I found out about Katie on Instagram on a post by Sarah Mower which came on the back of something that Carry Somers said during my interview with her about the waste created during the fashion weeks in the production of the shows, the waste also produced on photography shoots, TV and film production too. So, when I heard about the work that Katie was doing with her start up The Textile Review, I knew right away I wanted to hear and tell her story. It felt like perfect timing.
D: Can you tell me a bit about your background, where are you from?
K: So, I am from Eastbourne, which is just down the road really from here (we are sitting in Katies flat in Brighton) – I grew up there. I was interested in fashion and textiles, always into Art, it was going to be something creative that I would end up doing. I studied Fashion and Textiles at college the at University, then discovered that full on fashion design wasn’t really for me. Although I really loved working with textiles, I wasn’t quite into the fashion side of it. So I took a step away for a little bit and ended up studying Fine Art at the University of Kent. This was fantastic because I loved playing with space and making big installations and conceptual art. I was always fascinated with other people’s art and was probably more into curating than being an artist myself. At University we had so much space to play with to build, spaces for people to connect to, to feel something. So that was really what my art was all about, sound installations. It was all about chance happenings in the moment and using sound to direct people and to document the movements in the room. It was textural playing with sounds and speakers and putting materials with them. Kind of playing with space around other people art and playing with what happened in the moment. I guess that was the shift towards curating which then lead me to working in events.
D: What lead you to art? Was anyone else in your family artists?
K: Actually, no. My mother was a Nurse and my Dad is an Insurance Broker. But I do have creative influences from an Uncle I have. Growing up I was always ‘the creative one” out of 3 children. I was the only girl, middle child and definitely the creative one. That allowed me to explore art really, I always loved drawing.
D: Growing up by the sea, was that nice for you?
K: Yes, and by the Downs as well. Growing up in Eastbourne is an amazing place being right next to the sea its where the Downs meet the sea as well. Beachy Head and everything, I feel very lucky to have grown up in such a beautiful place, for sure. I have always been a very outdoors person.
D: What lead you to go from going fine art, conceptual artist to events? It feels like a leap.
K: I was growing towards the spatial and installation side of art, I did my Masters in Fine Art as well. After that I started working for a small arts organisation here in Brighton. My job was to create an event that brought a digital arts and an interactive project together, to display it in real life. Which I loved because again it was working with sound it was creating an installation even though it was an event.
D: What was the event for?
K: It was to promote the online platform the client was creating. From there I then worked with an events supplier called Guineapig and we brought incredible interactive installations to corporate events. That is how I got into the more corporate side. These corporate events help to connect people with levitating orb things or a drinks robot we made with a motion sensor, you walked up to it and it poured you a glass of wine. All these beautiful things that I aspired to create with them.
At the end of each of the events that we were suppling we would often see the break down and we would see what was packed away and then what was left. What was left, the materials that were left behind as waste kind of broke my heart, it really hit me hard. I loved the event and the energy in the room, when people are connecting, and ideas are flowing. But it didn’t make sense to me that people were buying in all these expensive materials and at the end of the show or the end of the evening, its trash. That value drop, I couldn’t understand it I thought there must be a better way to treat resources.
D: Was the drive from that purely environmental?
K: I was aware the effects of fast fashion and disposable materials in general, plastics, wood, paper, everything. So, I knew textile waste has a massive and devastating impact on the environment and, yes this was definitely my biggest driving force. Although when there's often fast mass production, there are awful human rights and health problems too. Myself, I was already living a pretty green lifestyle, being vegan and being conscious with what I purchase and the waste I create. I was also in circles of sustainable fashion here in Brighton with a few friends that I had and some really inspirational women here. I knew that textiles, wood and paper were the biggest resources being wasted at events and textiles grabbed my attention because there seemed to be no solution existing. I don’t think people were properly educated yet on how the textiles industry is so water thirsty, I knew what damage it was doing but, I don’t think it was that broadly known. That lack of public education mixed with how hidden this waste stream seemed to be. Nobody knew, it was so behind the scenes. People would see the glamour it would all be backdrop. The fabric would be part of temporary walls or covering some scaffold on a staircase or partition walls or curtains, ceilings even to diffuse light. It was not the stuff that you notice. And so the waste wasn’t something that people were noticing, I felt like that type of witnessing I experienced was really important for once you see it you can’t un-see it. Suddenly I had a responsibility because I had seen it, I became responsible for doing something about it.
D: Fantastic that you did do something about it. You could have said ah, well, and walked away.
K: Which does happen a lot. These days I think we a becoming almost a little bit immune to some of the really glaringly threatening wastes and pollutants. I felt really compelled to do something and I have a lot of energy to do that. The company I was working with was a start up so I was getting to know the start-up business vibe and I kind of thought you know what, I’ve got so much energy for this maybe there’s something where I could do and these 2 things together. The energy and passion to make a change and the energy to lead coming together. It was great timing for me.
D: When did you set up The Textile Review?
K: I guess I was starting to form an idea for it around 18 months ago, maybe a little longer and at the start I wanted to do something about all the resources. I wanted to collect wood, paper, everything and connect to make sure no-one was throwing anything away. But of course that was too big.
D: For now.
K: Yes, I will add those in later. It was an idea and it was exciting to think about what problems could be solved now Some things just have to wait for a little while, that ambition to more and more and more. I had to settle a little and find more of a niche as a starting point.
D: You have just moved into a new space.
K: I have, the last year or so has been of building and doing a lot of market research. Because I am introducing something new to an industry it was not that welcomed to start with. Recently thought it has really taken off. The response has changed, I think people are beginning to wake up.
D: You are putting the question out there, showing what was right in front of their eyes but were not seeing.
K: Exactly, so moving to the new space, moving to a new studio, now is the time where it really is beginning to pick up. This lovely studio I have taken on, If a little small, will do me for now. Space is not something we have an abundance of in any city so, it is somewhere I can temporarily store before moving it on.
D: Who are you finding are taking the fabric on? Is it students for creating clothing? Are people re hiring for events?
K: I have some hired out for events, I get absolutely huge pieces because they have been dressing these huge spaces. I have to cut them down a little bit and then they are perfect for more boutique events. They are then used for blackout or backdrops. Some is used for local events here (Brighton). I have also sold some of it for more permanent use in a living space.
They were not allowed to put permanent fixtures in and the fabric lent itself perfectly. To create these panel walls with the fabric.
So it’s amazing I am finding new ideas all the time for how to actually repurpose it.
The local fashion school, (it is a local independent fashion school,) they have taken a lot and they have their students toile with it using some of the calico that I had. Its always great to see the pictures that they have made and used it for.
I must say I get in, more fabric in than I can get rid of sometimes and that is a big challenge for now. It really is unfathomable at times how much is coming in. How much is being used sometimes it’s a thousand meters per show. Taking that back to the studio to look after and moving it on as quickly as possible whilst still making sure that the next use is also sustainable, responsible use and circular is the aim making sure it is used more than twice. To make sure that the fabric is reused, hiring is the best way. I have been in touch with set designers, they have a real versatile portfolio of uses, whether its shop displays or for TV. The uses are so versatile as is the fabric.
D: Are the events people are happy to see you?
K: They are now. It took a couple to believe in me, because I started by testing things and piloting it for free, by saying can I come along and take the fabric and see how that goes and see what I can do with it. Some people helped me push on slightly ajar doors, which was good. After having a couple of clients under my belt it then opened up to a lot more people trusting that this is a necessary thing. I think times are changing so quickly now with the pressure on industries and producer responsibility and there is going to be much more of this going forward.
D: Yes indeed, on the fashion side of things they are saying that if you don’t have a sustainable plan in place in the next 10 years, you will be like Blockbuster (anyone remember them?) and won’t exist anymore.
K: Exactly, they will be obsolete, which is a good thing. People are shifting pretty quickly with it, so its really good.
D: I have seen you call out on Instagram for extra helping hands. Do you work full-time doing this now or are you having to supplement it for now?
K: Almost, almost, I still have a permalancer job which I actually quite like dipping in and out of. I think it keeps things fresh, especially as I am working on my own for now. It’s nice to dip in to another job where I am working as a team. To support TheTextile Review moving forward.
D: Could the thread be unravelled and rewoven.
K: Yeah, yes reconstituted, absolutely it can be. My big thing though, is to try my hardest to do as little processing as possible - I guess that is how I am different, how The Textile Review is different is I want to keep things how they are and repurpose them, keep them in the same structure as much as possible and not cut things too small to quick. To keep things in circulation for ages, that’s the idea. Its really about sustaining the value of it because, why shred things up to recycle them when they are perfectly good as they are. They have only been in a room. No-ones even touched them since they went up. So they are not really second hand.
D: Do you take the floor tiles as well? The carpet tiles?
K: I wish. That is really something I want to do. With more space I would love to repurpose that I know there is carpet recycling for some carpets. But because they are usually bonded plastics, they are really hard to recycle. There is so much though, every single show, that really gets to me because there is just loads for carpet. The WHOLE floor of London Olympia just being completely covered by this carpet and I can’t take it (yet). I do find myself wanting to do it all.
D: Step at a time, I am sure you will eventually.
D: It’s such an exciting thing you are doing. Its really cool. What do you see next?
K: I am really looking forward to the next year, it’s going to be quite a story, I think. I was new to business, but I have learnt so much in a short time and now have greater confidence for building and scaling it up. The next step is forming a team, a good bank manager, good accountant, marketing because I really have learnt a lot but there is only so much I can do on my own. Now that work is really coming in steadily to move forward, I need people to collaborate with me. There are so many people that are so, excited about it. I called out for staff, like crew members so I can have a bank of freelancers that would help with collections and back in the studio to put fabric back on rolls, because that’s quite a hefty job. It’s time to ask for help. People have been so enthusiastic towards it I got a really good response to the call out I arranged people to help me do a big show over Christmas and then in the New Year period, really sitting down with people who are really well versed in textile, in fabrics who really want to join in as well. So, we can really start to put the ideas that pop up into action. 2020’s going to be mad. In a really, really, really good way.