Join CQ Studio’s Sustainable Design Workshops Inspiring The Next Generation of Creatives

Sustainable fashion research studio founder, Cassie Quinn, speaks to BRICKS about her new series of workshops creating sustainable materials and why education is key in creating positive change.

IMAGES Courtesy of CQ Studio

“I remember when my first experiment finally went right and I just about jumped up and started dancing around my room, it was pure elation,” says biodesigner Cassie Quinn. The budding textile innovator and entrepreneur is sharing her latest biological discoveries in a new workshop series teaching the next generation of fashion designers about how they can integrate sustainable practices into their work.

Funded by Westfield East Bank Creative Futures Fund and supported by Westfield Stratford City and Foundation for Future London, Cassie’s workshops will be available to 16-25 year old aspiring designers and makers where she’ll be teaching classes on upcycling, understanding and growing biomaterials, natural dyeing and screen printing, as well as portfolio-building skills for prospective students.

“In our natural dyes workshop, students can get to understand the process of pigment extraction, play with the pigments and start to think about how we can work with living systems to be more sustainable,” she explains. “Additionally, I’ve invited some really exciting guests for talks so students can meet people from within the industry and get to understand their journey. And if they want to apply to uni or apply for a job, I’ll give CV support and interview support to help build their confidence.”

Cassie’s own exploration of sustainable materials started in university. After applying for fashion design, her tutors suggested her work would be better suited to a textiles degree. “I’d never thought about it but [textiles] suits me so much,” she explains. “What I’ve realised now that has always been consistent in my work is that it’s always about trying to transform a material, so deconstructing, destroying it, taking it apart and trying to rebuild it into something new. I just loved the opportunity to experiment with textiles.”

One thing I always think about with recycled polyester, for example, is that it looks boring. You know, it just looks like a polyester fibre, and if you’re trying to change people’s minds about how we should recycle and reuse things, we should make it really exciting.

Cassie Quinn, CQ Studio founder

While studying, she was concerned that her course included a module on fast fashion. After researching the unsustainable practices and unfair labour laws, she felt there was a systemic problem in fashion education – why was she being taught about harmful practices but not taught alternative methods or business models? “Most importantly, I was blown away at how much you can reduce your impact at the stage of making your materials. As a textile designer, it showed me how I can contribute and create positive change.”

This realisation led to further experimentation with natural fibres and natural dyes, including her thesis project, ‘In Flaxuation’, which utilised one of the textile’s industry’s materials and created new textures and details using 3d printing and laser cutting techniques. “One thing I always think about with recycled polyester, for example, is that it looks boring. You know, it just looks like a polyester fibre, and if you’re trying to change people’s minds about how we should recycle and reuse things, we should make it really exciting. Obviously, we need to have things that are practical, but when we’re trying to change someone’s mind or habits, I think it’s got to be exciting to do that,” Cassie explains. 

Cassie’s passion for the subject is clear, her face lighting up as we discuss her most exciting discoveries to date. She explains the eight-month trial-and-error process that it took to create her new flax material. “It got to one point where my tutor told me to call it quits, to accept it wasn’t going to work. But I was just really stubborn and I know how much I wanted it to work,” she recalls casually of her clearly tenacious nature.

Having worked on her research, Cassie’s goal now is to share her learning, hoping to combat the gatekeeping she’s experienced in sustainable fashion sector thus far. “Because there’s not a centralised system for using these materials, it can be really confusing and the information to understand it all just isn’t accessible,” she says. “And sustainability changes depending on what you’re looking at, such as water usage, or is it socially sustainable, or if it’s a recycled fabric how do you know what has been recycled? When you’re buying materials as a designer, even if you’re trying to make the right choices, it can be hard to know who to trust and know where your materials are coming from.”

She’s sharing her innovations in two ways – by selling her own materials directly to designers, and through the workshops that share the techniques to make biomaterials. She’s even reached out to manufacturing factories to try and scale up her techniques. “They’ve completely refused, saying their insurance doesn’t cover the new material. They don’t even want to cast it because, understandably, the machines cost around half a million pounds.” 

“Most young designers are just choosing from what’s readily available to them,” she continues, “So unless its scaled up and it’s readily available then you know, unless you’re a big brand that can afford to take a financial risk on a new fabric that’s innovative. And, to be honest, I think that if its not being forced upon designers and brands to change, then why would they change their margins and their current systems when customers are still buying the product? There’s no incentive there.”

Despite the barriers she’s encountered, Cassie’s resilience and eagerness is as persistent as it is infectious, and with her willingness to share what she’s learned and open new pathways for aspiring creatives. “I know I can think back to when I was 14 when my interest in fashion first really sparked, and to give that to someone else, I think it’s important,” she says. “And although I’m not really advanced in my career, but I’ve still achieved a lot. And I think I should give that knowledge and skills back to the next generation, because they’re going to be even better at what we’re doing.”

Join Cassie at the Sustainable Fashion Factory taster session during Fashion Open Studio’s Exhibition at Lab E20, Sunday 20th February, 1pm-3pm.

Official programming starts 25th April 2022, email to find out how to sign up and follow @sustainablefashionfactory on Instagram for further updates.