Waste not want not

Designer Laura Egan told David Hennessy about her newly established clothing line Minti that aims to reduce the waste produced in the fashion industry by upcycling old garments to provide sustainable womenswear.

Dubliner Laura Egan was living in Hackney and working as a designer in London until April this year. During her four years working in fashion which also included a stint in Paris, Laura saw the excessive damage the fashion industry was causing to the planet and she felt a change should be made.

When Laura lost that job on account of the Covid-19 crisis, she relocated to Dublin and started the sustainable womenswear brand, Minti in an effort to convert more people to shopping second hand.

Despite only being established a short time, Minti has already racked up thousands of followers on social media and been featured on the Ryan Tubridy show recently.

Laura told The Irish World: “It’s amazing. It shows a real change: People wanting to be better, working with the planet rather than against it. I didn’t expect it at all when I started it really. I was starting it because I felt strongly about something but I didn’t know that lots of other people would share that positivity.

“A lot of people said, ‘God, I never thought that you could do something like that with a garment’ or, ‘I never thought about the clothes that I was putting into the bin’. It’s really sparked people’s consciousness. I don’t want to make people guilty but I think it’s about having a conscience and being more thoughtful about the clothes that you own.”

Laura says the fashion industry is responsible for a vast amount of damage and she explains she saw an enormous amount of textile waste every single day.

“I know there is a huge amount of waste in the industry. To put it into context, one of the small luxury brands I worked for produced four collections a year. In each collection there was about 150 garments that were newly designed and newly made and then with each individual garment I would have to approve maybe three to five samples before that garment could go into production. That’s per garment, that’s 3,000 samples before anything is produced for the year. Half of them are cut and deemed unsellable and taken straight to landfill.

“There’s so much waste, people not being conscious about what they’re throwing in the bin. That put it into context for me, how much waste the high street brands must be actually producing because I know that was a small brand.

“Brands haven’t been challenged enough about it. They haven’t had to say how much waste they’re producing. They haven’t had to face up to people. I think with the whole movement now with Boohoo and the modern slavery scandal, all these problems were constantly going on but they were just not spoken about.

“As a designer I saw the problem lying with initial stages of being careless with these samples. In all the brands I worked for, the designers had free will to mark samples and cut them wherever they liked, basically draw all over them and deem them unsellable.

“It’s a whole wider issue of the fashion industry not being transparent, just being wasteful where it doesn’t need to happen.

“Fast fashion waste is another issue because they are just producing too fast, too much and nobody is wearing them or people are wearing them once and throwing them out and that’s down to the whole instragram culture of, you can’t wear something twice. That’s not even necessarily on the brands, that’s on people as well.

“Every single second one truck of textiles is incinerated or dumped into landfill. That’s every single second of every single day and that’s a proportion of the waste. I just feel like we have more than enough clothes in the world at the moment. Let’s try not produce much more and when we’re producing them let’s be conscious of what we’re producing and of the waste.

“Over the years working in both big and small brands I just built this massive guilt up in myself and I thought, ‘I have the ability to make a change here and that’s why I kind of started Minti’.”

Laura’s guilt made her decided to stop buying new clothes, shopping instead in charity and second hand shops.

“I stopped buying new last year. I just committed to not buying any new clothes, shoes, anything. I would buy from charity shops or second hand online retailers.

“To be honest, I am a charity shop fiend anyway. I’ve been going for years. I love working through the rails, finding those little gems but for a lot of people, not buying new is really tough. They don’t have much interest, they’re not in the industry, they don’t wanna go root through rails, they don’t have the time maybe.

“It’s also about circulating what’s already in the world. I’m really trying to convert people to be able to buy pre-loved in an easy, accessible way and keeping the garments that are in the world there.

“If you wear a garment for nine months longer than you were going to it reduces the carbon, water and waste footprint by 20-30% so that one garment can mean so much to the environment if people just keep it. Or if they sell it on and someone else gives it a new life which is what I’m trying to facilitate with Minti.

“Years ago people used to mend a hole in their sock because that’s what you did and that’s not around anymore. People feel like they can throw away clothes. They don’t feel like it’s valuable anymore. I want to bring back that sense of value, mending and being more careful with your clothes.”

Knowing many people are put off by the idea of looking through the racks in charity shops so she came up with the idea, Minti rejuvenates old clothes with its upcycling service, something that is proving especially popular.

Clients will come to Laura who will work on a design and turn them into a unique piece while producing ‘zero waste’.

“When they see me doing an upcycle or see me changing something into something new, people think, ‘God, I could do that with so much in my wardrobe that I don’t need to buy new’.

“If they can’t buy new, people want something that’s new so why not let people refresh the garments they already have and again give them a longer life? Having new pieces without having to produce anything new is my aim basically.”

The designer will also be starting workshops and classes to teach others how to upcycle and rework old clothes.

Losing her London job was a misfortune that Egan turned into a chance for change.

“I lived in Hackney for two years, working as a designer over there. I loved it, London is mad.

“With the whole Covid thing, the company I was working for just couldn’t keep employees on and I lost my job. We had planned to move back to Ireland at some point in the next two years but with the whole Covid thing, we kind of thought, ‘You know what? Better to be safe at home than to be kind of stuck somewhere without a job’. It’s worked out well anyway.”

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