Cape designer fashions avant-garde wedding gowns from plastic bags

Beyond being good for the planet, Lara Klawikowski believes using sustainable materials makes her pieces more thought-provoking and visually powerful

26 January 2021 - 17:31 By andrea nagel
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A uniquely textural design created by Lara Klawikowski.
A uniquely textural design created by Lara Klawikowski.
Image: Clive Myburgh

Lara Klawikowski designs wearable art and her main business is avant-garde wedding dresses in unusual materials and textures created by hand at her studio.

At the end of last year, the Cape Town designer was awarded both the Changemaker Award and the Innovative Design and Materials Award at the annual Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards.

She tells us more about her design process and her latest collection:

Why is it important to use sustainable materials?

All garments have an expiration date and end up buried in the earth.

It's important to use sustainable materials and eco-friendly design practices, coupled with a conscious approach of living by consumers, to extend the longevity of garments and limit the amount of waste destined for landfills. Sustainable materials postpone the funeral.

These materials also make my designs more thought-provoking and visually powerful.

Do you produce your own upcycled fabrics?

I re-fabricate recycled plastics, like refuse bags and bags sold at grocery stores including Pick n Pay, Woolworths and Checkers, and combine them with natural materials to create tactile panels by layering, collaging, stitching, embroidering, smocking, weaving, braiding and using other hand-made techniques.

Lara Klawikowski.
Lara Klawikowski.
Image: Supplied

What do you use as source material?

I use plastics made from recycled materials and fabric off-cuts at my studio, and re-fabricate these to form panels of intriguing textures for new designs.

Recycling gives new life to waste materials and reduces the amount of waste polluting the earth.

The plastic bags are an ideal material because there's transparency about their origin printed on the bags — the name of the manufacturer is printed on the bag, it's clearly stated that they're made in SA, from 100% recycled materials and that they are recyclable.

The thinking behind your design process?

When I start a design, I need to feel the energy of something new and different about to happen. The initial spark and excitement is essential.

My creative process involves both meticulous pattern-making and organic draping. I spend time researching and conceptualising the materials I'll use or develop.

I allow the structure of the materials I've created to lead so that the design results in something original in shape and proportion. I question whether what I'm inspired to design is relevant, useful and unique enough - I don't want to fill the world with more of the same.

What inspired your latest collection, Strange Flowers?

Strange Flowers was inspired by the unpredictable and unusual, organic textures and shapes of flowers and plants, and the irony of how this detail can be mirrored in upcycled plastic. Each pattern piece is created by hand, has its own idiosyncrasies, and promotes the appreciation of bespoke slow fashion.

The collection was inspired by the growing awareness of what we wear, what our clothes are made of and who made them, and the emphasis placed on choosing to wear clothes that are least harmful to the earth and humans. The textures and proportions of the designs prompt the wearer to look closer at what they're wearing. Wearing one is like picking a strange flower to wear.

Future projects?

I'm showing a new collection of womenswear at South African Fashion Week in April as the TWYG x Country Road Changemaker 2020.

Klawikowski's ready-to-wear designs are stocked at The Bello Studio in the Old Biscuit Mill, Cape Town. From February, they'll also be available at Merchants on Long at the V&A Waterfront.

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