Thursday, 29 May 2014


The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries on the planet: it’s the number 2 polluter of clean water and in 2012 14.3million tons of textiles ended up in landfill sites.

BEVERLY SMART is an example of how it is possible to offer couture clothing within a sustainable setup.  Here’s what she has to say.

Q  How do you source your fabrics?

A Nearly all my fabric is overstock, ie, remains of unused fabric (over)ordered by the large clothing companies.  It’s the perfect example of upcycling.  I also work with fabric suppliers that sell sustainable and organic fabrics.  I have a preference for natural fabrics.  Not only are they are biodegradable, decomposing in a way that synthetics never will, but they are much more satisfying to work with and have an unbeatable aesthetic quality.

 Why do you source in this way?

 Initially it was a question of what was available.  I live in a beautiful but sparsely populated area, so there were virtually none of the traditional choices.  I scoured the local town markets and developed relationships with the traders there, persuading them to let me come and see their warehouses, so that I could dig around and find fabrics even they’d forgotten they had. One of those traders fast became my main supplier, and we’ve been working together for years now. He travels around France’s fabric producers and buys up their unsold stock.  Like me, he is passionate about cloth and knows exactly what I like.  I also go up to Paris where I have another couple of good addresses, all faithful to the upcycling principle.

What kinds of creative challenges do you face through this way of sourcing fabrics?

 Traditionally, a designer will be there at the beginning of the season saying, what can I do? When there are no boundaries, no limitations, it can be overwhelming. When you work within a ‘restricted’ choice, you say ok, what can I do with this? It’s a starting point. Limitations focus your mind.

 Where does your style come from?

 I’m always thinking how I can marry my personal design style to a choice of body types. I’ve always been unapologetic about the style of my collections being influenced by my height (I am 6’2”), even if for my store I scale everything down for a more average height.  The best selling sizes are 42/44, and the fact that I love bias cut, flowing clothes means that even if a particular dress looks ravishing on a size 38 for the photo shoots, it looks equally lovely on a size 44 because of the generous cut, the drape of a quality fabric and the simple, clean cut lines of the design.

 What are your design inspirations at the moment?

 I’ve just finished watching Series 2 of House of Cards, so the part of the collection I’m working on now (SS15) is inspired by Robin Wright’s formidable character Claire Underwood.
The other part is an ‘oversized’ range.  I’ve always adored huge enveloping clothes (I spent a lot of my time at college dressed in men’s suits, belted with a huge belt, à la Annie Hall) and I continue to be a fan of that style.  It’s all about balancing the silhouette.

Saturday, 18 January 2014


I spend time each winter in Cape Town sourcing my jewellery range for the shop. During my visit last February I met with representatives of The Keiskamma Trust, a community organisation that has a skilled group of embroiderers.  Prior to my trip I had been introduced by a client to Adinkra symbols, from Ghana.  I thought they were amazing graphics, and when I saw samples of Keiskamma's embroiderer's work I knew immediately what I wanted to do. Once I was back in France I sent out strips of linen with instructions and templates for my chosen symbols.  They embroidered them, sent them back to me, and I then incorporated them into my designs. The results are just beautiful.

Each symbol has a name and meaning. Their origin is unclear but it is thought that they are named after Nana Kofi Adinkra, once a king of an area called Gyaman in the Ivory Coast in the 19th century.  Craftsmen are thought to have developed them to decorate cloth.

The cloth artisan stamping the symbols onto the base cloth

Asante boys going to a dance in adinkra robes

The 7 symbols I chose for this summer's collection

The collaboration has been a huge success.  I am thrilled with the results and have made a limited edition collection for the shop.  I am already working on ideas for SS15.  It particularly brings me joy to be working with these talented craftspeople here in South Africa and having their wonderful work on display within my own designs.  I've been invited by the Cape Embroiderer's Guild to give a talk on this project whilst I'm here.

Names and meanings of the Adinkra symbols