The design process for an upcycled garment is a lot different than traditional manufacturing. Here is a condensed description of the process of creating a new piece!
The first step is always the planning stage - there should be some idea of what the end product will be before beginning. We always keep up to date on what the current bridal trends are, as well as speaking directly to current brides to see what kind of things they want to buy. With these in mind, I often start with a rough digital sketch or sometimes even with just a list of certain details I want to include.
The next step is sourcing materials. Because all of the material comes from past gowns, there are some important steps it needs to go through before being put it to use. First, the expert cleaning team at Zero Waste Weddings (AKA Helen) uses environmentally friendly cleaners to make even the scariest of stains disappear so we have a clean state to start from. Next, we deconstruct the existing garment to get a flat piece to cut our new patterns from. During this phase, we also closely inspect the material for any damage that can't be repaired, and mark it so we know to cut our patterns around it. These materials come from a variety of sources whether that be a gown that a previous bride wore to their wedding, an unfinished sample or prototype from another designer, or just deadstock material leftover from someone else's production process! No matter where it comes from, a lot of work goes into taking it back to it's barest elements so we can rework it into something completely our own.
Different fabrics behave different ways, so we always need to keep in mind the end product and function in order to select an appropriate material. However, working with salvaged materials means that sometimes we are limited in quantities, colour, fabric weight, etc, of an appropriate fabric. Sometimes this means putting off a project until the right material appears in an existing dress, but it can also lead to some really creative fabric manipulations such as dyeing, painting, appliqueing, etc in order to achieve the right fabric for the job!
Once the materials are prepped and ready to go, we draft out the patterns. We have collected and created different starting blocks for common dress silhouettes in a range of sizes which can be further manipulated into the right pattern pieces for each project! This is one of my favourite parts - figuring out which flat pieces will eventually sew together to create the 3D garment that I have imagined!
Once the pattern pieces are drafted, we can go ahead and cut them out of the prepped fabric. During this stage, we really need to plan ahead for the amount of fabric there is to work with. We always lay out all of the pieces onto the fabric to make sure they all fit before cutting anything else! Sometimes at this point adjustments will need to be made like adding extra panels or tweaking the design to accomodate the limited fabrics. Not only is there often a fabric shortage, but beacause these pieces came out of an existing dress, they are already cut into specific shapes that I need to work around! Sometimes we can also reuse existing portions of things like the bodice - mainly because these fabric pieces will otherwise be too small to cut something else from - but I always do my best to change something about the existing shapes to make the piece my own.
Once all of the pattern pieces have been cut, we can start the assembly process of bringing the dress to life. We always like to test the fit as we go, so at different stages throughout assembly I will try the piece on myself or another team member. Not only does putting the garment on a real person check the fit, but it also checks the function of the garment. Can they raise their arms comfortably? Walk? Dance? If the answer is no then I know there need to be some tweaks because in the end, this garment is meant to be worn and needs to be not just beautiful but also wearable!
Once the assembly process is complete, we always do another fit and function test to double check that everything is good to go. It is always good to bring in another team member for this, as a fresh set of eyes will sometimes pick up something that needs a bit of perfecting! After all the final touches are finished, the garment is ready to go down the aisle to make one lucky bride very happy!
All of my off-the-rack pieces are available at The Brides Project Toronto (a social enterprise donationg all profits to cancer charities!) and can be shopped online here
As lead designer for Zero Waste Weddings, the upcycled materials I use for the pieces on this label are sourced through The Brides Project. The Brides Project is a social enterprise focused on reducing the environmental impact of the bridal industry while also raising money for cancer charities. The dresses available at the shop are generously donated by brides, salons, and designers alike, all with the intention of helping towards these goals. The shop not only sells these donated dresses as-is, but also hosts and sells the in-store brand Zero Waste Weddings as a way of giving a second life to donated gowns that are too damaged or outdated to sell as-is. You can learn more about The Brides Project here and can learn more Zero Waste Weddings here
All of the items I create for Zero Waste Weddings are available for sale only at The Brides Project