Working towards Sustainable Fashion In Our Studio Practice

It’s no coincidence that sustainable fashion is on my mind as Black Friday dawns. We’ve all seen the facts. The fashion industry, and fast fashion in particular are named as one of the biggest pollutors. If you want to understand the major issues in a succinct way, this article may interest you. So today, when discounts are showered upon you to quiet that voice in your head that asks “but do I need it?” our gift to you is not a markdown but an assesment of how we are contuining to change our practices, so that we can take less from our planet.

Beaded applique overbust
Sheer mesh corset with beaded lace embroidery

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about our efforts to treat our resources with care- here’s my first post which covers the main areas of our studio practice, briefly:

  • All our corsets are made to order. This means no excess stock, no wasted pieces in sizes that don’t sell. When we cut fabric, it’s because we’re making your beautiful corset!
  • Fabric scraps from our efficiently laid out pattern pieces are saved, Some of these are reused within the business and the rest are saved for other enterprises- We are currently looking to work with other sustainable fashion brands or waste spinners who create new yarn from textile scraps!
  • If we already have the fabric you want in stock- you aren’t charged for it! This encourages use of materials that might otherwise sit around gathering dust for years.
  • We have designed products specifically to use up smaller pieces of leftover materials that are regularly used in the studio, like our Isolde neck corset! More on this later.
  • Keeping packaging to a minimum. Our bespoke orders go out in cardboard storage boxes designed to be kept, with cardboard mailers that can be easily recycled.
Golden silk corset with ribbon lacing

Then To Now

The biggest change I’ve made at Orchid is one that you have all shared in and contributed to- your orders go towards our 9 Trees subscription for carbon offsetting! 9 Trees is an organisation local to me who are planting and managing native trees in the UK designed to work within their landscapes and provide biodiversity, habitats and spaces for us all to enjoy. There are similar organisations out there but having met with one of the directors I am reassured that these trees are not just popped in the ground and forgotten, they are nurtured throughout their lives and you are kept up to date with their progress! There is due to be a site planted about 30 minutes from Orchid HQ, which feels like a wonderful thing for us to support, given how the landscape here has inspired me my whole life. Please do visit their site to learn more about what you’re helping them achieve.

I’m happy to say that I am seeing change in my suppliers as well as in our own studio. Our main supplier of components now sends every order in paper mailing bags, our silk supplier uses plant based biodegradable polythene to ship our orders, we can now buy ribbons made from recycled plastic, on cardboard reels! Each of these changes earned a happy dance from me! And if this sounds insignificant in the face of the challenge before us, know that we can do nothing without these initial steps. And every time I see a company make these changes, I make sure to support them wherever I can. Sustainable fashion isn’t about doing everything perfectly, it’s about making changes and building on them.

I’ve also made a switch in our packaging- Your shop orders now go out in corrugated paper mailers instead of jiffy bags! These new biodegradable mailers can be composted, recycled or reused, which is a big improvement. As before our shop orders are wrapped in tissue paper with our ink stamp of approval, so your corsets journey to you is entirely plastic free.

Ivory Flame and Gingerface model in ribbon corsets
Ivory Flame and Gingerface wearing plant dyed silk ribbon corsets shot by Sally Sparrow

Building on our initial plans to create products designed to minimise waste, we have two designs coming out any minute which will be limited edition to allow us to focus on using dead stock fabrics! If you haven’t come across this term before it means a fabric that has been discontinued or left over from industry use. Sustainable fashion brands are turning to this sourcing option more and more! I consider this to be a really valuable way of minimising our impact as it does not add to the increase of demand, or use further resources for manufacture. I also think this has the added effect of keeping things fresh- a style has to be reinvented as it sells out and can never be allowed to grow stale. I hope we will be able to do more of this in future!

Our business was never a very problematic one in terms of waste but every time a decision is made I try to run it through a conscious process. Is this necessary? Can it be made more efficient? Can I reuse instead of recycle? By taking this through small exercises like saving up packaging sent to us from suppliers to give away for local reuse, bulk buying items where possible, or delaying a supplies order so that it can be added on to a larger one in the near future, I’ve seen my non recyclable or reused items dwindle to practically nothing.

Feminine Corsets for Men
Scarlet silk corset with flossing.

The Future

The big thing I want to focus on next is finding sources for our silk fabrics and luxury trimmings that are more sustainable or use more natural dyeing processes as I’m aware that this is a huge part of the issue with our industry as a pollutor. The stumbling block I’ve come across with this in the past is meeting our quality standards for the end product but I hope there is more we can do on this front. Our main fabric is cotton coutil, and it’s nature as a specialist fabric with dwindling factories left who supply it means that alternative sources using organic cotton or more responsible dyes is non existent. However I will be writing to my suppliers to ask if this is a suggestion they can pass on.

I honestly believe that these are the things that will help us survive as an industry, because at some point our worldwide culture of more, faster, cheaper simply cannot continue. Hard decisions will be made and priorities changed. As a luxury brand we do not offer essential items like tools, food, medicine. But what we do offer is something that our clients connect with at a deep emotional level, as well as something that sparks imagination, passion, connects us to our sensuality and helps us realise identities that are fundamental to our sense of self. I want to keep making corsets for as long as you come to me with a story of how you waited years to make this call. For as long as I see the thrill in your eyes of opening that box. For as long as I see you proudly loving the skin you’re in. Please share your ideas for improving our approach to sustainable fashion, what elements matter the most to you? We are always looking to learn more and do more!

Six Simple Ways To Make The Best Of Corsets

Miss Deadly red wearing a Seirian waspie

Miss Deadly Red shot by Sally Sparrow Photography

Before you have built up a collection of corsets that would make Dita Von Teese shiver with delight, you might find yourself looking for ways to make the most of what you have, or even reinvent them a little as you go along!

Shadowlands underbust corset
Shadowlands underbust corset in scarlet silk and black lace.

Step One- A little TLC.

It might sound obvious, but as most corsets aren’t suitable for washing, it can be easy to forget to do the boring maintenance steps that keep a piece looking new! If you don’t have time to dry clean, remember to air your corset out over a chair after wearing and wipe over the lining with a lightly damp cloth to refresh it. If you need a bit more freshness then here’s the professional’s tip- mix vodka with a splash of water in a spray bottle. Set it to a fine mist and LIGHTLY spritz the lining only. Once it’s dried you’ll find the bacteria has been killed off! Don’t forget to use a lint roller on the outer surface of the corset to spruce it up again!

ribbon corset
Vibrant grosgrain ribbon corset.

Step Two- Choose Wisely.

If you’re only just beginning your career as a corset addict the temptation is to buy something outstandingly lavish in your favourite shade of jewel tone green silk. But I always advise making your first corset the most versatile it can be, even if it seems a little… pedestrian at the time. Something that will serve as discreet underwear, chic outerwear, and team effortlessly with your main wardrobe staples. Don’t forget to choose fabrics that are forgiving and durable, like coutil! Most of our clients go for something in black but if you wear a lot of white shirts you will want something as close to your skin tone as possible to hide a corset underneath! A piece like this will cover enough bases that it will be a while before you “need” another corset, though need is a very subjective concept!

mesh corset
A cotton mesh corset in pale gold. Practical and graceful!

Step Three- Accessorise.

Once you have your capsule wardrobe “3 in 1” corset you may find yourself wanting to give it a different feel for the night. I maintain that you never get bored of the classics but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some variety! Items like harnesses can be layered over the corset to create more texture, line and detail and will instantly alter the feel of a corset. My personal favourite touch is a body chain- delicate jewellery style chains that loop around you to frame your figure in a gorgeous manner. Think Greek goddess with delicious curves!

Sinopa Rin in the Vala corset and Morgan harness
Sinopa Rin in our Vala corset & Morgan harness, shot by Francis Kinsella.

Step Four- Get Crafty.

If you want to create a more permanent effect, particularly if you have older corsets that you can spare from daily use, why not start to embellish? It’s easier than you think to stitch on a lace applique, an area of beading, maybe even get some Swarovski crystals and create a sparkly masterpiece! You might find that upcycling a corset with a movie on in the back ground is exactly what you were missing out on. If you’re willing to have a go at something more ambitious why not try this hack from Lucy’s Corsetry, altering your corset to have lace up hip panels!

Decorating the corset with lace.
Embellishing a mink coutil corset with Chantilly lace.

Step Five- Re-lace.

One of the biggest giveaways that corsets are “well loved” is the state of the lacing! Over time it gets uneven, twisted and broken down by the tension of tightacing. Especially if you have ribbon instead of cotton lacing! We do sell replacement lacing here but if you’re in a hurry, unlace the corset, iron the lacing/ ribbon flat again and re-lace carefully, making sure to get the bunny loops at the waist even! Here’s a helpful video if you’re not sure how to do it. If you’re replacing your lacing, why not opt for a contrast colour to revive the look of your corset?

Lacing corsets
Replacing corset lacing with ribbon can update your look.

Step Six- Storage.

If your special occasion corsets are going back into the cupboard for an extended stay, remember to pack them away with love so they come out looking their best! Make sure you took care of step one’s cleaning and freshening suggestions before you pack away. Our bespoke corsets come in branded boxes that are perfect for stopping the laces tangling up with other items and stacking neatly away from dust and damage. However if you want to see what you’re looking for without opening 10 different boxes then we do sell corset storage bags which are designed to hang up in your wardrobe, made of clear mesh (and can be customised to the colours of your corset for easy identification) so you can see at a glance what pleasures await you! For an extra special touch why not put a little dried lavender or rose petals in a bag along with your corset? They’ll come out smelling like Summer!

storage bags for corsets
A corset bag is an ideal way to neatly keep your collection on display!

Did we miss out your favourite tip? Let us know your essential guide!

Photo Story: Studio Life

studio life

When I think about it, studio life is really my happy place! It’s an arena of challenge and small victories, layering unique aesthetics, trial and error, and midnight eureka moments! It is buckets of tea, contemplative practices, refinement and continual development and learning. I feel so lucky to walk up the stairs to my busy, often messy and creatively chaotic workspace every day! So as I look ahead to the businesses thirteenth birthday I thought it would be nice to share a little glimpse into working practice in the studio, illustrated with photography from Sam Irvine. These photos were actually taken in my previous studio but very little has changed apart from the view from the window!

Cutting Out

You never quite get past the excitement and mild anxiety of marking and cutting a new piece of luxurious cloth. It’s the moment of no return, the start of your adventure. Many of my corsets are formed from two, three, or even four different layers of cloth, an elegant fashion layer of vibrant textured silk or smooth, cool satin. Robust cotton, woven as densely as can be to support the tension of the garment, and a light soft lining to protect the skin. Each must be cut and marked individually, layered and stitched to act as one unit, strength, beauty and comfort combined.

Inserting The Busk

Corsetry is full of tools, components and materials that are completely unique to the craft. The busk is one of my favourite examples. You’ll never find this remarkably simple and effective item anywhere other than in a corsetiere’s kit bag! It was developed in the industrial revolution and remains mostly unchanged, bar a few upgrades such as a glittery finish or a smooth rust proof coating to the steel. The main reason I love it so much is that choosing the correct busk type is crucial to the comfort and fit of a corset. You may need a spoon busk to smooth and support a post partum stomach, a flexible busk with a little reinforcement for a slender figure without much waist reduction. Whatever your requirements, there’s a transformative busk for you!

Stitching

There’s something very meditative about spending a lot of time at the sewing machine- you have to remain focused on your task but the rhythm of the steady stitch, the hum of the motor, the timing of easing a pin out just before the needle hits it is quite ritualistic and draws you into a reverie of it’s own. My machine is nearly 50 years old and she doesn’t look so fancy these days, but she’s been my reliable friend since the first days of the business and we continue to take care of each other.

Pressing

Though it may look like it’s “just ironing” pressing is one of the quieter arts of studio life. It has an array of trusty tools, untreated wood “clappers” “tailors anvils” and sawdust filled “hams” help you to compress the steamed cloth into sharp lines or set into rounded curves, letting it slowly cool under the weight before it can be moved. This step can’t be hurried, and when given time, it transfigures flat cloth into devastating hourglass curves.

 

Handsewing

I always finish my bespoke projects by handsewing the bias binding closed at the top and bottom edge of the corset. This final stage of attention and care is one of those indefinable elements that elevates a piece of work to looking precious, and different to something mass produced. This is a labour of patience. It can only be done with time and care so I put on an audiobook, or an album I’ve been waiting to listen to, and absorb it as stitch by stitch, the project draws to a close.

Studio life this week revolves around working on two new photoshoot samples for a Sally Sparrow workshop in between your commissions! The time pressure is on but it’s exciting to be trying out a few ideas that I’ve been working on behind the scenes! I hope your week is filled with creativity and happiness.

Competition Time!

Competition winner Amethyst Skye in a green corset

Spring is here! And we’re having a little competition to celebrate reaching 40,000 followers on Instagram! If you’d like to win a £200 Orchid Corsetry gift voucher then now is your chance to get snap happy! A few simple steps for your chance to enter before 30/4/19-

  1. Take a picture in your favourite Orchid corset, lingerie or accessory. It can be a selfie, taken by a friend or even a professional photographer if you like!
  2. If possible share the picture on social media (though we do accept email entries too) tagging us @OrchidCorsetry on Instagram and Orchid Corsetry on Facebook and use the hashtag #OrchidSelfie
  3. Tell us how you feel when you’re wearing the garment! Do you feel powerful? graceful? confident? sensuous?

Competition winner Amethyst Skye in her teal overbust corset

Some top tips for entries that make an impact!

  1. Be creative! Choose a beautiful or unexpected location for your shot- sometimes a dramatic backdrop is right around the corner!
  2. Get friends involved! Either helping to take a great photo or even posing with you! Couple shots are very welcome!
  3. Lighting is key- make sure we can see what you’re wearing!
  4. Remember we want to see ALL our clients! It would be lovely to see some of our male and trans clients strutting their stuff this year!
  5. Be aware that we may share entries on social media so feel free to disguise your identity if that’s what you’d prefer to do.
  6. Multiple entries welcome! The more the better!

The images in this post are from last year’s competition winner Amethyst Skye, with most photos taken by Diana Suder.

Remember- the deadline is the 30th April so don’t delay- shot today!

Competition winner wearing corset in a library

Creation Stories- Orchid Memorabilia

Creation Stories scrapbook with image of finished corset.

I’m really excited to talk to you about our Creation Stories project. This idea was born from a wedding gift for dear friends who asked me to make their bridal corset, and requested photos of the work in progress, to get a glimpse into the construction and process behind their garment. I decided that I would go one better, and make them an album, mixing creative writing and photography to show them how I work, and some of the stages that might surprise them.

Scrapbbok album featuring an image of corsetry tools

Creation Stories album with image of a corset being made

As I saw things coming together I realised the potential for my other clients, many of whom are deeply interested in the “behind-the-scenes” world in the studio. And I can see why- corsetry is a world apart from dressmaking and other sewing projects. It blends engineering, tailoring, architecture and uses a mystifying array of archaic tools! And each project demands something different. It might be our terrifying looking metal punch or our oddly shaped and bent applique scissors for fine lace work. So I thought why not offer our clients the chance to have their own Creation Stories?

Creation Stories album with binding image

A linen covered album, sealed with a wax stamp, with delicate tissue paper separating handwritten notes by the maker, and photos of all the different stages that brought your treasured garment from cloth on a roll to an intricately stitched second skin, threaded through with steel and made with great care. You might be surprised at the techniques and tools that helped us make your bespoke corset!

Scrapbbok album with image of a finished corset on a mannequin

So from now on, if you’d like a Creation Stories memory book to document the making of your bespoke corset you only have to ask! Each one will be as unique as your commission, featuring the tools and processes used in the creation of your corset. Prices on request. If your loved one has commissioned a special corset for their wedding day or a special event then what could be a more thoughtful surprise gift to present them with!