Posted on

Welcome to Olive Road

Olive Road is an online shop selling vintage fashion, textiles and haberdashery on Etsy. Vintage is the ultimate form of recycling and I love to use my sewing skills to restore a neglected vintage dress or skirt back to its former glory. If the item of clothing really has seen better days then I make it into a small accessory and give it a new lease of life. I use recycled trims wherever possible and only use recycled packaging. I feel passionate about not using any animal products in the accessories I make and you will never find fur clothing or fur trims for sale at Olive Road.

Welcome to the blog focused on making and crafting, women’s history and fashion exhibitions and exploring reader’s beloved item that has a vintage story. Olive Road launched in September 2014 at Pop Up Vintage Fairs London and is named after the street my Nan and Grandad lived on for 60 years, it holds many dear memories for me and my family.

Online vintage shoppingI’m Sarah Richards and I live in Bow, East London. I’ve had a varied career from studying Fashion Design at the London College of Fashion, working as a Buyer in the retail industry and then undertaking a BSc in Health Sciences:Homeopathy.  During and after university, I worked as an Executive Assistant for a national newspaper and then onto a popular retailer’s head office. Thanks for your interest in Olive Road, follow me on Facebook to find out when and where my next stall is or get in touch via the social media links on the footer or sign up to my newsletter here.

Handmade from vintage fabrics

Olive Road London Limited, London E3 5SB

Posted on

Turning campervan curtains into vintage chic in the war against fast fashion

It is the story of the vintage fabric that really draws me in. I rescued a piece of purple floral bark cloth fabric from a 1960’s VW campervan. After a quick refresh, it is ready for a designer to refashion into a new design. I only wish every piece I source could tell the journey it had been on before arriving at my shop. vintage fabrics contain a unique mix of colour and print making it very unlikely to be found elsewhere. Vintage textiles capture social history, I can instantly tell the era of a piece of fabric from its design.’ Comments Sarah Richards, Founder of Olive Road London Ltd.

Refashioning vintage fabrics prevents them from adding to the growing landfill problem. The global fashion industry produced more greenhouse emissions than the aviation and maritime shipping industries combined. The trend for fast fashion has resulted in 87% of all textiles ending in landfill. Each length of fabric is individually sourced and refreshed by Sarah. Saving designers and makers time and enabling them to create an ethical product with a unique design.


For further information, please contact:

Sarah Richards, founder and Director of Olive Road London Ltd.


Tel: 07774 255134

Stand F32 at the Knitting & Stitching Show, 11 to 14th October 2018, Alexandra Palace.


Notes to editors

Olive Road London Ltd is an independent business established in 2017. Director Sarah Richards was awarded a grant by Tower Hamlets council in conjunction with NWES for a small business grant enabling her to exhibit at The Knitting & Stitching Show, October 2018.

Sarah Richards has over 10 years experience working in the Retail Fashion industry for major high street brands as a Buyer and Executive Assistant. This experienced influenced Sarah to become involved in the emerging sustainable fashion sector. She runs a weekly ‘Fast Fashion Therapy’ sewing club in East London with sustainable textiles expert Eleanor Tull. She has a certificate from the University of Exeter and Fashion Revolution after completing their sustainable fashion course.



Posted on

Small sustainable business awarded grant to assist the campaign against fast fashion

London resident, Sarah Richards is awarded a small business grant by Tower Hamlets to assist her in the campaign against the fast fashion industry. ‘I wanted to do something tangible to work against the fast fashion trend by teaching people to sew and mend their own clothes. I founded a vintage fabric business to show people that pre-loved fabrics offer an individual and unique style and helps to prevent adding to the textile landfill issue.’ Comments Sarah Richards, Founder of Olive Road London Ltd.

‘I attended a free four day business course provided by NWES on behalf of Tower Hamlets. Lana, the trainer, was incredibly knowledgeable and shared her own experience of establishing a business. I met with a mentor who helped me build an achievable business plan. It was pretty daunting to present my idea to a panel, Dragons Den style. I was thrilled to be awarded the grant. Half the funds have been spent on equipment for sewing workshops and the other half for a stand and The Knitting & Stitching Show in October to showcase my fabric business’.

Refashioning vintage fabrics prevents them from being thrown into landfill. The global fashion industry produces more greenhouse emissions than the aviation and maritime shipping industries combined. The trend for fast fashion has resulted in 87% of all textiles ending in landfill. Each length of fabric is individually rescued by Sarah, refreshed ready for designers an makers to bring it back to life, creating an ethical product.


For further information, please contact:

Sarah Richards

Founder and Director of Olive Road London Ltd

Email: / Tel 07774 255134

(stand no F32 at Knitting & Stitching Show, 11 to 14 October 2018, Alexandra Palace)

Notes to editors

Olive Road London Ltd.

Sarah Richards has over 10 years experience working in the Retail Fashion industry for major high street brands as a Buyer and Executive Assistant. This experience influenced Sarah to become involved in the emerging sustainable fashion sector. She runs a weekly ‘Fast Fashion Therapy’ club in East London with sustainable textiles expert Eleanor Tull. Teaching people to mend and re-model their clothes preventing them from being sent to landfill.

Posted on

The Mystery of a Cotton Skirt: #Whomademyclothes?

Walking down the fresh vegetable aisle of the supermarket, I’ll often reject some green beans air freighted from Kenya in favour of Kale grown in Kent. I like to buy products with the least air miles as possible. Supermarkets helpfully display where their fresh produce is grown. Ask a fashion retailer the same question and the answer will not be as straight forward.

exeter uni screen shot

I’m terribly behind on a Who Made my Clothes? Fashion Revolution course in collaboration with Exeter University and Future Learn. The course is designed to convert students into fashion activists. Starting with three garments in our wardrobe, we were asked what are our emotions behind them? why did we chose them? What do they mean to us? Then the more difficult task of finding where they were made. The label states the country of manufacture but is that the true story? The country listed on the care label might only be the place the garment was finished, including stitching in the care label. There are many processes involved in making a garment from producing the fibre through to being handed to us in a carrier bag over a shop counter. Considering each step certainly puts clothes shopping on a whim into context.

I contacted the brands of my three garments to ask #whomademyclothes? including the fabric. I didn’t receive a response from Levis or Topshop but Collectif suggested I emailed them. Their reply to my email was ‘We get fabric from our print supplier who get the greige from their Mills all based in China but we have no further information regarding this‘. They were able to tell me that the fabric was printed in China and the skirt also manufactured there. I wasn’t surprised by Collectif’s answer. I had read the comments of the students further ahead on the course than me and the majority had also been unsuccessful in finding out the true location of their garments, many not receiving a reply. A Fashion Revolution report from 2015 shares the statistics to support my findings

screen shot of fashion revolution behind the barcode paper from april 2015


I worked as a junior buyer for a large retailer many years ago. Selecting a product for the range was similar to being part of a long complicated property chain with the customer being the first time buyer and the buyer being the Estate Agent. A buying team works with designers on the look of a range and individual garments. The buyer then briefs a manufacturing agent on the spec of the item, the quantity of the order and negotiates the cost price. The agent may own factories themselves but equally they outsource to other factories and this factory may outsource it to another. You can see how the supply chain becomes complicated.

As a junior buyer I was concerned with the destination of the final manufacturing process as this affected the price. Global governments set quotas on imports and exports depending on where products were made e.g. if a garment was finished in Hong Kong, it would be cheaper than buying it direct from China (I worked as a Junior Buyer pre-1999, this system was abolished in 2005). I might have known where the finished woven, dyed and printed fabric was from but I wouldn’t have known how it got to that state and certainly not where the fibre was grown. Sadly it seems that nothing has changed in the past twenty years and the fashion industry still has a long way to go before it becomes a circular transparent industry. Full transparency would mean that the brand can let the customer know the origin of every stage of the manufacturing process.

graphic showing distribution of world cotton fibre production


Back to the mystery of my cotton skirt! China is the biggest distributor of cotton fibre production. My skirt was made in 2016 and the above chart shows that two years ago China produced 5% more cotton than it’s closest competitor the USA. Can I safely assume my skirt was produce in China from fibre to finished skirt? According to a recent article from the Business of Fashion ‘Chinese firms like Kerr have come circle by moving their yarn and textile mills to American states, like South Carolina, where cotton is relatively affordable’. This New York Times article explains ‘From 2000 to 2014, Chinese companies invested $46 billion on new projects and acquisitions in the United States, much of it in the last five years’. The article goes on to explain that the US Government issues subsidies to US cotton growers resulting in it being cheaper to grow cotton in the US and ship it to China for processing than it is to grow it in China.

‘Rising costs in China are causing a shift of some types of manufacturing to lower-cost countries like Bangladesh, India and Vietnam. In many cases, the exodus has been led by the Chinese themselves who have aggressively moved to set up manufacturing bases elsewhere.’

The New York Times, 2015

The issue for me isn’t the nationality of the owners of the factories, it is about traceability. Fashion Revolution encourage us to investigate the human story; who were the people who picked the cotton? spun the yarn? wove the fabric? – Were they paid a living wage? Were they given enough breaks and not expected to work 12 hours without stopping? Did they have enough protection from the chemicals most cotton farmers use to grow the fibre? Was there child labour involved? Did they experience sexual harassment? How can a fashion brand answer these questions and endorse corporate and social responsibility if they don’t know where the fabric has come from or can’t be assured which factory is making their garments?

As a customer and a previous employee within the fashion retail industry I encourage everyone to ask these questions. If we put pressure on our favourite brands, buyers put pressure on their manufacturers and agents, eventually the industry will become transparent. Without us asking these questions, the industry will carry on for another twenty years without changing and the lives of textile industry workers will be negatively affected.

To find out how you can get involved, go to the Fashion Revolution website. Fashion Revolution was set up in 2013 in response to the Rana Plaza disaster where 1138 People lost their lives whilst working within the textile industry. For six years they have been campaigning for better working conditions for textile industry workers. Their week long campaign, #whomademyclothes runs every April to mark the anniversary of the disaster. This is the second year of the Future Learn course and there is still time to join, Find out more here.

Read my top tips on reducing fast fashion and textile waste on Pebble Magazine

Posted on

Embroidery Class: Mindfulness For Busy People

“Our approach to craftivism focuses on handicrafts that use slow, repetitive hand actions so that we can also use the act of crafting to meditate and think critically…”

Sarah Corbett

craftivist book


I’ve been re-reading Sarah Corbett’s ‘How to be a Craftivist’ book and the above quote made me sit up and think. When I sew, the purpose has always been a tangible product at the end and if I haven’t finished it within 7 hours then it goes in the ‘to be finished basket’. Or too often, worn held up with safety pins until I finally get round to fixing a waist band. All the years I have been sewing it has never been about the actual process.

Last month I was busy stitching and embroidering bunting for The Women’s Hall Exhibition about the East London Federation of Suffragettes in Tower Hamlets. I researched campaigns that Sylvia Pankhurst and her team were fighting for, many of which are still valid today. The words ‘Equal Pay’ and ‘Fight Racism’ were brought to life through soft chain stitch in purple, green and red. I enjoyed having a reason to sit still, be productive and think about the amazing activism that these women under took 100 years ago.

shot of women’s hall embroidery


With the scary serendipity (has Facebook actually entered my mind?) a post from my local sewing studio, Fabrications, popped into my news feed advertising an embroidery class. I reflected on the bunting I had made and decided it was time to learn more than a basic chain stitch. I find it difficult to sit still and almost impossible to meditate so perhaps embroidery would bring some calmness into my busy mind?

broadway market rail

We were asked to bring with us a piece of clothing to upcycle using embroidery. Not feeling confident with my abilities, I didn’t want to start stitching a favourite top but the sunny day brought me some luck and I picked up this bright red silk shirt from Broadway Vintage, right outside Fabrications. My size and only £5.

photo of milou with sketchbook


Milou, the creator of Moody Bright Designs, was taking today’s class. A skilled fine artist, she swapped her pens and paints for a needle and thread. ‘I’m passionate about the creative potential that embroidery has to offer, as a means of self-expression and as a way to refashion, mend and personalise your wardrobe‘ Milou says on her website.

embroidered turq t-shirt

Enthusiastic and encouraging us to embrace our mistakes, Milou’s energy was infectious. My fellow students and I ‘oohed’ in awe at the shirts and t-shirts Milou had embroidered using her artistic talents. We soon got to work in learning how to stitch basic running stitch, back stitch, split stitch and satin stitch and the more complicated whip back stitch. The afternoon session gave me chance to try out my own embroidery design. Using Milou’s folk flower examples, I drew a bouquet of wild flowers coming out of one of the pockets of my silk shirt. I didn’t even care that it was 26 degrees and sunny outside whilst I was sat in a classroom. I was enjoying every minute of concentrating on deciding which colour combination of thread to use and the repetition of each individual stitch.

start of my shirt with drawing


Going back to Sarah Corbett’s ‘How to be a Craftivist’ she says ‘Using craft materials that are small, delicate and soft creates a comforting space, which helps us to ask ourselves and others uncomfortable questions about how to tackle injustice issues’. Embroidery fits that statement perfectly! I’ll admit that we mostly talked about other embroiderists that we liked to follow on Instagram and podcasts we enjoyed whilst we sew rather than putting the world to rights. But Milou did encourage us to use embroidery to recycle our clothes…

“I love buying second hand shirts from charity shops for all my projects. When we are upcycling, simple things become beautiful”

Moody Bright Designs

If you are like me and find it difficult to stay still, have a busy mind like a hamster on a wheel then I recommend taking up embroidery. Similar to knitting, you can take it wherever you go, sit in a calm environment contemplating life, join a local sewing bee and embroidery with friends or become a Craftivist and put the world to rights one stitch at a time.

Milou and Moody Bright Designs is back at Fabrications (Hackney, London) on 11th August. Book here.

Posted on

Vintage Stories: 1960’s Saucer Chair

My favourite thing about running an Etsy shop is the people that I get to chat to from all over the world including vintage fabric fan and designer-maker Eileen from Brisbane in Australia. Eileen has her own Etsy store, Touch Wood Design, selling beautiful cushions that she makes in her studio. She bought some unique 1950’s barkcloth from my vintage fabric shop last year and we have been chatting on Instagram ever since. When I spotted an amazing 1960’s saucer chair that Eileen posted on her Instagram page I had find out more. Eileen shares her vintage story with us… Eileen with cushion

‘I often use chairs as a prop in photos for my homewares business Touch Wood Design. I’m gradually adding special Mid Century pieces to my home and I’d had my eye out for a saucer chair for years, but never been able to find one that was in good condition at an affordable price. I decided to put the call out to my Instagram friends and, to my great surprise and delight, one of them found me a chair within hours!’

Eileen is now the proud owner of this striking red and white 1960’s saucer chair, also known as a satellite chair due to it’s iconic shape. I have been spotting a revival of Loom and Cane furniture recently and I love this article from a1966 edition of the Birmingham Post. Journalist Priscilla Hodgson suggests ‘Cane furniture today is very comfortable, very practical, extremely attractive and suddenly popular’, which could have been written in today’s press.

old newspaper cutting of chair


I asked Eileen why she was so intent on finding a saucer chair ‘When I was little, we had a turquoise-and-white saucer chair in the same design in our sunroom at home. It was my favourite chair – I was a real bookworm and would curl up for hours in it reading Enid Blyton books!’ that sounds like heaven! (Photo below from Cup & Saucer’s vintage shop on Etsy)

Enid blyton pic


‘The person I bought it from needed to clear some space in her daughter’s room as she was graduating from primary school to high school and needed to make way for a study desk. When I bought it, the chair was covered with a hideous brown cushioned cover, but hiding underneath was the beautiful red-and-white original chair. It has a tiny bit of sunburn so I assume it’s spent at least part of its life on a porch or in a sunny spot, just like the chair from my childhood.’

chair with cushion


‘The experience reinforced for me what a wonderful and supportive community of like-minded people I’ve found on Instagram since I joined a couple of years ago. Luckily, I’ve also been able to do some spotting of vintage goodies for that insta-buddy to return the favour!’.

‘I’ve had numerous comments and requests from people to buy it, but I’ve become so fond of it I don’t think I could ever give it up!’

You can buy Eileen’s beautifully made cushions from her Etsy store, Touch Wood Design. Follow her on Instagram for vintage inspiration, Australian style. 

Cup & Saucer sell vintage books alongside kitchenalia and collectibles

You can find a wide range of vintage fabrics on Olive Road London’s Etsy shop, new lines added each week.

Posted on

Vintage Shopping in New York

Planning a shopping trip to New York? Vintage shopping fan and Journalist Victoria Briggs shares with us her favourite New York vintage shops during one of her frequent visits to the city….

Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market

Every Saturday and Sunday, behind the Lincoln Tunnel, a small army of vendors take over a block in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, and set up stalls selling vintage clothes, collectables, vinyl records, jewellery and household items that your granny probably owned. How Hell’s Kitchen got its name is open to debate. One theory has it that the once tough, working class neighbourhood was so crime-ridden that the other name it goes by, Clinton, didn’t really do it justice. Another theory is that the area was once the site of several, less than sanitary abattoirs, the smell of which inspired residents to label it anew. Whatever its origins, the modern day Hell’s Kitchen is located close to the city’s theatre district, bounded by 34th Street to the south, 59th Street to the north, and west of Eighth Avenue. While gentrification has transformed the neighbourhood in recent years, the streets around the Lincoln Tunnel are among the grittiest in Midtown Manhattan. The Market occupies a block closed to traffic at the weekends. Admission is free and entry is at 39th Street and 9th Avenue—a little out of the way, but its outlying location is reflected in the prices. Go towards the end of the day (the market closes at 5pm) when vendors are more inclined to give you bargains. I bought an as-new silk shirt, a 60s psychedelic dress and an 80s tea dress, all for $20.

Beacon’s Closet

A regular in ‘top shops in NYC’ listicles, and with good reason. For vintage lovers and style-hunters alike, it’s an Aladdin’s Cave of second-hand designer labels, retro prints, quirky one-offs and perennial classics. Confession time: I’ve got a low-level addiction to Beacon’s Closet stores (and there are four of them, praise be: three in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan). It’s the first place I head for in New York after checking into a hotel, pretty much. When I’m not in Beacon’s, I’m thinking about being back in Beacon’s. When I am in Beacon’s, I have to set myself a spending limit so I don’t blow the bank. Fortunately, stock sells at a reasonable price. Last visit, I bought a vintage, pure wool Bonwit Teller coat (the original Bonwit Teller store on Fifth Avenue was demolished in 1980 to make way for Trump Tower), along with a cute tee and a Paul Smith shirt for my other half: total $55. Because clothes rails are crammed and shoes come stacked high, it helps if you like to rummage. To avoid crowds, as well as the sharp elbows of New Yorkers, shop early (stores open 11am-8pm) and towards the beginning of the week—evenings and weekends are busy. Beacon’s also buys clothes. Take along vintage or seasonal pieces and receive 35% cash or 55% in-store credit on items selected (ID is required—a passport is fine).

Brooklyn Flea

Proud of it’s legendary status, it is the city’s largest flea market, selling vintage and designer wear, antiques and collectibles, with street food stalls to boot. It’s been around for a decade and moved locations as it’s grown. Every Sunday, at the time of writing, the market is held al fresco in Dumbo—a fashionable neighbourhood located between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. It’s a prime spot, with great views of Manhattan just across the East River, and prices that reflect its popularity with tourists. Don’t go to Brooklyn Flea if you’re looking for a bargain. Do go if you want a good day out and don’t mind paying a bit extra for the whole experience. According to Time Out NY, the place also ranks as one of the city’s ‘essential pick-up spots’, so if you don’t score a bargain, there may be other advantages to mingling with the crowd. Best value finds while I was there included vintage sunglasses selling at $15 a pair, and the food stalls, which are cheap, fresh and excellent. While there are some beautiful vintage pieces to be had (selling anywhere between $75-$225), the market also has its fair share of overpriced tat, so be discerning (the worst offender I found was a 70s string bag, worn-out and discoloured, and on sale for $40). Get to Brooklyn Flea from Manhattan by walking over the Brooklyn Bridge—Dumbo is the first neighbourhood you hit over on the Brooklyn side—or else take the Coney Island-bound F train to York Street. Word of warning: if you don’t want to end up on a thousand Instagram feeds, avoid the hoards of snappers as you come out of the subway. For nervous types, there are trains thundering across the Manhattan Bridge, directly over head, all the time you’re browsing, so it gets pretty loud.

Victoria will be bringing along some of her New York vintage finds to the next Olive Road vintage stall at Pop Up Vintage Fairs in East London’s Wilton’s Music Hall on 12th July 2018.

Posted on

V&A Exhibition: Fashioned from Nature

Edwina Ehrman, Fashion Curator of the new V&A exhibition, Fashioned from Nature gave a lecture on her thought process during the curation the exhibition. Opened in time for Fashion Revolution Week, this insightful exhibition explores the relationship between fashion and nature as both a source of fibre and a design influence. It tackles the complex task of educating on how the fashion industry has become a polluter of the Earth beginning in the 1600’s through to predicting scenarios of how the industry will tackle it’s carbon footprint in 2030. 

‘We tried to explore a very complicated relationship between fashion and the natural world. The fashion industry has a terrific impact on the environment. Said to be the second most damaging industry in the world’ Edwina Ehrman was being more optimistic and considers it to be within the top five. Overall, the Fashion Industry has had over 400 years of impact on our environment and this is what I found most enlightening about the exhibition, as I considered the 1950’s to be the starting point of fashion toxifying the environment.

man’s waistcoat embroidered with macaque monkeys from around 1780 to 1789 copyright V&A

‘If we are going to change our practices and mind sets we have to remember why we value nature. The way in which we celebrate our connections with nature in textiles and in garment form.’ Inspiration taken from nature is at its most paramount when viewing the 18th Century garments. Edwina explains that ‘during the 18th century natural history books were the most popular books in Britain. It engaged people, we were a trading nation with voyages of exploration, merchants came back with extraordinary range of specimens. We really wanted to organise them, to order them, categorise them.’ Included is a man’s waistcoat embroidered with macaque monkeys from around 1780 to 1789 and an silk evening dress intricately embroidered with ferns, which Edwina thinks could have been inspired by the gift of a St Helenian tree fern to Kew Gardens in 1822 (Dress from Messers Harrods Ltd. dated 1829). Edwina spent a lot of time working with her colleagues at the Natural History Museum to understand the context of the items such as this dress.

The exhibition is organised chronologically, which Edwina clarifies ‘enables me to tackle how to explain the increasing scale. From 1600 to 1800 in this period fabrics and dress were almost entirely handmade. Energy comes from Water, animals, humans. There is already pollution but it is limited. There is hunting but the consumer base is small and doesn’t have the same impact as it does in the next century. We look at the staple fibres – silk, wool cotton and flax.’ I’m particularly squeamish about garments made from animal fur and I swiftly walked past these cabinets. But hearing Edwina’s reason for including them made sense: ‘The raw materials came from all over the world, very expensive status symbols and the beginnings of animals becoming to be endangered.’

Popular luxury styles were already having an impact on nature as early as the 17th century. ‘The fashion for beavers fur hat was so great even by early 1600 European beavers were so depleted the French and British were driven to compete with each other find new supplies in what we now know as Canada.’ Edwina selected a modern day photo of a beavers in the wild so viewers could link the hat with it’s source. She wanted to show that ‘our ancestors were not complacent and many were just as concerned as we are today’ on the impact fashion was having on the environment. ‘We found very interesting early letters from 1760’s onwards with pollution concerns about the rivers around Leeds from wool dying. Into the 19th century these things goes beyond letters and court cases to campaigns and visible presence on the street. Britain was the first to set up societies to protect animals and then birds.’

Once cotton is starting to be used on a larger scale during the 19th and 20th centuries, colour starts to be paramount in the cases, specifically a striking mauveine dress discovered by the English chemist William Henry Perkin in 1856. ‘In the 19th century we get synthetic colours. Spun glass. Rubber, very important to industry and very useful to fashion. Pineapple fibre, lace bark, vegetable ivory and sea silk. Many people in Britain were living in the empire and encouraged to bring back raw materials to Britain as we were a great manufacturing nation.’ Edwina explains why the cases start to become busier as the viewer moves through the years. ‘In the 19th century 93 % of what we imported were raw materials and what we exported was about the same amount. Our entire economy was based on manufacturing for home use and export. Mechanisation, the use of steam power, coal and non-renewable fossil fuel’. The British population tripled and this coincided with new ways to sell fashion such as department stores, chain stores plus ‘ more sophisticated ways to persuade people to buy clothes to explain why they might need than they thought. So the whole system is built up on every side.’

Continuing upstairs we are greeted by a dress Emma Watson wore on the red carpet to the MET Gala in 2016. The only completely sustainable dress in the exhibition and made by Calvin Klein who worked in collaboration with Olivia First from Eco Age. ‘One of the leaders of the sustainable fashion movement, Emma Watson does what she says, she wears sustainable clothes on the red carpet and every day wear. She wrote the foreword in the book, she explains very clearly why she is so passionate about it.’ Edwina illustrates her reason for asking Emma Watson to contribute.

The cases on the mezzanine level are named by fibres including Tencel the first fibre to be made in a closed system. The 20th and 21st century displays are linked by an ‘Activists Island’. Edwina said she was ‘very keen to include activists’ and goes on to describe it as not looking ‘museumy, less organised’, which was the look she was hoping for to display posters, T-shirts with slogans, outfits worn by activists such as Katherine Hamnet and Vivian Westwood. Behind the ‘Island’ are large screens showing films that ‘start with what we love about nature and then move to the impact and why people are protesting.’

‘The design of the 21st century displays, we hope we know the problem by now. It is all about solutions. We have a long way to go and we need a range of approaches. We have had tried traditional [methods] in our armoury since 1600. What I have been saying is that we as consumers can ask questions. Who made my clothes? How were they made? What are they made of. Things the shop assistants can’t tell us. If we knew these things we might make better choices if we want to.’ Edwina moves on to thank Stella McCartney for her valuable contribution. Speaking to the BBC, Stella McCartney believes fashion has long had a damaging impact on our environment.

Coming to the end of the exhibition, new innovative substrates are shown and classed as ‘Future Fabrics’. An alternative leather dress made from by-product of the wine industry known as Vegea is the first time the dress has been on show outside Italy. ‘I was delighted when it arrived as I wanted to feel it – and it does feel like leather’ Edwina tells us. There is also a dress made from orange fibre created in Sicily from orange rind and orange pips and designed by Tiziano Guardini. A bag made from Piñatex, a bonded fibre made from the leaves of pineapples. The Cambridge scientists who have created a new dying process were excited to see a dress made from oat roots created by Diana Schere. According to Edwina they said ‘this is is the one with the most possibilities’.

dress made from oat roots created by Diana Schere, copyright V&A

The final installation, Fashion Futures 2030, is a collaboration with the Centre of Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion. ‘The centre have imagined four scenarios of what fashion might be like in 2030. You can fill in a questionnaire, results go into a research project, you are told your vision of the future matches this film’ The films are thought provoking, engaging, they linger in your mind afterwards.’

‘I wanted a way to get in something that would communicate on another level….particularly to young people. They chose to look at the fashion cycle through 5 every day objects. The fashion cycle is design, make, acquire, wear, bespoke. If a viscose dress is linked to acquire, touch the dress and a film comes up on screen. It is my favourite one, like going to the till and the paper comes out of the till on what you spent but this one tells you what it is made of, its carbon footprint it is – chop or squander, chop or cherish and what its footprint would be if it was made in Tencel. It is clever and it is funny. Edwina summarises:

“I love fashion we just have to find better ways to create it. I have one message – please talk about this, discuss and debate”

Edwina concludes that we can learn four things from the past:


  1. Education and activism do work. They may take time but they work
  2. Legislation provided it has got teeth and financial inducements definitely can help and affect real change
  3. Science and technology are vitally important. Often science can lead us in the wrong direction but it can also lead us in the right direction. Science, like fashion is creative
  4. We can also learn from the clothing habits of our ancestors. That means people of my mothers generation who cared for their clothes in a way that I don’t. We need to look after our clothes. Find out what they are made of, appreciate them more for their fabrics, not just what they look like and wear them for longer and before we buy think, do I really need this?

‘It is easy to go to a shop and think “oh, I like that” and you buy it and get home and not so sure about that and it sits there. I buy clothes to cheer myself up and I’m gradually trying to cure myself of this habit. I’m a novice, I have a lot more to learn but I have become engaged with this and I feel optimistic about the future’.

Fashioned from Nature is on at the V&A in London until 27 January 2019. This is a summary of Edwina Ehrman’s lecture for a V&A Members Event about Fashioned from Nature exhibition on 20th April 2018.


Posted on

Fashion Revolution Week: #whomademyclothes?

‘Who made this’ isn’t the first thought that pops into mind when shopping. Usually the thought process is fit, colour, suitability, affordability or just because it is has been one of those days and that cute little red jumper will cheer me up. The social enterprise, Fashion Revolution , are campaigning to raise awareness of our thought processes when shop so we consider ‘who made my clothes?’, where they come from and the thousands of processes that have taken place before our purchases hang in our wardrobes. Fashion Revolution was created by people working in the fashion industry following the Rana Plaza disaster in April 2013. The building in Bangladesh, collapsed killing 1138 people, most of whom were garment workers. The disaster highlighted the conditions many people across the world are working in to produce cheap clothes for the high streets in the West.

‘It is the retailers fault for demanding cheap prices’ is one chain of thought. Having worked in retail head offices for three large UK high street companies I know the issue is more complex than this. All the companies I worked for had stringent rules such as no child labour and the manufacturer was required to pay a minimum wage. They had teams of buyers and quality assurance managers who would visit the factory several times a year to enforce these checks. But the risk is the buyers and QA teams are only shown the best factories and not shown where the work might be sub-contracted to, perhaps smaller, less ethical factories. However the retailer is not fault free and the low price they demand leads to the manufacturer having to resort to other measures.

As a customer, we are not an innocent party. The UK high street is one of the cheapest places in the world to buy apparel. We demand lower prices and the stores seem to be constantly on sale. We have a powerful role to play in improving working conditions for the people who make our clothes. Fashion Revolution are asking us to campaign to our favourite high street stores and ask them to reveal their supply chain and tell us about the people who are making our clothes. Head over to their website to find out how to get involved. Supply chain transparency is key in preventing future disasters and improving the lives of textile workers around the world.

Back in February I attended a discussion panel as part of the Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne. The panel discussed ethical fashion from the water and pesticides required to grow cotton through to the billions of tons of clothes that are being thrown into landfill. I wrote an article on the outcomes of the discussion for award winning Pebble Magazine. Read the article here and and pick up tips on how to reduce the fashion waste problem. There were two big messages I took away from the festival in Melbourne: Fashion supply chains are complex and it is going to take years to get it right. So as a customer, I need to decide what values are most important to me when buying clothes. When I started an earlier version of this blog I created a list of values that were most important to me when going shopping. I’ve posted the original below as I think it is still valid several years later. Of course, not every product is going to tick every box but three or four would start to make a difference against fast fashion.

The second take away from the panel was the importance of buying second hand or vintage clothing. It might take longer to find the right style and size but with a bit of extra effort it prevents waste. A thought goes out to the people who made it and knowing that I am giving their hard work a new lease of life. The Ellen McCarthur Foundation report ‘A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future’ recommends by just wearing clothes for longer is the ‘most powerful way to capture value, reduce pressure on resources and decrease negative impact’.

Fashion Revolution week runs all this week. You can find out more about their campaign and how to get involved here.

Coming up on the blog this week I will be talking to Nadien Klages who makes clothes for children from jeans and shirts worn by the children’s parents. I’ll also be talking to super crafter and upcycler Barley Massey who founded Fabrications in Hackney.

At the Sustainable Living Festival I took part in a fun workshop on how to refashion a man’s shirt into a dress or skirt. Barley teaches similar courses in Hackney on how to re-work your clothes. Or get in touch if you are interested in joining a craft group in Bow, East London.

Posted on

Vintage Stories: Chocolate Fudge Icing, A-levels and Friends

I first got chatting with Ann from Storr Cupboard when she shared a picture of a vintage cookbook on Instagram. I had a flashback to my mum making birthday cakes for my younger brother with the most amazing chocolate fudge icing recipe from the same St Michael book. My mum’s copy of the book is long gone but Ann kindly sent me the recipe and shared her vintage story with Olive Road:

Cooking is love and cooking is helpful and to me those two acts are intertwined.  I cook for my family, I cook for my friends. God help you if you turn up to my house and you’re not hungry. The Sundays of my childhood were church, dog walk, Sunday roast, homework.  Quiet days, family days.  Driving my parents nuts walking in and out and in and out of the sitting room, jarring the ill-fitting ceramic door handle each and every time.  Their sitting still and dozing quite un-nerving.

My mum’s few cookbooks lived, and still live, in a wall mounted shelf, high above and to the right hand of the cooker. My mum uses the Cordon Bleu cookery book, a couple of pudding recipe books.  That’s about it. She doesn’t need your trends; she can make caramel glazed profiteroles without a recipe, delicate apple tarts, angel cakes rich with raspberries and vanilla spiked whipped cream.

From about 8 years old, I started baking on a Sunday afternoon.  Just because, really.  Our one simple cookbook was St Michael’s ‘Giving a Children’s Party’. St Michael was the lifestyle section name of Marks and Spencer’s: your clothes were St Michael, the food M&S.  The slim cookbook would be hard to find against the 3 inch spine of the Cordon Bleu.  I’d have to look at least 4 times before I’d find it, climbing up onto the work surface, rummaging over and over again searching for it.  I felt at home rummaging through the baking things, little packets of nuts and dried fruits gently desiccating from one Christmas to the next. Flour and sugar regularly replaced. Butter in the fridge.  Never margarine, even in the 80s.  I learnt to add my own baking powder to plain flour, that storing plain and self-raising was a waste of time.  I saw how happy my brothers were when they saw a cooling rack heavy with cakes or scones.

Years later, when A levels approached, my friends clustered around my dining room table.  My parent’s dining room table is a big, thick mahogany beast, with space for my parents, three brothers, and me. Sometimes space for more. The room is formal: old family paintings and silver candlesticks. A fireplace with old postcards and a carriage clock. Huge antique dark wood dresser.

So round they came: Rachel, Elizabeth, Jo and Cips.   If it was warm or rainy, May or June, I don’t remember.  Just the weirdness of having the doors shut against my family and throwing papers into the bin and pretending that we were in ‘A Few Good Men’. The fever of panic against the reality of three separate three hour exams, of the futures we wanted, and the ending of the safe security of secondary school.  The futures we were too scared to want, too.   I’d been in the same form group as David Taylor for all 11 of my 13 years of education.  I went to the same school my brothers went to, that my mum volunteered at, that my dad had the oversight of.  That I’d visited since I was four years old, sitting at the head teacher’s desk with my Spot the Dog colouring in. I was leaving, so excited but utterly terrified.

I’d got in the habit of baking birthday cakes for my drama group, my friends.  Utterly wound up and anxious about my A levels, I’d default to the “milk chocolate birthday cake” and “chocolate fudge icing” from ‘Giving a Children’s Party’.  Everyone knew it by that point and I could make it at 10pm and not make a mistake.  The pages were rigid with smears. I promised Rae that if she studied, I’d give her a wedge of chocolate cake, studded with Milky Way Magic Stars.  She loathed the Gothic literature we had to study, so we’d cajole her onwards through thinking about vampires and ghosts while she frowned and scowled.  Those days are hazy in my mind’s eye, the adrenaline and, likely, the boozy nights that followed. We got there, we did okay in our exams.  We went to work or to uni, and we kept our little group little gang.  We were fused together 11 years ago when our dear Cips died suddenly, during an adventure in Beijing.  These friends became something more to me, to each other.

Twenty years on and I find myself sitting around Rae’s kitchen table, being frowned at and being told that my second ever (now lost to digital deletion) blog post just doesn’t cut it.  And I know it doesn’t.  “It sounds as though you’re terrified” she says.  And I am.  She tells me to send her a first draft before I hit send. I pick at my nails and screw up my face and stare at the table and tell them, “I want to be a writer” and “Christ, finally” they say, but know better than to hug me.

They have known me when I wore only a four sizes too large TopShop jumper (hey! 1994), a reversible Mickey Mouse sweatshirt (more M&S delights) and cut my fringe viciously.  Rae has literally picked me up off the floor in heartbreak.  We’ve seen each other post-partum blue and terrified by the shit that life slings out with fucking regularity.  So when they tell me I’m letting myself down professionally, I listen. Especially when it fucking infuriates me.

Life is busier now, but we still see each other to talk, work, share ideas, and even, sometimes, just to be together.  Each time I sit on Elizabeth’s back step and we take a sneaky peak into her neighbour’s windows through our third  glass of Prosecco, eat dark chocolate on Jo’s sofa, or get drip fed red wine and steak around Rae’s dinner table, I am so grateful for my friends. I trust them with every last part of me. And when I can, I bake them cake.

Ann sharing her passion for cooking on her blog sharing inspiring recipes she has created from leftovers. Sign up to her newsletter here to get inspiration directly to your inbox. Or follow her on Instagram @storrcupboard.