When I showed my friends Helen Smith’s super-cute, kitsch accessories from her Recycled with Love label there were squeals of “Oooooh!” and “I want them all!” Characters from our childhood adorn many of her handbags, with Rainbow Brite, My Little Pony and Alice in Wonderland all making an appearance, and pop art fruit and flower prints decorating her fun clutches and purses.
But these cheery images hold a deep-seated irony. Helen makes all her accessories from second-hand fabrics, and deliberately chooses familiar pop culture prints as a protest against mass-produced consumer goods.
After finishing her textile design degree Helen found a job working for a ‘fast fashion’distributor, where she was appalled at the poor quality of the garments, the wastefulness of packaging and the unnecessary transportation. “The world is far too full of mass-produced, faceless design and with the current planetary crisis we need to be aware that we can’t go on producing as much as we do and that we should be re-using perfectly good items,” she says.
Her interest in pop culture imagery goes back to her specialism in screen-printing and surface pattern whilst at fashion college. “My work was concerned with Americana and the mass-produced world,” she says. “I am heavily influenced by pop art – the bold colours and ironic statements always fascinated me.
“I love the idea of giving old fabrics new beginnings and this is what more of us need to be doing – sustainable design that is fresh and still fashion-forward. This whole ‘ikea generation’ needs to be outcast, set aside for a bespoke design future.”