After navigating my way through a dense industrial area in Sydney’s inner-west I reached my destination: the new home of clothing label Spoke+Spool. As I walked up the stairs to their warehouse studio I asked the label’s creators Alia Parker and how they get out here every day. “We ride,” Alia said.
Of course – Alia and Laura are bike lovers and they began their line of cute, eco-friendly, fashionable haute couture with cyclists in mind.
Spoke+Spool is a labour of love “born of the personal frustrations of cycling to and from work and being quite limited in what you can wear,” according to Alia. The label is one of the duo’s projects under the umbrella of their collective APPL Design and Production. They formed the collective half way through 2009 after finding creative common ground whilst studying design at the College of Fine Arts in Sydney.
The last half of 2009 was a busy time for APPL, whose recent work includes styling for a short film and costuming for a play, Peats Ridge and Sydney Festival. They are now in the midst of designing their 2010 line.
All of Spoke+Spool’s clothing is made from older vintage items, and they are definitely pushing the limits of how far an item of vintage clothing can be transformed. The designs are amazingly creative, very clean and give new meaning to the term ‘upcycling’.
Some of the clothing has gone through a complex transition – a long-sleeved ’70s dress is now a short-sleeved onesie, a pair of trousers are now shorts with braces attached. Other items are more simple – refurbishing a suit with reflective strips around the inside of the arms and legs, revealed when the sleeves and pant legs are folded up for cycling to and from work.
“Cycling is massively growing in Sydney,” Alia said. “People are taking to the roads more in terms of commuting and they may not be stylistically oriented but they’re still riding their bikes to work. There’s also a whole growing youth fixed-gear cycling culture that’s kind of trickled down from the US. We’re not necessarily catering to any particular one of those groups but we are producing things that we think are beautiful and lovely to wear.”
“It’s about transformability, so rolling up your cuffs to reveal a reflective strip, or pulling out your pocket and you’ve got a bike map.” Alia said. “I like the idea of recontextualising things so they are kind of a bit odd – like taking elements from the garment but using every single piece of it and putting it somewhere else in a different way.”
Alia said working at the Vintage Clothing Shop in Sydney, where she restored clothes, inspired her fascination with making the old new again. “That was great for learning how things should be made, how they once were made. That informs a lot of this – the quality of manufacturing and haute couture. I find the mechanics of that fascinating.”
Alia and Laura will start community based sewing workshops this year to spread the upcycling love. Their fashion philosophy doesn’t stop at environmental sustainability but also incorporates ideas of community sustainability and skill-sharing so that others are able to cease their reliance on the ethically questionable clothing industry.
“It’s kind of like pushing the boundaries of, not necessarily being a fashion designer but thinking about fashion within a broader design sphere,” Laura said. “That’s our approach to this project, where it’s not necessarily about making clothes and selling them but it’s about thinking about clothes in the context of the way we use them and the way people wear them.”
Each item of clothing has been road-tested too.
“That one is pretty fun to ride in,” Alia said of the onesie. “I took it for a spin.”
“I was doing that in my street. I would make something and then I would ride up and down the street. There was this guy drinking beer in his front yard and he was just frowning at me wondering, ‘what the hell is she doing?’”
“The main elements are navigation, visibility, transformability and quality of execution and materials, and the idea that it will stand the test of time. We try not to be trend-based. I’m biased but I hope that the pieces are individualistic enough and unique enough that someone will love them and they’ll last.”
“If you make cycling wholeheartedly part of your life then clothing is a major factor in that,” Alia said. “Beautiful bikes, beautiful clothes…”
“Beautiful world,” Laura adds with a laugh.