The wardrobe, February 2016

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Some (imaginary) FAQs

I wanted to kick off this blog by answering some FAQs about Riot & Return. But no-one knows about it yet, so there haven’t been any questions, let alone frequently asked ones! So, we made some up…

This all sounds nice, but aren’t you just giving a fancy name to using second-hand stuff, which loads of people do anyway?

Yes, that’s exactly what we’re doing! We’re not claiming to have invented anything new here – just finding a way to explain to ourselves, and others, the approach we’re taking. In fact, I think baby and children’s stuff is one of the most active areas of re-use, and so – with my sustainable fashion researcher’s hat on – I wanted to explore what that feels like from the inside.

What sort of stuff are you looking for?

Good question! In general, we’re both quite picky about our clothes and possessions, so we’re not going to indiscriminately grab anything that’s available to us. This creates an interesting tension with a desire to re-use, of course! Ideally, we’re looking for things which appeal to us aesthetically, which work well, and have been used – even loved – by others in the past.

Where will you get these things from?

Friends and family are kindly offering things to us, and we already have quite a few items, picked up over the years. We’re also looking out for things on eBay and in charity shops, second-hand shops, jumble sales etc. And making stuff too!

Why are you planning to make things, if you’re so keen on re-use?

I’ve always knitted and sewn things for myself to wear, and it seems natural to do that for a new baby. It’s part of ‘expecting’, I think: a nice, slow way of preparing yourselves for a new arrival, which requires more time and effort than picking up a pile of things in the shops. It involves re-use, in a way, because I’m going to try to use up the piles of materials that I already have. And making also means re-making: reworking and repairing existing items, and perhaps creating new little things from leftover big things. This should help us to keep more things in use for longer.

Does this mean nothing new, at all?

No, it’s not an absolute ban! We don’t want to put ourselves under unnecessary pressure. But we’re thinking of buying new as a last resort, rather than the default option.

What will you do with these clothes afterwards?

In principle, we’ll release them back into the fashion commons – although, depending on how special they are to us, we may save some pieces to pass on in the future.

Won’t this idea unravel when your child is old enough to express their own preferences about clothes?

Yes, probably.

And… remind us why you’re doing this, again?

On a personal level, to carry our approach to consumption forward into this new phase of our lives. There’s already so much stuff in the world – we want to be careful about adding to it. More broadly, I’d like to encourage others to see re-use, and making stuff at home, in a positive light.

The general idea: then and now

Riot & Return started life in 2007 as the concept for a childrenswear library, with handmade pieces available by subscription. These garments would be exchanged as the child grew, lent out time after time, and repaired and altered as needed.

I planned to run this library as a sister enterprise to my knitwear label, Keep & Share, in order to explore service-led ideas for sustainable fashion. In the end the amount of work required outweighed the time I had available, and I parked the initiative at concept stage.

In 2015, I’ve decided to reinvigorate the concept of Riot & Return, because I’m expecting my first child.

The underpinning ideas are broadly similar, but the rules of the game have changed. I’m now looking to ‘borrow’ from all of the lovely things already existing in the world, rather than creating a new library of items myself. And the scale is much more modest – this is a personal, one-family experiment, rather than a viable commercial enterprise.

As part of my PhD research, I developed the notion of fashion as a commons: a shared resource that we can all draw on. I see this commons as encompassing physical garments, as well as less tangible elements such as traditions and styles. Riot & Return is about my husband Simon and I exploring the commons to select things (clothes and other accoutrements) for our baby. We’ll be gathering existing items, but also using the many materials, patterns and instructions that we’ve collected over the years to make and remake our own pieces.

This website is a record of our exploration.