Monday, 10 June 2013

Vintage Fashion Shoot

This is an unashamed  opportunity to talk about some of the amazing people who worked on Grace's first fashion shoot and brought the range to life. If you’re anything like me, you’ll  love seeing and hearing about what went on behind the scenes.

The Modelling Team  (in no particular order because we love them all)

Holly  Student and daughter of Genette from our Make-up Team

Annette  Author, Speaker, Black Belt Mentor and Aspirational Strategy Coach, Positive Business Philosophy for Conscious Entrepreneurs

Clare  from front of house at Sally Montague

Abi from ModelZed Promotions, Leicester

Clare, trained actress, now runs and lead singer with vintage swing band Swingtime Songbird and the Sophisticats. 

As you can see, we worked with one professional model and four other talented real women. I’m sure they won’t mind my mentioning their ages ranging from teenage to twenties, thirties forties and sixties…all beautiful.

On the day, everything kicked off with hair prep and the talent behind the hair design and creation is Chris Gregory. He is Creative Director at The Sally Montague Salon in Belper, Derbyshire.

Then up to the make-up team at Esteem Beauty Therapy at Sally Montague,  where skilled make-up artists Genette and Nicola apply gorgeous vintage make and nail colour inspired by the forties. 

Nicola and Genette in action in their salon and Abi’s finished make-up…love the strong brow, neutral eyes and red lips!
Back to have hair finished with Chris and over to Nourish at No44 for the shoot.  Nourish is one one of Belper’s latest restaurants; bustling cafĂ© by day and candlelit bistro by night. The owners generously let us borrow their premises under the watchful eye of Chris Gregory, baker extraordinaire....wait, surely Chris did the hair! Yes, Chris divides his time between beautiful hair and scrumptious cakes.
Chris's deliciously stunning cakes and biscuits are sold at Nourish at No44 and I know that they're yummy as we all sampled them at the end of the shoot. Find Nourish at 44 King Street, Belper, Derbyshire.
All hair and make up done, cakes set up around the restaurant and over to Sarah, our artistic and expert photographer...I could tell you a lovely story about Sarah but I'll save that for another blog...
The modelling team wearing tops from Grace's range and enjoying afternoon tea and cake at Nourish. A huge thank you to everyone who helped me so very generously.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

No longer a Project but a Brand called Grace - For Real Women (with real bodies)

As discussed in the previous blog after planning and research and pondering on aspects that I didn't like about the fashion industry during twenty years plus of working in it, my own business was to encompass all positive developments and changes in clothing design and manufacture.

Body Image

Caryn Franklin was one of the many people to inspire me. Franklin, along with Debra Bourne and Erin O'Connor formed 'All Walks Beyond The Catwalk' which launched at London Fashion Week in 2009. Their voluntary campaigning questions the press and fashion industry about the use of models who promote the idea that people should conform to unrealistic body ideals. They campaign for the use of a diverse range of body shapes and models of different ages.Their work now includes parliamentarian campaigns and initiatives to promote diversity and individuality. They are also involved in educating young designers to design and fit garments on a range of body sizes, not just on the smallest sizes or the dreaded size zero.

It's Personal

Their work makes so much sense to me as I clearly remember standing in my own college's design studio when I was a 17 year old fashion student and being passed over as a suitable candidate for fellow students to fit onto, as my healthy size 12 frame was considered too big. I can clearly pinpoint this as the moment my own body hang ups began. From this little put down came a lifetime of small weight battles and inevitable weight gain. I know that I am not alone with the constant internal struggle to accept myself as I am. I have heard plenty of slim, attractive women complain about different aspects of their bodies. I was, however stunned to read that Cindy Crawford who is famous for being one of the original super models is hoping to be able to accept her own body by the time she is fifty. Wow, what hope for the rest of us?! We are bombarded with images of extremely slim models, actresses, celebrities and presenters. We are so used to seeing super slim women in the press, that we don't even notice that this is not the norm for most women. Instead, we think that our own bodies are too big whatever our size. How often do we hear women describing certain foods as naughty?

We often see curvier role models in the limelight but what happens to them? The press and other celebrities highlight and sneer at their healthy curves and all too often these ladies are pressured into losing weight. I could name names here but that would be joining in with an unpleasant attitude. I try and teach my children not to make any comments about  anyone's body whatever their shape. Of course a woman's size is her personal choice and good health should be a serious consideration but I can't think of more than a couple of positive female role models who are more than a size 10.

The Future for Body Image

Thanks to the work which Caryn Franklin and the All Walks team continue to do, we are beginning to see some shift in attitude. Their message has influenced brands as diverse as Lanvin and M & S.

Grace designs for real women and we fit and represent real women. When we searched for a curvy model to represent the Grace brand, we were shocked to see model agencies placing size 12 girls in the plus size bracket. Many agencies don't have models bigger than a size 10. Size 10 is three sizes below the national average, size 16.  We have no prejudice against women who are very slim and healthy. We're also not too keen on plus ranges where curvier ladies are given polite 'big' labels and branding. How does that make a curvy lady feel? Well it says you're big so you're excluded from the mainstream but here's some XXL for you. There are so many perceptions which really should change in our opinion. Let's give women their self-esteem back by representing them with models in real shapes and sizes! Grace  design and fit size 6-8 up to 22-24.

The next blog talks about our first shoot, our lovely real women and the talented professionals we worked with.

Note about sizes. The sizes I discuss here are from the British sizing system. For example a UK 12 is a US 10.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Where Did My Sustainable Project Go???!!

Well it actually went much further than I first planned. To be frank, I was enjoying blogging, tweeting and researching great developments in the clothing industry. I wanted to start a project quite quickly but when I actually started the venture which I talked about in this blog spot last year, I felt like I was doing something too simplistic. I was going to use my creative skills to decorate responsibly sourced silk scarves. I quickly realised, I was selling myself short. Instead of embarking on this quick and easy, project, I decided to put more effort into a bigger range of garments and to follow my clothing passion. Quick fixes and sustainable fashion don't really belong together in the same sentence anyway.

I spent much more time researching and sourcing the things I care about. Using responsibly sourced materials  was my starting point and as I love all things knitted this was to be good quality jersey wear. I looked closer at organic farming and using organic cotton became something I couldn't compromise on. Damaging  farmers' health and livelihoods was not something I could knowingly support in any way. I would recycle where possible but my main range would not be about recycling clothes as this is not my passion and I believe it's being done well elsewhere.

 I cut my teeth designing for the British High Street in a local, Derbyshire knitwear factory . In 2012 whilst busy developing my thoughts, Mary Portas identified a gap in the market for British made clothes  in her 'Bottom Line' programme for channel 4. She successfully launched her 'Kinky Knickers' range from a British factory. This fell in line with my ethics, as British made clothes will not be cheap enough to become landfill fodder. Affordable luxury is clearly sustainable. From my own early experiences of working in UK factories, I instantly recognised the benefits of working within the UK compared to importing from overseas. Managing a small British range would mean I could respond to what my customers really want in their wardrobes, by working closely with local suppliers, and having the major bonus of  reducing my carbon footprint.

My ethical passions are very nice but what benefits can I bring to my customer? For me there is an obvious answer to this question. From being a teenager, through a couple of decades and now into my forties, I have consistently struggled to find a good range of  ladies tops which work well in any situation.  I'm talking about a top which is comfortable and flattering, which could be dressed up or down with the right co-ordinates and accessories. A good quality top which will really work for real women. Women of all shapes need good tops not just the minority who have idealistic bodies. (I now also note most women have some kind of body hang up.) Why isn't the High Street catering for us and representing us without giving us horrible labels? By this I mean politely named outsize ranges and the dreaded L and XL. Aren't we just real women looking for great clothes?

So my blogging pause is due to hard work creating a new sustainable business...not a little project. More to be revealed.....

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Why bother with Organic Cotton?

I love wearing and designing with cotton, particularly knitted cotton in the form of cotton jersey. I cannot imagine life without t-shirts and the soft drape of good quality cotton jersey for styled tops and dresses. Cotton takes on many forms, from my own favourite knitted jersey to woven cotton turned into clothing and a vast array of cottons used for interior textiles.

Picture of International Cotton Production (Figures from Index Mundi)

I have trawled through plenty of information about cotton production and it would be easy to summarise other organisations'/organic manufacturers' thoughts as their arguments are quite compelling but I wanted to start this with a clear picture of where cotton is grown and the quantities which are produced.

Total World Production estimated for 2012 - 7,619,500 tonnes

1.China          29.2%
2.India           21.27%
3.USA           14.19%
4.Pakistan      7.76%
5.Brazil            5.25%
6.Uzbekistan   3.75%
7.Australia        3.5%
8.Turkey            2.17%
9.Turkmenistan 1.33%
10.Greece          0.96%
The remainder of world cotton production is divided between 67 different countries and totals   10.62%

You may be interested to note that Egypt, which I believed to be one of the top ten major cotton producers accounts for less than 0.5% of world cotton production  but when you consider the weight of cotton they produce, 112,115.5 tonnes per year, it's not an insignificant amount. It seems that I am not in the minority with my love of cotton.

Agricultural land used for cotton crops account for 2.5% of total global agricultural land yet 10% of all pesticides and 22% of all insecticides are used in the cotton growing process. Many of these are extremely toxic  with 3 being in the dirty dozen banned (but still in use) by 120 countries at a UNEP conference in 2001. Five are thought to be probable carcinogens. Aerial spraying is frequently used which means potential drift onto farm workers, neighbouring wildlife and communities

Human Cost

The World Trade Organisation estimates that 20,000 deaths and 3 million chronic health problems are caused by using agricultural pesticides. This does not take into account  the illnesses which are not classified as chronic. The Soil Association state that 77 million cotton workers are poisoned from pesticides each year.

Cost to the Environment

Conventional cotton production uses more water than organic methods and relies on mono-crop culture. Toxicity travels right through the cycle of conventional cotton production from the seeds being treated with fungicide to pesticide/insecticide use during growing time through to the defoliating of the cotton crop with toxic chemicals. Whilst the developing world is blamed for the use of these chemicals, the USA uses approximately 70% GMO cotton. GM company Monsanto also controls 95% of the cotton seed market in India.

Heavy pesticide use reduces biodiversity, disrupts eco systems and contaminates water supplies. Pests also build up a resistance to the pesticides so each year, the farmers increase pesticide quantities to try and achieve a consistent crop yield.

Debt Spiral - More Human Cost

The additional pesticide increases the farmers' production costs and leads to severe poverty. This is so extreme that in some parts of India, this has meant that thousands of farmers have committed suicide

The Benefits of Organic Cotton

Some of the benefits are pretty obvious. Organic cotton farming doesn't use pesticides or GM seed. This hugely benefits the cotton workers, local communities and the environment.

Benefits for Farmers

Organic farmers clearly enjoy better health than their counterparts who expose themselves to chemical poisoning. As organic farming entails the cultivation of a diverse range of crops to maintain healthy soil, this also means that the  farmers are less exposed  to price volatility, changes in market demand and climate variation. This leads to a better income and life for the farmers.

Healthy Soil & Water Supply 

Organic soil is healthy as crops are rotated. This healthy soil also retains water better than non organic soil which is therefore better during drought and preserves precious water. Water pollution does not occur.
Organic practices turn the soil into a carbon sink which absorbs CO2

Weed control is done physically by hand instead of with chemicals. There is a balance between pests and their natural predators. Biological and cultural practices are used to control pests. 'Trap Crop' may be used to lure harmful insects away from the cotton crop.

Sustainability & Combating Climate Change

Eliminating the use of manufactured fertilisers and pesticides and reducing nitrogen inputs, organic cotton growing produces up to 94% less greenhouse gas emissions. As mentioned above, CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere by healthy organic soils which absorb carbon.
Organic farming uses less energy.

"Research shows that organic agriculture is a good option for food security...and is more sustainable in the long term"     United Nations Conference of Trade & Development.

Growing Demand for Organic Products

When I first started sourcing organic cotton I thought I would find boring ecru fabric which felt a little rough. Happily, I was wrong, the organic clothes and fabric I have discovered in the last couple of years are smooth and soft to wear and show no visible signs of a 'do gooder' badge.

The organic cotton business is small but developing. According to a report by Textile Exchange, 2010 Global Market Report on Sustainable Textiles, global sales of organic cotton apparel and home textile products reached an estimated $5.16 billion in 2010. This reflects a 20 percent increase from the 2009 market. Organic cotton now equals 0.7 percent of global cotton production.  

It's not difficult to see why there is a growing demand for organic products. In the clothing sector, good organic clothes can be more difficult to find and a little more expensive but when you look at the whole picture, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. With increased consumer awareness and desire, the availability of organic clothes will increase as retailers and e-tailers bend towards their customers' desire for organic cottons.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

When Designing Lingerie, is the Fit Model Important?

"The choice of house model will directly affect your company's profitability, sales and perceived style of your product" David Morris De Montfort University, Leicester.

The model you use to fit bra designs should reflect the final customer in age and body shape. The following variables should be considered :-

  •  Lifestyle including diet and exercise regime
  • Ethnic background
  • Age
  • Hormonal activity
  • Thickness and elasticity of skin
  • Generic inheritance
The age of  your model is very important when looking at a bra's underband measurement. The under 28's do not have a fixed breast plate so their underband measurement varies throughout the day. The underband measurement on a woman under the age of 28 can be 2.5cm bigger after eating a meal and conversely 2.5cm smaller just before a meal time.

 Once you have found your house model, detailed measurements, describing the model's shape should be taken:-

  • Measurement between 2 bust points
  • Measurement from bust point to sternal notch
  • Measurement from bust point to breast root (to help with bottom cup fit)
  • Width across each breast (Centre front to breast root) 

A flexi curve should be used to trace the shape of the model's breast root to establish/confirm the correct bra  wire.

The above measurements should be used when creating patterns and checked with the model at each fit stage in the design and technical process.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Custom Dress for a September Bride

The work started in May; a quiet meeting with the bride to exchange thoughts. Florence brought her ideas on paper and I brought my notebook, tape measure and fairtrade, organic and sustainable swatches.

Next came working drawings and a further discussion, focusing on fabric choice and design detail. This included a request for a baby bridesmaid dress.

Several fittings and many design decisions later, my beloved mannequin, Deidre is modelling the dress. I have to point out that Deidre is a little fuller figured than the bride....oh boy did the perfect tape take some sourcing....the final and best version arriving days before the wedding.....

And the big day arrives.......just the chapel and by the sunshine!

What is the gorgeous baby girl wearing???

The bride with my babes. A truly beautiful bride....thank you for the commission  and the day!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Value of Good Research

I have never been good at science or at least I thought not. Perhaps this is more to do with the way the subject was taught when I was at school. I have just watched this year's Dimbleby Lecture from Sir Paul Nurse and I am inspired. I hope that one of my young daughters becomes interested in science. The lecture takes 45 minutes but it's well worth a viewing
If you prefer to read the lecture,

What has all this got to do with Fashion and Fashion Auntie I hear you ask?

"Today the UK is second only to the USA in contributions to the world’s 
science, and is probably first in terms of cost efficiency. This is an amazing 
achievement for our country. 

Science is one of Britain’s greatest resources. In the future we will not be able to compete on the world stage with low labour costs or by exploiting vast reserves of mineral 
resources. We will have to compete with our brains and with our science.
Many features important for good science are well embedded in the 
UK. We have a tradition of respect for empiricism, emphasising reliable 
observation and experiment"
                                         Sir Paul Nurse - Dimbleby Lecture 28th February

If you read the small excerpt above you the words science could design  be interchangeable.

The final two words observation and experiment. Observation is a research method. Experiment is another way of describing a creative process.  For me, research drives good design, whether you are researching a market you wish to design for, a question or problem which needs to be answered, trend intelligence, or looking for aesthetic inspiration. I have always found my best designs flow when I have done my research in a thorough and inspired way.

The other really important aspect related to design is researching and sourcing the best materials (hoping,we're all thinking sustainable here!)

The point is if you carry out your own research you're creating your own unique design, not some weak imitation of someone else's work. Let's all explore with inquiring, creative minds......