Interview With EFWA Upcycling Challenge Designer Anita Heiberg of 13 Dresses (Berlin)

Share about the journey that led you to fashion design.

I've always enjoyed fashion. I stopped letting my mom choose my outfits at age three. Started hand sewing doll outfits at age eight and spending an entire summer either riding my bike back and forth endlessly to the fabric shop or locked in a room sewing a stuffed horse at age nine. I guess it just felt inevitable. My grandmother was a very talented seamstress and knitter so perhaps its in my genes.

I know you trained at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Central Saint Martins in London and Esmod Berlin. Talk about the highs and lows of studying fashion design. What did you find easy? What was a challenge?

Each of my study experiences were very different. Kwantlen laid an incredible foundation of practical and applied knowledge that I've used throughout my career. It's also where I realized my passion and knack for pattern cutting, which has really shaped my path since.

At the start, I had difficulty finding my own creative process. I never really sketched. I would have an idea and then just try to make it and develop it along the way. Pattern cutting became a way for me to be creative in my own way. I find my designs through cut and fabric. I studied Innovative Pattern Cutting at CSM and it really expanded my ability to both realize and experiment with my designs.

Through my studies and career, I've always had a problem coming to terms with the commercialization and commoditisation of fashion. Creating something, then making 100s of thousands of copies and then repeating it all again at an ever accelerating rate just feels so empty and pointless to me. It's part of what has drawn me to custom work and also a big factor in my interest and focus on sustainability. ESMOD's MA Sustainability in Fashion programme brought everything together for me in the end.

Who you are as a designer? Aesthetic? Customer? Brand? Etc.? Do you offer a new line each season, create custom work or both?

I've always enjoyed the process of creating more than the outcome, so I'm happiest when I can work through many ideas. I tend to do mostly one-off and custom pieces. Generally, my aesthetic has a focus on functionality for the customer. I tend to design around the idea of fulfilling needs - finding what's missing and designing to that. Of course, fabric, texture and cut are key as well. Through 13 Dresses, I've experimented with co-creation and print. I only control the design of the dress silhouettes, the rest is up to the community of designers.

I am so thrilled to have you a part of the EFWA Upcycling Challenge by Marilyn R Wilson. Have you ever upcycled used garments before? If so, how?

I've been upcycling for as long as I've been making fashion. I've used old parachutes in a jacket in my BA graduate collection, remade dresses and leather jackets for my own label and most recently, I designed a trench coat for a serial upcycling collection for Hessnatur in Germany, which was produced in repetition from deadstock garments.

Please share a little about your approach/inspiration for creating your runway look for this international show? What can the audience expect?

My favourite items to create are dresses and coats, so that's an easy starting point for me. I've been working heavily in the area of co-design since starting 13 Dresses almost 5 years ago, so I'll be integrating some improvised print-work with my long time collaborator, Helen Gimber. I really love Helen's playful, graphic and colourful designs. It's really satisfying to just see what she comes up with - as sometimes I think our aesthetic design preferences in what we create could be quite clashing - so it's a challenge in creative compromise. The rest is influenced by the materials and a certain amount of functionality while keeping some drama. Whenever I upcycle something, I like to pay homage to the original garment in some way. I try to keep it subtle, so it's not too kitsch. As always, I'll try to save some surprises for the audience.

I would also like to extend a big 'Thank You' to the Berliner Stadtmission, who supplied me with the shirts I'm using for the challenge. They are a Berlin-based charity that provides shelter, and support in many forms including free clothing to the most needy of the city. Like most who receive clothing donations, there is often much more clothing than they are able to use for the homeless and so they often cooperate with local designers to help find new and creative ways to use the extra material that could be used to provide additional funds for other needs like food and housing costs. It is really important for me to be able to also provide a platform for the Berliner Stadtmission, who are making the lives of others better through their work. I will be donating the finished pieces back to them for display or sale in the future.

What would you most like the international fashion audience to know about you as a designer and your brand?

I believe design should be interactive and that the wearer should have some sort of active involvement in their clothing. Consumers should never be afraid to make their clothes their own. Cut, sew, print, tie, tear, dye, layer... make it in your own vision. Fashion is never finished.
What's next for you as a designer? What are your long term dreams?

Currently I'm focused more on education, as lecturer formerly at Esmod Berlin, and in research and more conceptual design related to sustainability. As always I'm looking for interesting collaborations and ways to push the edges of my design practice.

Additional contact info:
Helen Gimber:
Instagram: @msgimber

Berliner Stadtmission