We thought the best way to celebrate International Women’s Day would be to share with you a woman after our own heart. Meet Lucy Tammam, Artist, Fashion designer, Sustainability Expert, Activist and Innovator of Eco-Couture. A Fashion alumna of London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Lucy has spent years researching and developing fully monitored ethical supply chains that track the whole process of creation from fibre to finish. This ensures sustainability, ethical standards and cruelty free production something we are proud to also do when it comes to creating our ethical yoga clothes.
With her own atelier in Bloomsbury known for creating one of a kind sustainable couture gowns, film costumes and the first ethical bridal collection, Lucy is passionate about connecting her consumers with creators.
Recently Lucy’s work has been focused on collaborating with artists, showcasing in exhibitions around the world. Her current venture the One Dress project encompasses her love of couture with feminist activism to bring women across the world together.
What is your earliest ‘fashion memory?
Walking in a fashion show when I was four years old. My aunt and uncle had a fashion business (My Grandfather was also a tailor – it’s in my blood!) and asked me and my best friend to model for the show. I didn’t really like modelling much. The clothes must have stirred something in me though… as here I am.
What was the light bulb moment you understood the importance of sustainability within fashion and textiles?
There wasn’t really a moment, I’m old school eco fashion – I’ve always created my collections as sustainably as possible. I was one of the first fashion-led designers to make it intrinsic to my company profile. At university, I incorporated upcycling and fair trade ideas into my projects – it was rejected as pointless, time wasting, “nobody in fashion cares about that” (I’ve been told recently that sustainability is now part of the syllabus!). Sustainability is logical and fair – I’ve always been a big believer in pragmatism and justice
What’s the one thing we should be doing to change the way we regard our clothing?
Learn to sew. I think people just don’t realise how much work goes into making clothes, which devalues them so much, especially when it’s possible to buy clothes so cheaply on the high street.
Why is it so important for you to source your fabrics ethically and tell us more about your ‘fibre to finishing’ supply chain.
“Out of sight, out of mind” is a massive problem. As consumers, we often have no idea where stuff comes from – who made it and how. I’ve been working on my supply chains for around 15 years – I’m always improving them and finding new artisans and producers to work with. I love putting different ideas and techniques together – yarns from North East India, weaving from Kerala, block printing from Andhra Pradesh, embroidery from Karnataka… Bringing together the work of these skilled, yet disparate artisans means I can create truly unique pieces while supporting small-scale independent artisans with fair trade.
What do you love most about working with local artisans and why?
I love discovering new techniques – some of the skills that these people have are incredible, and so vastly undervalued. I hope by working with them and offering an opportunity to be part of creating luxury garments I can increase the value of their work and ensure the techniques don’t die out.
Tell us more about One Dress and why you created this amazing project?
My current labour of love is One Dress. It came about at the end of 2016 – I was so fed up of the waste in the fashion industry, I was feeling despondent about the state of the design world and overwhelmed by the impact of fast fashion. I was curating the annual art show for FiLiA (previously Feminism in London) and the incredible feminist activist art being submitted inspired me.
For years I have been working with incredibly skilled women across India and Nepal – yet they rarely received any credit for the work they did – occasionally a mention on my website or a blog post. So for this project I really wanted to raise the value of the people throughout the supply chain. On the One Dress page you can see the artisans who have worked on the dress – their names are next to the word they embroidered. It’s been a project in bringing creators and consumers together, whilst giving voices to women. All the words on the dress mean “feminism” and have been contributed by people from around the world, in over 10 languages, and counting.
What do you hope to achieve with One Dress?
I want to create something beautiful, glamourous and interesting that brings people together and offers a voice to women.
How can people get involved in One Dress?
Anyone can suggest a word or a sentence for the dress here. I’m also asking people to donate thread for the dress – all the violet embroidery thread is vintage or reclaimed so if anyone has any in their granny’s sewing box or the back of a draw (regular sewing thread in violet / purple) it can be sent to; Tammam studio, 5 Hastings street, Bloomsbury, WC1H 9PZ. If it is sentimental we can arrange for a word to be embroidered in a particular thread too.
What’s your favourite quote/words so far?
A quote from Maya Angelou – “Still I Rise” from the poem. It represents the constant struggle women have had for equality, but it’s positive – it shows we’ll keep going, no matter what.
If you were describe one dress in three words what would they be?
Inclusive, inspirational, artisan.
Where can people see the finished project?
The dress is being displayed as a work in progress at various events throughout the year. It will be showcased at the FiLiA Conference in October. To see the progress of the dress follow our instagram @HouseOfTammam @OneDressManyVoices
What would you say to young women who want to start their own business?
Don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t”. Don’t think traditional women’s obstacles need hold you back – when it’s your business you can do what you want. Have kids if you want – they are adaptable and amazing – take them to business meetings and on trips – it’s brilliant experience for them too. Pretend to be a man if you need to! I have an “assistant” called Francesco who deals with certain suppliers for me. Don’t do anything “for the money” starting a business is hard work and if you’re doing it without exploiting anyone it will probably take time to reap the rewards. If you do it for the passion, and love, you’ll always be winning.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The creativity – I love creating, I love designing – bringing different ideas together – making something tangible. I adore seeing my creations being worn. Seeing one of my couture gowns on the red carpet is really fun!
What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced and how did you overcome it?
Demanding sustainability when it wasn’t on anyone else’s radar. When I started out no one in fashion knew what Fair Trade was, organic wasn’t a common term and cruelty free was just for make-up. I had to build my supply chains from nothing. It was quite a journey – I loved every minute of it and I feel very proud now that the industry as finally woken up to sustainability issues, thanks to my generation of trailblazers who carved the path for the ethical fashion we are seeing today.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
To be true to myself. My uncle (the one with the fashion label) always told me I was a haute couture designer (he was right – though I tried to be commercial at the start of my career). He encouraged me to call my label after my name – it’s my baby and so much a part of me, and to create what makes me happy, not follow the crowd.
What is your single piece of advice to the next generation of women?
To quote Michelle Obama (this is also on One Dress) – “There is no limit to what we as women can accomplish”