Cast-offs are reborn

Cast-offs are reborn

A Swiss designer has a thing or two to teach about breathing life into old clothes

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Fashion designer Laura Locher (centre) with students Zora Lai (left) and Jeffery Cheng.
Fashion designer Laura Locher (centre) with students Zora Lai (left) and Jeffery Cheng.
Photo: Ken Lai / graphic: shutterstock
We have to work on the relationships in our lives. Each relationship needs love and attention. The same goes for our relationship with our clothes, says Swiss fashion designer Laura Locher.

"We have a relationship with our clothes: we need to wear them - like our second skin," says Locher, 26.

"We need to know the story behind them: who made them, who wore them, what happens to them when we don't want them."

Locher has been in Hong Kong for the past three months running a programme for students at the HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity, in Kowloon.

She grew up in the small Swiss village of Brienz, where there are no fashion boutiques. That meant all her clothes were - at first - made by her mother. "I made my first pair of [trousers] when I was 10 years old," Locher says.

Her first visit to a clothes shop was when she was on a trip abroad. "My first shopping experience was as an exchange student in Norway," she says.

She adds that she felt "overwhelmed" to see all the shops at the time - just as she has been overwhelmed by Hong Kong's many malls. "Nowadays, clothes are so easy and cheap to make that they've become trivial for us," she says.

"We've become unaware of the work involved in making them. Few people will think about the fact that it takes [up to] eight months for cotton to grow."

Consumerism and commercialism have led many of us to simply discard unwanted clothes. But we can break this cycle of needless waste, Locher says.

"There are times when we grow tired of some items. Maybe we've gained weight or don't like a certain style or colour anymore. We just need to keep a distance by putting them aside," she explains.

"Yet a year later, when you take them out, you may love them again. It has happened to me."

At the school, Locher taught students to appreciate the stories behind their clothes by understanding "the six Rs": Rethink, Recycle, Reuse, Reduce, Refuse, Repair. She taught them a "zero-waste pattern" to maximise the use of fabrics. She also organised a clothes-swapping session.

"Where I come from, clothes-swapping is very common and we pass on the items we cherish to the people we love. I swap my clothes with my good friends all the time," Locher says.

Jeffery Cheng Hong-sing, 20, is a student who participated in the workshops.

"Laura has really made me rethink my relationship with clothes. We're used to throwing away something when we no longer like it and then go and get a new one, but she has made me think in a different way," Jeffery says.

To put that "new thinking" into practice, he collected old clothes from his family and turned them into new, wearable pieces.

"It's an inspiring experience to use the least materials to make something new," Jeffery says.

Another student Zora Lai Lok-yan, 19, says: "She taught us to make something new from scratch. I will save my old clothes and make them useful again."

At the end of the workshop, Jeffery, Zora and the other participants showcased their creations on a catwalk at the school.

"When we stay engaged with our clothes, when we make them or alter them, our body will remember the feeling and we will learn to love them more," says Locher.

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