One of the things I’ve been really struck by, as I reach the end of the process of writing our People Make Glasgow book, is just how many thriving enterprises in this city are led by brilliant young women. I’ve found learning more about the innovative work of makers, artist and designers like Rachel E Millar, Nmarra’s Jen Stewart and the women of Harmony Row both heartening and inspiring, and feel increasingly optimistic about Scotland’s creative future – since it is clearly in such very capable hands! Another young Glasgow woman turning her hands to something impressive and important is Rejean Denim‘s Siobhan McKenna. Here’s some words about Siobhan’s work, and some of Tom’s photos too.
Denim. The instantly recognisable blue twill fabric worn by millions around the world in contexts from workwear to high fashion. Woven from tough natural cotton fibres, denim wears well, can potentially last a lifetime, and is easy to repair. Yet, despite this cloth’s unique durability and longevity, somehow we just keep on making more pairs of jeans, and throwing more pairs away. An estimated two billion pairs of denim jeans are produced annually worldwide, using intensive industrial processes with a steep environmental toll.
It takes seven thousand litres of water to create a single pair of jeans, while the chemical-laden run-off from denim-producing factories routinely pollutes the water supplies of developing communities who pay the price for our addiction to over-consumption and fast fashion. How might blue jeans become green?
ReJean Denim’s founder, Siobhan McKenna, has one answer to that question. Rather than manufacturing more pairs of jeans, large proportions of which end up in landfill, why not repurpose already-existing denim into great looking one-off garments that are truly made to last?
Working from her Barras’ studio, Siobhan carefully deconstructs jeans sourced from the unsold stock of local charity shops and reconstructs them into jackets both beautiful and bespoke.
“I believe that fashion should be much more transparent and that mending should be an important part of manufacturing,” says Siobhan, while ripping out a seam, “and I think that if you want to change things, then you’ve got to be able to hold yourself accountable.”
Having turned her back on a career in commercial tailoring and theatrical costume to build a small enterprise focused entirely on recycling and repair, Siobhan’s a great example of the accountability and transparency she espouses. Exploring collaborations with other young makers and artists like Molly Hankinson, and supporting the important work of Glasgow community organisations like Saheliya, ReJean’s a socially-conscious brand with a dedicated local following.
“Attitudes are changing.” says Siobhan, “young people really understand their privilege as consumers. They want to know who made their clothes, and how to care for what they buy.”
Siobhan’s work helps to embed such thoughtful local attitudes through her Repair Shop, at which you can get your denim garments altered, darned and fixed, and the ReJean mending club, where participants are introduced to techniques of visible mending such as Boro and Sashiko.
“It’s an exciting time to be in Glasgow,” says Siobhan, “with so many young people giving creative things a go. I think that all of us, in our own ways, are just trying to make something amazing with what’s already here.”