Meet: The Designer Turning Tapestries into Clothes
Harry Gamlin, the 21-year-old designer, single-handedly founded Purple Hill just 18 months ago. Since then, he and his girlfriend have been working hard to keep up with their success, as they push the boundaries of sustainable fashion, turning discarded tapestries into high fashion yet functional pieces.
Before discussing what fast fashion brands need to do to reduce their impact on climate change, Harry introduces the brand and talks about how he started sewing.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, and your brand Purple Hill:
I’m Harry, I started Purple Hill about 18 months ago. Basically, it’s a brand that makes handmade garments from recycled materials. At the moment we are using tapestries, so everything is upcycled, all the blankets are vintage. Everything is a one off piece- once something is made once it is never made again.
Where did the name Purple Hill come from?
In all honesty, I don’t have a cool answer for this. It literally came to me a couple of years ago when I was drawing up logos, kind of randomly. It just clicked, the two words kind of worked together. When I started the brand I had that logo down and kind of just worked it around that, and it worked out nicely.
Was this something you always wanted to do?
I’ve always been into fashion. I always wanted to start a brand but I just never knew what my ‘in’ would be. I didn’t want to do something that felt repetitive, something that I felt like a lot of people were doing. It always felt like I would try and force myself to find that, but during lockdown when I first got interested in the whole underground tapestry movement that was happening at the time, it kind of felt natural. I didn’t have to kind of force my way and spend hours thinking about what I was going to do. It kind of just fell in my lap, it was only when I taught myself to sew I actually was able to get my ideas off the ground.
Whilst we were making banana bread, Harry was coming up with a concept for a sustainable clothing company. But how did he get the skills to make his dream a reality?
How did you pick up sewing as a skill?
I bought a sewing machine about two years ago, while I was in my uni halls (studying product design), and I kind of just started messing around with it. I wasn’t even working with tapestries at the start, I was just buying random materials and focusing on making things and taking stuff apart, focusing on how things were made. Just practicing a lot, I probably spent about six months practicing before I posted anything on Instagram. A lot of what I made was awful, but you know its trial and error. I just taught myself by making stuff and failing, and working out how it went wrong. I didn’t follow any tutorials or anything. I think that is the best way to do it really, tutorials and classes are good but I think you learn a lot more getting stuck in.
You mention wanting to ‘restore craftsmanship’ on your website, how do you think craftsmanship has been lost in the fashion industry?
I think people don’t care about it [craftsmanship] anymore, I think that’s what’s fuelled it. People care so much about how things look and wearing it for an Instagram photo or a single night out, that they don’t care if it’s going to last a week. I think that’s what craftsmanship is about, it’s not only the details that go into making something, its the about the quality and the way its made… without sounding cheesy its about the passion that goes into making that piece of clothing, and I think people don’t care about that anymore because of hyperconsumerism and throwaway culture. I don’t think fast fashion brands feel the need to put effort into garment making process, because a lot of people don’t care. If everyone was out here thinking about what they are going to wear in the long run I think brands would approach things differently, but I think the culture of how people look at clothing, on the whole, is what fuels that. You could buy something that is obviously more expensive but it has been made with a lot more care, by hand, you can definitely feel the difference.
We definitely agree that the intentions of the clothing producer influence how the consumer treats the item. Buying with intention and changing how we think about clothing is really important, but consumers can’t do this easily until fast fashion companies take responsibility for their unethical practices.
“People would rather buy 5 pairs of jeans that last them a week than buy one pair that is the same price as all of those jeans combined”
Harry Gamlin, Founder of Purple Hil
How do you think mass production undermines sustainability and quality in fashion?
There is such a drive for large quantities of clothing because people want to buy something just for an Instagram photo, people care about quantity not quality because they know that it will only last them 2 months before all the garments are in the bin. That’s why companies keep churning out 1000 pieces a day, because they know it is going to get them hundreds of thousands of pounds. It takes genuine time to make something quality and good, you’re not going to get the same quality from a fast fashion supplier. The materials are cheap because they have lower production costs, it all feeds this deadly circle of buying something and binning it. People would rather buy 5 pairs of jeans that last them a week than buy one pair that is the same price as all of those jeans combined because they don’t see it like that, that’s just how it is, unfortunately.
Whering is on a mission to change that. We want people to see that quality pieces are worth a little extra money for our planet. Also, I hate to say it but in some cases, it’s the same people slating fast fashion for not being reasonably priced that will spend £700 on Shein.
“The adventure is in finding the pieces”
— Harry Gamlin, Founder of Purple Hill
Why did you choose tapestry materials to up-cycle?
When it comes to making clothes, when things have been constructed or designed, the companies design the pattern cut for the actual piece around the shape of those pieces. Whereas when you get a piece of tapestry it is not meant to be made into a piece of clothing, so when it comes in and you cut it to make a hoodie or a pair of trousers you don’t really know what it’s going to look like at the end. I think that’s what’s exciting, is when I get something and I think oh that’s a really cool design, it’s always a mystery of how I’m going to put it together, and how the garment can show the best bits of the tapestry. I think that’s quite nice because you end with something that is one of a kind and very unique, that you truly don’t know how it’s going to look until the end, which is fun. All the tapestries are vintage and reused, so it’s taking something that has been sat in someone’s loft for a few years, something people don’t want, and turning it into something appealing.
How does sourcing materials locally change the garment-making process? Does it make it easier or harder? If harder, why is this sacrifice important to you and the brand?
It definitely makes it harder. I can’t buy 100 of the same material from somewhere, it takes time to source individual things. I am lucky to have suppliers now that I can rely on to sell me things, but even then I can’t go to them anytime and ask for 20 tapestries because they are not produced for consumption, it’s a case of finding them when they are available. I do end up spending a lot of time sourcing them from all over the place. But again, that feeds into the excitement of it, because you find something and you think ‘ooh that would be cool for making a hoodie’ or something. The adventure is in finding the pieces, obviously, that’s the reason I can end up finding interesting material because they are not widely available or easy to find, people might not even know they are there, so it’s just about stumbling across the right thing which is exciting.
If you could make one change to the fast-fashion industry/the way people perceive shopping/clothing, what would it be?
I obviously appreciate that the fast fashion industry does serve a purpose in providing people with clothes who can’t afford items for hundreds of pounds, and that is obviously important, and this is where it’s more on the companies than the people. I just wish people would expect more from brands. I mean, you hear all the time about these companies with terrible ethics and child labour, when people are chained to sewing machines sometimes, they don’t get paid properly, these companies reap all the benefits from poorer countries and poorer communities. A lot of the time it goes unchecked, it might get a post on Instagram from time to time, but it isn’t going to get an uproar. Everyone is guilty of it at some point in their life, I have been guilty of it as well, but I just wish people would expect more from these brands. There is a lot of brands out there doing sustainable things for an affordable price, but they get completely overshadowed by companies like Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing. I wish people would take more time to explore their options because it is available, these companies slip under the radar because they don’t have millions to spend on advertising.
“I just wish people would expect more from brands”
— Harry Gamlin, Founder of Purple Hill
Remembering the practical reasons behind fast fashion is important, it does serve a purpose to provide people with affordable clothing. But as Harry said, people need to expect more from companies. Why should we not expect brands such as Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo to treat people with respect and pay a proper living wage? Why shouldn’t they use higher quality but accessible materials, and sell quality pieces worth keeping longer than a few months?
If a 21-year old can do it alongside his final year of university, why can’t billion-dollar companies step it up?
What is your proudest achievement with Purple Hill so far & why?
I think my proudest achievement is getting to the place that I think we are finally at now, where I think we have an audience that really appreciates what we do, and I think that’s what I am most thankful for. Every time I post something I see people commenting on it and being really nice, complimenting it. I think that’s what I am most proud of, over all the things like doing shoots, pop-ups, and all the things for celebrities, I think having that following of people who really appreciate what you’re doing. It is validating to know that people really like your stuff, but obviously, you should never do anything for any reason other than your own reason, you should do something because you like it and not to please other people. But obviously, it’s really nice when you create something you really love and you can see other people sharing that love.
What is your favorite item you’ve ever designed for the company & why?
I think it would probably be the skeleton jacket, just because it is something quite different. For a long time the predominant thing in each piece that separated one thing from another was more the tapestry the item is made from. The skeleton jacket is the first step in something I am trying to build at the moment, focusing more on the silhouettes and the concepts rather than just the material. I am grateful for the overwhelming amount of positivity that we had from that series because it was a bit of a gamble, we didn’t know if people would like it or if they would be like ‘what the hell is this?’, especially because we want to keep doing more things like this.
We have to admit, we love the skeleton jacket too. Decorative and removable statement accessories? What’s not to love? We love that it’s high fashion and multipurpose, making it more sustainable than a garment that you can only wear to one event. There isn’t much like this on the market, so we had to find out where the inspiration came from.
What’s the inspiration behind the skeleton outfit?
I have to credit Capital, the Japanese brand for the skeleton theme as they definitely pioneered that, but when it comes to the whole 3D element and removability part of it, I just wanted to make something a bit out there and something that was a bit of a statement, because I felt like when it came to my plan for the brand I wanted to start to push it in the direction of making stuff that’s more conceptual and attention-grabbing. That concept came to me about a year ago, and it’s only this summer that I have had time to produce it. I like the idea of having accessories on something, and the removability is so you can have it on for a special occasion to show it off, or you could just have it as a regular jacket. I like the idea of having things that are transformable. Like the jackets we sell with the removable arms to make it a vest or a jacket, and I think that also feeds into the notion of extending the life spans of clothing, because people are going to find garments more interesting if you can wear them multiple ways.
What are your goals for the future/upcoming collections to look out for?
There is something very very different coming in a couple of months. There are quite a few big projects coming up at the end of this year and the start of next year that are very different from what we’ve been doing so far. Just because I feel like a tapestry is hitting its peak at the moment. When I first got to it it was fairly underground, but it has gained a lot more popularity since, and it is getting to the point where it is starting to become mainstream. I am not going to completely leave it because I do still love the ideas behind it, but I have been working on some new ideas that stick with the whole sustainability of reusing materials. But reusing different materials in a different way, that potentially reflect our ethos even more.
Do you see yourself as a young designer? How (if at all) does your age change things for you in the industry?
The people I work with and the people I meet in the industry are usually older, so I think being younger does take me out of my comfort zone in terms of the people I’ve gotten to know. I have definitely learned a lot, I have been lucky to learn a lot at a younger age. When people get into the fashion industry, a lot of them are my age, but a lot of them aren’t, and you definitely have to go through a lot of mistakes and take a lot of bad advice from people, that you think is good advice, and do a lot of things that you wish you hadn’t done. I think it’s a big learning curve, figuring things out that I like, and things that I don’t like, and things that work, or don’t work. I think I would rather make those mistakes at a younger age. I am 21 now and I feel like I’m starting to get my footing on how things work, its definitely a blessing that I’ve been able to be around people who are older and have more experience, to take in and absorb all the advice and expertise that they have. I am very fortunate for that.
Describe the brand in 3 words
Exclusive, because every piece is exclusive to the buyer. I would use craftsmanship because everything is made individually, with the details taken into consideration. Adaptable, because I don’t think people realize the extent of how much the fashion industry changes with trends that come in and out of fashion. Although I do not think the brand follows trends, I am trying to create something that changes with the times and is always refreshing and isn’t rinsing the same concept for 5 years.
A huge thank you to Purple Hill & Harry Gamlin for taking the time to chat to Whering! While we sit and drool over everything on the Purple Hill website, why don’t you head on over to our instagram to check out some of the rental Halloween costume ideas we’ve come up with? Or will you be rocking a Purple Hill skeleton design this year?