Hello, my name is Marjolein van de Donk. I have worked for years in the fashion industry as a designer and a graphic designer for large and small stores. I have been privileged to have had the chance to do a Masters degree at the London College of Fashion, one of worlds most esteemed fashion schools.
While experiencing these amazing opportunities I always felt a bit out of place. I put in extra hours to please employers as well as fashion teachers, but it never really felt right. The feedback from fashion teachers is like what you see on TV. Harsh, not holding back and with little empathy for their students. I remember being unable to express my disagreement with the teachers verdict.
In school I tried to figure out what teachers wanted from me and do just that, there was no other way to make it through the end of the course. I remember when I was in school, still in my bachelor years, I took my ideas for fashion designs to a meeting with a teacher. I had worked on those design-drawings for days, and was a bit scared to meet with the teacher as drawing is such a personal thing to do. Now I had to show them to my teacher and they probably had comments.
After I had put my drawings down on the big white table I put down small patches of fabric next to them. Those patches are for fabric reference. They show the judging party what fabrics the individual garments are supposed to be made of. The drawings weren’t the problem, the swatches were.
Apparently I had made a mistake. The fabrics I had were in expensive and, according to them, bad quality. They told me to do it again. I had to go to special stores, preferably all around the country, to get “special fabrics” and not this stuff. I had to completely change my approach on how to source for my fabrics.
I had not expected that reaction nor did I completely understand what they needed from me. You see, what I had done was what I always did. At home I had tons of scraps, leftovers and garments that weren’t any good anymore to wear but fine for their material. For years I had dressed myself with creativity, chopping old pants up to create new ones, making tops from dresses, that kind of thing. To the school that was not worth investing in. They needed an approach to fashion design that they knew.
For me it meant heavily investing in fabrics that, to me, were lifeless. A fabric that has been worn, has life in it, memory. It has been with you for a while, and it feels familiar.
At that point designing started feeling hollow. But everywhere I went the response to my way of working was the same; go mainstream. Go and do what we are used to. A recruiting agency told me I was “not a real fashion-designer” because of my preferences for being inventive with what I have.
I tried compensating for this lack of meaning fashion held for me by challenging the meaning of clothes. Some of my designs would challenge the gender binary, so the garments I created were almost political. I also tried to get consumers more involved in the final outcome of the designs through customization. If a person was able to influence the product that they would buy, would it not be more important to them, as it would be more personal and closer to their personal preferences?
After a few more years in fashion I made an excuse to leave. We went to live in a country where I couldn’t speak the language and therefore could not work. During that time, I experimented and questioned what I was doing and why. I began to realize that I had been working to meet other peoples expectations, and not my own. When we left that country I was ready to change back to who I was, and forget about the constraints I had felt because of the way we were educated and required to work.
These restrains are not for me alone. I see it everywhere. Fixing your problem just by going to the store because it is easy, cheap and close. Everybody does this, why shouldn’t I? It almost feels as a right. And when I do not look at consumers but at creators in fashion I can see that it is hard for them when they have ideas that differ from the status quo. It is hard for them to set goals that are out of the box, and work to realize them. They feel like it is swimming against the current. While that is exactly what the fashion industry needs. People that want to do things differently.
The information that we get nowadays about garment and product manufacturing can’t be ignored anymore. Workers’ conditions are horrible, and the planet cannot sustain the lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to anymore. Most people know this, consciously or subconsciously. Knowing this means you get an immediate negative feeling after buying something new, or even looking around your house with all that, meaningless, stuff.
Nowadays I am much better in solving things my way. I use what I have and I use what skills I have. It means I have done projects around the house that improved my feeling of self worth. It means I am keeping old clothes again to chop them up and stitch them back together according to the latest fashion. I love doing this because the fashion that I would love to wear is not sold by H&M it is sold by Vivienne Westwood at 5000 Euros per shoe.
By doing this myself I can create unique pieces, fitting me perfectly. All my garments have a story. Sometime that story is simply Fairtrade. It means what I buy made sure somebody somewhere can live a normal life. Sometimes my garments are second hand garments which means there were no new CO2 or toxins released into the atmosphere/earth. Sometimes the garments I made forced me to learn something I didn’t know. Sometimes I made my new garment from old garments or leftover fabrics donated by friends, reminding me of them every time I wear that item.
I hope to give people and businesses the strength to look into their own habits and to change the automatism that seems to be in people. I work with the idea that as a consumer as well as an creator in fashion you want a wardrobe that you are absolutely in love with. The clothes that people wear should make them feel great and be fantastic not just in how they look but also the story they have.