important. Teaching people how to make and repair is such a valuable skill. Pre-COVID, I started to host workshops on this. Similarly, inclusivity is crucial, because everyone should feel welcome and feel like they can get involved. I love collaborating with inspiring people because it challenges my own perspective and creativity. We’re powerful in numbers, and I think social justice and creativity go hand in hand.
What do you hope to achieve under this Selfridges initiative? What challenges do you foresee, and what should we expect from a future drop?
I’m honoured to be a part of such a positive project. I hope that people invest in these smaller brands driving new ways of working. I think we’ve already navigated some of the most difficult challenges this year. The country is in an economic downturn, which is always going to make things more difficult when starting a business. I do however think that I’m adaptable and willing to take chances, in order to keep moving forward. For the next drop, I’m working hard to expand the size offering, and continue to offer a wider variety of pieces that are ungendered. One of the main challenges at this current moment, is dwindling resources due to festival cancellations. Luckily there was enough to produce this collection, but I am looking to develop new designs with different upcycled fabrics and materials.
What’s your next move, and what do you want to achieve in the short term? Are you working on anything outside of your Selfridges capsule? Are you content with the scale of your brand, being smaller, with limited releases, or are you looking to upscale?
I want to keep the momentum going and continue to promote positive change. Another capsule collection is already in the design stage, which I’m really excited about. You have to remember that no one person can be fully sustainable, but I always try to design for purpose and not overproduce. At the moment, I work mostly by outsourcing and collaborating. On most days, it’s just myself and my studio manager, Elle Yarushin, so as you can imagine, we’re both extremely busy. I’m quite content with where things are at the moment, and it’s exciting to see things move forward with my brand. In terms of projects outside of Selfridges, I’m working on an exciting collaboration with a close friend who is passionately engaged with the LGBTQ+ community.
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