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The University of Southampton
Winchester School of ArtPostgraduate study

Interview with Reem Alasadi

On the 10th March 2016, Winchester School of Art will be hosting a Sustainability Forum, bringing together a range of speakers on the topics of reducing waste and designing ethically. Calum Kerr spoke to Reem Alasadi, WSA’s Associate Professor in Fashion Practice, about the day.

Reem Alasadi
Reem Alasadi


Calum Kerr: On Thursday the School of Art is holding a Sustainability Forum, and you’ve been a major part in putting that together. What’s going to happen on the day?

Reem Alasadi: On the day we’re expecting some fantastic speakers who are coming in, all passionate about their work. Mainly their work is around sustainability, recycling and being ethical in designing. The idea really came about from when I did a workshop with Kay [Kay May, Director of External Affairs] for Winchester Action on Climate Change last year. We did this incredibly workshop where lots of clothes were donated from the PDSA. All these younger groups of sixth-formers and college students, doing their foundation work, came and spent a day doing a workshop, and created an outfit.

I thought this was a fantastic idea to continue doing something within the School, and so I approached Kay again and said ‘This is crazy to just do this for WinACC, I think we can move this forward.’ And that’s how it began.

We had the Christmas tree after that, from the same materials.

We then tried to change the actual module to include recycling, being sustainable, thinking ethically, all these things, and the examiners thought it would be a great idea, so we were able to change it and this is the first year it’s run.

The original workshop was so fantastic and the students got a lot out of it, so in order to continue to work in this area the Forum came about.

It’s been my life’s work for the last 20 years, and I have a lot of contacts – a little black book – so I went through them. Delia [Delia Crowe, Senior Teaching Fellow MA Fashion Design] had been to something quite similar, so we put our heads together and took the idea to Ed [Ed D’Souza, the WSA Head of School] and said ‘What do you reckon?’

And so we’ve got fantastic speakers in, all talking about sustainability and ethical working.


CK: Are they all designers?

RA: Two or three are designers, three are big fashion editors, we’ve got readers from the university, plus my work is on display and there’s input from the school.


CK: This is for the students, is it?

RA: Yes, this is for the students. It’s a beginning run. If it’s successful, and I’m sure it will be, it will be taken further and wider.

The idea for the future is to become one of the leading research universities working in sustainable fashion. Not many do it, and coming from a background in fashion and designing ethically, working with various big brands in fashion and non-fashion, department stores, etc., I know how important it is. This is what we all have to think about, and if we don’t include our students in this, we will be doing something wrong, and missing a chance to change the way fashion is created.


CK: I was talking with a student yesterday who is doing an essay on sustainability, and the topic she was addressing was how to make sustainability mainstream – how to make it cool. Is that something you think about?

RA: Yes, of course. I have fought this exact thing for 20 years. I’m not an eco-warrior holding up a flag. I don’t cycle everywhere. But at the same time I’m very aware of waste. I believe that if everyone can do their bit, their part towards sustainability, then it can make a huge difference.

So, why did I start recycling? Because I hate waste and like saving money and materials.


CK: Was it a reaction to ‘fast fashion’, to disposable fashion?

RA: No, not at all. That’s not how I started. I was very mainstream, working in a normal way. But I would see the fabric fall on the floor and ask ‘That’s a waste, what are you going to do with that?’ and they would say that they would just dump it. ‘No, don’t do that,’ I’d say, ‘I’ll take it and do something with it, remake it, recycle it.’ And that’s how it started.

Loving vintage and second-hand as I do – I used to have a stall at Portabello – I started to customise and remake. My small stand became a very famous, forward thinking site for fashion. Eventually I had no ‘ordinary’ customers. They were all designers and stylists. Then they started to ask me to do consultancy for various brands. I would remake something for them and they go ‘Wow!’ and take the ideas on board.

I then ended up in Tokyo because I didn’t want to be just another stylist who had her own brand. So I went to Tokyo, where nobody knew me, and focussed on a brand which was just made from ‘remade’ pieces. I started by adding to vintage, and then went on to making pieces entirely from second-hand or waste fabrics. This was in 2000 and it became very big and popular.

We would make big pieces for the shows which were totally outrageous. But for pieces to sell – and you have to sell to make any progress in business – the idea would be diffused and we might make a small slip dress made from recycled materials, which was really very cool. The fact that it was recycled was then part of its making, and what made it cool, and that’s what we need to get across.


CK: So what are you up to now?

RA: I’m really happy with how things are going here at the university. I’m happy that we have the support we need to actually go ahead and do something like the forum. This is a passion for me, but we’re now in a place where this can be supported in somewhere like the School of Art. Lots of other people are passionate about it too, though they are often being a bit quiet about it, or don’t quite know how to do it. So now I get to shout, ‘I’ve got an idea, let’s go!’ and see things move.


CK: So, after 20 years working on it, it’s as though you’re finally making your breakthrough with this subject?

RA: Yes, very much. I find that I don’t really want to work on my brand any more. I’ve finished, I’m exhausted. I’ve done all I wanted to do, and learned so much. And this is my next stage of research. I get to take all I’ve learned and feed it back in to see where it can go next. You need to physically do something to really understand it, and now I get to pass all that on.

And the Forum has come from all of that. Luckily Delia and I feel the same passion about it. So we’ve been able to work together to make this happen. It has a nice synergy. And it’s going to be a great day.


CK: Thank you, Reem, for your time. And good luck on Thursday.


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