Fast fashion doesn't sit well with Cork-based designer

Sewing and making clothing has run in her family for generations, so it is no surprise that Tasmin Blackbourn has an unwavering devotion to making clothes. EMMA CONNOLLY chats to her about the ethics behind her sustainable fashion business
Fast fashion doesn't sit well with Cork-based designer
Tamsin Blackbourn.

A WEST CORK-based fashion designer who is providing an alternative to fast fashion will be showcasing her hand-sewn creations this weekend, at Ballymaloe Craft Fair.

There’s an extensive sustainable living element to the fair, which runs from Friday, November 16, to Sunday, November 18, in keeping with an increased appetite among the public for a different way of living.

Helping to satisfy that appetite will be Tamsin Blackbourn who designs and makes womenswear often inspired by fashions of the mid-20th century, and re-interpreted to be relevant to a contemporary lifestyle and fit.

The Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013, when a factory collapsed in Bangladesh killing 1,138 people and injuring 2,500, was the trigger that saw her embark on this career.

“My parents were war babies and grew up in austerity, so I was brought up to value what I had and to look after things and then they would last a long time,” she said.

BRIGHT COLOURS: Charleville Dress by Tasmin, €280
BRIGHT COLOURS: Charleville Dress by Tasmin, €280

“Fast fashion didn’t sit well with me; it made no sense that clothing could be so cheap when I knew the time that had gone into it — how could the maker be paid properly and the store make a profit?

“The fabrics are usually not great quality either and the construction poor and this had no appeal for me.

“The Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013 was confirmation that fast fashion was not the way and I wanted to have a go at making clothes how they use to be made and see if others felt the same.”

Originally from the UK, now living in West Cork, Tamsin grew up with “grandmothers who had worked as dressmakers, tailors and milliners, so sewing and making was in my family”.

She added: “I moved to Derry in 1992 and in recent years, gradually relocated to West Cork, having met my partner, the artist, Donagh Carey (who is also exhibiting his paintings at the Fair). I had sewn since childhood, but didn’t think it was something I could do as a real job and I ended up working in jewellery for many years.

“An unwavering devotion to clothes and sewing eventually brought me to the decision that if I wanted to spend my days making garments, now would be a good time to begin. My son apparently spoke for the entire family when he said, ‘At last!’”

She works using only natural fabrics.

“I combine Irish linen and cotton prints (some of the cotton is organic) and eventually, when time allows, I hope to incorporate some cold weather pieces made in Irish wool tweed.

“I’m keen to know where my fabrics have originated, but this level of traceability is still not straightforward, so I work with suppliers who I have a relationship with and trust.

SUSTAINABLE: Sarah Dress, by Tasmin, €280.
SUSTAINABLE: Sarah Dress, by Tasmin, €280.

“I also like to use up existing fabrics, sometimes vintage, that I have collected myself or gets passed on to me — obviously, those pieces are unique, unrepeatable and often have a little story to accompany them.”

Currently the team comprises just her which means a waiting list for made to measure orders.

“Next year, I may consider taking on someone else and it’ll be interesting to find out whether there are people with the skills or at least the aptitude.

“My process involves hand sewn finishing on every garment and this is a skill that seems to be no longer taught in schools or even at home very often.

“Also, for me, being sustainable means leaving as little waste behind as possible, so I take time to consider the way I lay out my pattern pieces to use as much of the fabric as possible and this takes experience and a good eye.”

She’s looking forward to her first year at Ballymaloe Craft Fair and introducing her work to a new audience.

MADE BY HAND: Maud Hummingbird Dress, €350, by Tasmin
MADE BY HAND: Maud Hummingbird Dress, €350, by Tasmin

“As a maker, it’s an opportunity to meet up with other creatives and hear their stories and understand their particular niche: there are so many people doing remarkable work in Ireland and responding to an almost primal desire for pieces that have evidently been made by hand.

“My clients appreciate the work that goes into my pieces and that they have been laboured over. Exhibiting at Ballymaloe means I’ll be introducing my clothing to a new audience who won’t have seen the collection before and it’s always fascinating to hear comments and receive feedback.

“The fact that I’m approaching my work with sustainability in mind, usually instigates conversations about what is important to people and what they do themselves as a conscious consumer.”

For more, see www.tamsinblackbourn.ie or see her every Saturday at Skibbereen Farmers Market.

PANEL ON THE FAIR

THERE is a plethora of hands-on activity for both adults and children at the Ballymaloe Craft Fair.

The first-ever Sustainable Living Fringe will include a Sustainable Living Fashion Show.

Workshops will include make your own blissful body butter; DIY origami; challah bread design; compose a succulent terrarium; learn the art of bookbinding; sustainable yoga; grow your own first aid kit; and create Christmas decorations and gifts with a treasure trove of recycled and natural materials.

Small hands will be kept contentedly crafty with activities all weekend in a creative play space. They can feed the friendly Compost Monster to learn the who, what, how, when and whys of waste disposal, or get down to earth and pot a seedling to plant at home. Children can work alongside local artists to create creatures out of recycled materials.

All of that as well as more than 100 crafters and makers, music and food. For the first time ever, the Craft Fair will open on the Friday night this year, from 6 to 9pm. Saturday and Sunday hours are 10am until 6pm. Admission is €5. Children under age 16 are free and so is parking. Advance booking is advised for the Sustainable Living Fringe workshops.

Tickets for workshops start at €15. For more information and to book see www.ballymaloefestivals.ie.

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