A Fashion Design graduate from the University of South Wales (USW) has used decommissioned firefighter uniforms to create a sustainable clothing collection for the modern consumer.
Jessica Evans, 24, from Epsom in Surrey, was inspired by the fashion industry’s need to become more sustainable when creating her graduate collection, which transformed uniforms donated by South Wales Fire and Rescue Service (SWFRS).
While spending the third year of her degree in Australia on placements with various fashion companies, Jessica experienced the so-called ‘Black Summer’ – the catastrophic bushfires of 2020 which destroyed thousands of homes and killed 33 people, with extreme conditions exacerbated by climate change.
Living in Sydney at the time, Jessica was fortunate to only be impacted by the smoke of the fires, but witnessed the emotional effect of climate change on people’s lives. Once back at university, she decided to track down the firefighter uniforms due to their protective qualities and the connection to her time in Australia.
After receiving six jackets and trousers from SWFRS, Jessica took the garments apart and used each layer for a different element of her work, upcycling the fabric to create jackets, dresses, trousers jumpers and even hats which are designed to protect the wearer in extreme weather.
“Sustainability has always been something that I’ve been very aware of,” said Jessica.
“I has a very outdoorsy childhood and was encouraged to get out and enjoy nature, so I was brought up with a lot of those values without realising it at the time.
“Then, the more I learned about fashion industry and how it is the second biggest polluter globally, made me realise how big an impact it has, and as a designer I feel as if I have a responsibility to try to work towards a solution for it.”
As part of her work, Jessica looked into biofabrication – using textiles from live microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast and fungi root structures – and how it is already being used in fashion in a bid to reduce many of the chemical processes in making clothes.
Her collection has been on show at Graduate Fashion Week, an international showcase of Fashion graduate work from 95 universities and colleges which is attended by leading names in the industry, as well as at the headquarters of Tom Dixon, a British designer and architect recognised for his pioneering use of materials and techniques.
Jessica added: “I’d like to study a Masters next, focusing on Biodesign to understand more of the science behind it. In the future I’d love to collaborate with think tanks and creative development teams, and eventually run my own company, working on ways to make biofabricated materials and bring them into mainstream fashion.”
Area Manager Nigel Williams from South Wales Fire and Rescue Service said: “Sustainability is a priority for us as Service and we have pledged to reduce our environmental impact and carbon footprint by 25% in just three years. To see how Jessica has upcycled and transformed our old uniforms into a fashion collection to raise awareness of climate change is inspiring.
"Jessica’s connections to Australia and her understanding of the impact of wildfires on our communities shines through in her designs. By working together we can ensure we all play our part in protecting the environment for the future."