I graduated from London College of Fashion in 2014. I guess I have always been a maker. I previously studied at Edinburgh College of Art and I wanted to do animation and sculpture and when I look back, the whole time, I was working with fabrics so it’s funny how you can’t see it when it’s right in front of you. I eventually found myself at London College of Fashion (LCF) and obviously while you are at college, you have full access to incredible facilities and you kind of take it for granted. I should have made the most of it. You really don’t appreciate how much you have there, they have this specialised machine room at LCF and things like that you can’t really justify to get. I feel a little bit foolish not making use of that opportunity. It becomes so obvious as soon as you leave how incredible those facilities are because they are [normally] so inaccessible. So I was looking for somewhere to make and didn’t really have any money. Fortunately, I had a room in my house, I was in there for a while and really didn’t have the kind of equipment that you need to make proper industry garments and through a series of strange things, I ended up finding myself with a free studio space on Marigold Road, just above Mainline Plant Services. [Graham] gave me a free studio space for about a year. Then a friend of mine bought me an industrial sewing machine, on loan (paid back now) but I was then very aware that these are not chances most people get. I am just fortunate and yet, still, I didn’t really have access to the kind of machines I needed to make things properly and I was also completely isolated. I had Graham downstairs but I couldn’t really talk to him about my ideas or any problems I was having with anything. It wasn’t the same kind of creative environment that you would enjoy at college. It just seemed crazy to me that there wasn’t somewhere that would offer this kind of facility for graduates. I was looking into it, and it seemed like loads were opening for woodwork but at the time when I was looking, there was nowhere for fashion. It was at the back of my mind for a long time.
I went to Kenya last summer, for three months, and I was running a fashion factory. I was in at the deep end. I had no experience or anywhere near that kind of experience. I felt thrown in – it was sink or swim. I think I swam. One of the funny things about that factory – it was an ethical factory, everyone was paid well and it was supporting a community, what they do is incredible – was the woman who set that factory up. She was working with ASOS to start an open access fashion studio in Kenya where I was working. It just seemed crazy to me and I was just like wow that’s incredible, I have had that exact same idea in London and you’re doing it here in this tiny village in Kenya! And it’s great because you’re supporting an isolated village in Kenya and it’s not one of the world’s fashion capitals and yet we don’t have that [in London] and why is that? Why are we not supporting our graduates? Why aren’t we supporting our talents? It doesn’t make any sense. I came back energised to do that. I had a few really positive conversations with some people I respect and thought I should do this and so I approached Building BloQs. I came here to seek advice on how to set up my own open access fashion studio and it just so happened that they were looking for someone to do exactly that in the building. It was just incredible timing. At the time, there were some girls I had previously worked with and for a long time, we were thinking maybe we’ll operate as a pop-up in Building BloQs. We were worried about the location and if it was only going to be here. It’s not like people we are advertising to have their own vans or are used to being in an industrial estate like the guys in there are. These are completely different people but when they told me about [the] expansion, it was just like a no-brainer. It’s just so exciting. The possibility is just… It’s never been done before and it’s really exciting.
Did you have to get separate funding for this?
No, this is part of Building BloQs. It’s building a bridge to the new development
. They are receiving some funding for the new development and it’ll come under that as we’ll be part of that. Obviously, it took a lot of investment to set up a space like this. Fortunately, we have been able to budget and get good prices and make relationships with suppliers and that’s really helped out. So it’s all part of the bigger plan.
Where do you live in Tottenham?
I live just over the marshes, in Northumberland Park. The commute here is just a cycle over the marshes, which is generally lovely.
What’s the hope – who will this help?
We will have everything that a small factory will have. We’ll be equipped to a level that I think will be able to cater to pretty much everyone. I think it’ll be diverse. You’ll have people from tailors who will only use a couple of the machines because most of the things they do will be hand sewn or [using a] regular straight stitch machine. You might have people who are doing their first line and they might be doing a sports line, in which case they will be using our overlockers and coverstitch and roller hem and that kind of thing. I anticipate a lot of diversity, much like there is with the woodwork workshop at the moment. I think that will be really good, for this space as well.
If someone is starting up a small fashion business, can they pay for a day and use the equipment and space to do things they can’t do at home and use it to help their business?
Yes, that’s right, it might be that they do a lot at home and they come here to use specific machines that they would never have access to otherwise. So we will have, for an example, an industrial buttonholer, which is quite a big purchase to make if you’re only going to use it once in a while. Say you make a line of clothing and you’re only going to use it for a couple of shirts, to spend however much – they start at £1500 and go up – they’re not cheap pieces of equipment and it’s not cost effective for an individual maker to purchase these kinds of machines. Particularly when they might only use it for certain styles or a couple of times a year. For some, I think it will be work like that – they’ll have their own studio at home and they’ll come in and use specific machinery and other people will just be here all the time. We’re going to equip them with the bays that enable them to be here and use it like their own studio. That’s the advantages of having a straight stitch machine, long solid units for storage, a mannequin and a table in the bay so you basically have everything you need to enable you to make industry standard clothing.
I’m guessing this may help people who usually send things away for cheaper productions?
There are other companies in London who do things like that so if somebody wanted to create a small production like 100 shirts, 100 trousers; they want a range they can take to markets, then there are companies in London who do offer that service. More small-scale productions, there’s one in Haringey called Fashion Enter
. They are a really really great company. Not only do they have a small scale British production but they have larger ones, it goes all the way up to like M&S. They also have a teaching college for teaching people those proper skills that are being lost. Almost all fashion courses don’t teach you how to sew. It’s so much on [the] portfolio, which is obviously important but to me, we don’t have it the UK anymore, we don’t really have that textile industry anymore. It’s not relevant to teach people how to sew anymore; it’s not the market to receive them. I think that’s part of what Building BloQs is doing, part of a bigger plan, is to help bring back that market. Not only for fashion but for furniture makers, for bespoke bikes so bringing back that sense of craft that has been lost a little bit.
There [have] been similar schemes run like this called Fashion Lab
, in London Fields. That whole building (not just Fashion Lab), had to leave because they had a 400% rent hike and it’s just ridiculous. That scheme, Fash Lab, was pretty much like what we’re doing here but a slightly different way of running it.
How much are the sessions and how will it work?
The sessions will be £26 or credits per day and with that payment, you get access to a whole room of industrial equipment. So each bay comes with its own table, machines, mannequins and with that you’ll be able to use steam press irons, overlockers and colour coverstitch. Initially, it will be about getting the word out and maybe we will be inundated, who knows. I don’t think that we will be turning people away in the first week or so. Building BloQs is in the process of working on an online system. It will be quite obvious when people are booking online if there is availability. Obviously six [bays are] not a huge amount but there is potential to have another bay in there. I think we will do that in response to demand. And then if things go really really well and [we] can’t accommodate everyone, there’s potential [for] expanding upstairs – we just want to see how it goes first. The problem is there isn’t really a comparison, the way we’re doing it is very very different to the way it’s been done before. As a maker who has been through fashion college and makes for a living, I feel I’m in a good position to say [what’s needed]. I don’t think there’s been a model like ours that really caters for realistic needs of makers or has similar [set] of equipment but then we’re in a tricky location so that counts against us so it’s really hard to know right now how it’ll go. I’ve been talking to a friend about it, we’ve been saying that it might well be different to the main workshop. It may be like six people who are pretty much here all the time so maybe less flux and maybe more regular. When we expand into the new site, then, of course, the whole operation grows again. That should be happening in about a years time.