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Ethical costume making

Within my work I do all sorts of things. Every custom order is usually unique and very different from all the ones I have already worked on. This one was no exception.

At the end of last year I was approached with a quote on a Red Queen Costume from Alice in Wonderland. I started looking into the costume details to gen an idea what needed to be done, I also looked if you can buy a ready-made one and how much they are sold for to come up with a realistic option of a handmade version.

I found out that you can buy this kind of costume in the range of starting from as little as $35 to around $200 per item depending on the quality from various suppliers. Not too expensive. BUT even for $200 the quality you get it appalling! Cheap polyester fabrics, not extremely strong seams… It will last for some time (some of them even I reckon will only be single-use kind of things) and then they will go into the landfill… Not good. Not ethical.

My general rule is if I take on an order I make quality. I make things to be used again and again, I make things to last. So I started questioning what the costume is for to understand better what I can do.

My client, Alexandra has her own brand of organic handmade skin care line and at the moment she is in the process of reinventing her business model developing some interesting events. And the costume is to be used for market visits, workshops dress-ups and so on. She also wanted the costume to be somehow made in a way that her customers visiting her for the workshops could pop into it and take a picture of themselves as a Red Queen. She thought of buying a ready-made one first, but was afraid the quality will not be good enough for the extensive use she intended the costume for. So we started discussing our options and came to an agreement.

It was such a pleasure to work with Alexandra! She gave me 100% creativity to do what I like and how I like it! The only request was for the costume to be somehow adjustable for people with various shapes and sizes as much as possible. And I loved that request – a challenge for me. 🙂

I offered to start with upcycling ideas, to make it cheaper on the raw materials and more sustainable. I used two op shop found shirts - a white one and a black one, and one black and white lace dress also from an op shop to create the blouse for the costume


The underskirt for this costume was created by my client's mother I only had to make the waist part by creating an adjustable belt. I have to say, I loved the fact that the whole underskirt was created from upcycled window curtains! So to continue on the upcycling idea I used bits of white shirt I used for the blouse collar to create the belt.

Ideally I wanted to get all the fabrics and trims from op shops. And while I was able to source all the trims (bits of ribbons, elastics, buttons and other things) from second hand resources, it was really hard to find fabrics of the necessary quality/colour/quantity within the time frame I had. So I did have to buy some new fabrics for the costume. All together, I’d say 50% of the costume was made from upcycled/recycled materials and the rest was from new fabrics. The whole cost for the raw materials including new and op shop pieces was about $70-$80.

To compensate on the fact that I had to buy new fabrics (red 100% cotton fabric and gold organza for the skirt and black cotton for the corset) I went zero waste with the fabric usage. I’ve just finished reading Zero Waste Fashion Design by Timo Rissanen and Holly McQuillan and was so inspired by the book that I made a zero waste pattern for the skirt.

Gold organza was wider than the red cotton fabric so I had a stripe of 40 x280 cm left which was partly used for the crown and the corset and the leftovers will be cut into produce bags. So again – no waste left! Some bits of black cotton drill left from corset sides will be used for some of my future projects. I never through away fabrics and even threads leftovers. I use them to make and/or stuff toys, pillows, wall decorations and even handbags! (see here and here. Threads leftovers is a big environmental problem on its own, I give more details in my video here.

I hand painted the whole skirt fabric to make it unique. The front panel was painted with famous black and gold hearts pattern and the gold organza was painted with abstract pattern to make the fabric look structured and more interesting. Then the corset front was assembled from bits of upcycled trims and I hand painted some details on that as well with 3D fabric paint. The crown was created from bits of fabrics and trims leftovers and hand painted to create more intricate details. 

Also , to make the costume adjustable I came up with a few simple tricks like multiple button closures for the skirt, double placket for the blouse and classical lace up corset feature.

Alexandra loved the costume so much! She said she would have never imagined that the results could be so good. I hope it will be used for a very very long time and bring joy to people connected to it.

Do you like it? Do you want something like that made for you? Contact me to discuss your options! 🙂

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