Before even finishing her final year at King’s College London, Tabby stumbled upon upcycling. After sewing and selling 500 masks during lockdown, reconsidered was born. Upcycling is the creative reuse and transformation of waste materials or unwanted garments into a newly perceived product of equally great quality with artistic and environmental value. Since launching re_considered, Tabby has introduced the concept of slow fashion to many individuals and was even recently recommended by Vogue.
What made you start an upcycling brand?
I wanted to change because I wanted to alter my shopping habits where, every week, I was looking for something new and I didn’t know or care about where the clothes I was buying were coming from. I always thought I had nothing in my wardrobe, but I had a massive wardrobe full of clothes. I didn’t know what to wear; I was always bored. I’d buy something, only wear it once and forget about it or it went out of fashion. I was in that whole mindset of continually wanting to replace and buy more. Then, over lockdown, I had a bit more time to go over some sewing, which I had done for quite a long time as a side thing. Because I couldn’t go out to buy fabric, I used my Gran’s box of old duvet covers and table cloths to make designs. From then on, I thought I’d use these as fabric instead. Later, I thought about using the old clothes in my wardrobe, changing them up. After some time, I started posting about what I was doing on Instagram and realised there was a whole slow fashion world out there, which I didn’t know much about. In this way, I realised there were not only environmental issues in the fashion industry but social issues. Therefore, I started the brand.
What made you come up with upcycled?
I was taking what my Gran had, combined with what I had and found out this process was called upcycling. I didn’t set about to upcycle things, I just found out that what I was doing was that.
So, you kind of touched on this but, what is upcycling?
Upcycling is transforming or rejuvenating an item that already exists because it is similar to recycling. But recycling means that the finished product that you make hasn’t got any resemblance to the product that you started with. So, upcycling you’re changing it up and giving it a new life, but you’re keeping the essence of what it used to be. I think that is what is so lovely about upcycled clothes is that you can see what the clothes used to be and they have a story.
Do you think it’s better to use sustainable fabrics or upcycle?
I think with sustainable fabrics, the intent is really good but you are still making more things and we already have so many things. With sustainable fabrics, if they are recycled fabrics, then I think that is good other than the fact that it takes a lot of energy to make the recycled materials so that is your carbon footprint there. With sustainable fabrics and brands that say they’re ‘sustainable’, however, they’re still asking you to buy more. I think that is a bit of an issue. It’s all about consumerism. I even feel hypocritical with my pop-up shops which is why I try to keep the collections tiny and just as inspiration for customers.
Sometimes the design has to be done around the fabric that you have rather than the design and then finding the fabrics as you’re always going to get to a point where your garment is not sustainable but you love the design. So, if you start with the fabrics that you have, you will not get so precious about your design and not be able to make it sustainably. For example, Pantee Underwear makes lingerie from upcycled t-shirts. But it isn’t always sexy enough though. So, the problem you can face is that sustainable lingerie is not sexy enough.
But the main problem with the fashion industry is that it mass produces- thousands and thousands of units a day. Whilst a small brand does it on a smaller scale, keeping wastage lower and even making to order.
How do you upcycle? What is the process? Do you design first?
So, I don’t usually design first as I always want the designs that I have to come from the items as they were first. First, either a customer using my service will bring me an item that they want to be changed and we’ll design it together, and then I’ll make it. Or with my collections, I have a load of old materials that people have donated or I’ve found in charity shops or vintage shops and I just look at what I have and think of what I can change these into that will make people love them again?
For the tie-back tops, I used a pattern that I made when I was sixteen and people really liked them. To make the tops upcycled, I make them from old pillowcases, duvet covers or anything that can be quilted.
Is upcycling not just prolonging the fact that materials will eventually end up in landfills?
I don’t think so because what I try to do with my service at least is that I want to show people how to re-use their clothes and continue loving them. So, by talking about upcycling and by talking about the fact that you shouldn’t be buying more, but upcycle. I think this educates people on the fact that they should be upcycling/recycling rather than replacing things and sending things to landfills when it’s not necessary. Something which I try and push with all the clothes that I make is to explain how to wash the garments properly, how to look after them, how to not wash them too much and the fact that garments can have multiple different lives. Upcycling an item once is not enough. Say five years down the line you’re not wearing the thing that I upcycled five years ago, come and get it re-done again and we’ll turn it into something new. I think these fabrics, yes over time disintegrate and get worn down, but we can always make something new of that.
We also make the earrings out of the waste fabric we are left with.
That is something I am extremely passionate about is seeing waste and opportunity rather than such an obstacle that we have to get over, seeing it as annoying it is. Surely, we should look at what we have and appreciate how exciting it is and what we can do with it and what we can turn it into.
The thing that I worry about is some of the items that I upcycle for people are made from bad quality materials because they are things that they bought from fast fashion brands and that sometimes make me sad as I know the fabric that I’m using will probably break soon and they’ll probably have to get it repaired again.
Do you tell people that straight away?
Not necessarily because so far, I haven’t had anything awful that will break immediately. But I do warn people. For example, someone dropped off a dress the other day that had ripped at the seam. She just wanted it repaired and not upcycled. However, I did warn her that she’d have it repaired and then next week she’d come back to me with the same problem again because it would have ripped somewhere else. From this, we should all learn that we need to start shopping for good quality and long-lasting things rather than clothes that are cheap but short-lasting.
How did you balance university with your business?
[Laughs] I didn’t. I found it really tough. Really, really tough with lots of burnouts and meltdowns.
Especially as it was my third year, and final year, at university.
I really didn’t think about it and then I only gave myself a month off to do exams and then I was straight back at it when I stopped. I would like to learn how to manage work and my life more.
But, we have a team now and it’s so lovely to have help with marketing, some seamstresses help me on a project by project basis. I also have some friends that have joined me this week for free. So, it gets better.
So, the answer to that question was that I didn’t but I came out on the other side and I’m really proud of what I got in my degree and I’m glad I did it.
How does upcycling help the environment?
Upcycling, for every garment that you upcycle, you are prolonging its life. So, you are reducing the carbon emissions that that garment embodies (check whether this wording is correct) and educating people on the fact that one item of clothing shouldn’t be for one wear or one use. It also allows people to think creatively and how we can use what we already have to reduce the number of things that we have going to landfill.
How do you stand out from other upcycling brands?
I like to say that I’m not just an upcycling brand because the main part of re_considered is the service it provides. Helping people to shop their own wardrobe. Though I come up with mini-collections with designs that are my own, they’re only really there to inspire people and show them what can be done with upcycling. I don’t produce many of them as I feel a sort of hypocrisy with selling when I am trying to tell people to reuse things. so, we are different as we provide a service rather than telling people to keep buying our products.
Do you have a consultation with your clients?
Yes, that is the main thing. So, earlier today I had a ten-minute call with a girl who has a wedding dress that she wants changing into something more suitable for daytime wear. So, she’ll bring it in, I’ll upcycle it for her to wear as a completely new garment from something old that she’d never wear again.
What made you go from a Spanish/film degree (at King’s College London) to upcycling?
[Laughs] I didn’t choose to do that or the career path that I have now. I was always a bit confused as to what I’d do afterwards. The normal thing to do is go down the journalism route or research. I don’t think it ever excited me that much. The film part of my degree did, but it was always just theory and not making them. I always liked making things. This is what I discovered when I started upcycling then posting about it and then selling the garments. I realised I loved doing this and I had a purpose because it has an overall reason in the world and I get to make things all day. That is what I find really fun and why I chose to do it.
What are your signature designs?
The tie-back tops and the lampshade dresses. The thing is because I produce such a limited collection, I’m not sure that we have complete signature looks.
I think it does because it makes it more personal to your style and people can recognise the garments as ‘re_considered’ garments.
Did lockdown affect your business?
Yes, it is the only reason it exists really. It gave me time to start instead of what I thought I was doing. Because I wasn’t going into university all the time and there was a little less work as one module stopped exams.
Living in London, you spend so much of your day travelling and I was given back those two hours to sew. I could make a whole garment at that time. I was sometimes even making masks whilst in the background listening to my lectures. And I could do that rather than coming in and concentrating [laughs].
The Process of Upcycling a garment with re_considered:
Having purchased a fast fashion garment without trying it on, I risked the garment being too big for me. Which of course it ended up being. Due to this dilemma, I could not wear the dress as it was way too big for me at the bust. Rather than binning or giving the dress to a charity shop, where garments often end up in landfills faster, I decided to have the dress upcycled with re_considered.
The process was very easy and friendly. I sent a picture of the dress to Tabby, along with my measurements, and we arranged a call to discuss how I wanted to garment to be reborn. Originally, I was anticipating having a two-piece top and skirt. However, after dropping the dress off with Tabby and fiddling with the fabric, we both decided it would be best for the dress to be adapted into two crop tops that would be worn together or apart.
Once Tabby had made the tops, I made my way to her Somerset house studio (London) where they were tailored to my size. After this, the tops were delivered to my address a couple of days after and were ready to be finally worn. I am extremely thrilled with the result and so glad that I can finally wear the garment I purchased over a year ago in their reformed state. I would highly recommend Tabby’s warm and amazing service that caters to your needs as well as the environment.
To follow Tabby’s sustainable fashion ventures, follow her on Instagram and Facebook.