My ECO STORIES with Alexandra Lucas
Updated: Jul 11, 2022
Welcome to My ECO STORIES, our interview series, where we chat to different fashion and textile industry practitioners about their thoughts on sustainability and the future of fashion.
Alexandra Lucas is a multidisciplinary Artist & Designer trained at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in London. Her work always starts at the point of curiosity; it's what makes us uniquely human. She firmly believes that imagining and dreaming about the future drives innovation, helping us go in directions that we wouldn't have thought otherwise. She's fascinated with the simple action of weaving. Having studied woven textiles, she's continuing her practice on an ancient backstrap loom. Being part of the loom means that she is physically part of the weaving process, which excites and drives her work. Her collaboration with Chloe Baines is currently part of Selfridges Project Earth Organic.
Can you talk a bit about your practice?
My practice has (very slowly!) evolved quite a bit during the years. My current way of working has its roots in limitations: those of space, money and time. What drives what I do is curiosity. I love researching a lot on different topics, even before I start making, which sometimes is a good thing, but also it can stunt my productivity! I've always been fascinated with weaving. I only discovered what it was when I started studying at CSM. The whole process is incredible: making your warp, setting up the loom, and then painstakingly weaving the piece.
When I graduated, I found that I longed for our weaving studio back at college. I still loved weaving and didn't want to stop it. I didn't have space for a loom or money to buy it, so I went deep diving into traditional weaving practices. I found a lot of YouTube videos of traditional Peruvian backstrap weaving that felt like magic! It took me back to the basics of weaving: you need tension, a warp and a way to separate your odds from your evens. The backstrap looms involves your whole body and wouldn't work without it. The way you move creates the tension that is so crucial to making a piece of fabric. It's like you're dancing with your loom and you're deeply involved with each movement.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability means responsibility to me. The fashion and textile industry is so incredibly wasteful, and we should all make steps to be more conscious of what fabrics or yarn we use in our practices.
How do you make your practice sustainable?
This is something that I'm still learning! I've recently had the opportunity to collaborate with the fashion designer Chloe Baines whose collection is based on recycled festival tents. This has been a really good way for me to incorporate recycled materials into my weaving in a new way. My backstrap weaving practice was a perfect way of doing this, as the strips that I weave with wouldn't work in a dobby or floor loom because they are full of zips or strands of fraying fabric that would get caught up in the heddles for example. I've really enjoyed looking at a piece of fabric and then finding elements that would be interesting when repurposing them and giving it a new life.
Other than that, I've dabbled in natural dyeing and been conscious of sourcing threads and yarns from sustainable or recycled sources.
What advice would you give to someone starting a responsible brand?
You have to be really committed to it! It's hard to make a product completely sustainable, but getting there, it takes time. Be patient, and there is beauty in slow production.
Which item of clothing in your wardrobe is the most important to you? (An item that is the most meaningful to you)
My favourite clothing item is this top I bought back in 2010 in a charity shop in Manchester. It has such a great shape and the most beautiful buttons on the shoulders. I wear it a lot, and sadly it's starting to fray a little. I love how I'll never own anything like it again – that's the beauty of finding an amazing vintage charity shop piece!
Which small businesses are you loving at the moment, and would like to give a shout out to?
My favourite slow-fashion brand that I've been inspired by for a while is Paloma Wool. The brand's aesthetic and creativity in their campaigns and just the clothes are so good. I own a jumper from the brand, one of my favourite pieces of clothing in my wardrobe.
Another brand that I've been following is AMMA Sri Lanka which a friend from uni has set up. AMMA is committed to using food waste to naturally dye materials and providing mothers and women with fair-paid employment in the area. It's such a brave and beautiful social enterprise and well worth checking out.
In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, what issue has been highlighted in the industry to you?
With a lot of our lives being indoors - I think the fact that we simply don't need as many clothes as we think we do. It's much better to buy less and buy better quality. I wonder if the pandemic will encourage us to fix our clothes more and make them last longer before buying a cheap T-shirt.
Of course, the saddest thing is that those who are the lowest paid in the fashion industry have been the most affected by the pandemic with no financial safety net. Major buyers would cancel their orders and not pay their suppliers in advance for the materials; the payment would also be majorly delayed even at the best of times. The responsibility lies with the major fashion companies, of course but the pandemic has shown how they can easily get away with exploiting their lowest-paid garment workers.
What is your hope for the future of fashion and textiles?
My hope is that there will be a cultural shift in customers being more aware of buying sustainably and seeing that as our personal responsibility to think before buying a new item of clothing. There is a way to go in this area, as it's hard to change the world's shopping habits. Brands could help a lot with that, however, in helping customers shop more sustainably by making the changes first. There must be a way of keeping those brands accountable and exposing their unethical practices. It would be amazing to see the fashion industry as a market that celebrates and protects the rights of its workers and leads the way in being environmentally conscious.
Written by Bethan and Alexandra @theecostories