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Q&A: Alexa Schempers uses waste as resource for her fashion brand Rethread

by | Apr 3, 2021

Alexa Schempers launched her sustainable fashion brand, Rethread, while she was studying in The Netherlands. The brand focusses on selling three categories of clothing: redesigned (upcycled), sustainably-made and pre-loved garments.

The website states that Alexa believes in the contemporary closet, and that “the modern woman curates her closet thoughtfully from all of these categories and we want our collection to represent that”.  

With the recent drop of the brand’s second collection which was photographed by Armand Dicker and styled by Anthony Hinrichsen, we sent Alexa a few questions:

⁠⁠Alexa Schempers 

Tell us more about Rethread.

Rethread is a sustainable fashion brand, based in South Africa. We sell redesigned (upcycled), pre-loved and sustainably-made clothing that is locally manufactured in small quantities. Rethread was founded by me, in 2019 during my Masters in Fashion Enterprise Creation studies at Amsterdam Fashion Institute. After the first couple months of COVID-19, I returned home to South Africa, where I continue to build Rethread.

My ‘why’ for the brand is that I want to create something that gives women a sustainable alternative to fast fashion. Rethread allows us to express ourselves through fashion but without the negative impact on the environment. We create by using waste as a resource to extend the life of garments and keep them out of the landfill!

What change are you hoping to bring to the world of fashion?

To me, it is important to contribute two things to the world of fashion: First, I want to create clothing that is timeless, versatile and striking that you can wear on repeat and keep in your closet forever. And second, I want to contribute to changing the way in which clothing is produced, consumed and managed up until the end-of-use. There is a lot to be done in this space, and designing by using waste as a resource is one way in which I can begin to make a systematic change in the fashion industry.

What inspires your collections?

I am fascinated by clothing and its transformational power. I use fashion as my ‘superpower’, a tool to communicate, inspire and express myself. I curate, create and redesign with fashion’s transformative power in mind. I always start by thinking, how is this going to make me feel when I wear it…. And I like to feel powerful when I get dressed, so a ‘power dressing’ theme comes through in most pieces.

I come from a business and marketing background and I worked as a stylist for a while, so technically I am not a trained fashion designer. In fact, I can’t (yet) sew. So, this definitely influences my process and the way I create. I like to design by styling, editing and curating pieces that I have seen, or worn already. My thought process would go something like this: “I want to make this shirt but, in this colour, with this material and those details.”

When are you most creative?

I am most creative really early in the morning, when the rest of the world is sleeping. I like to wake up super early and work on new ideas.

How sustainable is Rethread? And why is sustainability an important part of the brand’?

That’s a loaded question! Let’s start with why it’s important to me… During my studies, I learnt so much about the fashion industry, and how wasteful it is – which was a huge eye opener to me. I had to check myself and my behaviour. I found that buying secondhand and making use of what is already in circulation made the most sense when practicing conscious consumerism. Which is why I chose this as the core sustainability practice of my brand.

So, how is Rethread sustainable…Technically, there is so much to consider when looking at sustainability in practice. Everything from suppliers, production, packaging, marketing to post-purchase and end-of-use behaviour needs to be taken into account.

To simplify, we can tick a couple of the many boxes. Our main sustainability practices are:

  • Locally produced and minimum waste: We are proud to say all our production is done locally and by women. We produce in small quantities, to reduce waste and deadstock. If we are left with any stock it get’s over-dyed or altered and sold in the next drop.
  • Carbon-neutral delivery: We use 100% compostable Mielie Mailer shipping bags and sustainably-printed packaging.
  • Use Waste as a Resource: We use upcyling (redesign) methods which means we use secondhand clothing as material to create new pieces. We are extending the life of garments that would previously go to landfill.

These are ways we plan to improve:

  • Using only deadstock and sustainable materials when creating new garments.
  • Implementing an end-of-use and take back program for our customers. This would include an incentive program for our customers to return their Rethread items to us at the end of life.
  • Using sustainable labels and thread.
  • Using natural dyeing techniques.

 

What challenges do you face?

One of my biggest challenges is the redesigned collection. To make the collection scalable or profitable means you need to choose a style which can be replicated more than once. This meant I had to find used clothing that is easily available. I also redesign each piece by using simple alteration methods, that are easily replicated.

To overcome this I decided to stick with redesigning mens suits and shirts (for now) as most of my suppliers (thrift stores, charity shops, and even men) stock many shirts and suits to sell or donate. I also design with simplicity in mind, so that we can make more than one of each style in a reasonable amount of time.

In the beginning, finding the right people who were willing to help me make up my first samples and make orders in small batches, was challenging. I found the perfect design studio, in Knysna (where I am currently based) with the right experience to help me with the redesign and alterations.

From where do you source your materials?

I buy most of my materials from Studio 47 in Cape Town. For the redesigned pieces I source most of the men’s suits and shirts in local charity stores. There are always rails and rails of suits and shirts.

What unique qualities do your designs offer to modern women?

The modern women is a bad b*tch (excuse my French). She wants to look amazing while feeling comfortable and supported throughout her day. Which is why I create what I call elevated basics or timeless statement pieces. Each piece is designed to be comfortable and versatile so that it can form apart of your capsule closet but, often appears already styled. Clothing that is accessorised by design.

The qualities we strive for are: versatility, comfort and timelessness.

Tell us a bit about your recent collection.

I want each of my collections to be a mini capsule closet. Each piece is designed and curated so that it can be worn on its own, with other items in your wardrobe or together with any of the other pieces in the collection. The collection is a mixture of elevated basics and timeless statement pieces – items that can all form apart of your forever closet.

To me, this collection represents balance between power and comfort, nature and structure, and earth and space.

Do you think sustainable fashion meets consumers’ needs in the same way that fast fashion does?

Yes. There are many ways in which the fashion industry can meet consumer needs in a more sustainable way. If you use the resale and rental industry as an example, through consignment stores and resale platforms consumers can experiment with new styles (at an affordable price) without contributing to the cycle of consumer waste. Rent the Runway has a monthly subscription to fashion, where you can rent your entire wardrobe. Businesses like this are the future of sustainable solutions based around consumer needs.

Who are your three favourite local fashion brands?

Rich Mnisi

Lukhanyo Mdingi

Lara Klawikowski

What is fashion?

To me, fashion is an extension and an expression of the self.

Credits

Photographer: Armand Dicker @armanddicker⁠

Stylist: Anthony Hinrichsen @antdane⁠

Hair and Makeup Artist at One League: Amy Louise Tourell  @amylouise_makeup_

Models (both Topco Models): Robyn Lombard @robyn.lombard⁠ and Katja Mäcke @kmcm_hj⁠

Jewellery: @yellowbyjesslea

BTS and film: Gregory Russell @gregory_russill⁠

Fashion Assistant: Tayla Linaker @tayla_linaker⁠

Photographic Assistant:  Aaishah Satchipia @aaiishhahh

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