Light pours in from the window of a small box room at the back of a terraced house in central Southsea.
Sewing patterns and cut-outs spill over from the window sill and a mannequin with a tape measure thrown casually around it stands in the corner.
There’s a cork board covered in clippings and logos from various fashion magazines, plus a small desk with a modest sewing machine sitting underneath it.
Fabric, string and brown paper burst out of the space, with different styles of ribbon breaking free from a pile of boxes.
This is Zoe Laker’s workroom and it’s the hub for her clothing business, Zo Zo Reworked Vintage.
The 30-year-old started altering vintage clothes as a hobby while at university. Today she supplies Dead Man’s Glory in Albert Road, Southsea and The Laden Showroom in Brick Lane, London. She’s also in talks to expand to Worcester and Brighton.
‘I started off doing it because I used to go to charity shops and buy vintage clothes, but they were never quite right the way they were,’ she explains.
‘I always started altering them to make them a bit more fashionable, because I loved the prints but not necessarily the shapes.’
After going travelling in her early 20s, Zoe decided she wanted to go into fashion. She completed an access course in art and design in Portsmouth, before going on to graduate with a degree in fashion from Southampton’s Solent University in 2007.
‘I still didn’t really know what I was going to do, I just knew that I really wanted to do fashion,’ says Zoe. ‘All the time at university I was still reworking clothes.
‘I worked full-time for six months and just thought “I need to do something else”. I was already doing it myself and I thought, “would other people actually want to buy the kind of things that I’m doing?”.
‘I think I put a few things on eBay and that’s how I started, then these girls contacted me through a friend of a friend. They were opening a shop called Rokii on Victoria Road South in Southsea. They were looking for local designers, and then I started selling my stuff in there.’
Zoe says in the beginning she picked up clothes and patterns from anywhere she could, with no knowledge of how to start or run a clothing business. Today, she works part-time at Loch Fyne restaurant in Gunwharf Quays, while simultaneously running Zo Zo.
She explains: ‘I still pick clothes up all over. I have got a few contacts and suppliers now that I’ve been using for a while. But I started off literally with car boot sales, charity shops, stuff like that.’
Every season, after reading countless fashion and style magazines, she changes her designs to adapt to what is on trend at the moment. Starting off with tulip styles, her dresses and playsuits have gradually matured along with passing trends to have more a snug fit.
Zoe says: ‘I used to do a bit of everything, like tops, shorts, dresses and skirts and but I have fine tuned it now. I literally only do dresses and playsuits. But they are what sells.
‘I have patterns which I cut up and make my own. I have got a certain style and I try to tweak it every season, but then I also try to emulate what’s in fashion.’
Although her favourite decade to use fabrics and patterns from is the ’80s, she says: ‘I feel like when I get something from another era, such as the ’70s, I don’t want to touch it. A lot of the ’80s dresses aren’t nice the way they are, and that’s why I like reworking them whereas other stuff, such as the ’70s ones, they are so much a part of that era I don’t want to change them.’
Vintage-inspired clothing has been becoming popular in high street fashion as people become tired of the ‘fast fashion’ that has dominated sales in the last few years, with stores such as Primark selling cheap clothes that quickly get thrown away.
Chain stores and designers have started to turn to the past for inspiration. Even chains such as Topshop have a separate section in their flagship store, entitled Search and Rescue, which is based around updating classic vintage pieces.
Zoe says: ‘Going into a vintage shop and trying on the clothes, you don’t necessarily get the finished look straight away, you have to have a sewing machine yourself, which a lot of people haven’t, and make adjustments.
‘I put a lot of elastic and things like that in my clothes, to give a bit more of a fit but then they cater to more than one size. My hems have gradually got shorter, only slightly, but it’s those little changes that affect the overall look.
‘I wear them myself sometimes, but I don’t really keep a lot of them. I wish I did. I’ve kept one or two but normally I just put them in the shop, and then I realise I don’t have anything to wear.’
REWORKING OLD CLOTHES
Updating old clothes doesn’t need to be done with just vintage clothing, and you don’t need to be an expert on sewing.
Last year’s wardrobe can easily become bang up to date with some personal touches.
Zoe Laker describes the best way to make something new, out of something old.
‘I take apart the clothes, and with my own patterns, recreate them as dresses and playsuits.
‘I try and change my signature shape every season. I may have my own patterns but you could easily adjust your own clothes.
‘At home I have a big stock of vintage buttons, elastic, ribbons, and stuff like that.
‘You could go somewhere like Fabric Land (in Cascades Shopping Centre in Commercial Road, Portsmouth), or something similar, and pick up little things to make clothes your own.’