A Form of Activism

“Zeitgeist source  collections through careful selection of garments from second-hand stores, re-fashioning them into new items and changing the way we envisage second-hand clothes, further enlightening us to the wasteful nature of fast fashion.” I spoke with the designer and founder Tanushri-Radha Saha about her textiles explorations and why she started the label. 

What made you want to start the label?

A bit of experience in the retail industry for brands that are pretty high up there in the world of bright lights and fast-fashion opened my eyes up to the elements of the industry that we don’t often see in-store, online, or on the price tag of a garment. I started looking more closely at the clothes I was buying and where they were coming from, as well as watching documentaries and reading up on the fast-fashion industry. And it is pretty ugly stuff. I’ve also always been interested in pursuing my passion for textiles in some way, so when I realised upon looking closely that the brands I loved and the industry I so wanted to be a part of was vastly unsustainable, it made sense to use my passion for creating things as a form of activism.

Did you always know you wanted to incorporate embroidery within your pieces?

No, actually. When I started making, I bought a few different vintage and second-hand pieces with no particular intentions on what I was going to do with them and what techniques I would use to re-fashion them. Once I started cutting and sewing I realised that there is so much you can do to a garment to change it, whether it’s changing the cut and general design, or embellishing the fabric through embroidery. What I like about embroidering is that it makes the garment feel less like just another item of clothing, and more like a wearable piece of art.

Who does all the embroidery?

At the moment I’m the sole embroiderer/designer/creator! It definitely keeps me busy managing all aspects of Zeitgeist, but I love it.

What other textiles techniques would you like to work with?

Aside from hand embroidery, I am picking up a couple of other textiles techniques, such as free-motion machine embroidery, block printing and screen printing. In my upcoming pieces I’m hoping to achieve more abstract designs through creating a multi-medium effect. I’m envisioning a sort-of multi-layered, textured look, incorporating geometric shapes, lines and floral design. I’ve also just discovered a perfect textile-paint medium which allows me to paint directly onto garments, which has been fun to experiment with. I’m always on the look out for new and innovative techniques that allow me to re-fashion existing garments into new ones, so that they take on a more modern & artistic feel. 

You “source collections through careful selection of garments from second-hand stores”. Do you think you’ll ever want to make your own garments from scratch?

I don’t think so. There are already so many existing labels making beautiful hand-made clothing, firstly! And I guess the point of sourcing second-hand and vintage for my clothing is that the waste from production has already occurred. The fabric has already been created, the dyes and pigments have already been used. There is already so much clothing in the world- most of what we don’t want ends up in op-shops (if lucky), and if it can’t be sold there, it is usually disposed of in landfill, or shipped overseas, to Africa for the most part. The sad reality of op-shops is that 90% of what ends up there is not sold. These items were all probably in fashion, or on “trend” once upon a time. So I figured I’d take on the challenge of finding where those pieces went wrong, and how I can transform them into something a little more enduring and timeless. I love the challenge of finding a piece, and thinking about how I can cut it up, re-design it, and transform it into something that allows for it to have a new life.

Are there any other ways you would like to apply your embroideries besides clothing?

I’ve just started getting back into collage-making, working with old magazines. I’d love to start embroidering the finished collages to create a more textured look. At the moment I’m also working in collaboration with another creative to turn old plastic bags into embroidery art. We see plastic as something to be disposed of in our throw away culture, so why not turn it into something beautiful that we can keep?

I’m really interested in knowing about the business side of textiles to inspire people reading this. How difficult or easy did you find pricing your pieces?

Haha, that’s a hard one to answer… On the one hand, you want your pieces to be affordable for the people interested to be able to buy. But at the same time as an artist, you have to remember not to sell yourself out by pricing pieces lower than what they deserve. Designing and creating has to be sustainable for me, as well. I tend to go off intuition when pricing. As a general rule, I always consider the materials and products, as well as the hours of hard work and creativity that went into making each piece, whilst keeping in mind affordability. It can be a bit of a delicate balance.

Where is your brand based and how do your surroundings inspire your work, if they do?

I’m based in Sydney, Australia. I spend a lot of time around Inner-Sydney and in the city, so I guess my inspiration is definitely influenced by urban design and metropolitan fashion here. However, there is a big vintage scene as well. I try to incorporate a combination of both design sensibilities into my clothing. It’s modern, but still fun and artistic.

Do you have any interesting books related to textiles that you think are inspiring?

My number one would have to be Slow Fashion, by Safia Minney. It’s super informative about the textiles and fast-fashion industry and is attempting to bring about the Slow-Fashion Movement, which really drives through an appreciation for well-made clothes and textiles, and the art behind making. I’m also a bit of a sucker for visual books like The Sartorialist and Women In This Town. I get a lot of inspiration from the photos of every-day style, and individuals captured on their way off to somewhere.

Lastly, what do you love about textiles?

It has always been my happy medium. I’ve never really been confident with a brush or canvas, but textiles is something I’ve always known. I really appreciate the different textiles forms and techniques that stem from different cultures around the world. There is a lot to be learnt, not only from traditional and contemporary techniques, but about the culture and history surrounding that technique itself. I also love that textiles as an art-form has seen a huge revival in recent years. I think it is really challenging the idea that art is just something to hang on a wall. You can wear art too!

Shop Zeitgeist Label here.

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