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Q&A: Rethread’s Alexa Schempers on the evolution of her circular fashion brand

by | May 13, 2022

Rethread has long since been a brand that Twyg has admired for the way that designer and founder, Alexa Schempers, uses waste to create unique and sustainable garments. Rethread focuses on selling three categories of clothing: redesigned (upcycled), sustainably-made (new garments), and pre-loved garments. This local brand has been growing from strength to strength and leading by example when it comes to creating clothing that goes against the fast fashion status quo.

With the recent launch of their fourth collection, we caught up with Alexa to reflect on Rethread’s journey and how this latest collection manifests  their ethos.

Can you tell me a bit about your recent work?

Our new collection represents our growth as a brand. Within our ‘Redesigned’ collection (upcycled garments) you will notice the evolution of some of our original designs, including the Equinox Suit Set, which now has beautiful hand-beaded details. We are also showcasing new styles, including the Earthquake Blazer, which truly embodies the development of our brand through the use of new upcycling techniques like the cut-out method. In terms of the sustainably-made collection (new garments), we have honed in on our strength of creating elevated basics that marry comfort and style. We have included more pieces that are gender-neutral.

I think one of the reasons why this collection specifically shows quite a big jump in intricacy is because I finally learnt how to sew! This has allowed me to be more experimental and hands-on throughout the sampling process. But, as a team, we are also refining our methods, and style, and getting clarity on what our customers really love.

You founded Rethread while you were studying in Amsterdam. What do you think the South African fashion industry can learn from Amsterdam?

Holland is very advanced in the sustainability and circularity space. So, there are some incredible case studies from the Netherlands that we can all learn from and incorporate into our own practices. What stands out to me the most about Amsterdam is the access and options you have to recycle your wardrobe. And, of course, the designers and brands embracing the refashion business model in more ways than one. There are loads of thrift stores, resale consignment stores, brands offering repairs and take-back systems, and even reselling their own branded items as a sub-collection.

What attracted you to the idea of upcycling secondhand clothes?

In a way, it felt like it was the only way I could experiment with new styles without harming the environment. As a fashion lover, I like the idea of having some sort of ‘newness’ in my wardrobe so that I can play and experiment. So, buying and selling secondhand and upcycling was the best option I could think of to balance the two. There is something so special about thrifting or buying an upcycled piece. When you find a piece that suits your style and it fits, it truly feels like finding treasure – almost as if that piece exists in this world just for you!

Why is it important to create garments from textiles that are already in circulation?

To put it bluntly, we are in a climate crisis. This is our way of contributing to the people and the planet. By using what is already in circulation we can extend the life of garments and reduce their overall impact on the environment. We see waste as an opportunity. Not just an opportunity to create beautiful things, but an opportunity to solve problems that could contribute to saving our planet and our industry.

Upcycling is critical to a circular fashion system, yet it is not easy to scale production. How do you manage these constraints?

It’s been really tough, and still is, but over time we have managed to build up a network of suppliers that allows us to slowly increase the quantities of upcycled pieces we produce. We also embrace that there is beauty in the fact that there are only a handful of upcycled pieces available at a time and that’s part of what makes our pieces so special.

How does Rethread challenge consumers to from the rapid trend cycle to embracing personal style, instead?

We try to place a lot of emphasis on the design process and remain fully transparent with our customers. We often include them in the decision-making process and I think this creates a connection with our clothing and our ethos that they may not have with other brands. In doing this, we are challenging our customers to think more deeply about their clothing, instead of just seeking out what is trending at that moment. We want to educate them about the impact their purchasing decisions have on the planet, but also consider the people who are making their clothes and what that process looks like. Apart from that, we design for versatility and durability so that our pieces can be worn throughout the year and styled in many different ways. I wear my Rethread pieces on repeat and I can say, with confidence, that they last!

You offer people the option to purchase carbon offsetting credits. Can you tell us about the intentions behind this, how it works, and why you thought it was important to include?

I think there are always ways in which we can improve our practices as a brand. Upcycling isn’t enough. We still make new garments, we still use courier services, and we still have off-cuts. We are not (yet) 100% circular. The truth is nobody really is. There is always room for improvement and this seemed like another small way in which we can do better. So, we offer customers the options to reduce their carbon footprint when they check out online. That money goes towards trusted carbon offsetting projects, like tree planting and renewable energy projects which in theory will offset the environmental impact of their order. You can read more about it here.

In your opinion, how can we make sustainable fashion more inclusive?

We need to keep putting in the work! Over time, as more businesses move over to incorporating sustainable practices, there will be more options available to consumers so that they can make better choices. Until then, I think it is our responsibility as brands to keep educating consumers on how they can participate in and support sustainable fashion with the options available to them right now. There are many ways to join the movement, including buying secondhand, buying local, buying less, mending, reselling, swapping, and sharing.

What have you learnt from the pandemic?

We are actually a pandemic start-up. So, we didn’t know anything different. But, looking back, the pandemic shaped our business approach. From the start, we have focused on localising production so that we have full control of our supply and direct contact with the people who make our garments. We have also always been very digitally focused, which was extremely important for fashion businesses during the pandemic as online was pretty much the only available sales channel. Lastly, we realised how important it is to get personal with your customers. We have placed a huge emphasis on building personal relationships with our customers online and I believe this is one of the reasons we have been able to see a good amount of growth as a brand.

If you could change one thing in the fashion industry, today, what would it be?

I would cancel SHEIN and all other ultra-fast fashion companies! To me, they embody everything that is wrong with the fashion industry. Similar to other fast fashion companies, they are enabling consumers to buy into this idea that they constantly “need” something new which in turn creates the issue of overconsumption and waste. If companies were not producing styles at this pace at impossibly low prices, consumers wouldn’t have the option to consume at this rate. And we haven’t even touched on what this means for garment workers and other independent designers who they steal designs from. I thought we had come so far and that Gen Z consumers are meant to know better, yet the numbers show otherwise. It’s disappointing and concerning.


  • Images supplied by Alexa Schempers
  • To learn more about Rethread, take a look at their website and follow them on Instagram.
  • Rethread was a finalist in the Innovative Design and Materials Award category at the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards 202, presented by adidas.
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