Fashion & Beauty / Fashion

Sam Nowell: turning towels into trousers

The designer who turns fabric trash into fashion treasure.

Sustainable fashion is the world’s latest fad  – and everyone knows it. Whether it’s the high street or the world’s biggest fashion houses, everyone is under pressure to introduce a new eco-friendly range, regardless of whether they actually care or not. When it comes to local designers, London has a pretty impressive trajectory of designers whose sustainable approach is out of choice, and not to appease customers.

For upcoming designer Sam Nowell, a sustainable approach was mostly organic, derived from a need to create something other than t-shirts. Trawling charity shops and car boot sales for fabrics that he could upcycle, the practise of creating something out of nothing became the backbone of his eponymous brand. His Instagram is evidence as to how he can take a bunch of old towels or dust bags and turn them into an entirely new piece, breathing new life into something unwanted.

Were you always interested in fashion?

I started really getting into clothing in my first year of University. A new environment and exposure to people from differing backgrounds prompted me to take more consideration into how I presented myself. I started to discover the use of clothing as an extension of your personality and how you could convey so much about your interests by what you choose to wear. This was really important to me and I began experimenting with my own clothes and gauging people from theirs. I took more consideration to it & started to immerse myself in some sort of culture. I had my bedroom covered in i-D magazine cut-outs and would spend my time drawing clothes in my architecture sketchbook.That’s how it all started, just by not being satisfied with buying clothes, I wanted to be really in control of what I wore and how I was perceived. 

So how did you get to this point?

I started printing t-shirts in my university bedroom and selling them to friends but got bored of it rather quickly. I often tell people it’s the gateway drug into making clothes because it’s easy to learn and easy to produce. I just wasn’t satisfied with the limitations of making t-shirts, and wanted to keep bettering my skills. I bought a sewing machine and trawled charity shops for any fabric I could get. I would go home and cut this fabric, stitching it together and creating clothing out of it. That was all I could afford or get my hands on and it’s kind of just developed from there.

How would you describe your approach to design?

Its tongue-in-cheek repurposing of mundane items into clothing pieces, usually drawing on British references of nostalgia and heritage. It’s salvaging and using anything I can get my hands on. Guerilla Fashion.

How do you source the materials to craft your designs? And how do you decide upon what to use?

Now I will source my fabric from a variety of places, I’ll still frequent charity shops but I’m at Car boot sales, warehouse job lot sales, Ebay, Depop, Facebook Marketplace. Anywhere I can find it.

There’s an element of up cycling and sustainability to your work. Would you say that you’re environmentally conscious?

I think it’s really important and will be for a very long time. It’s also very on trend to be sustainable. There’s a lot of brands/individuals simply jumping on it for that reason and to keep stakeholders or customers happy without really taking too much care in their output and process. I think the sustainability side for me is almost a by-product of what I make. I only used second-hand fabrics and materials because it was cheap and available to me, but I’m really keen on keeping things sustainable as I grow. I think sustainability is more of a ladder you climb up rather than a black and white thing, there’s levels to it and I would say I’m still right at the very bottom.

You’re based in Manchester, which is away from the boom of London Fashion. What are the benefits of building a fashion business outside the capital?

I’m from Manchester. Up until September I studied and lived in Liverpool but now I’m actually based in London. Growing my style and aesthetic whilst being in Liverpool was definitely tricky. I was juggling my degree and was always frustrated that my time could not be spent on my projects. It’s easy to get into a mindset of FOMO and missed opportunities but the flipside to this is to embrace the fact that you are the minority up in these cities who are doing things like that, rather than being lost in a sea of creative people in somewhere like London.

What are you aiming to achieve with the brand?

I’m keen on developing my style and learning. I know I want to make bigger things and work with certain companies but that will come with time. There’s some cool phone calls I’m having at the moment so hopefully they materialise into something greater.

19 March 2020