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Don’t be sari! Upcycle instead

Lisa Taylor hasn’t just fallen into sustainable fashion. Quite the opposite in fact: her background as a buyer for major high street brands means she’s had to turn her focus 180 degrees in order to establish her self-named ethical design business. After 25 years spent working for the likes of Oasis, Warehouse, Karen Millen, FCUK and Miss Selfridge, putting together and sourcing collections, Taylor made the move towards a more philanthropic and vocational way of working, upcycling Indian fabrics to create original luxury resort wear, such as velvet embroidered kimonos with vintage sari linings.

“Basically I take disused saris and then recycle them in the Western market as scarves, travel bags, eye masks, dresses, kimonos and kaftans,” says Taylor. “I think we should all shop wisely and shop less: always ask questions about where our products come from and who makes them. Also, we need to think about buying beautiful, investment pieces which will be in our wardrobes forever.”

Out in the rural areas of India, women use their saris as a form of currency, exchanging them for practical things like pots and pans. Once Taylor has worked her magic on the saris they are sold, in their new form (full of colour, print and embellishment) either online or in UK boutiques like FenwickPlumo and The Cross. Taylor’s lifestyle products go to places like The British Museum Shop or to art galleries, spas and boutique hotel shops.

Rather miraculously (given the growth of her business), Taylor still does all the sourcing herself. “I have an agent in Delhi who helps me sometimes when I need someone who speaks Hindi but it’s still me who looks at every sari. In the early days, I’d buy 10 to 20 at a time and now it’s more like 800! I’ll just sit in a room for a few days and go through them all, picking out the best ones.”

She also designs everything in-house, with the exception of occasionally employing freelancers to add a new spin to things, although Taylor freely admits that had she remained working for high street brands it would have been nigh on impossible to make such a commitment to sustainability.

“You simply can’t give transparency to people about how things are made unless you’ve got a small business and you’re touching all aspects of it,” she explains. “I can remember 15 years ago talking to my boss about organic cotton and going green and he laughed at me. How will we ever do that, Lisa? He said. Bigger businesses just can’t do it!. And it’s true that if the high street went green, sustainable and ethical, everybody would have to pay twice the price for the garments – lots of people wouldn’t be happy with that.”

But something is certainly shifting in the blood of fashion, Taylor agrees: “Sustainability is an integral part of a young fashion student’s curriculum these days, for example. In the next five years, I think the face of the high street will change dramatically. Loads of brands will be gone. The consumer now is way more educated and even the young kids that shop in cheaper places are more interested in sustainability. We’re beginning to think more about where we shop and recycling our old stuff. But that needs to happen more and more – we must be more conscious – before the big brands are forced to be totally transparent.” We’re keeping all our fingers crossed…