We chat ethical crafting and fashion with Tina Sparkles.
How did you get the name Tina Sparkles ?
My friends tend to call me by really cute versions of my name, like Teeny, Teenster, Teens, or Teenie Santini and when I started an online business called Sparkle Craft back in 2001, Tina Sparkles eventually came along and I started using it for my online profiles. I always loved the name from that movie Strictly Ballroom, and was smitten with the idea of officially changing my name to something a little outrageous, so I did!
What got you interested in sustainable fashion?
I suppose it all started around 2005 when I started hearing about sweatshops. It led me to do some research on how and where clothes are made and from there I went down the rabbit hole. In addition to learning about factory conditions overseas, I found out about fiber and fabric production and the whole supply chain that takes a piece of clothing from start to finish. It was really overwhelming and shocking to realize that something like clothing could have such a huge impact, not just on people, but on our environment and our resources and since I love fashion so much, I wanted to see if I could help change it for the better, rather than continue to add to the problem.
What were your main reasons for writing “Little Green Dresses”?
It feels extremely dorky to say this, but I had an awakening - one that I think many of us have had recently, about what consumer culture is doing to the planet and people; and I felt compelled to help spread the word, inform and offer an alternative.
"Taking control of your own fashion is a powerful “gateway drug” of sorts that leads to more awareness in general about living in a more sustainable and progressive way."
As an experiment, I stopped buying brand new clothes in 2005 and it pretty much changed my life and my perspective, and not just about clothes, about everything! I have learned soooooo much about how to live outside of traditional fashion and its been amazingly exciting and fun. Taking control of your own fashion is a powerful “gateway drug” of sorts that leads to more awareness in general about living in a more sustainable and progressive way. Refashioning with patterns is a neat and creative way to get started in the right direction.
To me, the mixture of sewing and fashion is thrilling. I love that I have the skills to pretty much stitch up anything that I dream up and I wanted to share those skills and my ideas with everyone. When you think about the terms “eco-friendly fashion” or “refashioning”, a lot of times you don’t really think about the clothes being super fashionable or wearable. I wanted to show that you can make cute, wearable clothing from already existing materials.
I struggle finding ethically produced thread. Which components of your designs do you find most difficult to source? Any hints for finding thread?
I have been frustrated with the same thread dilemma as you! Naturally, when you think about sustainability, you automatically want to consider every single component of anything that you might want to make or buy. When it comes to sewing, that means stuff like fabric, thread, zippers, buttons, elastic, other notions, and even the electricity used by your sewing machine! Thinking about all these things makes me wonder, if I can’t make sure everything is good, is it good at all? And, how much can I control? I’m exploring this through an experiment - I’m trying to grow my own cotton in my back yard to make a dress from scratch and by hand! I started the project two years ago and so far I’ve only been able to get a hand full of cotton. Hopefully next year will be a better year! Hahaha. Anyway, one thing that I think about pretty often is that we are living in a time of transition and that means we are going to encounter lots of contradictions. I’ve come to the conclusion that right now, it is not going to be possible to do everything at once. When the day comes, I will embrace like crazy the first mainstream thread/notions companies to make products with sustainable fibers.
Unfortunately, I haven’t yet been able to find any threads out there that come in colors other than black, white or natural. You can find organic cotton thread in those basic colors at Red Rock Threads. I read a news blurb on ecotextile.com that said there is a German thread company called Amann Group that is developing a line of recycled polyester and organic threads. Also, the Coats website mentions that they have developed a line of organic thread and recycled PET thread called Coats EcoVerde. But I can’t find any of these for sale anywhere. Can’t wait till they are available!
Can you describe the buzz you get from teaching? What do you hope participants gain?
Teaching is amazing. I love being able to pass on info and techniques to others. My favorite part is the moment when a student “gets” something. It's like a light turns on all of a sudden and then they are flooded with excitement about all the possibilities and inspired to create. It is so satisfying to know that I helped them get to that moment. I also love it when I hear about and see stuff that my former students have made or are wearing! One of my hopes is that my students gain an appreciation for what goes into making a garment.
We all like learning crafty tricks-have you any plans for class or are there any crafty books you particularly enjoy?
I teach lots of classes at a sewing studio called the Stitch Lab (stitchlab.biz) and try to come up with fun new classes each quarter. In addition to my normal classes (Garment Sewing, Hem Lab, Fashion Art 101, Alterations and Open Studio), I’ll be leading classes on projects and ideas from “Little Green Dresses”. I love looking at and experimenting with all the techniques in “The Art of Manipulating Fabric” by Colette Wolff. Its crazy all the things you can do with fabric!
Whom would you most like to collaborate with?
Betsey Johnson. I LOVE LOVE LOVE her designs soooooo much. It would be dreamy to collaborate with her on a collection made from recycled or sustainable materials.
How do you capture creative ideas? Do you journal?
Oh yes, I definitely keep a journal slash sketchbook. I have lots of lists and doodles and thoughts; random drawings and other pasted inspiration items in there. I really love using a croquis to get my fashion ideas worked out and I also keep an ever-evolving inspiration board up in my sewing area.
Do you feel that we will ever get to a stage where all clothing is produced in an environmentally friendly way by an ethically sound industry?
Wow, I have often wondered about that. I think probably the biggest barrier is globalization and the fact that we don’t have many international laws or a common set of ethics as far as production and human rights are concerned. However, the people in the biggest consuming nations (hello USA!) have the power to change the industry by voting with their dollars. Since the US government is strongly influenced by corporate money, we might not be able to regulate the industry through law, so instead consumers can take a more grassroots approach to convince the industry to make change. I am hopeful that this will happen, but I doubt I will see it come to its fullest in my lifetime.
What’s your position on the current oil leak in the gulf. Do you think it will raise people’s awareness around synthetic fibres in fashion?
I feel like the gulf oil leak is almost like a metaphor for the wastefulness of consumer culture. Even though the BP oil spill has been plugged, we are still gushing and wasting oil like crazy. It is also really scary, from an environmental and ecological standpoint. The mid to long term effects are still yet to be determined and I can’t help but think it is going to come back to haunt us any minute now. I don’t know if the oil spill will help raise awareness about synthetics in fashion, but hopefully! and also hopefully about the fact that plastics in general are made from petroleum. We need alternatives!!!
Mandy Greer had a show at the Bellevue Arts Museum. Do you feel that there is an impact to be made in the art world by crafters?
Originally I thought crafters could be the new producers...and maybe they still might, but now I think that the creative energy amongst the crafty type is what is most powerful and since our world faces so many problems, there is definitely potential for an impact in the art world as we try to make sense of it all.
You can find out more about Tina, her workshops and pick up a copy of her book from her website »
(Images courtesy of Erica Beckman and Taunton).