melissa lockwood

melissa lockwood is the designer, founder and creative impetus behind iqtest, a fashion house that not only creates some utterly stunning fashion pieces but also produces them using the salvaged fabric from garment cutting factories. at a time when mass produced clothing is the norm and left over cuttings usually end up in landfills, lockwood is taking an environmental and socially aware stand, utilizing what is commonly seen as waste and turning it into stylish, of-the-moment fashion pieces. brooklyn-based lockwood’s collections have graced the catwalks of the williamsburg fashion week, the nyc eco fest in times square and csps runway. an interdisciplinary artist, who obtained an mfa from the university of iowa, melissa is a self-taught fashion designer, with a focus on raising awareness about the pollution caused by the mass production of the garment industry.
interview with i.t.a.

melissa it’s a pleasure to speak with someone like yourself, whom not only has the creative vision to produce some breathtaking fashion but also the ability to do so with a social conscience… welcome to powder.

Very glad to meet you too! powder is amazing.
Thank you.

so let’s start with where you’re at now. what’s the inspiration behind the iqtest spring/summer twenty fourteen collection?

The inspiration for the Spring/Summer 2014 collection is the most common off-cut fabric shape that is thrown away at garment cutting out factories.

After some observation of the cutting out of garments and the fabric being thrown away at factories, I realized that long narrow pieces were very common. With a little research I found out why. When the pattern layout process begins about four inches of the edges of the fabric it cut off and thrown away, before the pattern is placed. The logic behind this is that the edges are often not extremely straight and they want super geometric edges to layout from. This is automatically thrown away.

So I dedicated this season to use this shape, showing ways one can use this shape to make wearable garments. I don’t feel it’s totally necessary to cut it off, let alone automatically throw it away. It is a valuable resource.

I sew the strips together, then into tubes that I make into dresses. People say they are an easy fit as the loops drape and cling and give in nice ways. I hope more designers will take this fabric shape and sew with it instead of throwing it away. Also it is a zero waste shape if cut from new fabric.

and in general, over the last year or so what would you say is your main motivation behind the iqtest ranges that you’ve been creating? what kind of fashion have you been producing?

I’ve been producing very wearable garments. Using small off-cut waste fabrics and larger pieces of salvaged fabric.

My current creative process and next line is dedicated to absolute wearability and simplicity of construction, design and zero waste.

This year I received the gift of many random pieces of fabric from designers who had excess sample making fabric. The pieces were usually 1 to 1 ½ meter pieces. In order to make sewn garments I decided these needed cutting up. I was working in a situation were I had no big cutting tables available, so I had to keep it simple.

That is how the idea was born. My idea is to take average sized remnants that are easily available to designers and consumers, and with the average home coffee table as a cutting table to create pieces with free form cutting and no pattern. The pieces are easy to make and fun to wear employing a zero waste technique.

For me, it was an experiment in how to design with the least effort, beyond using found pre-cut odd shaped pieces.

My goal has been to make it as easy as possible for others to take the idea and use it. Any easy solution to the use of average size fabric scrap is a potential step in the right direction. People who are wearing the new designs say they fit well and feel good, somehow working on a wide variety of body shapes and sizes. My shape of choice has been an elongated wedge; it’s easy to cut out and is zero waste.

i must say that your mission to raise awareness about the pollution caused by the mass production of clothing is quite an inspiration. how did this come about? did you have a moment when your realized you must follow this path or was it something that came about gradually?

A friend told me she saw some large quantities of fabric lying on the ground by a big building in Queens. What she had seen was what had fallen on the ground as the large dumpsters were emptied into garbage trucks. As I arrived at this building, which housed a tee shirt cutting factory, I saw the large dumpsters full of fabric.

All my experience with dumpsters up to that point was that their content went to landfills. So I was quite shocked to see dumpsters full of fabric. I knocked on the door next to the dumpsters and a person came out, when I asked about the fabric they said, “take as much as you want its garbage.”

So I thought to myself, I cannot bother reworking vintage garments, which I had been doing, I must figure out how to use this fabric to create wearable garments. The whole idea of salvaged fabric and how it is a valuable resource came to me in that moment.

Many discoveries were in store for me and are for anyone willing to use off cut. I discovered right away that since its shapes are made in a sense in accord with the human body it is actually very easy to use the pieces to make garments. Basically it seems it just takes some sewing and not a lot of thought.

and down to the nitty gritty, how much waste is caused by the production of mass disposal textiles? are there any controls in place to monitor this situation?

The exact number of tons of fabric wastes worldwide is enormous. I don’t have that number. Here are a few examples of tons of fabric waste from a few countries:

254.1 million tons USA (yearly)
1,538,000 tons Singapore (yearly)
1.5 million tonnes UK (yearly)

There are few laws and regulations in place to control the amount of pollution the fashion industry creates. There are a lot of different ways the fashion industry creates waste during its manufacturing process.

what is the message or example that you are putting out there by using the excess fabric waste from factories to produce such stylish pieces?

The message is the fabric designers are throwing away is not trash but a valuable resource. Also, the designers are throwing away unseen garments. I am able to create many different styles without altering the shapes that are thrown away by mass-producing designers.

If one analyzes the cutting scheme focusing on the areas outside the designer’s pattern pieces there is another pattern area. When fabric is laid out for cutting it is laid out layer upon layer sometimes 30 pieces thick. It is cut out with a vertical blade saw that slides around on the smooth tabletop.

It is in the repeated identical shapes of the vertical stacks that are made when the pieces are cut out. It doesn’t seem designers have taken the time to look at this bit of inadvertently created “pattern area” the vertical stacks of pieces which can be used.

what is the unique process that an iqtest garment undergoes when it is produced, compared to the regular mass production that is occurring in the marketplace today?

IQTEST uses what mass producing designers don’t want. I go to factories and collect fabrics that are thrown away. I have been able to get it right off the cutting table, the waste bins and containers. I chose small quantities of a variety of fabrics. I make one of a kind pieces. I do this to show the variety of designs that can be gleaned from the off-cut.

I make them one at a time, but it is possible to make runs of garments from larger quantities of the off-cut. I will need a crew of sewers and space for this, to work in conjunction with a cutting factory would be ideal or to work directly with designers to look at their pattern layout pages and then look for designs in advance of the cut out process.

and further what do you suggest should be done to solve the excessive waste that is being produced by the fashion industry?

Designers need to develop methods to utilize the fabric they usually throw away. It is possible to make garments with the pieces that are left over. Some of the pieces don’t even need to be altered to make garments.

When fabric is laid out for patterned cutting it is layered piece upon piece some time 30 layers of fabric on top of the other.

When the cutting is done the designer gets the parts for, in this case, 30 garments, 30 sleeves 30 collars 30 fronts, 30 backs. So all the off cut pieces are in sets of 30 identical pieces.

I have experimented with sewing these multiple same shape pieces together and it lends itself to garment making quite nicely.

I go for long pieces and have figured out many ways to use the different shapes. So from my point of view the designers need to take a bit of time and look at the vertical same shape stacks and find solutions from the repeated shapes.

in the globalized world there is no getting past the fact that in the west, when we buy cheap clothes from the developing world it definitely has its consequences. public attention has been drawn of late to the plight of the garment workers in bangladesh. what is your opinion on this situation?

I think it is horrific what is happening in the sewing industry overall.

I am concerned about the environment and human rights. I think the sewing industry workers should have fair wages, safe work places, healthy environments to work in and regulated work hours.

The low wages, the unsafe working conditions and all of that must change.

Over the years I have sewn all of the IQTEST garments myself. I am still doing that. Recently I have begun to experiment with having the off-cut sewn into fabric that I then finish into garments. I do all the garment construction, tailoring and trimming myself.

As for paying people to sew the fabric together for me, I let them choose the piece price and allow them whatever amount of time they needed. I am currently working with a small group of sewing students and I let their teachers set the price.

back to fashion matters though. you’ve featured at the williamsburg fashion week on quite a few occasions. i’ve heard so much positive things about the event. what’s it like for you? why do you keep going back?

It is a fun and exciting show. The organizers are amazing, friendly and totally supportive of the designers’ environmentalist and free form creative expressions. Williamsburg Fashion Week has been a very fulfilling place to share the ideas and the clothing.

With the show’s team and their promotion they made it possible for my project and tiny voice to be heard and seen. I was interviewed by Wall Street Journal, New York Times and The Village Voice. I am very grateful for all the hard work the WFW organizers put into making the shows happen. There as far as I know aren’t really any shows like it with the level of freedom of expression and the quality of design work presented. I was flattered completely, each time I was invited working to do my best.

I respect the amount of trust they had in all the designers they show. They would have us submit out ideas they would curate, but allow the designers freedom to what they wanted to.

your background and work encompasses a range of different fields, so i have to ask which designers, artists and social activists have been an inspiration to you?

I was influenced early on by a workshop I took at Arcosanti, the Architect Paolo Soleri’s experiment in urban planning. It is a project based in Architecture and Ecology. The project started in 1970 and employed and has developed a lot of environmentally friendly architectural ideas. While at Arcosanti I was taught about recycling of many different things. The recycling there had it seemed nearly 50 different stations rather than the basic few.

It was an amazing experience; each time I would return and work on a project there I would see a lot of environmental ideas in action.

While working with the artists The Yes Men on their Survivaball project, I heard about a project called Plastiki, a boat made from 10,000 2 liter plastic bottles. It is a project by the environmentalist David DeRothschild.

I found his project very inspiring, as his idea of what is often seen as garbage and that it is really a valuable resource and true to me too.

and lastly melissa, what are you working on now and what projects do you have coming up for the rest of twenty fourteen.

I am working on making more garments with salvaged fabrics and trying to create situations to inspire other designers to use their off-cut fabrics.

I am also getting into making homemade cheeses, lacto fermenting veggies and making nutritious medicinal non-alcoholic drinks.

it’s been a pleasure ms lockwood. in an industry that is often seen as focused only on the aesthetic, you’ve come along and integrated social activism into the fashion realm. we’re very big fans here at powder and look forward to perusing your next collection.


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