My ECO STORIES with Carmen Barclay
Updated: Jul 11
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.
Carmen Barclay is the Founder and Creative Director of her namesake Carmen Christine (CC). A vintage-inspired zero waste and natural fibre capsule collection; designed and made in London. After graduating from the University of the Arts London in Costume Interpretation for Stage and Screen. Carmen has honed her skills working in costume for the prestigious costume house COSPROP and esteemed productions across Europe.
Can you talk a bit about your practice?
My practice consists of creating sustainable and ethical fashion; that is comfortable, practical, and affordable. The designs are based on the vibrant colours of the swinging 60s combined with minimalism and block shapes. CC's clothing is comfortably oversized, and each garment has generously sized pockets. I aim to create garments that can be worn day and night while making you feel fabulous. At the moment, everything is independently designed and handmade by me in my small NW London studio, but I hope to have a few other staff members working with me soon.
What does sustainability mean to you?
To me, sustainability is a mindset one must have to maintain the natural harmony in our planet. For example, consuming and manufacturing a product can only be carried out sustainably if a continuous cycle is formed. For instance, once an item is purchased from a shop, it is the consumer's responsibility to ensure it lives a continuous life. That item should be worn until it needs to be repaired; once repaired, it can be worn out again. After a garment has been lived in until it no longer looks like an item of clothing, it could be given a second life as a patchwork quilt, or become patches to darn another item of clothing, for example.
It is all about thinking consciously and being aware of your actions' environmental impact.
How do you make your practice sustainable?
Each item of clothing at CC is cut using our classic zero-waste technique, where absolutely no off-cuts are created. Where possible, purchase second-hand, end-of-line, and off-cut pieces of fabric to use existing materials and avoid adding any unnecessary textile waste into landfill. I only ever source 100% natural, vegan, sustainable fabrics that are produced ethically and ideally locally—opting for more durable fabrics, such as linen and Piñatex, to make long-lasting garments. I aim to use this system throughout my brand as I build up a collection of beautiful and unusual bolts of cloth.
Which item of clothing in your wardrobe is the most important to you?
I have an original 1950s dress in mint condition that was gifted to me by one of my best friends. This A-line dress is made up in blush silk with hand-cut, floral, black lace motifs hand-stitched over the entirety of the dress. It is absolutely beautiful and fits me like a glove. Every time I put it on, I feel so wonderful! I only wear it on special occasions, as I would hate to damage it! It is by far the most important piece of clothing I own. I also find it an excellent reference for mid-century sewing - the inside is fascinating, full of tiny seams, all delicately hand-finished.
What advice would you give to someone starting a responsible brand?
Take it slow - research and decide where you want to take your brand before jumping in.
Support small - investigate local fabric suppliers and, if you can pay the extra for high-quality, eco-friendly cloth.
Do not undersell yourself - this is an important one. It's easy to feel like hundreds of other brands are selling products much cheaper than you intend to, but if you look into them, they are likely part of the horrendous fast fashion industry.
Talk to other small, responsible brands, and make connections in the sustainable fashion world - people are happy to help and share their experiences on starting up, and you may even find yourself collaborating!
Which small businesses are you loving at the moment, and would like to give a shout out to?
Beyond Nine - All of their clothing is pregnancy-friendly; we're talking super comfy, relaxed shapes, usually gathering below the bust (for the bump). The colours are fun and vibrant, ranging from "plaster pink" to "light indigo". The garments are uber chic 1-piece looks, including boiler suits and maxi dresses. I would wear everything on their website! All their clothing is made sustainably and ethically in London, too, so very local for me.
Thread and Sprout - Justice McNeil, based in San Francisco, is the designer, pattern-cutter, and maker behind Thread and Sprout. Justice hand-paints unique designs on earthy linens to create a collection of joyful, handcrafted clothing. Her designs have a truly natural feel; Justice herself describes the pockets in one dress as "perfect for gathering lettuce from the garden". The brand has a humble and human feel to it. I love it!
In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, what issue has been highlighted in the industry to you?
A major issue that has been highlighted for me is how greedy fast fashion companies continue to mistreat factory workers to a level beyond belief. Not only to the are their staff paid well below the minimum, but these big companies have been refusing to pay wages that are owed for work done. Remake has been working tirelessly to change this, launching a petition demanding brands #PayUp.
Not to mention the disregard for the health and safety of workers who are made to continue working when it is unsafe. This is a worldwide problem, including in the UK. It makes me feel so sad and angry to see these horrendous companies, who make their millions from modern-day slavery, continue to thrive in 2020.
What is your hope for the future of fashion?
I hope for change. Right now, the planet is suffering terribly from mass production and mass consumerism. We desperately need more transparency from fashion brands and better-distributed information on the destructive nature of fast fashion. In doing so, consumers could make more educated decisions on where to purchase clothing, and sustainable fashion could become widespread. On a positive note, it is great to see how popular vintage and second-hand clothing has become over the years, as one of the most eco-friendly ways we can purchase fashion is to buy the garments that already exist. I see a bright future for sustainability in fashion and textiles!
Written by Bethan and Carmen @ theecostories