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Source: Ara Institute of Canterbury

On September the 4th, Ara Institute of Canterbury Visual Communications and fashion design students took their re-imagined, re-crafted and re-fined works of art to the people for an event held at Tūranga in the central city for 2020’s Red Cross appeal event ‘Retooled’.

This inaugural Retooled event is the brainchild of the New Zealand Red Cross leaders, who, having been unable to complete this year’s annual collection on behalf of the charity due to the advent of COVID-19, re-imagined how they might raise funds while also encouraging a more ‘circular’ economy. They decided to collaborate with Ara Institute of Canterbury  and create a novel ‘op shop expo’ that celebrates second-hand shopping and the sustainable ethos of re-using and re-applying existing textiles and other materials.

Jasmine Edwards, Community Fundraising Coordinator for the Red Cross in Christchurch said “This was actually an idea that we had before COVID. We had been working on something that would engage people in the community, and we wanted to do something with youth, so Ara and the design school seemed like the perfect partners to match up with. The idea was to start with op shopping and see how could we make that a little bit different and more creative, while encouraging people to buy second-hand.”

She adds “We’re conscious of how fast fashion is detrimental to the planet, so taking something that you would normally throw away and looking at it again has this sustainability narrative behind it which is really great.”

No wonder this was a natural fit – fashion and design students at Ara have long been conscious of both the upsides of upcycling and the pitfalls along the superficially-alluring pathway of consumerism. Bruce Russell, Manager of Art and Design at Ara

says “It’s a well-established fact that students from many disciplines are concerned about sustainability issues.”

Fashion students, often in their own time and in an effort that went beyond their assessment requirements, rescued items that had been languishing at local Red Cross shops from a future as landfill, and turned them into a series of avant-garde garments. The students also gained a first-hand opportunity to really see for themselves when items are donated, how they’re then prepared to be sold, and vitally, what can’t be sold.

Nathan Ingram, Fashion Tutor, says “Some of these found fabrics are perfectly fine – you might not want them on your bed but they’d would be great as piece of something like a funky top or used as a component of the design process.”

Three motivated design students – Thomas, Lloyd and Samuel, known collectively by their design-team moniker ‘Paisley Street’ – found plenty of things to put to creative use for their original brand, transforming old shirts and trousers into uniquely-enhanced fashion statements through the judicious application of screen prints.

Lloyd of Paisley Street design collective says “There’s a lot of revivalism in the fashion space especially among creatives. Thrifting became a go-to for us. People love original. We don’t like dressing exactly the same as each other, it’s great for the environment and the clothes are good quality: no compromises.”

Jasmine notes “The students were incredible. They have put so much energy into this event. The Paisley street guys are very creative; they’ve done such a wonderful job.”

A range of Paisley Street original pieces was on sale at Retooled, with all proceeds going to the Red Cross. The three innovators also managed to screen-print customers’ items with their logo, and also got busy enhancing people’s foot-ware with unique hand-drawn ‘tattoo-style’ designs. Lloyd commented  “We did screen printing with Carla Watson, and she was fantastic. I just got really into it, and then we just the idea to use clothes that people have already got, that they might throw away in two weeks, and give them a new breath of life.”

Op shop enthusiasts and design team Bella, Ruby and Lucy personally selected an inspiring collection from Red Cross shops in Canterbury for their presentation of ‘Dot by Dot’, Retooled’s pop-up op shop.  The name symbolizes how pre-loved clothes travel from one owner to another, and the team hopes to demonstrate how second-hand clothes can be both stylish and high-quality.

Carl Pavletich, Design Tutor, was impressed by the level of commitment shown by his students. “The value for us has been in the level of engagement – it’s been through the roof, and this sort of collaboration is now firmly on the calendar as part of our Professional Practice.”

Retooled also featured music from a dedicated Ara Music Arts student, and students also contributed to the marketing concept of the event. 

Jasmine Edwards is keen to keep this this fruitful collaborative format alive. “This has been an excellent fundraiser and event. It’s our first time doing this so it’s been an incredible turnout. I’m really keen to just keep developing this so that it becomes an ongoing thing. This was like the pilot to see how everything would go, and we have been amazed by the students’ excitement. We thought that people might be interested in doing like some upcycled art and maybe have some fashion ideas, but all of the extra stuff like the pop up shop, that was all driven by the students and it’s brought so much to the event.”