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Juliet Bonhomme, upcycling and slow fashion influencer and founder of The Upcycling Lab, a that offers upcycling workshops and advice, aiming to recycle forgotten, damaged or unsold textiles to give them a new life in our wardrobes.She develops workshops to reconnect the people of Brussels to their know-how and creativity. She also collaborates as a consultant with fashion brands on upcycled collections based on their unsold products.
MAD Brussels had a talk with Juliet Bonhomme.
Can you introduce yourself and your project The Upcycling Lab.
"My name is Juliette Bonhomme, I'm 27 years old and I live in Brussels. I share and raise awareness about sustainable fashion on social networks, especially Instagram. After my studies in Public Relations at the IHECS, I joined the non-profit organisation The Lemon Spoon, which supports citizens and companies in the ecological and social transition. Then I launched the Upcyling Lab in 2021. It's a project for the reuse of fabrics: unsold, damaged or forgotten fabrics through three axes: workshops, awareness raising and consultancy."
"The workshops are aimed at individuals, b2b, schools, and anyone else who wants to participate. The idea is to introduce people to sewing, to the sewing machine, and to teach them various techniques for reusing old fabrics that are lying around their homes. There are workshops with different themes, creation of scrunchies, totebags, clothes, and levels. The aim is to give the participants the first steps of sewing. To make them understand how much time it takes to make a garment, by doing and showing the gestures seems essential to me.
Then, the second phase of the Lab is to raise awareness and generate reflection among the people I meet. Through social networks, the website, we talk about the impact of fashion on our planet but also in various places like youth centers for example. And soon a podcast will allow me to continue to raise awareness.
Finally, the consultancy axis is very important, it allows me to help brands to revalue their unsold, damaged, or forgotten stocks by helping them to find ideas corresponding to their brand DNA. We carry out the transformations ourselves in their workshops or go through social and professional integration workshops in Belgium.”
How did you get into slow fashion, upcycling? What was the trigger?
"Five years ago, I became aware of the impact of our consumption on the planet. After working for a Brussels non-profit organization that raises awareness of sustainable consumption, I radically changed my consumption habits in terms of food and beauty products: less waste, organic, local. But what has been the most difficult for me is fashion. I have always been a fast fashion addict, but I became aware of the power of action that we could have, to change mentalities. I learned to put together my wardrobe in a different way: by buying second hand, renting outfits, borrowing from friends, investing in sustainable branded pieces etc. There were already many ways to do this. There were already plenty of ways to keep up with fashion without further polluting the planet."
"Finally upcycling came to me during the Covid-19 pandemic. During the lockdown, buying new second-hand clothes was out of the question, as thrift shops were closed, and we had to keep busy! I started to use my mother's sewing machine and transform curtains, sheets, clothes I already had at home. With upcycling I was coming full circle to slow fashion by combining my passion for fashion with my desire to act for a more just and sustainable world. I started posting my creations on social networks, organizations contacted me to organize workshops and make tutorials and one thing led to another and The Upcycling Lab was born.”
Little by little, it seems that the fashion industry is evolving, towards a more sustainable, ethical fashion: slow fashion. A word on this evolution? What do you think about it?
"It's true, consumers are looking for strong values like transparency, they don't want to feel guilty anymore, they want a more sustainable fashion. I think it's great to see more and more projects emerging in this direction!
It's very important to educate people about upcycling: to say to themselves, I don't wear this dress anymore because I don't like it or it doesn't fit me anymore, so why not transform it? In this way, we reappropriate the garment, it is important, and everyone can do it.
Buying a pair of trousers that are too big in a thrift shop and having them re-sized by a seamstress or transforming a shirt that you no longer wear but love the fabric into a scrunchie or totebag is upcycling. It would be great if everyone got involved."
Are there more 'simple' pieces to upcycle? Why?
"Indeed, I think pieces like jeans or cotton shirts are going to be easier to upcycle because the fabric is quite strong. With jeans you can make bobs, fanny packs, clutches and so many cool things. They can be endlessly recycled. The more synthetic materials, on the other hand, like polyester and silk, are more complicated to upcycle.”
What advice would you give to consume more sustainably?
"The advice I remind myself of every day is that the most sustainable clothing is the one we already have! Take a break from our consumption and take stock of what we have, try our clothes again, reinvent them, reappropriate them by upcycling or imagining new combinations. Finally, minimizing our purchases is the first thing! And then taking a break invites us to realize that we already have a lot and it allows us to identify what we really need.
You must ask yourself the question 'Do I really need it?' and if so, favor second-hand shops, or turn to renting, borrowing from friends and family, and avoid getting into this cycle of possession, you have to give meaning to each purchase.
If nothing suits you in second hand, we can turn to sustainable and ethical brands, and invest in beautiful quality pieces that will last over time, like Hopaal, MUD Jeans, Flamingos life or Patagonia.”