In the lead up to Fashion Revolution Week, Sarah Richards of Olive Road interviews Fabrications founder and Ecological textile upcycler, Barley Massey, who has been championing the reuse and refashioning of clothes for 20 years from her Fabrications shop in Broadway Market. Sarah caught up with Barley for a cup of tea and an inspiring chat on the philosophy of Upcycling.
Barley’s shop and the buzzing Broadway Market have come a long way since Hackney council were offering reduced rents in the late 1990’s to bring new life to the area. ‘The Shop side is an evolution’ Barley explains, ‘I wanted a studio space and thought a widow on the world would be a valuable addition’. We make our way from the ground level shop, down stairs to her bright basement studio. ‘At each stage I introduced new elements keeping the fit sustainable and local, incorporating recycling and upcycling. To me it seemed obvious’ I admire the multi coloured curtains made of a rainbow of old ties and sewing machines, fabric and threads all neatly packed away in vintage crates. Working with a limited budget to set up her shop, Barley recommends ‘when you are using old things, you can do it for free. Having fewer choices to work with is when you become more creative.’
Barley pops the kettle on to make us tea. The kettle belonged to her Nan and fits perfectly in the studio created from old rather than new. ‘Both my grandmothers were of the “make do and mend’ generation. They got me started on this journey and taught me a lot of skills at a young age. They had tins of things that they collected. Nothing was wasted. Even when a garment had seen better days, they would cut off all the buttons and trims. Creating an amazing stash of all these bits and bobs that I would love looking through’.
Before opening her own shop and studio, Barley was costume making for TV and film. Sands films in Rotherhithe were really good at reusing things. They sourced old textiles, collected old patchwork and lace and reused it. I learnt tips such as using scraps of textiles to make it look like original Elizabethan embroidery.’
The Upcycling Circle
It is humbling to learn that Barley was ‘upcycling’ before the term was coined by William Mcdonough and Michael Braungart in their book Cradle to Cradle. Barley explains ‘taking valuable resources without replenishing, we use lots of energy to make things. Resulting in wasting further resources and pollution. We then throw away this valuable resource that we could still be using. Disposing of things also generates toxins. Mcdonough and Braungart describe recycling as downgrading. Recycling uses up more resources to recycle and yet the material will never be as good as it once was. Upcycling adds value and becomes better. It has less environmental impact.’ Barley uses the analogy of the circle to explain what upcyling means to her ‘A circle is a profound symbol. It is a cycle with no beginning or end: the unity, the one.
Viewers of last year’s Stacey Dooley BBC documentary ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secret’ and the recent Government Environmental Audit Committee interim report are starting to bring about consumer awareness into fast fashion’s toxic waste. ‘We used to have two fashion seasons Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter but now there are 52 micro seasons packed into the year, persuading people to buy more and cheaply. The price of clothes do not reflect the true cost of the fast fashion culture. In 2013 we witnessed the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh where over 1000 garment workers lost their lives due to working in a known unsafe building. It brought about awareness of the unsafe working conditions and poor pay associated with producing cheap clothes to unrealistic deadlines.’ Fashion Revolution is a global movement that was created in response to this disaster. They encourage consumers to ask their favourite brands “Who Made My Clothes?”. Last year’s campaign reached nearly 200,000 people.
The first time Barley witnessed the sheer size of the problem of fast fashion was at a LMB textile waste collection site and she was shocked! ‘For me it was eye opening to the volume of textile waste we are currently producing. 200 tons is processed through this 3rd generation family business every week and they only collect within the M25. You really start to see with your own eyes what that kind of clothes waste looks like. A lot of the clothes hadn’t been worn and still had their labels on. Many of our unwanted clothes are being exported overseas’.
Repair and Renewal
Admiring Barley’s shirt made from a khaki and leopard print cotton, she tells me she created it from two men’s shirts. ‘I don’t buy new clothes any more. I refashion new clothes from charity shop finds and items people give me’. Barley’s jeans were brand new picked up in a charity shop on the Walworth Road, original packaging still intact. Barley often hosts Hackathons where teams of sewers work together to create new outfits from old clothes. All with added time preasure, as contestants would on the Great British Sewing Bee. ‘I aim it at a younger audience to encourage children and teenagers to sew in a creative environment’. Barley also works with WRAP on their ‘Love Your Clothes’ campaign and volunteers at Repair Cafes for Hackney council and Restart to teach people to repair their clothes. I first met Barley when I attend a ‘Refresh your Wardrobe’ workshop at Fabrications ‘If you are trying to save money, it is expensive to get a repair done. I teach people to see potential in clothes and refashion them or repair them into a look they might not have thought was possible. It is good for the environment and the person gets more use out of their favourite item of clothing’.
Four years ago Barley discovered the New Acropolis Cultural Association, introducing her to timeless ideas from East and West philosophy. ‘Ideas that have guided humanity for centuries. My Remember Me service’ brings together my love of wisdom and the love of making and upcycling. Working with people’s emotions and thoughts, people bring in clothes that have sentimental value, it might be from a lost loved one or their children’s first items. ‘I work with that person to create a special object. Where there is a lost loved one, people are experiencing grief. We create something positive and transformative. It helps them in a theraputic way through a difficult time. There is upcycling taking place on an invisible level as well as creating a physical item from that grief.’ For example, a gentleman customer lost his wife in childbirth. He wanted to pass on her clothes to their daughter who is now 27. He had never found the right moment but heard about Barley’s Remember Me service and asked Barley to make a quilt for his daughter from his wife’s clothes. ‘It is a real honour to be asked to do such a thing, such a priviledge’.
Following the upcycling philosophy, renewing of textiles can connect us to beauty. Barley and her team had a ‘immersive experience’ in creating a garden in Covent Garden. Using old shirts and jeans, they made flowers in the centre of London only using old textiles. ‘trying to recreated flowers was quite challenging. I had to analyse a flower in order to create one and realised what an amazing creation it is. It is so perfect, harmonious and balanced. I learnt a lot about beauty and struggled to get the essence of the flower using recycled clothing. 300 roses were formed out of shirts. Cuffs used for the edge with the button in the centre. Delphiniums born from grating the edges of denim patches. It was important to replicate the essence of the flower but still have the clothing elements visible.’
At a recent upcycling lecture, Barley is asked how to create and work with materials when time is so short. This resonated with me. I attended a Moody Bright Design embroidery workshop at Fabrications last summer. I lost all track of time and enjoyed complete mindfulness as I learnt new stitches and created flowers from coloured thread. Barley advises ‘there is a perception that there is not enough time but there is. We don’t have to engage in a fast pace of life. We have choices and we can step away from it. Any kind of change happens with the individual and then you inspire others with your own way of being’. I recommend spending a half or a full day at a Fabrications workshop. The wide range of classes all relate back to the upcycling theme. The welcoming energy of the space installs a sense of calm and fun whilst creating something new from old.
Join Fabrications & Offset Warehouse at their “Refresh your Wardrobe” event for Fashion Revolution Week on Thursday 25th April. Bring along a couple of items of clothing for a creative makeover with Barley and guests Rachel Kan (Style Yourself Sustainably) Sarah Klimkiw (Worn Well) & Tree (Stitchless TV)
Sarah Richards runs an independent vintage fabric shop called Olive Road London. It is named after the street her Grandparents lived on for 60 years, a small house with many stories to tell. She is passionate about reusing these beautiful fabrics and saving them from adding to the textile waste issue. Sarah also enjoys sharing her sewing skills with others and runs a weekly workshop with her friend Elanor in East London called ‘Fast Fashion Therapy’.