Fashion student Gracie D'Silva on up-cycling Oxfam cashmere and rejecting fast fashion

16 June 2020
Gracie D’Silva, BA (Hons) Fashion

BA (Hons) Fashion student Gracie D’Silva has created a luxurious final year collection by up-cycling second-hand cashmere knitwear. Gracie D’Silva is a student ambassador for Fashion Revolution, an organisation whose vision is a global fashion industry that conserves and restores the environment and values people over growth and profit.

Here Gracie talks about her final year project and encourages us all to think about our consumption of fast fashion, its impact on the environment and the people who make it.

Image: Gracie D'Silva, BA (Hons) Fashion, 2020. Photo by Phoebe Martin, BA (Hons) Fashion Photography

The idea for my collection developed from an internship with Oxfam Online. When working at Oxfam’s recycling centre in Batley, I witnessed first hand the huge volume of unwanted clothing that Oxfam is unable to sell in their stores and, therefore, sends abroad. This includes a large quantity of cashmere knitwear that cannot be sold because it has been washed incorrectly or damaged. Cashmere itself used to be considered a natural fibre. However, it is now considered an unsustainable fabric due to the natural habitats destroyed in order to farm enough goats to sustain the growing demand for cashmere.

Inspired by young designers Priya Ahluwalia and Maddie Williams, I wanted to up-cycle the discarded cashmere and transform it back into a luxury product; into something completely new. My involvement with Oxfam and Fashion Revolution was important to the themes of my collection, reflecting the grand scale of textile waste as well as highlighting the lack of transparency within the fashion industry. Some of the poorest people in the world make clothes for the high street brands we take for granted and Fashion Revolution encourages people to think about where their clothes come from with their ‘who made my clothes?’ campaign.

Image: Gracie D'Silva, BA (Hons) Fashion, 2020 

My collection includes five up-cycled garments in shades of blue and pink – the most abundant colours sent to Oxfam. I shaped the garments by draping cashmere jumpers on the dressmakers stand and cutting parts away to create the silhouette for each outfit. The patches were then hand-stitched together using different coloured embroidery threads, providing a mend and repair aesthetic with a whipstitch construction. My press outfit is a dress that highlights textile waste through a dramatic layering of sleeves to form a substantial train. I repaired a lot of jumpers to make it, demonstrating that damaged items can be given a second life rather than end up in landfill.

My collection aims to show just how much our current shopping habits, love of fast fashion, and tendency to throw away rather than mend clothes have led to the fashion industry becoming the second most polluting industry in the world, after oil. Consumers, retailers and designers are all responsible for how the manufacture of clothes they buy, sell or design effects the environment. For my small part, last year I chose to stop buying new clothing, particularly items from fast fashion brands where it is unknown whether these clothes are ethically made.

Image: Gracie D'Silva, BA (Hons) Fashion, 2020. Photo by Phoebe Martin, BA (Hons) Fashion Photography 

Now that I have completed my degree, I will continue to focus my practice on sustainability and utilise the deadstock fabric that I have acquired over the course of my degree. My ultimate aim is set up a studio with my peers. Lockdown has certainly highlighted how much we valued our time in the University studio together - supporting and motivating each other through late nights and watching Disney films in the studio when we finally downed tools!

Gracie’s final year work is included in the Leeds Arts University Show 2020, online from 1 July to 30 September 2020. You can read more on Gracie's end of year project on Graduate Fashion Week