Kristina McElroy has been drawn to the colour brown these past few months. It was big at the Paris fabric show she visited last year. Since then it’s been weaving its way into her psyche, as fashion trends do. “I really don’t like brown but I’ve noticed I’ve been thinking recently ‘terracotta’s okay . . .’”
McElroy is a former art teacher who trained at the Grafton Academy of Fashion and Design to combine a lifelong love of clothes with the skills to make them. She's happy to call herself an aging hippy at "65¾" and later this month she'll host a free Fashion Repair Cafe in Dublin to share ideas and skills for future-proofing your wardrobe.
“When you go shopping, you really need to choose something that’s going to last at least 10 years,” McElroy explains over tea and chocolate biscuits at her sunny kitchen table. “So what you need to do is think like a fashion designer and think about things like line and shape and colour.”
In an era of fast fashion, does she see the pendulum swinging back towards clothes that last? “People are looking and seeing that you can actually take in that seam or take it out. You can change the buttons to update things. So at the cafe I’ll be taking one big black cardigan and changing the line.” She’ll show how the 1980s shoulder pad (now all the rage again) can be added to something you already own. “One of the trends at the moment is polo necks so you can create a polo neck for yourself by using a scarf underneath a garment.”
Grammar of clothing
She loved her two years at the Grafton Academy. "I wanted to learn the grammar of clothing, to learn how things are put together because if you just design conceptually you're not really thinking about that. I think I've always been more interested in being stylish rather than fashionable." She made her first dress for her friend Lynn, a beekeeper. It's honey yellow with an asymmetric hem and a cut-out of a bee on the shoulder.
Sustainable fashion should be beautiful as well as practical, she believes. "A couple of years ago I went to a talk in Collins Barracks about Nellie Mulcahy and it was amazing. People had brought clothes that she had designed in the sixties and they were still gorgeous, still wearable."
On McElroy’s 65th birthday, she was delighted to be a finalist in a UCD young fashion designer’s competition. Her design, a pink party dress, had an Japanese style obi belt (“they’d been bubbling around for a while”) and was designed by looking “at what other people are doing, going to galleries and reading books and trying to pick up on that line. That’s a shape that’s going to last quite a while. My idea with the [outsize] pockets is that say you’re at a really good summer party you could leave with a bottle of prosecco.”
She brings down a Betty Jackson coat recently repaired after scorching the sleeve to show how a repurpose can add to its look. "I really liked it because Betty Jackson is somebody who designs for real women." The scorch mark was covered with a felted flower. "So that's slow fashion. Don't throw it out because it's falling apart. Just fix it."
Her thinking about fashion changed after a Fashion Revolution event. In April the international campaign will run a "Who made my clothes?" week timed to commemorate the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 in Bangladesh which killed 1,138 people.
Fun with clothing
Does she feel the fashion industry plays on our insecurity to make us buy more often? “As an older person I do feel really sad that it seems to me younger people do not have as much fun with clothing as I do.
“When I was younger and I went to charity shops, the whole thing was playing with things to make a look that you liked. In art college, I used to like to wear dresses over other dresses . . . now it’s a thing of ‘oh I can buy things in charity shops that look like designer clothes and I’ll save money.’”
McElroy is a member of the Dublin Community Environment Network and a convener of An Lianadh, a transition town initiative based in her neighbourhood in Dublin 12. She likes the transition town idea, which began in Kinsale, because it's a hopeful take on a carbon-free future. She'll be joined at the Repair Cafe panel by Betzy Nina Medina who organises A Fabulous Market, a flea market in The George pub on George's Street the first Saturday of every month, and two other style experts who will give share their secrets on repurposing, swapping and sharing.
“It’ll be about opening peoples’ eyes about how to shop,” McElroy says. She also wants to show people how to have fun with clothes. “If I have one ambition in the next five years, it would be to have a really good market up and going where makers can actually sell their stuff. So this is part of a discussion towards that because you don’t change peoples’ minds straightaway.”
Future Proofing your clothing and Repair Cafe is on Saturday March 30th, 10am to 1pm, at The F2 Community Centre, 3 Reuben Plaza, Rialto, Dublin 8
It is a free event but register for tickets at Eventbrite. com