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The Interview: Designer Lydia Bolton on collaborating with Lime e-bikes and tackling sustainability in a different way

Tom Bottomley
22 August 2023

London-based slow fashion designer Lydia Bolton last week launched a limited- edition cycle-friendly collection with e-bike and e-scooter company Lime, using second hand clothing sourced from charity retailer TRAID and deadstock fabrics.

The one-of-a kind pieces in the ‘Re-Cycle Collection’, featuring patchwork designs created from old tents, waterproof coats, jerseys and puffer jackets, as is synonymous with Bolton’s brand, dropped exclusively on eBay via a charity auction, with 100% of the proceeds donated to Friends of the Earth.

This Thursday, 24 August, will see a selection of the pieces on show at a special one-day Lime Re-Cycle pop-up shop at BOXPARK Shoreditch in East London. Consumers are invited to drop-in throughout the day to view and try on the collection, get selfies on Lime’s bikes and scooters, as well as receive Lime discount codes and free Lime helmets.

The collaboration collection with Lime is another example of Bolton’s different approach to sustainability, which has won her many accolades and work with brands including Nike and NICCE, as well as with Adidas and Manchester United on re-worked football kits and unused merchandise.

Bolton founded her namesake brand in 2019. A zero-waste advocate, she works meticulously with sleeping stock, deadstock fabrics and thrifted items to create luxury but accessible womenswear apparel and homeware "that doesn’t cost the earth".

She tells us all about her latest collaboration with Lime, her unique approach to eco-friendly designs, and how she sees the future of fashion.

Dominic Marley Lime Bike_02_106

How did the collaboration with Lime come about and why is it a good fit for your brand?

Living in East London, Lime is a brand that we see the whole time and I am personally a huge fan of; Lime makes it so easy to be out and about in London, nipping from place to place. I love the shared nature of Lime and how it encourages a more sustainable and low emission lifestyle. So, when Lime wanted to create a collection that helped break down the barriers to fully integrating cycling into our daily routines and lifestyles, I was really excited to be a part of it.

As a solution focused designer, the collaboration with Lime gave the creative challenge of designing clothing that encourages wearers to jump on a bike and not be held back by their clothing. Each piece is inspired by a problem that people face when cycling and has been designed to solve it. Such as the hi-vis vest which provides practical safety on the roads but is also something you’d want to wear after your ride. It’s more gilet chic than health and safety marshall.

The collection was centred around creating adaptive pieces of clothing that are still fashionable and the wearer wants to wear and use pre and post their cycle ride while still all being upcycled from second hand items of clothing. This not only aligned with my brand’s ethos of reusing second hand textiles, but also producing functional items of clothing that can be re-worn in different instances.

Why is it important for the fashion industry to take a different approach to creating sustainably?

We currently have enough clothing for the next six generations and simply produce too much. We don’t value what has already been produced and this leads to huge amounts of textiles being sent to landfill or incinerated each year. Not only is it crucial that we transform the vast majority of fashion production methods that are polluting and often dangerous, it’s also imperative that we begin to change societal mindsets around how we value and reuse clothing. As Fashion Revolution says, "by extending the lifespan of an item of clothing by nine months, you can reduce its carbon footprint by 20-30%".

How do you go about that and how do you measure the impact for the good of your sustainable designs?

My brand exclusively reuses second hand and unwanted textiles across all the designs. For this collection with Lime, we sourced 100% second hand clothing from TRAID which was then unpicked and patchworked together. Even the linings, zips, pockets and bindings were unpicked and reused within the pieces.

What brands have you previously collaborated with before and on what designs in particular?

My approach to brand design collaborations is to uphold my commitment to reusing unwanted or defective materials and I only partake in partnerships that allow me to do this. I have collaborated with a range of different brands who understand and respect my mission in tackling textile waste, such as Nike who I worked with in designing and hosting two series of upcycling and sewing workshops with their community. We used defected stock for both series of workshops. The first workshop was remaking football jerseys to celebrate the women's Euros, and the second workshop was in creating homeware where I taught workshop attendees how to create large, frilly cushions from a patchwork of defected hoodies and tracksuits.

I have also collaborated with NICCE, remaking their unsold items into capsule collections, and have partnered with Woolmark and Channel 4 in creating educational content around sustainability in fashion. This year I also partnered with Ocean Bottle for my annual Earth Day community event, celebrating the strides in circular fashion which included a panel talk with some incredible sustainability advocates and brand owners, along with upcycling workshops.

Why was collaborating with such a big global brand that creates so much waste such as Nike a good fit for your brand?

It’s amazing to work with these global brands and collaborate on ways that they can design and produce differently. It gives us both the opportunity to respond to waste as a design flaw and think of creative solutions of how we can reuse it. Partnering on collaborations which have a community element, such as with workshops, helps to educate their community around valuing unwanted textiles and give them ideas around how they can integrate what they have learned into how they approach their own fashion waste.

What was the collaboration with Adidas and Manchester United all about at the end of 2022?

Adidas, VERSUS, a platform championing the future of football and its rising influence on new music and culture, and Man United were holding an event in celebration of women's football at the United v Aston Villa match at Old Trafford in December 2022. As a supporter of women's football (I have worked on a few football fashion-focused projects), I was asked if I could create a women's capsule collection from unused merchandise that represented the spirit of the women's game.

I created a capsule collection that incorporated various elements of different product pieces, newer and older, that were more ‘lifestyle’ in style and could be worn on match days, but could also easily be integrated into the wearer's wardrobe. The pieces were worn by the Man U squad, photographed for VERSUS and showcased at Old Trafford for attendees.

What newness can we expect going forward from the Lydia Bolton brand?

I am a solution focused designer and lead by impact, so that always informs the future of the brand. We will be doubling down on craft, demonstrating the value in good design and great craftsmanship and focusing on how we involve our community. Working with brands in different ways, such as the collaboration with Lime, gives me a great creative opportunity and challenge to design clothing that is functional and adaptive for the ride, while still being fashion focused and upcycled.

I’m always inspired by the materials I work with and will continue to source and design with material that would otherwise be wasted from different streams - from pre and post-consumer textile waste. This year, I’ve been heavily influenced working with fabric swatches as there is an abundance that are casually discarded but can be recreated into something wholly unique and treasured.

I’m particularly interested in community building, educating and skill sharing, not just in the echo chamber of the existing eco conscious community, but further afield. I think these are key aspects to helping with the climate crisis as it needs all of us to come together to combat it. Subsequently, we are also developing more workshops this year where we feel we have a large impact.

What do you find the most challenging being a sustainable eco-friendly brand? Do you find it more time consuming and costly?

It’s both time consuming and costly compared to how traditional fashion brands run but we need to readdress how we do things. We have to challenge the norms of how brands operate and create in a way that has as little impact to people and the planet as possible.

The biggest challenge is the amount of labour that goes into each piece and how costs aren’t spread across multiple items which, when compared to a more traditional fashion brand model, makes it slower for my brand to grow. Using social media to document my process helps to shift mindsets and understanding around what goes into making clothes.

Who is your real target market?

My target market for my clothing designs is women between 25-40 and these are my core customers for the product side of my brand. My brand runs in a mix of pre-made and made to order and is direct to consumer, which means I have a really good dialogue with my customers - producing clothing they really want to wear and buy.

Do you think Gen Z are more aware of being sustainable than Millennials?

Gen Z has grown up with the climate crisis at the forefront and the knowledge of this being a human crisis affecting everyone. For Millennials, I think there was less of a general understanding about how severe the climate crisis was/would become. Therefore, Gen Z were more aware about being sustainable at a younger age, but currently I think Millennials are just as aware of sustainability. Across the board there are still knowledge gaps around topics like textiles, processes, the true cost to the world of each item produced.

Do you think Generation Alpha will prove to be the most clued up about sustainability?

Most likely as they will be brought up in the context of the climate crisis being declared an emergency. I think they will be the most clued up as they have such easy access to information and so many voices talking about sustainability. There are so many incredible climate activists having conversations around sustainability and its intersections and why it is so important.

What are the next big trends in creating and sourcing materials and product more sustainably?

I think new and innovative materials that are less harmful to the planet to produce, moving away from plastics being in so much of our clothing and bio-innovations will be something we see a lot more of. Especially as they move to the mainstream and are in wider production.

I’m really excited by collaboration and this being a key player in how we create a more sustainable future. That includes brands working with independent creatives like myself to combat their waste, brands working together with factories to help reduce overproduction, customers and brands having open communication to link supply and demand to again reduce overproduction, and the move to more ‘made to order’ models.

Where do you see your business in five years time?

I see my brand at the forefront of circular fashion, not just from selling products but from collaborative longer term partnerships with business to help provide a larger solution for their waste. Additionally, I want to help brands assess their processes, to reduce and eradicate waste from the design stage.

I will continue to advocate for how we can live in a more conscious way and create a movement of repair and upcycling, where many more people have the knowledge and skills they can apply to their own wardrobes.

​​What do you think is the future of fast fashion?

Providing clothing that is affordable and desirable to everyone is really important and fast fashion helps do this. However, the key issues with fast fashion of mass production, unethical treatment of garment workers, releasing thousands of new products, releasing toxic chemicals into waterways, overproduction and vast amounts of waste do not need to stay.

The speed at which items are mass produced and mass wasted is unsustainable and so the ‘fast’ aspect of ‘fast fashion’ needs to change. As do our mindsets towards how we see clothing as disposable and lacking in value.

My hope is for fashion to move to being less trend based, and all brands will take more responsibility for their effect on people and the planet, act accordingly, and produce clothing that everyone can afford and enjoy but that does not destroy the planet - or those that make the clothing.

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