With the amount of time the numerous lockdowns has given us, you'd have thought that all of us would have achieved as much as Alexa Papavasileiou has. But no, while we were experimenting with banana bread flavours and spending hours working on 1000 piece puzzles, Papavasileiou started a hobby that she can now call a business.

DesignBlender is a London-based atelier that upcycles old fabrics into new sartorial creations. In March 2020, the first lockdown prevented Papavasileiou from doing the usual styling and design consultancy work she was used to, so she needed something to scratch at the creative itch that had materialised whilst absence from work. Her reworked chokers, dresses and shirts became a hit amongst friends, her initial clientele, which then led to a chain of word-spreading about DesignBlender's melange of opulent textures and it's one of a kind nature.

We asked Papavasileiou more about her new venture, and what makes her business entirely unique.

What were you up to before launching DesignBlender? What was the impetus behind launching the brand?

Before starting DesignBlender I have been working as a womenswear designer in both Paris and London. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to get experience under some of my favourite designers, such as Giambattista Valli and Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, where I learnt about the know-how of a collection and technical craftsmanship. For the past few years I took on freelance stints in design and styling, however, as the pandemic hit work became very quiet. Free time in March allowed me to think and start this project as a creative experiment: to make ultra-glamorous clothes yet approach the entire process from a sustainable angle.

Initially resources were limited, friends would send me clothes that needed some amending. They became my case studies and things grew organically from there, friends of friends would find out and so on. At the time I did not know what upcycling was, I just worked with what I had during the lockdown trying to creatively patch clothes together as seamlessly as possible so one cannot tell the garments had been reworked. The end result was a blend of aesthetics, ideas, materials and timelines. I am obsessed with the notion of transformation, the immense power of change that fashion holds and runs on. How we can relate to ourselves differently through just one garment. Documenting the process in 'Before and After' polaroids helped me capture this. It felt empowering and meaningful. 

How do you find your materials to upcycle? We love how you remix such decadent trims, like feathers and lace.
I love to collect fabrics and trims from local antique markets or independent sellers who stock remnants. During the lockdown I had to go digital and source a lot of pieces through online auctions and on eBay. Using opulent elements like feathers and embroidery express my design aesthetic. Lace is a versatile material that I love to work into embroideries, trims and patchwork. There are some old-school merceries in Paris and Athens where i find interesting vintage buttons and millinery ribbons. The whole sourcing process has been a learning curve as my aim with DesignBlender is to only use pre-existing or certified low-impact sustainable materials. I had to read a lot and educate myself. For example man-made recycled fibres is a grey area, in fabrics one has to be careful with 'green-washing' descriptions. It takes more research but I love the hunt.

My sources can be from Italian mills for high-tech fabrics, to India for peace silk varieties, to factories based in Germany for end-of-line trims. I sometimes buy garments just to take them apart and use different parts for different pieces. The priority is to retain as much as I can of the initial structure of a garment, repair it and reconstitute the majority of its parts to turn it into something else. Somehow eventually all the components fall into place. Working on a garment is a little bit like a Rubik's Cube, you shift one area and then its adjacent has to be worked and so on.. until it all aligns with your first 'insert'.

Are you getting approached by your customers with their old pieces and getting asked to rework them?
So far I’ve had clients who are searching for a unique statement piece, for individuality. Then there are other clients who will bring a garment they love but with a defect, and I will help them reimagine it into something they can wear again. Our online collection of upcycled pieces is meant to inspire customers and illustrate the process of reinventing. A recent bridal client, Harriet, brought me a beautiful 1950s beaded dress to which we sculpted a low-scooped back and draped an enormous taffeta bow that hugged her waist like a belt. It was truly so wonderful and grandiose to see a vintage piece come alive and adapted to her personal style. Another client brought her worn-out little black dress to which we embellished all sorts of embroideries and trims using lace, it felt like an ornate jewel. The result can be quite unexpected as the end piece does not have to necessarily resemble anything to where we started.  Customers are slowly getting introduced to the various applications that the route of upcycling can offer. The time is right as we need to come up with ways that evolve creativity but do not deplete our earth's resources. I am thrilled to see bigger brands adopting a similar design approach as they help spread and raise awareness on a bigger scale. 

What keeps you passionate about fashion in these dress down days?
It keeps me on my toes how our industry will evolve after this slow-down moment we’ve had. Old systems of working are shaken up, production deadlines, labour costs, careless earth contamination, notions that have long expired are now brought to the surface. On the other hand, there is a return to working directly with consumers, appreciating craft and creating more personal products. Thinking of fashion may sound trivial to some but, this is a sector that employs thousands of people who depend on it. It will take time to find a better balance and despite the current situation there is, I believe, tremendous good-will by many involved to make small steps. Never have we been a more vocal fashion culture. Customers have a choice now more than ever, and the new generation of young consumers is growing sensitive to where and how products are made. I feel that we all yearn for adornment, celebration and clothes that uniquely express who we are. There is no doubt that we have adapted into a new way of dressing down at home, lounging in our pjs. We have well understood that we need less clothes and more loved ones. However, upon the next social gathering we may be very well reaching out for something outrageously extravagant to wear. Those maximalist moments are the ones I keep my eyes peeled on.

Shop a DesignBlender garment here.

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