Southsea designer's 'dazzling' clothes made from old T-shirts

When designer Eva Dragoeva discovered piles of old T-shirts discarded at a tabletop sale she spotted an opportunity to upcycle them into something exciting and new again, but this time with a nautical twist.

Tuesday, 27th July 2021, 11:03 am
Eva Dragoeva at home with some of her creations. Picture: Habibur Rahman

As a girl the Southsea fashion fanatic loved wearing dresses her mother made for her from DIY pattern magazines. She ran around in costumes at a theatre where her grandmother was wardrobe mistress.

In her teens, she started drawing her own designs to bring them to fruition because the eco brand owner 'wanted to know how to make the things in her head for real'.

Now, Eva, 35, has launched her own nautical clothing brand – Underdock. It stems from treasured memories of childhood days at the beach and now her Southsea base; stripes, and Royal Navy influences.

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Models wearing Eva's Set Sail Shirts from the Wreck-Less collection. Picture: Billie Rae Photos

In the past few years she came to realise the importance of repurposing materials from charity shops and putting sustainable truth to her ship-inspired collections, which give customers food for thought. As Eva says: 'Sustainability is the future, and it's now.'

She says: 'It's no longer just a little check box for companies to tick, it's something that just has to happen because if it doesn’t we’ll run out of materials.

'I realised that things get thrown away or given up. People like things with nuance, and they love it but after a while they just give it away, and because of the sheer scale of it - it just hit me that I could do something as a designer.'

She has spent half her life in Portsmouth and reflects on when she first found the mountain of unwanted textiles in her home city because they had gone out of season or were no longer the latest catwalk trend.

Aircraft carrier HMS Argus dazzle-painted in 1918.

It was three years ago and Eva continues: 'Going back to the day I saw the clothes, I bought quite a few. They had a lot of men's T-shirts that had stripes, and dazzle ships came to my mind.

'I like going to the dockyard and I love living by the sea. I really like the ships, so I thought of dazzle shirts because I made that association from the stripes. My first collection was called Taking the Waste Out of Waste. It featured upcycled shirts inspired by camouflage stripes used on Royal Navy dazzle ships.

She adds: 'The collection has got the moving effect of the stripes in ways that clash and almost change direction.'

One of Eva's collections offers another level of personalisation for the customer, which she hopes to use on other styles. Each piece has a barcode with a QR code. Once scanned, the buyer is led to a video on the story behind the garment.

Frilled Collar Dress modelled for the Wreck-Less collection. Picture: Billie Rae Photos.

She adds: 'They can see its initial story - less than a minute on what inspired the design they've ordered and roughly how it's made. I’m in it and they can see how and who made it.

'It's something we miss these days because a lot of production is not here but overseas. I think it's a nice thing people would like to see.'

Eva boasts six collections on her website, including Wreck-less, a group of upcycled shirts and utility trousers inspired by shipwrecks, boat structures and nautical style.

A Pocket Filled with Possibilities celebrates reinvention through small changes like a three-dimensional pocket on a jacket or shirt.

Underdock shorts made from men's upcycled shirts and utility trousers from the Wreck-Less collection. Picture: Billie Rae Photos

Other styles designed by Dragoeva are 'A Twist of Casual Glamour', the winter edition of 'Taking the Waste out of Waste' and 'Contemporary Florals'.

'I started with shirts, but it doesn't mean I only work on shirts,’ Eva says. 'They are good because they've got a lot of detail on them already so you can do a lot with them. Even though it is just a flat piece of cloth, you could make absolutely anything with it.'

Eva plans to work with brands in the future to minimise fashion waste. 'I'd like to work with brands because if brands don't sell something, a lot of the time anyway, clothes either go to landfill or get burnt. Some do recycle, but that could mean many things.'

Eva had to attend a free course called Abri Create in Portsmouth, which is targeted at start-ups, to gain the skills needed to grow a clothing venture.

'We started selling at markets, but back then there were so many things I didn't know. It was a really useful course and the mentors were great. I'd recommend it to anyone unsure how to go about things but who wants to do their own thing.'

EVA’S TOP TIPS FOR GOING FASHION ECO

Eva shares her advice as a founder to people who want to buy fashion with the environment in mind.

'Think about whether you actually need the piece you are looking at or whether it's just an impulse buy.

'If you are looking at trends, have a look at Pinterest or Google trends and go to charity shops and see what you can find there because it's likely that because fashion does come in cycles, it will come back again.

'It's likely you would find something that's trendy there that you can style yourself.'

The designer adds: 'Getting creative with what you already have is a great way to start building a sustainable wardrobe. Whether through small upcycling projects or styling. I have a style guide I have put together which people can get automatically when they join my mailing list (via Eva's website evadragoeva.com).

'And of course - investing in clothes that you love which would last for years is always a great thing to do.'

Eva also runs courses where people can take their own clothes to be altered. ‘I think once you engage with something that is only yours, whether you have made it or you have ordered it to be made just for you, you get excited about it and you start looking into the impact of clothing.’

A message from the editor, Mark Waldron.

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