"I was shocked by the perfectly good materials going to waste"
Siobhan Martin, founder of Shiv Textiles, tells us why she left a career in fast fashion behind to weave her way through 360kg of textile waste a year.
Siobhan Martin is the founder of Shiv Textiles - a textiles business with a conscience. Beginning her career as an intern for large fashion brands, she was shocked by the waste produced by the industry. Since then, she has built her own unique line of garments and homewares from materials salvaged from high-end British mills.
Shiv Textiles is one of many small businesses turning the tide on fast fashion, which currently accounts for 92 million tonnes of waste each year. In an industry dominated by rapidly changing trends, Siobhan’s approach to textiles is a breath of fresh air. Whether she’s running weaving workshops from her Brighton-based studio or rescuing materials from mills, her philosophy remains the same: Look after what you have and appreciate the work that goes into everyday fabrics.
Can you talk to us about the issues you’ve encountered in the industry?
It's difficult to explain the volume of waste that the fashion and textiles industry produces. And I’m not just talking about the fabric scraps on the manufacturer’s floor or clothes that end up in landfills. I’m talking about all the stages that the product goes through from start to finish.
Most fabrics are either woven or knitted. To knit and weave you need yarn, and often this yarn needs to be dyed, but the chemical and water waste from this process is only the beginning of the problem. Often, yarn is wasted due to faulty colour matching, then there is the overproducing, and over-ordering colours that never get used in a design.
Once the yarn has been spun and dyed it can then be made into cloth at a mill or factory where even more wastage occurs. One example of this is selvedges from the industrial looms - tightly woven edges which keep the fabric from unravelling or fraying - which many manufacturers immediately cut off and throw away.
Then, like in the dying process you have deadstock yarns. These yarns have normally been over-produced, discontinued, or damaged and can sit for months or years before finishing their journey in landfills. This is also the case for garment components like buttons and zippers.
So, this is where I come in. I source deadstock yarns, selvedges, buttons and zippers from British dyers, mills, factories, showrooms, and manufacturers, transforming them into unique collections of woven homewares and sustainable craft supplies. It is a totally different way of making as you always have to adapt your ideas to the materials at hand and think on your feet.
What was the inspiration behind Shiv Textiles?
My aim has been to encourage and inspire a more circular and sustainable way of making, as well as getting bigger brands to recognise and improve their own supply chains. Every box of deadstock that lands in my studio is a small victory to me.
As an intern for bigger brands in the textiles and fashion industry, I’d been shocked by the amount of perfectly good materials going to waste. Shiv Textiles was born in my bedroom in 2017 when I moved back home to my parents. I worked on my business here and there in between my freelancing and part-time jobs. I was made redundant in April 2020 from my fashion job due to COVID, which gave me the push to really grow my business. I wanted to show people that sustainability doesn’t have to be beige and boring.
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Since you started Shiv Textiles, what hurdles have you faced?
When I first started creating and selling my sustainable products people didn’t really understand my concept. They didn’t know what deadstock was, or why I would want to use it. People were asking me “Why are you upcycling old dirty yarn”. Or they don’t understand the process and skills needed to create woven fabric.
But I’m enthusiastic that there’s been a regeneration of the craft movement over the last five years with people returning to traditional craftsmanship. It's so important to me to keep my craft alive and continue to creatively push the boundaries of an age-old art.
Like a lot of small businesses, COVID lockdowns and ‘post’ COVID have been a weird time for me. The first lockdown is when I really focused on my weaving kits and that is when I wrote the instruction booklet. I wanted to create a kit that people of all abilities could use from the comfort of their own homes.
COVID has taught me to take every day as it comes as a small business owner as well as in my day-to-day life. It has definitely made me reconsider what is important and given me time to rethink my craft and supply chain.
What does a day in the studio look like for you?
My studio - in the heart of Brighton - is my second home and where all my ideas come to life. Most mornings start with a strong coffee and a long to-do list. For me, this lifestyle keeps me very busy which I love, but I’ll admit it’s not for everyone… It can be very stressful at times.
I’m constantly reminding myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that I probably shouldn’t write such long to-do lists.
But the best thing about running my own small business is that no day is the same. I could be packing orders in the morning and weaving in the afternoon or sorting deadstock then hosting a weaving workshop. The one thing I will say is that there’s always admin to be done.
How do you source your textiles sustainably?
The designs are all based on what industrial waste I pick up from British mills, which means that my colour palettes, ideas, and designs change from collection to collection.
I don’t waste any of my fabrics: scraps from larger products get made into unique purses and pouches; the fringing I use on my cushions is actually selvedges from industrial looms; the leather for my purses and pouches from a local upholsterer.
Sometimes sourcing deadstock materials takes longer than designing and making a collection, but I love the challenge of the hunt.
It has taken a long time to find and build a relationship with the mills and factories I upcycle from, I’m very lucky to source my deadstock yarn from high-end British mills and dye factories. This means I get amazing quality material in a mixture of natural fibres which are GOTS (Global Organic Textiles Standard) and RWS (Responsible Wool Standard) certified.
I also work hard to make my supply chain as low-impact as possible. My weaving kits are laser cut locally from environmentally friendly plywood.
You’re currently selling weaving kits and running workshops. What are the benefits of getting back in touch with a traditional craft in a market dominated by mass production?
As a sustainable business within the textiles industry, I believe it is important to educate my customers as well as to sell my products. This is why my weaving kits are designed to help people see the effort that goes into creating cloth.
I hope that every home-weaving project will help the maker value their clothing and home textiles more than ever.
Can you see the industry changing as brands are put under increasing pressure to act sustainably?
It's definitely a work in progress - for all brands, big or small, at all different stages of the supply chain.
It’s also tough for the consumer to fully understand how much hard work goes into a garment or homeware textiles product. Then there’s the challenge of truly knowing if a product is fully sustainable, especially when we consider the greenwashing efforts of larger companies and manufacturers.
But for me it starts at home, we all need to be buying less and cherishing the items we already have.
What does the future look like for Shiv Textiles?
Last year, Shiv Textiles rescued more than 360kg of industrial textiles waste! And this year we are on target to save even more - this includes yarns and industrial loom waste like selvedges, zips and upholstery fabric. Plus, whatever I don’t use is donated to the students at the University of Brighton.
I fell back in love with colour during lockdown, so I’ll be working with more colour in 2022 and beyond. And I’m also desperate to get out again after Covid - hosting more face-to-face workshops, craft events and pop-ups - places where I can share my products and my passion for sustainable textiles in person.
You can follow Shiv Textiles on Instagram.
Al Howard is a staff writer at Ours to Save.