Lockdown, Upcycle: Reworking old clothes with SOPHIE NANCY

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Whilst the country has been in lockdown, Leeds-based Sophie Gottlieb has devoted her time to upcycling. Using the contents of her wardrobe, from old jeans to socks, Gottlieb has created a collection of garments that weld an array of patterns and textures together. As the academic year draws to a close, we catch up about creativity in quarantine, the costs of being sustainable and the ethos behind her business SOPHIE NANCY. 

When did you start upcycling and what inspired you?

I started last year when lots of my friends asked me to alter their clothes, and properly invested into it during lockdown. I think what inspired me was committing to not buying any new clothes for the year after seeing Oxfam’s campaign, which I have kind of stuck to, and also seeing loads of people on Depop doing it and realising I had the skills to as well.

Why has lockdown been a good time for you to properly invest in upcycling?

I think it’s because I’ve had so much spare time since finishing my uni work, and even before too. I just always like to be busy and doing something; if I sit down and watch TV I’ll always be knitting or stitching too. I felt like suddenly I was given the gift of loads of spare time so could finally properly pursue making things for my business and put loads of effort into it. This way, it could be something enjoyable rather than stressfully trying to fit it into my busy schedule prior to lockdown.

Photo via SOPHIE NANCY

Your designs are very DIY, often bringing together a mix of patterns and materials- what are your influences?

I think when I worked at London Fashion Week for Vin and Omi in September last year they really showed me how fashion can be anything you want it to be and, especially coming from a fine art background, you don’t have to mould yourself to be this set industry idea of what fashion is supposedly meant to be. You can make it to be whatever you like! I just make things I’d like to wear or am inspired by the materials that I have.

What are your favourite materials to work with?

I think probably polycotton. I’ve used lots of floral polycotton recently and I really like it because it’s not too stretchy so it keeps its shape and it’s easy to sew. But I have also been using lots of old socks to make things recently and I’ve really loved stretching them out as I sew with them to make a lettuce hem edging which is super in right now.

There’s been a growing consciousness around fast fashion and sustainability – does this influence your practice?

I think it does, as I like to make sure I’m conserving as much of my materials as I can rather than just chucking scraps out; I keep all the little pieces in a bag. I saw someone on Instagram using them in between see through vinyl to make their own fabric and I really like that idea and want to do something similar. Also, I’ve been thinking about how I can make sure my packaging is more eco-friendly, and I’m looking into using cardboard boxes rather than plastic packaging. I think this idea of sustainability and creating ethical fashion should extend past just the clothes themselves into the actual practices of brands. For example, I’m avoiding ordering things from Amazon, and instead opting to getting supplies from smaller businesses.

Photo via SOPHIE NANCY

Do you find it easy to run an independent business and stay sustainable?

I think it is hard, especially as I’m just starting out so I don’t have a huge bulk of cash to invest into more sustainable options, which are unfortunately often more expensive. But I am trying my best and I am using upcycling more frequently to make the clothes rather than buying a lot of brand new fabric. Lots of my friends and family have been giving me their old clothes from clear outs they’ve had in lockdown which has definitely been helpful!

Yes, the pricey side to sustainability also means that many find completely ditching fast fashion financially unattainable- is this something you consider in your business?

Yes, I think price-wise I recognise that my customers are mostly students and don’t have lots of money to drop on these more sustainable options, so I have been factoring in just my time when working out costing at the moment, so that there is a cheaper sustainable alternative for students. However, this might have to change in future as my business grows and I’m spending more and more time and money on materials and producing the clothes. But for now, it’s definitely a huge part of considering the cost of items.

Photo via SOPHIE NANCY

As we’ve discussed, your upcycling serves an environmental function, but what do you get out of it? 

At the moment, I just love making clothes. I am using this time to learn how to make my business the best it can be, so that hopefully when I’ve finished my MA next year I can pursue it full time.

Finally, if people are interested in upcycling their own old clothes, do you have any tips for starting out?

Yes, I think just go for it. It’s something which is definitely super easy to do once you start, and there’s loads of people online to look to for inspiration, especially on TikTok and Instagram!

You can browse the current SOPHIE NANCY range on Instagram and Depop.