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What does 'repair' mean to you?

East Linton Tool Library talks to Millie Scott, local designer and member of Fashion Revolution Scotland, about Slow Fashion, the circular economy and the urgent need for change and accountability in the fashion industry...

Can you tell us a bit about your work? What projects are you currently involved in?

Millie Scott Studio is all about reusing the pre-existing and creating well-made, quality items that can be treasured for years to come. I work with quality scraps, remnants, offcuts and recycled fabrics, which I try to source locally. I buy some new fabrics for certain projects or commissions but I buy natural fibres like cotton as this is better for the environment.

At the minute I make accessories and homewares such as face masks, keyrings, clutch bags and pillows. I also specialise in working with vintage fur. I have undertaken a traineeship with the last furrier in Edinburgh for the last 5 years, which has been amazing. I feel lucky to be learning this craft as it is a dying art. I don’t agree with farmed fur but there is so much fur out there already in circulation, we need to use what’s there. It’s a very high quality fabric which can last decades and if undyed it can biodegrade.

As well as my products, I also offer a repairs, alterations and remodelling service for vintage furs. I love being able to transform precious heirlooms into usable contemporary pieces. I am currently working on various vintage fur commissions. For example, I have a vintage musquash fur coat that I am making into a fur throw for a client. I have a huge fabric selection and I keep all my own usable offcuts and sort them all into colours and fabric weights. I have some big ideas for making one-off garments using my offcuts.

In what ways has your work been affected by Covid?

Pre-Covid, I was also doing alterations and repairs for normal garments, which entailed people coming to me for fittings. This obviously stopped because of Covid but luckily I've been able to carry on working throughout as I had commissions to finish and people were able to post stuff out to me. I set up my online shop last May and Covid actually spurred me on to get my online shop set up - as I had to - otherwise my income would have been very limited. Luckily a friend was able to help me set it up; I’m a total nightmare with technology!

I hadn’t even thought about making face masks but after a couple of customers messaged me asking me to make some, I got to work. I have made well over 1000 face masks now. One of the projects I’m most proud of taking part in last year was making scrubs for the NHS. I was part of the resilience group in Gullane. “The Nifty Home Stitchers” was the main organising body and they got people from all over Scotland sewing scrubs. Our Gullane group made 227 scrub sets which were mostly donated to local places like The Edington Hospital and Muirfield Nursing Home. The sewing group age ranged from 18 to 92! How amazing is that! There were other organisations running throughout the country, all running on a voluntary and donation basis to get scrubs and medical PPE out to the medical professionals.

This year I have started volunteering with Fashion Revolution Scotland. Fashion Revolution is a global community that campaigns to end human and environmental injustice in the fashion industry. It’s an incredible organisation that has so many resources for businesses and citizens on how we can all get involved and make a difference by demanding change to our current fashion system. We host monthly stitch and bitches via Zoom where we come together, bring something that needs to be mended and talk about a topical issue in the industry or about a mending technique. We are all about connecting communities. Pre-Covid there were in-person meet ups which we are hoping to have this year. We also put on workshops with designers and panel discussions. This year I took part in a panel discussing the use of animal derived materials in fashion.

They offer mending tutorials and open studios where you can meet other designers and makers who are wanting to do better business and be more eco-friendly and responsible with their choices. There are also email templates for emailing your local MPs and MSPs. We are really trying to get people to email MPs as we need policy change now to make bigger changes. Fashion Revolution Scotland was recently commended by the Scottish Parliament for the work we did during Fashion Revolution Week 2021 and the important work that we do campaigning. The Scottish Government “considers that everyone must act to recognise the impact of clothes, end what it sees as a throwaway culture and accelerate the transition to a circular economy.” Here is the link to the relevant Scottish Parliament page if you want to check it out.

What first inspired you to start Millie Scott Studio?

I have always been interested in art and textiles and painting - anything creative really. My grandmother was a painter and I would always be drawing and painting with her. I spent a lot of time with her growing up and I think she really nurtured my creativity. I also had an incredible art teacher at school and with her encouragement and support I made my first garment in 5th year. After I graduated from Heriot-Watt University with a BA (Hons) in Fashion Womenswear I went away to volunteer in Brazil where I helped make costumes and floats for the Rio Carnival. From there I travelled to Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. It was the trip of a life time and the first bit of proper travelling I had done. It was amazing, there were so many local makers on the streets and in markets everywhere we went, with people making and selling their goods. Looking back it probably inspired me to want to do the same. When I came back I got a couple of part time jobs and set up my little business doing alterations and repairs.

I originally thought I would have a womenswear label. What changed my business and to be honest my life was watching the documentary "The True Cost". This documentary is the reason I use pre-existing material. It introduced me to the term “Slow Fashion” and to the organisation “Fashion Revolution” with which I now volunteer. I highly recommend watching "The True Cost" as it’s a very comprehensive documentary showcasing the entire fashion supply chain, which effects everyone globally. I want to create a brand that has a positive impact on the planet, even if it’s just a tiny one - like using remnants and scraps from the local textile waste stream in East Lothian. Making products that are well-made and that will last and stand the test of time is also very important to me.

What do you most enjoy about your work?

I absolutely love transforming vintage fur pieces into something new, most of all because usually the items are so sentimental, and they have often been sat unused and unloved for years in a wardrobe, forgotten about. To be able to transform something like that into something beautiful and useful, that will remind someone every day of someone they loved, is really special for me. I also just love fabric and textures. I’m really excited at the minute about patchwork and I’m looking forward to carving out some time for some personal projects that involve this technique. I love playing around with textures and colours and piecing something together that looks beautiful.

You offer a repair service for any product bought from you. Can you explain why you think this is important and why other businesses large and small should be doing the same?

Yeah, I think it is so important to offer a repair service if you are a business and make something. We all have a responsibility when we make something to be aware of the impact our products have during their full life cycle. Nothing lasts forever and things need to be mended. When we throw something in the bin, where does it go? It doesn’t just disappear - it goes to landfill and most likely will leak into the ground and become toxic. Even if we recycle something, it’s unlikely that it will get recycled as only a small percentage of our recycling is recycled in the UK. We can’t actually handle all of the recycling waste we create so it gets shipped off to other countries where it isn’t recycled, as they can’t recycle it either. I can’t remember the stats but I recommend reading "Turning the Tide on Plastics" by Lucy Siegle.

If someone makes something, then they know how it is put together so they should know how to fix it. Most small businesses I know will repair things; it’s the bigger companies that need to be offering this but most business models are built on growth - that is selling more products. If people are mending things they won’t be buying as many new products. “One third of the carbon footprint of clothes comes from the way we care for them” and "doubling the useful life of clothing from one to two years reduces emissions over the year by 24%.” Both of these stats are from Fashion Revolution and speak volumes. The Earth isn’t one gigantic bin with infinite resources. We have a duty as citizens to think more carefully about what we do with all our stuff and make the responsible choices that need to be made. Don’t get me wrong, I have bins and I chuck stuff. But even if every person mended one thing, like a hole in a pair of socks, that’s one less pair of socks in the bin. It all counts!

Your goal for 2021 is to develop zero waste cutting techniques in order to minimise waste. Can you tell us a bit about zero waste design approaches?

Zero Waste design is about having no waste through the whole process of making something, right from your paper pattern to cutting the fabric and making the item. There are a few different methods you can use for zero waste design. I’m working on a couple of new styles of bag so I will be making patterns that utilise all the fabric I am cutting so there is little to no waste.

Some people drape onto a mannequin (if creating a garment) and use all the fabric, creating features out of the folds of fabrics or making pockets with the extra fabric. It’s easier if you have straight lines to follow, for example a rectangle clutch will create very little waste as it’s all straight lines. As soon as you add curves, like armholes or crotches, it get’s more complex. I need to do more research on this for the specific approach I will take but check out Holly McQuillan, who is a zero waste systems thinking expert and has done incredible work developing Zero Waste Design techniques.

Why do you think repair, reuse, recycle knowledge and skills are particularly important today?

I think these skills are important today because of the current global crisis we are in. We are drowning in “stuff” - new stuff that’s getting made is predominantly made cheaply and made to only last a short amount of time, which perpetuates the need for new stuff all the time. We are all aware of the massive environmental issues we are facing globally due to over production and over consumption. It’s a revolutionary act to repair your clothing or your furniture, any of your stuff as it’s sticking a finger up to capitalism and the economy of growth. We have to ask ourselves, growth at what cost?

Taking the time to mend something, or give a piece of furniture a new lease of life, can have a huge positive impact on our mental health. Sewing has been linked to mental health and can be really therapeutic for some people. It’s so important we share skills and all learn how we can extend the useful life of all of our things. It’s also an opportunity to engage with community or family. The older generations tend to know more about mending and fixing things. If you have a family member or older friend that can do that, you should reach out to them. So much knowledge is just being lost because people think we don’t “need” to mend because we can just buy something new. These skills are so valuable.

It’s cheaper now to buy a new jacket than it is to pay to get your jacket zip repaired. How is that possible when the fabric has to be grown/made, then be spun into a fibre, then that fibre has to be turned into a fabric, which has to be treated, dyed, cleaned, processed, shipped to another country to be cut in a warehouse, be sewn up then shipped again to another country to have it packaged - and then be shipped somewhere else in the world to sit in a shop that has overheads and staff to pay? We place no value on it, because it is so cheap and available. We don’t ask ourselves, how can this be this price?

Garments are only cheap because so many people in the supply chain are getting ripped off. (80% of garment workers are women aged 18-24 from less economically developed countries). It’s not right. We have strict laws in the UK for workers rights and for how we use land and process things like water. Companies in the UK shouldn’t be able to exploit any worker, no matter where they are, or the land just so they can turn a profit. The only people that benefit from this exploitative system are the people at the top of the company who hoard the wealth. If Covid has taught us anything it’s how quickly we can change our systems and how adaptable we are.

We're very excited that you'll be delivering a mending workshop with us over the summer. What skills will you be teaching and how can these skills be used to unite practicality and fashion?

I’m really looking forward to doing a mending workshop with East Linton Tool Library. I will be delivering a workshop on a technique called “Sashiko”. It’s a very basic stitch technique that can be used to mend pretty much any fabric on any piece of clothing. Unlike Western mending (we would be more inclined to do invisible mending), sashiko has always had two aims: to be practical but also to be beautiful.

Sashiko can be traced back to the 700s and was originally carried out by monks in Japan who believed a spiritual calmness affected the quality of the stitch. So if you were a good Buddhist practitioner then all stitches must be beautiful. As well as being beautiful sashiko was also very practical as a lot of the women would sew at night and by using a cream thread it meant they could see what they were doing. Clothing would have to last three generations so the sashiko stitching helped keep the fabric and also meant it could be repaired with patches. Sashiko was a means of preserving garments and keeping warm. Poorer people were forbidden from wearing things like silk and bright colours so they had to make their own clothing from hemp which was then dyed with indigo which was easily grown and is said to protect against insects. Two or more layers of fabric would be sewn together with a running stitch which would create little pockets of air, trapping warmth within the cloth. The classic sashiko look is indigo fabric with a white/cream thread which creates a beautiful contrast pattern.

It's only really in the last 5 to 10 years that sashiko has taken off again in Japan as it has become so globally loved and adored by textile lovers. Sashiko is such an amazing technique as it can be used on any fabric to repair anything. It’s also just a basic running stitch. There are some incredible complex patterns that people do and I will show some examples. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think of this amazing technique!

Making a musquash fur throw

Leather tassel made from remnant and scrap leather

Some more patchwork face masks made using Millie's own fabric scraps

Millie wearing patchwork mask

A cushion from Millie's latest collection, made using recycled vintage fur and velvet remnants

An example of sashiko

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