Single Mother Walking the Talk – Fashion

10th November 2014 by

This weekend, I watched a show called Extreme Cheapskates, for the first time, which led me to SuperScrimpers – and, do you know what I learnt?

I learnt that being conscious of our environment and saving money goes hand-in-hand. HURRAH! Now, this might already be incredibly obvious to you but as one of the newer members of the Otesha team, this was a revelation!

I always assumed that buying organic seasonal food was more expensive than shopping in a supermarket, that wearing vintage was only for trendsetters with money to burn and keeping my two children amused appropriately every weekend and school holiday was neigh on impossible without spending loads of money.

Absolutely great news for a single mother learning to walk the talk!

So walk beside me as I learn and change my family’s life, one step at a time.

My first subject (and huge passion): Fashion.


Shopping in your friend’s closets.

I’m massively lucky because my closest friends are all relatively the same size as me. When they are clearing their closets I make sure I’m sitting in the front row! I even offer to take their old stuff to the charity shop as a thank you – check me out!

When I have a special event such as a birthday meal or party, I beg and borrow clothes, bags, jewellery and shoes – that way my wardrobe has an amazing ‘rotation’ of dresses that never seem to be worn twice! Happy days.


Charity shops.

I love looking through the rails of a good charity shop. The sales assistants are always so friendly, you can always find amazing vintage and retro and as we all know, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure! And it’s cheap and cheerful and the money goes to a great cause!

Great for good quality bags, amazing chunky knit jumpers and vintage scarves.


Carboot sales.

Amazing for buying AND selling! A great day out for you and the family and you can haggle – super fun! I would recommend Capital Carboot in Pimlico on a Sunday.

A couple of weeks ago I got a pair of purple thigh high suede boots for a FIVER. Hardly worn, high quality and probably about £100 first hand in the shops. Not everyone’s cup of tea, sure – but hella 1970’s and beautiful for me!


Until next time!

Love, luck and light.


Fashion forward?

22nd May 2013 by

I wouldn’t really classify myself as a fashion-forward person. I don’t ‘shop till I drop’, take any notice of the upcoming seasons or Fashion Week and I generally hate wearing anything that has a label in sight. So that said, I would classify myself with more of the ‘make-do-and-mend’ category. Which brings me to my shoe story.
My shoes are falling apart and I wonder where to draw the line of giving them up vs mending them. Let’s start from the beginning.

I purchased the leather sneakers in 2010 from quite an expensive shop. I wouldn’t normally go in there but I was given a gift card. I was already torn from the start because:

a) although I’m not a vegetarian, I try not to purchase items which are made from leather. Most of their stock was leather.
b) I was curious about the ethics of the company.
c) I didn’t really need a new pair of shoes.
d) Should I just re-gift the gift card?

After much umming and awing I came to the conclusion that I would go and do it. I resolved myself by doing a bit of research and taking the plunge. Fast forward to the present and honestly they are the most comfortable sneakers I’ve ever had. I’ve worn them every single day and they’ve been really good to me thus far. I’ve realised DSC_0005that feet are very important, after all they support your whole body. I hadn’t been treating them very well and these sneakers were easing the pain. I’ve already taken them to a cobbler once to glue the fronts of the shoes back together and now the seams are breaking open and unfortunately the glue’s coming apart. My question now is what to do. Do I try to keep mending them? When do you let them go?

Fair and ethical fashion is quite a topic these last few decades, some would say not nearly enough. In light of the very recent tragedies in Bangladeshi clothing and shoe factories, the debate has heated up.  Here at Otesha, we have our very own workshop on getting ethical about fashion, we blog away about  it, and have alumni involved in brilliant fair fashion projects.  But how do I get into the act myself?

On our site, we’ve got a brilliant fun action list for Fashion.  I definitely try to keep to it although I’m the first to admit I’m not perfect.  Keep in mind our tips when going out and buying something.  And remember, you can make a difference out there in what you purchase.  And if you think you’ve got it all down, check out our challenges to keep pushing yourself towards sustainable living.

Sewing-Needle-and-ThreadFor now, I’m going to get my needle and thread out, ignore my friends teasing me about my gaping shoes and attempt to sew the holes together.  Wish me luck!

The Cotton Film: Dirty White Gold – When you bag a bargain, who pays for it?

30th September 2012 by

One of our Cycle Tours alumni Cressida Kinnear, is involved in an amazing and important film about cotton.  She so kindly offered to tell us her tales and background about Dirty White Gold.

One of my favourite Otesha workshops to facilitate is the fashion workshop – I love the part  when everyone in the group takes a look at the labels in their clothes and marks the ‘made in’ origin on a big world map. It’s a great way of visualising how globalised our wardrobes are and starkly displaying the imbalances within the supply chains that deliver our socks, skirts and shirts to our toes, bums and backs. The workshop goes on to raise discussions around the exploitation (see War on Want campaign against Olympic providers adidas) and the waste (500,000 tonnes of clothes end up in UK land fills every year) that are intrinsic to the supply chains behind fashion fads and luxurious labels.

Imagine one of those items of clothing festering in a landfill – a crumpled, dirty, white t-shirt. Zoom right in on it, further than the eye can see – to the individual matrix of threads that make up the material, and then imagine back along the production line to the seed that was sown to grow the cotton plant which produced the fibres of that thread. That seed is the start of the commodity chain and invisible on the map plotting where our clothes were made. There is a strong possibility that that seed was planted in India, where cotton is predominantly a small holder crop grown by the rural poor. In India, almost 300,000 farmers have committed suicide since the mid 1990s – a large proportion of those deaths are among cotton farmers.

These farmers are mostly killing themselves to escape debt – debts which are largely due to the ‘liberalisation’ of Indian trade policies from the early 1990s onwards and the corporate take over of small scale agriculture. This neo-liberal phase of policy has neglected agriculture (on which 60% of the population rely) by removing subsidies and exposing farmers to the volatility of the global market. Multinational corporations have been ushered into the Indian economy and now totally dominate the input market for growing cotton and seem negligent of the lives on which their commercial activities and continuing expansion impact. Increasingly severe droughts and soil degradation via pesticides (54% of the total pesticides in use in India are used on cotton, including many classified by the WTO as highly toxic) are making the situation worse.

These suicides are so far removed from the finished product which is strutted up and down a catwalk, or donned to keep cosy on a wintery walk that they almost seem removed from the supply chain of our clothes – which of course they are not – consumers are complicit in these deaths.

 The Cotton Film: Dirty White Gold is a documentary feature film by trouble maker and journalist Leah Borromeo which will tell the story of how we get out cotton and find out what we can do to, not just look good, but to do good. Filmed in the fields and factories of India and on the high streets and catwalks of London, it will trace the entire supply chain of cotton products, from seed to shop, exploring the roles played by all parties – from multinational seed companies and fashion empires to farmers who cultivate just a few acres of land. Issues including the intense use of pesticides, the debate around GM Bt cotton, fairly traded cotton and the viability of organic cotton production will be explored in a bid to answer the question – ‘When you bag a bargain, who’s paid for it?’.

Because the film is being made by Borromeo – friend of The Yes Men and The Space Hijackers – it’s not all cotton loom and doom. It may not be your average Saturday night date movie, but it will be quirky, funny and have a subversive twist – think Newsnight with some brandalism in the background.

The film has recently launched a crowdfund appeal, each £1 donated will unlock £3 in funding and there are loads of great rewards up for grabs including limited edition art works, t-shirts and tickets to future screenings.  Check out their trailer.

And click the link to find out more:

Spread the word and help a project aiming to make ethics and sustainability in the fashion industry the norm, rather than the exception.


Reduce, reuse, recycle… up-cycle!

8th December 2011 by

Guest blogger and friend of Otesha Alice Nicol gets us up to speed on the world of up-cycling, and argues that designers and businesses must put reduction of resource use at the heart of their work

In a world where we are continually putting strain on our resources, I have come to question what my role and impact is as a designer. For me, this means taking a holistic view and acknowledging the social and environmental impacts my choice of fabric has on the world. Which fibre did it start off as? Does it have longevity? Where will it end up?

One place to start is by working with what we already have, as using a material that already exists is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than buying new. Our stage of mass consumerism and fast fashion provides a mountain of perfectly usable cast-offs, for example… I am hinting at ‘Up-cycling.’

So what is up-cycling? In a nutshell, up-cycling means using materials with a low value to create a new product with a higher value. Essentially giving something old a new lease of life.

My up-cycling venture began whilst in my final year of printed textiles at the Glasgow School of Art. I wanted to print onto knitwear, yet knitting my own pieces (even from lovely chunky hemp/wool blends) was too timely and buying too costly. What could be used that, in both senses, didn’t cost the earth? My resolution to this conundrum was to venture into a charity shop, where suddenly I found many sizable pieces of knitwear for bargain prices. At the same time buying from charity shops means re-using a product, reducing shipping to external markets and supporting many a just cause through the likes of the Red Cross, Barnardo’s, Oxfam and Shelter, so much more than just bargain knitwear…

A few samples of printing onto re-claimed knit

But the material is only one part of textile design. My design work has been inspired by the bicycle ever since I wandered into the Glasgow Transport Museum and set eyes on the most beautiful penny-farthing I’d ever seen. Whilst I was influenced by the aesthetic design of bicycles (in all shapes and sizes), they also go hand in hand with reducing negative impacts on the environment. Bicycles have negligible carbon emissions, use few materials and resources and make us all that much fitter and healthier! (Though perhaps not all of us will ride a penny-farthing to work!)

Digitally printed silk handkerchiefs

But back to the knitwear… after using jumpers as material for my designs I began to think of other creative ways to use them. This started an enterprise of making hot water bottle covers from the sleeves and cushion covers from the main body. I also became curious about other designers in the world of up-cycling. This led me to discover Goodone, a company which I have been working for this year.

Goodone was established by Nin Castle in 2006 and has appeared at London Fashion Week for the past 6 seasons. Nin has recognized the need to address the environmental impact of the fashion industry and developed a method that is informed by the use of recycled fabrics, but not restrained by it.

The majority of materials are sourced from a textile-recycling unit in East London. Many of the garments are 100% recycled materials, others are mixed with faulty or end of the line fabrics. All garments are made to order in the studio in North London, with a bespoke option, so that only the fabric needed is used.

Despite already using end of the line materials Goodone has even gone a step further, or several leaps, when thinking about its own post production waste. Jerseys/T-shirts are used as cleaning rags, a children’s toy project is on the go and all those jumper sleeves… you guessed it, hot water bottle covers!

Hot water bottle covers made from Aran jumpers

These are inspiring examples of how the role of a designer can help make a more positive impact on our planet: up-cycling; made-to-measure; managing post production waste. Clare Farrell’s article, ‘Peak Fibre?’, on the goodone blog, highlights the necessity of such business models.

Should you wish to discuss your own ideas of up-cycling (or just come for a chat and see what we do!) there are a few events on about town that you can visit:

Your creativity can save it from landfill!

5th October 2011 by

This month we’re challenging you to get creative and breathe new life into some poor thing destined for landfill.  The options are endless, but here are some ideas to start you off.  Once you’ve finished crafting email us pictures of your masterpieces to

Friends of Otesha are likely to know that we turn quite a lot of these…

into these…

But even after we’ve made tetrapak wallets for ourselves, friends, mums, dads, distant cousins, dogs, and cats, and shown every child we meet on cycle tours how to do the same, there are still more tetrapaks around than we can justify turning into wallets.  So, what’s the most weird, wonderful, and also useful tetrapak creation you can invent?

Tetra paks aren’t the only tricky things to recycle though – this monthly challenge came into existence when Hanna was hunting around for something to do with her old light bulbs, and stumbled across a blog full of innovative ways to use those old lightbulbs.

And so this becomes a double challenge, not only are we asking you to save stuff from landfill (or landfill from stuff) and get creative – here’s a gentle little prod to change your light bulbs too.  It’s pretty tough to get hold of bog standard light bulbs these days, so if the only ones you can lay your hands on are still burning away above you as you read this, take ‘em out and switch ‘em for something a little more energy efficient, then you can get crafting (please wait for the bulbs to cool down first!).

Bonus points if you can incorporate tetrapaks and light bulbs!

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