Clothing, Textiles & Radical Sustainability
Naomi Nowak clothing is ethical, handmade and unique. Each design is limited edition, sometimes one of a kind, envisioned and created by me personally, using recycled textile only. I also offer a selection of quality vintage and second hand, all in the interest of halting fast fashion consumerism.
The world of ethical fashion, slow fashion or sustainable fashion is a varied spectrum. Some companies (especially smaller ones) are doing fantastic work and some are, unfortunately, greenwashers. What sets my work apart is that i use 100% recycled textile. If you know of any other company that does this (not recycled fibre, not deadstock, but recycled textile) please email me their information immediately, because I have yet to find one!
The textiles I use are sourced from local second hand and charity shops and textile sorting plants in Sweden and Europe. I choose these fabrics for their softness and suitability to a wide range of products that are comfortable, flattering and feel good on your body.
Using reclaimed textiles is not only an ecological benefit but a good choice for your health as well. Newly manufactured textile is heavily processed with toxic chemicals and it takes many washes to get them out. Ever seen a new garment with a ‘wash before use’ sticker? It’s because the chemicals are so bad they can irritate your skin, and there is as yet little research about the long term effects of this exposure but there are studies to suggest chemicals from textile manufacture can cause hormone imbalances in humans and animals.
All textiles are clean on purchase, but i also launder completed garments using completely natural and compostable Sapindus nuts (also known as soap berries) to further remove the last of the chemical detergents.
Not only are is this the only fashion house I know of that’s 100% recycled, but the production outfit is very small (just me). There is no industrial-scale supply chain and no oppressive demand on dwindling resources; it's sourced and created by yours truly, then straight to you.
Because of this I can maintain high ethical standards that bigger companies disregard as ‘inefficient’ for their scale and output. My methods are slower, the financial outlay is higher – at this time I can only produce what one woman is capable of. I think these are small costs to pay for the infinitely larger rewards of not contributing to rampant consumer culture that is currently destroying our climate and polluting our air and seas. Getting new clothes is fun and life-affirming; this shouldn't have to come with the uneasy feeling of supporting unethical manufacture and contributing to pollution, climate change and infringements on human rights!
I offer alterations, repairs and exchanges because garment should be made to last - something designed to have a long life is an additional way of providing an ethical product and working in the spirit of grandmothers.
What about organic cotton, recycled fibre and recycled textile you ask? Organic cotton is grown using kinder methods and less chemicals than its industrial counterpart so it is a marginally better choice. But it's still a strain on the earth and takes up land that could be used to grow food or preserve our vital oxygen breathing forests. Why make new textile when there is an abundance of it already in existence and ultimately headed for landfill?
Recycling textile fibre is an attempt to answer that; a method which involves shredding and re-using old garments weaving the fibres into fabric. The industry term for the fabrics used in this manner is ‘post-consumer textiles’- second-hand clothing processed by thrift stores and donation charities and then sold by the tonne to recycling plants. But in a world of fast fashion where millions of tonnes of clothes are thrown out every year, there’s just too much for this system to manage, and not all textiles are suited for the process. in addition, textile created this way only has a small (up to but usually less than 40%) percentage of recycled textile, mixed with new fibres to retain durability. It also takes a lot of energy and is far from a perfected method.
Despite the eco credentials of these methods the absolute bulk of garments produced to this standard are still sewn in sweatshops located in developing nations, where human beings (sometimes children) are grossly underpaid, housed in dangerous conditions and made sick by long working hours and exposure to fibre dust and chemicals. I¨m happy to say I suffer no such problems and because I am my own supply chain without middlemen I can keep my prices more affordable than most suppliers who produce ethically and respect human rights.
The two options described above - organic cotton and recycled fibre - are both preferable to the way the vast majority of garments are manufactured today - that is industrially grown and dyed cotton, causing ecological devastation. There has also been progress in recent years with other types of fibre, such as lyocell, modal and hemp. There are companies that produce with these fibres in a 'closed loop' business model, which is admirable and more sustainable than fast fashion. However, as I edit this text in 2018 we are heading for rapid climate change and no longer have the luxury to slowly work out kinks within a non-functioning system. We need change now, and that means halting manufacture.
So I've chosen the third option, using recycled textile exclusively. This is a simple equation - truly ethical product produced with truly ethical methods - my promise. The fast fashion and textile industries are huge and enourmously harmful - the brief description above only scratches the surface. For recommended further reading about fast fashion and its impact on our planet, please see fashionrevolution.org, an excellent hub of information, initiatives and ways to get involved.
About Me, Art and Jewellery
I've been a painter, graphic novelist and illustrator my whole life. I've also always loved sewing and creating clothes and jewels for myself; I learned skills like sewing, mending garments, knit and crochet (as well as the nearly lost art of sock darning) from my grandmothers and great grandmother at a very young age. The products you see here are a synchronization of inbuilt creativity taught to me in a family culture of recycling and reinventing, skills that were once necessary for immediate survival.
I carry this legacy in creating garments and jewels using material that would otherwise be discarded. This isn't seasonal, trend-based fashion, but a continuously growing and evolving collection in a timeless and unique style which can be worn all year round.
Clothes and jewels often begin in the same place my paintings or drawings do - by wishing a vision in my mind existed in the material world. I experiment with fabric textures, colours and dyes and many of my garment designs come about organically just like a piece of art.
My jewellery line is also an extension of this organic process; i look to a lifetime of painting and drawing skills and adapt them into three dimensional versions of my art. I first create tiny wax sculptures, patiently carved to the exact size and design as the intended jewel, using precise tools and files. These little wax models are then set in moulds and used to cast the jewelry using the ‘lost wax’ method. I use either sterling silver or bronze metal (recycled!); and after cleaning and polishing the finished piece it's sometimes set with gemstones and crystals, which I source ethically as best I can.
While in my younger years i never thought my interest in sewing and fashion would become part of my livelihood and life's work, I have endless wonder, gratitude and appreciation for my customers around the world who collect and wear my designs.
Curious to know more about my work? This is a great place to start.
Before I sign off the 'about' page I would like to give a warm thankyou to Karin Öst who helped me run my clothing design business for three years, ending early 2018. She is still a dear friend and runs a beautiful vintage shop: lilyofthevalley.se.
Additional thanks to these wonderful women: Liuba Socican, Tessa Anaya, Penny Elizabeth Neill, Kim Wildthorne, Jenny Farida Thåström, Charliana Stjernlöf, Martina Bergsjö, Johanna Öst, Evilyn Frantti.
I hope I haven't forgotten anyone.
Thankyou for reading and much love!