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Melissa Spratt is a Whakatū (Nelson) based designer, photographer and director. Womenclan takes a look at her latest collaboration with Peanut Butter Vibes Photography and explores her decision to promote solely secondhand clothing.

Words: Melissa Spratt

'All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go' is shoot that came together from a few different ideas I was needing to explore creatively. I was reflecting on the covid lockdowns and a year full of drastic change. I wanted to explore the emotion of extreme boredom and where it pushes our mind state while gazing out the window.

 

After abruptly leaving our life in London due to covid I was questioning if my clothes were still relevant in small town NZ. Inspiration was also drawn from being surrounded by the breathtaking landscapes of my homeland that I had been longing for but with no one to share it with due to what felt like a severe lack of people. A stark contrast from the hustle and bustle of big city life.

With the help of my long term collaborator Gab Bertogg (a.k.a. PeanutButterVibes Photography) and a supportive team of creatives, we brought this brainchild to life. Gab and I share similar mindsets related to looking after the environment and reducing waste. Clothing is a big part of the way we express ourselves and we get a lot of joy from wearing the creations of other makers. I wanted to create a playful shoot based on a light storyline which used 100% second-hand clothes to promote sustainable fashion.


After working in the UK film industry in the costume department for eight years I was fed up with the scale of waste and single use plastic on set and in the workroom. The amount of spending on film productions that goes into unethical high street brands was quite shocking and as you can imagine morally challenging. I learnt a lot from my close friend who is schooled up on the issue of fabric waste. She is making waves in the London film industry by actively adopting more sustainable practices within the costume department and educating her peers as she goes.

 

At the time, the UK was dealing with the imminent issue of being faced with its own waste. African countries have started to ban contracts with the West which allows ships carrying tonnes of unwanted clothing to be purchased on arrival to African shores. The rag is packed and graded into lottery bundles in the UK, however a lot of these clothes are low-quality, damaged and unsellable at local markets in Africa and they end up in abandoned piles on the streets.

 

She recalls visiting her friend in Ghana who was working for a sustainable textiles company. Alongside witnessing these piles of rag on the streets with her own eyes she saw a child wearing a ripped up and heavily damaged “Tough Mudder” Tshirt. Tough Mudder is a well known western charity competition involving mud and obstacle courses. This really brought it home for her. It felt like she had seen the full cycle of where our damaged clothes end up and was beginning to learn about the effects it was having on the textile makers in Ghana who cannot compete with the cheap prices of these bundles.

 

This story proved to me that I need to educate myself more on the cycle of fashion and that we all need to question our obsession with seasonal consumerism. It was around this time that I made a commitment to not buying anything new as this felt like a step in the right direction. It wasn’t that hard of a transition because I have been op-shopping as a hobby for as long as I can remember.

 

I have fond childhood memories of being small enough to run under the rails at the Nelson op-shops while with my mum who brought us up single and has always been sustainably minded and an advocate for budgeting within your means. My Poppa was a keen auction-goer and so was my Great Grandpa so it has somewhat been an inherited skill to hunt for bargains and buy second-hand, high quality goods.

In the UK, the charity shops are filled with high street brands and the unsellable items get shipped off-shore. All of this learning has made me raise the question; Is the second-hand market driving the first-hand market? Do second-hand shops just allow us to consume more because we can dump unwanted goods there afterwards and not have to think about them? I am not saying that the secondhand market is perfect by any means, however I have come to some conclusions that help me stay level headed on the issue.

 

Buying less is the best thing I can do. Spending money on getting items fixed so they stand the test of time is worth the investment. Questioning what happens to things when I throw them out is a good practice and making the effort to upcycle or fix something before I drop it to charity will hopefully mean it doesn’t end up in a landfill. Handing down unwanted goods to friends and family or selling them myself is the best way that I can keep track of where they end up.

I have been collecting second-hand fabrics and patterns since I learnt how to sew when I was eight and now that I have been reunited with my beloved sewing machine after being away, I plan to reignite my hobby of sewing my own clothes as this takes things a step further. Some people argue that op-shopping should be left for people more in need. I personally prefer to buy things second-hand and already in the cycle rather than contributing to new production and not knowing the supply chain of which it came from.

 

When I need something specific I am quite happy to spend hours hunting through the rails to find it. It is a nostalgic, therapeutic and creative process for me and I genuinely enjoy the challenge of finding pieces that help me express my identity, not to mention that I know my money is going to a good cause. It’s an area I constantly question and I am open to expanding my mind on the topic. I believe there is always room for personal improvement.

If you'd like to learn more about the effects of fast fashion in Ghana check out this link.

Digital Photography & Art Direction: Gab Bertogg, PeanutButterVibes Photography B&W 35mm Film Photography: Melissa Spratt, Innit Creative
Concept & Styling: Melissa Spratt, Innit Creative
Lighting Assistant: Jonny Eagle, Innit Creative

Model: Caitlyn Olive
Clothing: Sourced second hand 

Jewellery: Hired from Lady Mux, Nelson

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