One of the fantastic things about Fashfest is that it opens your eyes to a host of possibilities. For example, I have stated many times on this blog that I find a lot of ‘eco’ or sustainable designers to make really ugly clothing, and that I am someone who can’t see themselves wearing eco designs.
Enter Melanie Child, a boutique womenswear label from Dunedin, New Zealand, which focuses on upcycling and sustainable fabric choices.
In the lead up to Fashfest 2015 I can remember the head of Fashfest PR asking me if I would be interested in profiling Melanie’s label for my blog and thinking “Pshaw! Sustainable design! That’s all hemp fibers and tie-dye! No thanks!” and being, if I am honest, a bit of a tool about it all. It wasn’t until I was actually sitting there last year watching Melanie’s designs pass me on the runway that I realised just how wrong about sustainable design I was.
The aesthetic of Child’s label is thought provoking and sculptural with dark undertones, with a predominantly monotone colour palette. It is also insanely beautiful and in some ways fragile. The creative redesign of preloved denim is a Melanie Child signature.
The label’s underpinning philosophies are to reduce post-consumer textile waste into landfill and maintain a small environmental footprint by using sustainable virgin materials from ethical sources. Child creates beauty from the unwanted and wasted—timeless garments that transcend seasonal restraints. Limited edition and bespoke upcycled clothing which is thoughtfully and skilfully remade in New Zealand.
Returning to the Fashfest runways for 2016, I was eager to get in touch with Melanie to find out what she had been up to since we saw her in May last year and of course, what we can expect from her 2016 collection.
It has been a huge 18 months for you since Fashfest 2015 – what has changed for you with regard to the direction the Melanie Child label in this time?
I was fortunate enough to take out the overall award of excellence at The Oversew Fashion Awards competition here in NZ, then achieved a goal that I’d had since studying for my degree of showing a capsule collection at iD Dunedin Fashion Week. After iD I took a short and much needed break from MC and worked as a flag maker for a while and more recently did patternmaking and sampling for another NZ designer Jane Sutherland, which was great experience. I have also moved my studio home, so I get to work at night which I love. Now I am fully focussed on my label again and launching something new at this year’s Fashfest!
Why is sustainability and an environmentally friendly approach to fashion so important to your design process?
I feel it is something we as consumers and designers can no longer ignore – according to the Danish Fashion Institute (2013), the fashion industry is the second most polluting on the planet, after the petroleum industry. The current ‘fast fashion’ model of mass production and consumption generates a phenomenal amount of waste (both pre and post consumer), environmental degradation and human exploitation – the Rana Plaza collapse of 2013 where over 1100 garment workers were killed really drove home the human cost of the fashion industry into the public eye. For me from an ethical and moral point of view it’s a no brainer, and I’d like to see sustainability in fashion as the norm rather than the niche.
I saw that you recently purchased your first bolt of virgin fabric for your label. In an age where many designers are insisting on new fabrics for each collection, how has this come about? How are you able to use existing materials so well, and is there a different design process for these pieces?
As much as I love to deconstruct existing garments, I felt like there was something missing from my label. It is extremely difficult to create a complete line of clothing just using clothing, especially to produce more than one off pieces. Upcycling is still very much a niche in the fashion industry and I felt that I had a very narrow market to work in. Within my own personal style I like to wear one upcycled piece with a simple garment or outfit to compliment it but often couldn’t find what I wanted.. so I decided to design a range of limited edition, everyday garments that can be worn with the more eye catching upcycled pieces. This range will be ongoing throughout the seasons, the idea is to have a high quality classic range with less need for ‘new’ fabrics each time.
The process of upcycling is much like a three dimensional jigsaw – using existing structures and details together is something I find both inspiring and challenging, and I often see an idea when playing around with an existing garment. It is a more organic process for me and the way my mind works I suppose. When designing a garment from flat cloth the process is much more streamlined for me, from concept to patternmaking and then through to the final construction – I have to admit it has been rather enjoyable for a change!
Is there any hope that one day you’ll introduce a line of redesigned, preloved denim pieces to your collection this year?
Not this year unfortunately, but menswear is definitely on the cards in the future! Currently I am refining my womenswear and honing my brand aesthetic and plan to add menswear or more gender fluid pieces to Melanie Child.
Of course you had to know that this question was coming, but what can you tell us about the inspiration behind your collection for Fashfest this year?
Like most of my collections, they evolve and are inspired by previous ones – I like to think of my label as a continual progression rather than separate collections each season. This collection takes inspiration from a recent couture collection that was created entirely using denim jeans, and includes two of the original outfits. The humble pair of jeans are one of the most produced pieces of clothing on the planet, worn by people from all walks of life. This makes them personal and relatable to the wearer and viewer, each pair has a story of the person who wore them. This is why I think denim has become a signature for my label, its so relatable. The concept of a collection of stories, a reinterpretation of a modern classic garment and the bringing together of ‘mass individualism’ in a visually striking way are the main themes, I hope you enjoy it!
You can see Melanie Child during ‘Furore’, opening night, Thursday 29 September, 8.30 pm.