“If I didn’t do sustainable fashion, I wouldn’t work in fashion,” notes fashion designer Lizzie Harrison over the phone from her base in Bristol. “My values were there before I became a designer and a business owner, it’s just fundamentally what I believe in.” It’s not surprising then that her clothing label Antiform began life as her solution to the miscellany of garments produced by a house of six student girls. Whilst studying fashion at Leeds College of Art, Lizzie established a community shop in the Hyde Park area of the city where local residents could sell things they had made, and her contribution was a fashion line made from her housemates’ fashion leftovers.
Fast forward 12 years and Antiform now produces clothes from a much wider palette than just unloved student garments. “We have worked with such a range,” Lizzie recalls. “Old clothes that are damaged, interior waste like curtains and table cloths, quilting fabrics, lace, doilies, leather and industrial waste. Also, pre-consumer waste like test strips, test weaves, off-cuts from factories and roll ends that have sat redundant for 20 years.” The design process begins with this varied collection of materials, creating an aesthetic that is eclectic, uniting contrasting prints with slouchy fabrics. Yorkshire tweed finds new life in the centre of a sweatshirt and shimmering gold fabric rescued from an old factory makes it onto a party dress after all.
Of course, starting with landfill bound fabrics doesn’t mean the rest of the production process is waste free. Early in Antiform’s existence, Lizzie had an important epiphany: “I was potentially producing things that they themselves might become waste – which will always be the case – but I realised that part of my job as a fashion designer had to be to mitigate that.” Consequently, Lizzie works hard to minimise the waste Antiform creates, producing collections that run until they sell out rather than until the season changes. She even turned Topshop and ASOS down when they were looking to add upcycled style to their rails. “I knew that wasn’t really heading towards the goal of sustainable fashion as I see it. Those clothes would have been piled high, sold cheap with no infrastructure around them to really think about the whole lifecycle.”
A central part of Lizzie’s sustainable vision actually has nothing to do with selling Antiform clothes. If she could make one big change to the industry, she doesn’t choose mass consumption of her fashion label but the ability to “find a way to live well with what we have.” In 2008, Lizzie founded the Leeds Community Clothing Exchange to enable the city to share clothing rather than rely on buying new. The project is now on its fourth generation of lead volunteers. “New sustainable clothes are such a small part of the story, but they get so much air time and we really promote it. Actually, the real art in sustainable fashion is living with the stuff that has already been produced.”
Visit http://www.antiformonline.co.uk to shop the Antiform collection.