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Designer rubbish

Matilda Lee

15th December, 2008

‘Recycling since 1997’ reads its motto. This year, two tonnes of fashion waste was diverted from landfill and into the funky, fresh designs of the From Somewhere label.

It started as Venetian-born designer Orsola de Castro’s refusal to throw out a cherished sweater inherited from her grandmother, then evolved into a business customising secondhand cashmere cardigans retrieved from flea markets and charity shops. Her signature feature was to crochet or sew on buttons or pieces of fabric onto holes or stains.

Her break came when MILES, a famous Italian fabric manufacturer, offered her their damaged goods. Eyeing up their rubbish, she asked for that too. ‘I was given anything from production cuts to fabric colour charts. In my mind, they were throwing away gold dust.’

Scouring the rubbish bins of Northern Italy undercover wasn’t long-lived, as other manufacturers realised that From Somewhere could act as a free waste disposal service – and give them good PR. ‘We started off as a pain in the ass. Now we are providing a service.’

She currently receives rubbish from manufacturers providing for Marc Jacobs, Sonia Rykiel, Valentino and Burberry, to name a few. Sewn together, these offcuts create a wholly unique mix of cashmere, silk, cotton, jersey and tweed, in colourful recurrent themes. ‘They are profoundly different but exactly the same,’ she says.

Boxes and bits of fabric litter their West London studio. Is there any method to the madness? ‘Themed’ fabrics are packed up in boxes to send to the seamstresses. One may be filled with different shades of red and brown, or variations of striped blues. The seamstresses are instructed to take certain amounts from specific boxes – so they pick and cut, pick and cut and then assemble, giving them a certain amount of control over the final product.

'We sold 2,000 pieces last year. If we ever did 10,000, we might be taking care of all the fabric waste from Northern Italy alone. I dread to think about the rest of the world’, Orsola says.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist December 2006


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