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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 February 2008, 00:06 GMT
Cutting your cloth twice over
By Clare Davidson
Business reporter, BBC News, Hackney, London

The transformation of old clothes

The studio where Nin Castle and Phoebe Emerson run their fashion firm is very small, but the change they are aiming for is big - and they are doing it in technicolour.

Stepping into the room, tucked away in a former slipper factory in Hackney, the riotous tones are arresting.

Tee-shirts, sweatshirts and jumpers are stacked neatly in every hue from bubble gum pink to marigold yellow.

But "despite being in excellent condition, all these items had been thrown out", explains Nin.

And this is where Nin and Phoebe are being especially bold.

They want to challenge a throwaway culture, that has extended to fashion, by putting new life into rejected clothes.

In doing so they are challenging what has become the norm: "fast fashion".

Sweaters in Goodone studio
Despite being in excellent condition, all these items had been thrown out
Nin Castle, Goodone

Mass produced

Two decades ago there were two seasons in fashion. But advances in technology mean there can now be up to 12, explains Phoebe, who handles the more managerial side of Goodone.

"It can take as little as 12 days to design an item and get it onto the shop floor," interjects Nin.

Clothes are now mass-produced abroad, at great speed, cheaply - exemplified by the likes of Primark, where a teeshirt can sell for 5 or less.

This fundamental shift means it can cost less to buy something new than to get it dry-cleaned or repaired, Nin says.

But because clothes are cheaper, we tend to buy - and throw away - far more than we used to.

Clothes mountains

More than 1 million tonnes of textile waste ends up in landfill annually, half of which is reusable
UK consumed 2 million tonnes of clothes, or 23bn, annually
The time frame for making clothes has gone from 3-4 months to 12 days
The fast/discount fashion clothing sector accounts for one fifth of the UK market and has doubled its growth during 1999-2006
Just 10% of clothing consumed within the UK is manufactured here
Between1996-2005, spending on clothing and textiles grew 34%
Source: Defra, Waste online

Understanding the degree of the problem may be hard to grasp, though a visit to LMB, a textile recycling outlet in London's Canning Town makes everything clear.

This is where Goodone sources most of its fabric. On one side, vast bales of tightly-packed clothes are being moved by a fork-lift truck, and stacked metres high in a warehouse.

On the other side, workers sort clothes busily on different floors. Garments are visible everywhere - hanging over railings, on hooks, trailing on the floor, crammed in cages.

Upstairs, men wade through piles of clothes that tumble non-stop from a conveyer belt.

Nin and Phoebe head straight to the ground floor, as clothes fall out of chutes.

Phoebe Emerson and Nin Castle
The first time we went we were like kids in a sweet shop
Phoebe Emerson, Goodone

They rummage in particular for garments with large swathes of undamaged fabric.

"The first time we went we were like kids in a sweet shop," beams Phoebe.

"Look," says Nin, holding up an unused sports top. "Its Fat Face. Its even got the price tag on, 45."

They leave bent double from the weight of their sacks crammed with clothes, but in the bigger picture an indiscernible amount.


But it is not just clothes being sent to landfill that is the problem, says Phoebe during the drive back to Hackney in a rickety van.

Clothes production, especially cotton, relies on vast amounts of water and pesticides - not to mention cheap labour, she explains.

According to Defra, the UK clothing and textiles industry alone produced up to 2m tonnes of waste, 3.1m tonnes of carbon dioxide and 70m tonnes of waste water in 2006, the last year when data is available, and most of our clothes are imported.

Despite this constant stream of new fashions, much of what is on offer is repetitive, and the fast turnaround means the quality tends to be worse, says Nin.

Nin Castle laying out templates
A standardised pattern is used but each item is unique

But Phoebe and Nin underline that making clothes more sustainable is not in itself enough as a selling point. Nor is it enough to change the industry.

First and foremost they have to make garments that people want to buy.

In fact Phoebe laments the fact so much "ethical" fashion has focussed on labour and environment conditions at the cost of good design.

While their styles are dictated by the materials they can adapt to their designs to, this - they argue - forces them to be inventive.

Industry shift

Challenging the industry has not been easy. Nin says her university tutor "completely dismissed" the idea of reusing clothes.

And yet the idea seems, to be taking off.

Since gaining a 15,000 Trevor Campbell award for enterprise in 2007, Goodone now supplies outlets in London, Manchester, Brighton, Glasgow as well as Portugal and Japan, and over the internet.

But going mass market is not what Goodone wants. This would require outsourcing, which would lead to a whole other set of issues and responsibilities, they say.

Instead, they have decided to focus on working with existing firms that already have sufficient infrastructure to make clothes on a bigger scale.

A grant of 16,000 from the London Development Agency is helping them advise others on how to make fashion more sustainable, and they are talking to universities, such as the London School of Fashion, to teach students.

"The enjoyable part is instigating positive change in the industry," says Phoebe.

Nin was recently invited back to Brighton to talk to students as a "business person", laughs Phoebe, a sign of recognition perhaps, that there might be an alternative to fast fashion.

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