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Maidstone’s Fashion Show

Finally Maidstone is going to be the centre of attention for fashion – and not for the high street branded clothes that get the attention of the media but for tailored, artistic fashion garments made by local textile artists.

The fashion show will be going ahead on Thursday 15th May at 8pm at the Royal Star Arcade with models cascading down the central staircase in hand made outfits that will be auctioned to the audience.

Fashion shows are nothing new, however this show has a twist, a rather nice one I think – all the garments have been donated by local Maidstone charity shops and then completely redesigned by local textile artists into something new – and all on a budget of just £5 with the textile artists and models giving their time for free.  This event is just as much about community as fashion.

I met Sue Pritchard, fashion show organiser and member of the ‘Maidstone Town Team’ who are supporting the venture. Sue is also one of the textile artists creating her own outfits to take part in the show.  Sue told me how her idea evolved:  “I came up with the idea after the Maidstone Arts Festival last summer and the ‘Maidstone Town Team’ were looking for ideas to reach new audiences in the town centre, to bring a buzz to the centre.  I noticed there are a lot of charity shops in the town and crafts are becoming more and more popular so I put all these elements together. I wanted a town centre venue and felt the Royal Star Arcade would work well and look good.” Sue is so enthusiastic and passionate about the fashion show that I immediately get the impression this is the start of something big.

“All the textile artists are local” Sue continued, “and they get a £5 budget on top of the donated items they have from the charity shops for things like zips, thread etc. but they must use as little of the budget as possible.  We keep a note of how much the charity shop would have sold the items for and we hope the redesigned garments will be auctioned for more!” sue enthuses.  All proceeds from the auction go back to the charity shops who donated the items of clothing. Sue continued “Hopefully it will make people think about buying second hand or making their own clothes”

Another textile artist taking part is Sheilagh Dyson.  She told me why she is taking part in the Fashion Show: “I have always loved making things ever since I was little and mum taught me to knit and sew.  Recycling was ingrained in me long before it became fashionable, so the Fashion Week ticks all my boxes!”

Sheilagh is going to incorporate steampunk fashion into her finished outfits and is hoping to use as many discarded clothes as possible.  Her chosen charity to represent and raise money for is the Children’s Trust: “I have a son with Aspergers so this particular shop is close to my heart and I’m a regular customer there.” Sheilagh explains.

Being involved in the fashion show project is clearly inspiring Sheilagh who tells me: “I’m always scouring the charity shops in town looking for ideas for my own wardrobe, or for my mixed media art projects – I’m much happier browsing these outlets for hours, than I am shopping for new things in the usual retailers.  Something about the ‘win-win-win’ of getting something cheaply, knowing the charity has earned some pennies for their chosen cause, and not creating any more waste for the environment….so I’m happy to think I might be helping encourage others to see the potential of charity shopping.  I also love the challenge of creating two complete outfits on a tight budget using creative thinking and home-spun skills!”

This is a fashion show with a strong message of encouragement to urge people to think about the clothes they buy and where their money goes to.  Sue explained “Generations ago everyone had a sewing machine to mend clothes but times have changed.  Cheap high street clothing has consequences – the factory collapse in Bangladesh which happened recently for example – and the use of cheap cotton and fabric which is not sustainable due to the intensive farming of cotton and the excess chemicals used not to mention the air miles situation.” This is clearly a subject that exasperated Sue and inspired the idea of the fashion show.

We have become a consumer nation and with economic strain we look for bigger and better bargains and yet there still seems to be a resistance to second hand – the consumer still want new even if it is poor quality.

Sue hopes the fashion show will help change people’s perceptions of using second hand materials; “This country used to be the centre of the world for textiles and now farmers can’t give wool away! There are ways in which wool is being used – wool insulations and in carpets and we do still have the luxury end of the market – double weave Welsh wool is £150 per meter for example, but textiles are not thought of in the same way.  You used to have textile heirlooms regarded as precious and beautiful.”

“People used to altar, repair, patch and mend until the textile became just small patches which were then made into patchwork quilts but now textile is thrown away in land fill. This has to change we have to re-think.  That is my passion and I want people at the Maidstone Fashion week to think about where their glad rags come from.” Sue speaks with heart.

It is a strong message but the fashion show itself is planned to be fun and inspiring “what I am hoping for is a wide range of outfits – some just put together and others where they have been completely made from scratch for both men and women.  In the lead up to the event there are workshops being hosted where anyone can go along and use the six available sewing machines to be creative or simply sew a button back onto a shirt and Sue is looking forward to hearing the sewing machines sing.

Another textile artist taking part is Julie Kidd and the fashion show is important to her and her studies: “I heard about the fashion show through Sue. When she told me about the fashion show idea I was very excited to be involved as I am currently studying textiles and love working on textile projects trying out new techniques.”

“I had great fun at the PDSA charity shop choosing the two outfits and have started working on them. The pale blue dress lent itself to an Alice in Wonderland theme so I hope to achieve a Victorian/vintage/fantasy feel to the dress. The male outfit will compliment this and go along Mad Hatter lines; I visualise a masculine but quirky design again with the ‘Alice’ theme. I am hoping that both outfits will have a WOW factor but still be attractive for people to bid and raise money for the charity.”

Julie told me why she wanted to take part: “I think this project is important as it is about transformations: transforming charity shop clothes into catwalk fashion, transforming Maidstone into Milan for a night and transforming local people into models. It is a great idea encouraging people to be part of their local community and bringing an awareness of art and culture to the town all at the same time as helping to raise money for the charities involved.”

If the show is a success, Sue would like to make it a regular event in Maidstone: “I would like there to be a fashion week every year in Maidstone as Maidstone has such a rich history in the textile industry” Sue is referring to the fact that Maidstone used to be the most important place in Britain for textiles and wool thanks to the natural deposits of the mineral ‘Fullers Earth’ which helped de-grease wool and settlers from Northern France brought their textile and weaving skills to the area in large numbers.

Sue has been the driving force behind getting the fashion show off the ground and she is a textiles artist herself with her background in teaching: “I was an art teacher and worked at Swadelands School in Lenham for 19 years and became head of the Creative Arts.  My degree is in fine art but I have always had an interest in textiles and in my teacher training I specialised in dress and embroidery.  I knitted my degree show!” Sue smiles, it seems as if art is in Sue’s blood and she explains that art and craft – such as textiles – are intrinsically linked “what is art and what is craft? I say art is a need to express an idea and craft is how you manipulate mediums to express the idea.  The two things always come together”

And that is what you will find at the fashion show in May – art, craft with fashion for everyone.