The innovators: Orsola de Castro

Posted in Style
by Make it last on 21 January, 2015

Every small change matters

“Chief rubbish collector @from_somewhere and @reclaimtowear; co-founder of Estethica; co-founder of Fashion Revolution Day. Mother of 4, etc.” As the Twitter biography of Orsola de Castro makes clear, this Italian-born, London-based designer and activist is a very busy woman.

It all began in 1997, when Orsola began creating new garments out of discarded items, originally without an eye to sustainability. “Mine was a creative, designer’s need to reuse, from a poetic rather than an environmental point of view,” Orsola says of the process that resulted in From Somewhere. “By keeping alive what was being discarded, I fulfilled a desire for immortality.” The label’s success exposed Orsola to the waste created by the industry. “My mindset changed,” she says. “There wasn’t a specific point when it happened, just a gentle understanding collection after collection that we had lost our common sense and something needed to be done.”

One of the biggest challenges in being a designer with a sustainable ethos, Orsola points out, concerns the upscaling of collections. “Upcycling in large numbers really does slow down production, which is one of its massive benefits,” she says. “But, of course, in today’s industry, you mention slow down and people react like lizards in the sun; they run a mile and hide under a stone.”

Orsola launched sustainable fashion showcase Estethica at London Fashion Week in 2006, helping to cement the city’s reputation as the capital of fashion innovation. She is currently working on opening From Somewhere’s Etsy store, and has found that many of the label’s old collections are still going strong. “The bright colours, the clashing textiles and the intricate patchwork… I’ve fallen in love with it all over again.”

“I love clothes,” she says. “I remember the look of my mother’s and grandmother’s dresses, the feel of the fabrics, the smell. It’s never an effort to combine my style choices with sustainability and I don’t deny myself things, because I love what I buy and cherish it, and attach my personal history to it.” An example of this is her 15-year-old Primark nightie, a favourite item that Orsola treats with the same respect she would afford a vintage silk slip, because “somebody made it for me, and it has meaning”. A self-confessed hoarder, Orsola continues to acquire items from designers that she would like to support, “safe in the knowledge that after me, or if I grow out of something, I can pass it on to someone else who will appreciate it after me”. Her favourite designers are those that work “in a way that satisfies both my aesthetics and principles”, like Christopher Raeburn, Flavia La Rocca, Sonya Kashmiri, Katie Jones, Louise De Testa and People Tree, as well as some of Orsola’s own protégées like Indian Doodlage, Hong Kong-based Angus Tsui, and Tokyo’s Asato Goto.

Gearing up for this year’s Fashion Revolution Day on 24 April, Orsola argues that its motto – ‘be curious; find out; do something’ – is a good way to start becoming more eco-fashion conscious. “This is a complex issue, which is also what makes it fascinating, important and inevitable,” Orsola says. “Every opinion, every act of becoming more informed, every small change matters.”

Words by Emma Lundin

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