Handmade, indie, ethical, sustainable, eco-friendly… call-it-what-you-want-ism, the once offshoot field has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Beginning in 2007, Leeds-based Antiform, are perhaps one of those earlier pioneers who – if you’ll permit me to steal cringe-worthy fashion language – dared to mix sustainability and fashion within the same sentence.
Made from reclaimed materials, all sourced and produced within Yorkshire; their clothing is a tangible testament that wearable, style-conscious garments can exist within a backdrop of ethical values.Yet in speaking to founder & lead designer, Lizzie Harrison (LH) and brand coordinator, Rebecca Atherton (RA), what jumps out most is an enthusiasm for community and creation.
With the launch of their recent Autumn-Winter 2013 collection, I chatted with the Antiform team about their process, the planet and peppermint tea.
Antiform roots itself in sustainability, why is ethical practice important today?
LH: Ethical practice has always been important but today it is critical that we start to really engage in ethical practice across our supply chains. It’s not about making token gestures, rather putting garment workers and their lives, aspirations and needs before profit. It is also about respecting the natural resources around us. We are living in times of climate and resource challenges and as fashion designers or brands we need to be aware of how our actions effect the environment.
RA: In customer-facing terms, brands have become so huge that their presence is almost too big. I think people are beginning to get sick of that – the broken promises of high street chains accompanying revelations of dubious production practices. Even if there are efforts at transparency, the real picture of production becomes blurred because there are simply too many steps in the process. With big brands and with fast fashion, you’ll never get an authentic story – and I think that’s what more and more people are after when choosing, for example, their new winter coat. It’s not just about looking great in it any more – it’s what you can tell people about it.
How does the emphasis on sustainability affect your work and the way you work?
RA: We’ve always started with design first. I’m not saying that sustainability is an afterthought – just that it’s so ingrained in our process now that it practically goes without saying. I think that comes across in our online presence – “Here’s our latest jumper design – oh, and it’s made from reclaimed fabrics of course.” If anything, we’re proving that sustainable clothing production practices can become second nature.
In what way/ways does a team change the creative dynamic?
LH: Designing with a team, as we do at Antiform, completely changes the way our clothing is created. We always start with the materials available for the season, followed by working closely with the skills of our producers. It is never the other way around! Our design decisions are shaped by the nature of the reclaimed textiles we discover and skills of the people who will make the items. The design process is therefore incredibly collaborative and reflects the diversity of our team and also values the knowledge of our local producers.
Which part/parts of the process do you find the most challenging?
LH: I think one of my greatest challenges is that we really want to challenge the fast consumption patterns that many modern consumers are buying into. We want to slow down and make quality, durable clothing that will last season after season. This means we need to find retailers that also buy into our ethos to share this approach to buying clothing with their customers.
Particularly related to the work for ReMade in Leeds, how does the community influence the process?
LH: Antiform was born out of our community based fashion studio in Leeds and the legacy of that is ReMade in Leeds – a social enterprise that runs fashion events and services with and for the local community. With Antiform we continue to work with local and community based enterprises wherever possible such as local producers. These days our studio is at Dots Printhaus and we are now part of a bigger community of makers, which is an incredible work environment.
What, if any, kind of creative rituals, routines or eccentricities do you (or the team) have?
RA: Rocket, feta and peppermint tea! Lizzie also has a seasonal catch phrase: “I’ve decided I’m not going to stress about it” – this state of zen is usually fairly short lived.
LH: Becky is right, I do always say I’m not going to stress! One of my favourite rituals is my regular trip to all of my suppliers to see what waste textiles they have. This is an incredibly sociable step in the design process. Relationships with suppliers have been built up over the years and I am now trusted to have free reign in the bins, warehouses and storerooms. They are now friends and allies in our quest to use up the waste materials and sometimes pull out such a gem of textiles it makes my week.
Can you recall any turning points that have led you to what you’re doing now?
LH: I think it has been a culmination of such a vast mix of life experience with a real passion for making good things well. As a fashion apprentice I was amazed by all the factories making clothes and bags in the east end of London and later as a fashion student I couldn’t resist using waste materials at any opportunity – including military scrap, car interiors and anything I could find to experiment with. The turning point and beginning of Antiform was realising we had these unwanted materials and local skills available to make amazing fashion right here.
RA: The turning point was probably moving down the road from the studio to be honest! I realised I wasn’t doing a lot with my time (I was an art student, I don’t know what that says…) and so I popped by head into the studio. It became a bit like a second home!
What emotions/thought processes would you like your work to evoke?
LH: I would like my designs to really speak to people. I dream that everyone who buys an Antiform piece really loves the garment, that they value its story and want to keep it and wear it for a long time. I create clothing which people can style their own way and make it their own. Antiform is very much about easy shapes and I hope that people enjoy wearing them.
RA: An approach to fashion that is much more personal – personal stories, personal style, personal interactions.
What are you currently reading/listening/looking at?
LH: I am reading Making is Connecting by David Guantlett which is really great book about making, from knitting to youtube videos. I am in the process of sorting my tape collection (my car still has a tape deck!) so I have been listening to a lot of late 90s mix tapes, which has been a real treat. I have been foraging a lot this autumn so I have been looking at a lot of hedgerows.
RA: I’ve been doing sorting too! I’ve been looking through my old school books I got down from my parents’ loft. I used to be a bit of a hoarder but a while ago I decided to redistribute a third of my possessions, which is still in progress. I’ve often been very inspired by my younger self but through this I hope to get a better balance with looking to the future. That’s something Antiform does particularly well as a brand – getting a great balance of inspiration from the past with eagerness for the future.
Finally, what does the future hold for Antiform?
LH: Due to popular demand we have just launched our first unisex piece – a Yorkshire tweed sweater. I think we will continue to respond to our customers and learn together what a slow fashion model really looks like. Ultimately, I think Antiform will continue to learn, develop and design with the materials and skills we have available.