The use of old clothing and materials to create something new has been on the fashion radar for a while now, so it was just a matter of time when this aesthetically pleasing and sustainable transformation process arrives at French Connection.
We caught up with David, Mary and Charles from our design team to talk menswear shirting, upcycling and the making of these one-of-a-kind shirts...
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your position here at French Connection...
David: My name's David and I design the Menswear Collection here at French connection.
Mary: Hi, I’m Mary a sample machinist at French Connection. A sample machinist is responsible for making toiles (prototype garments) and amend any samples ready for showing.
Charles: I’m Charlie, my role at French Connection is to liaise with the Menswear designers to help in the creation of garments from an initial sketch/idea.
From the initial design to making the actual shirts, what stage of the process were you involved in, in creating these shirts?
David: Me and Charlie worked directly with the existing shirts to generate fresh designs, as opposed to starting with a sketch like we usually do. When the shirts arrived in the studio we loosely paired and grouped the fabrics that worked best together and started to layer them on top of each other to get a feel for what fabrics combinations and allocations were most complimentary. Charlie and I spoke about the logistics of the project also, and how difficult and time consuming each change would be for Mary to make. Once satisfied Charlie brought the shirts to Mary to discuss deconstruction/reconstruction and everything in between.
Mary: My role was to trim, sew, overlook and press the shirts.
Charles: During the development of the shirts it was my responsibility to discuss the styling of each individual shirt with David (Head of Men's Design), then cut and prepare the parts/panels ready for Mary (Machinist) to construct.
What are the three most important things you consider when you’re designing a men’s shirt?
David: The three most important things would be fabric, fit, construction. The making of a shirt is the all-time most important thing in my opinion - the fusing and interlining used in the collars and cuffs must be correctly chosen, the correct pressing techniques which allow you to achieve nice sharp collar corners and edges must be considered and even things like the weight of the thread used to put it all together are all essential to a successful shirt being created. Luckily, Charlie is an expert when it comes to shirting. Before we go to production, we fit and review everything in house multiple times to ensure it’s as good as can be. If ever we need a new style of shirt designed, Mary can whip us up a toile (fit sample) to help us realise and resolve the designs in a three-dimensional form.
How would you describe your design process for these upcycled shirts?
David: For me and Charlie, it was a relatively quick conversation about how we wanted to deconstruct/reconstruct and place the updated details. Although it was a group effort, I think Mary should take the majority credit as she was the skilled crafts person who spent hours executing each one piece by piece. The process was fun and light-hearted with quick results.
Charles: There was a limited number of fabrics to work with during the design process. To start with we would simply add a contrast pocket, but as the project evolved, we soon realised that some shirts would have to be made from a mix of fabrics to make each one slightly different.
How does working with upcycled materials influence the design process?
David: It’s nice to have some design restrictions at times. In this case we were given a box of random shirts and challenged to figure out the best possible outcome with what we were given. We all needed to work together and think outside the box as a team to find clever design solutions. I loved the constant dialogue and resourceful mentality. We made 25 new shirts out of 25 old shirts, with no waste.
What different tools did you use to create these designs?
Charles: As a pattern cutter, I used the following tools during the project – tailors stand/mannequin, tailors shears, tailors chalk, set square and tape measure.
Mary: I used a flatbed lock stitch machine, a 3-thread overlocking machine and a pressing machine for the shirts.
How long did it take to create one shirt?
Charles: Depending on the complexity of the design and the mix of fabrics required it would take between 1 - 4 hours to make each shirt.
Mary: It took anything between 1 - 4 hours to make and finish a shirt.
What do you love most about upcycling?
David: Apart from the obvious, which is the sustainability factor, I like the idea of taking something outdated or discarded and giving it a new lease of life.
Mary: I liked the upcycling factor as nothing went to waste.
What do you hope our FC community will take away from these upcycled designs?
David: I hope people find smart ways to update the existing. I see it on Instagram a lot these days, it’s becoming more and more popular to upcycle and repurpose old things. People are taking the process further and making handbags out of old jackets or shoes out of old bags, but doing it in a way that’s really tasteful and pleasing.. It’s really exciting to see each person’s creative point of view.
Charles: Hopefully, after reading the blog and watching the video the FC community will appreciate the work undertaken when upcycling these shirts and make a purchase!
The making of our upcycled shirts
Upcycling looks good on you.