Four weeks ago, Mya Merrill had never used a sewing machine. Now, the 19-year-old is showing off two streetwear-inspired outfits that she has made by upcycling clothes she didn’t wear any more.
“I’ve named this ‘chav chic’,” she says as she points at the outfit she is wearing. “This used to be a long basketball top and I have created a crop halter vest and skirt set. My other outfit is an oversized sports T-shirt upcycled into a dress.”
Mya heard about the opportunity to learn about fashion designing through her support worker at Creative Youth Network. Based at The Station in the city centre, the organisation runs events and courses including Creative Careers, which is designed for young people aged 16 to 24 who are not in education, employment or training. These courses inspire young people in a safe and positive way, offering not only skills in creativity but in life too.
“The Creative Careers course gives them skills and builds their confidence, whilst considering how they can further these skills,” says course leader Natty Peirson. “Whether it’s a career in fashion or as a designer, or even as a photographer, Creative Youth Network can help them progress with opportunities including work experience.”
With a big focus on upcycling and getting the younger generation to see their clothes in a new light, the Creative Careers course moves its students away from the throwaway fast fashion culture that is currently rife on social media platforms like Instagram.
“I wanted this course to encourage young people to think about their clothes and get them away from that one-wear society that we have,” explains Natty. “One of the girls on the course confessed that she wouldn’t re-wear her clothes after they had been seen on Instagram! But now she has really taken to the whole upcycling idea and is thinking about how she can recreate different outfits from her existing wardrobe. It’s been a real success.”
For many of the young people involved, this has been the first time since leaving education that they have been given a chance to learn new things. From cut-and-sew upcycling techniques to whole outfits being created from recycled fabrics, every single person has taken new skills from this course.
Following the twice-weekly sessions, the group put on their very own fashion show to show off creations that ranged from fun cosplay outfits to sexy clubwear; super creative cyber punk outfits and inspiring streetwear.
“I don’t want it to end! The course was really fun and rewarding,” says young designer Kyle Parker while dressed in his handmade outfit. “I’ve created a cosplay outfit which doubles as a onesie as I’m really into cosplay. My little sister wanted me to make a My Little Pony outfit but I have created a boy version: all in black with a unicorn horn and wings.”
Wearing a floral leotard, 21-year-old Jess Haines holds up a black lycra leotard with mesh panels that she made from scratch out of recycled fabrics. “The course has been really exciting and interesting,” she says. “I wasn’t that confident but I soon came to feel I could achieve something.”
Jess then shows off a very wearable floral top and skirt co-ord. “I made this out of an old floral dress. It used to be really boxy, so I cut it in half, put some elastic in the waist to make a skirt and created a crop top out of the top of the dress.”
The fashion show itself was buzzing with excitement and enthusiasm, featuring all the students strutting their stuff on the catwalk as family members and friends looked on.
“The course has been amazing,” says 20-year-old Leigha Hover after the show finishes. “I really didn’t think I could do it! I’ve created a rave outfit. It’s a bikini top with strappy detail and a mini skirt, all made from recycled floral lycra.
“Both of my outfits have a similar style. I love the festival and rave scene and learning these skills is going to save me a lot of money now I can create my own outfits! I would definitely love to become a fashion designer. I have a sewing machine that I’ve never used but now I’m like ‘come on, let’s get making’!”
Watching from the wings, leader Natty is beaming with pride. “The students all smashed it!” she says. “Creative Youth Network is amazing. I really enjoy it and it’s so empowering for the young people. This group have really inspired me to start creating and sewing again too. They were a bunch of legends!”
Find out more about Creative Youth Network’s Creative Careers courses
Read our Fashion Editor Emma’s blog: No Debutante