Discarded charity shop clothes are being transformed and re-designed into chic children’s wear. Zoe Chamberlain meets the woman behind the business.
Carol Powell sits sewing in her oak-beamed granary, overlooking 500 acres of her family’s beautiful farmland.
Her children run around in clothes Carol has made herself. She is quietly but diligently trying to revolutionise the children’s clothing industry in the UK.
Using “pre-loved” clothes that even the charity shops can’t sell because the elbows are worn, or the collars are marked, Carol cuts up the fabric and redesigns it into cute dresses or cool pullovers.
Then she sews a little love into each and every one as the fabric starts its new life with a new little boy or girl. This is a new type of farm diversification, and one that Carol calls Re-jigged.
“I wanted to make my daughter a coat and I couldn’t find a lining I liked,” says Carol, 38, who lives in Weobley, Herefordshire with her husband farmer Neil, 39, and children Georgie, six, and Alex, five.
“It suddenly came to me that I had a gorgeous old shirt that was falling apart but was too beautiful to throw out. I cut it up to use as the lining.
“My re-jigged garments were noticed by other mums who all wanted to know where I had bought the outfits.
“It dawned on me that all old clothing could be resurrected to make beautiful, designer garments, embellished with exquisite buttons and ribbons, using contrasting colours and fabrics, and hence the idea for Re-jigged was born.
“I got on the phone to lots of different head offices of charity shops, asking them if they could send me the clothes they don’t sell rather than sending them to landfill.
“I got a lot of good feedback but nothing much came through, I was a small fish in a big sea.
“Then I spoke to St Michael’s Hospice in Hereford, which does a lot of wonderful work in the area. They were so supportive, they could really see where I was coming from and could see the potential.
“So they started sending me clothes and I also began buying old clothes from a recycling company in Birmingham, a rag merchant which buys a lot of textiles and clothing from charity shops.
“It’s always well worn but a lot of it is really beautiful – cashmere jumpers with moth holes in them, for example. There wouldn’t be enough material to make adult clothes but there’s plenty for children’s. And I use the smaller pieces for embellishments.
“I don’t even throw away the scraps – they are sent to a local company who uses them to help line chimneys. It’s all part of the chain of events, nothing gets wasted.”
Realising she was onto something, Carol hired a lady to help with the sewing and began having tables at school Christmas fetes last year to show off her wares.
She smiles: “The reaction has been phenomenal, I was really amazed. It was a great time of year to launch. When people hear that the clothes are made from pre-loved clothes, they often have an image that it’s not going to be very nice.
“We wash everything that comes in on a really hot wash, either here at the farm or at a professional laundering company in Birmingham, so that they are like new. The fabric is then recreated and re-crafted into new products, and people are often very surprised by the quality and finish. No item we sell is second-hand.”
Prices at Re-jigged start at £25 for a tank top and £35 for a dress.
“The prices reflect the fact the clothes are British handmade,” she says. “We live in a time when clothes are very cheap because they’re imported. When people buy these cheap clothes they have no idea where or how they have been made or who they have been made by. And the mark-up on them is astronomical. If I was to mark my clothes up in the same way, they’d be a lot more expensive.
“I do recognise it’s a niche, and that not everyone’s going to be able to afford my clothes but there are plenty of people than can afford them, that do care for the environment and they are the ones that buy them.
“I find it very inspiring knowing that I am helping save the planet by using clothes locally sourced that would often go for landfill.
“As everything is made here in Herefordshire there is zero carbon footprint because we’re not shipping anything from the other side of the world. We use as little energy as we possibly can.
“I hate waste. I love being able to reuse so many wasted clothes and fabrics, especially the wools and tweeds that have come back into fashion now.
“Also, by setting up Re-jigged there is local British employment being created and if customers buy Re-jigged clothes that means fewer clothes are being imported from around the world.
“The other plus is that Re-jigged is giving something back to the community, by donating money back to charities and schools and offering opportunities to disadvantaged people.”
Carol has approached a group in Ross-on-Wye called EnviroAbility, which helps integrate people with learning disabilities into the community by providing real work opportunities that are valuable to the community
“I’m hoping some of the group could help to sort the fabrics,” she says. It would give them a purpose and a sense of satisfaction, especially when they see the finished result.
“This has got to be better than buying something that’s been made by a child in China.”
Carol’s children Georgie and Alex wear all Re-jigged clothes. “I was finding it really difficult to find nice clothes for Georgie as she’s quite tall so she wears clothes for an eight or nine-year-old.
“Clothes for this age group seem to be emblazoned with slogans that don’t seem inappropriate for her age, and the quality seems really poor.
“Rejigged clothes are classic clothes not designer, fashion-led items. They can be handed down to the next generation, re-used again, and they will last because they are made well.
“Everything is machine-washable as children’s clothes have got to be practical and functional as well. Each item is different, although we are finding people like a certain skirt or jumper so we’re looking at last year’s bestsellers and asking for extra scrap wool in grey, for example. The wool may come from a Pringle jumper or an M&S one but it will still be grey and in the same style.”
There’s a section on the Re-jigged website where people can design their own clothes, choosing colours, necklines, motifs, embellishments and so on.
The business has grown now so Carol employs three part-time seamstresses.
As they work together in her workshop next to the farmhouse, they overlook the family’s farm, which stocks cattle, sheep and poultry.
Carol say: “I’m very lucky. There’s lots of space for the kids living on the farm. I was born on a farm, so I’ve always had “ruralness” in my roots and I knew I had to work from home. It’s fantastic that I can do what I enjoy around my family.
“I learnt to sew myself when I was about four – my mum used to ask me to sew buttons on. At five-years-old, I made dolls clothes engineered from scraps of fabrics and tried to sell them in a local sweet shop!
“Both my children could sew buttons on by the time they were four. They’re very hands on.
“I’ve always been creative and passionate about fashion design. I was brought up without television so I was always sewing and drawing.
“Whilst I was at school, I took a Saturday job working in a fabric shop in Leominster and when I left school I worked for a local interior designer. Both jobs gave me great experience in cutting fabrics and making clothes.
“In the years since, I have gained a reputation for designing bespoke, made-to-measure bridal gowns and one-off evening dresses.”
Carol is passionate that the people who buy Re-jigged children’s clothing will make a difference to the environment.
Her passion won her a place in the finals of a national small business competition called The Pitch, run by BusinessZone.co.uk to give entrepreneurs the chance to pitch to panels of expert judges.
“Being voted one of the five finalists has given me a huge confidence boost,” says Carol. “It’s good to know others can see the potential in what I do. I love fabric, I think fabric holds such memories. I have a vision of what something can be, even when it’s a worn and holey jumper.
“That’s why I encourage people to bring their fabrics to me to be made into something new for their children. Sometimes they come along with something like granny’s cashmere jumper, which is lovely.”
Carol is also working to encourage young children to continue her love affair with the old-fashioned art of sewing.
“I would love to help inspire young children to sew and make clothes, and to enjoy it like I did when I was young.
“I’m making kits for kids now out of some of our waste scraps so that they too can learn to sew. I’ve run sessions at the children’s school, teaching the kids to sew and they’ve loved it.
“To encourage creativity within the next generation, teaching them the values of recycling and creating new out of old would be a very satisfying goal to achieve in my lifetime.”
* Visit www.rejigged.co.uk for more information.