• Akhila Balasubramaniam

The joy of upcycling with Madame B's Boutique

If my paati (grandmother) knew that I would be interviewing and writing about upcycled clothing, she'd be the most excited reader.

I got the chance to interview Beth, the head designer and owner of Madame B's Boutique, an online boutique for ethically made wedding accessories, also offering clothes upcycling services.

At the very first look, I could sense Beth's alternate style. As she describes it, "Madame B" refers to both the kind of person she designs for and her creative alter ego.

She makes most of the accessories from ethically sourced material despite the challenges. She says that the market is designed to make fast fashion widely accessible over ethically manufactured material. It takes deliberate effort and patience to spot sustainable fabrics for beginners.

Having her business online enables her to have a global network of customers. She has shipped orders even to the US and Japan, albeit most commonly within the UK, where she is located. Her popularity is no surprise owing to her unconventional and rare style. Whether it's a hat, wedding sash, headband, veil, each of it is unique.

While growing the business, Beth had the idea to start upcycling service, a skill she picked up in her student days. Before we get into that,

What is upcycling?

It is a way of reviving old or vintage pieces of clothing and accessories to their glory and even making them better.

If you have old clothes of sentimental value, but it has lost its sparkle, upcycling lets you reinvent it instead of throwing it away. It is apt for when you want to use your parents' or grandparents' old clothes, and you want to jazz it up a bit. If some of your favourite pieces of clothing have stains or holes in it, you don't have to discard it! Just upcycle it.

Beth's upcycling journey began as a means of saving money during her student days. She says "When we have such confinements, it brings out the creative best in us.". Though initiated by restrictions, she developed an interest in it that persisted far beyond her student days.

Why should we consider upcycling?

Though saving money is an incentive, upcycling has a grander impact.

When we buy clothes, we only see the cost on the price tag. What we miss is the environmental and social cost of producing it. Mass-produced garments and accessories are cheap by design. Why is it so? What are the compromises made for it to be that affordable?

More often than not, the environment and the staff involved in manufacturing are discounted for the profitability of production.

To give you some context:

  • 20,000 litres of water is needed to produce one kilogram of cotton; equivalent to a single t-shirt and pair of jeans.

  • Using recycled cotton saves 20,000 litres of water per kilogram of cotton, a water-intensive crop.

  • India and Pakistan are the biggest producers of cotton for textiles worldwide, and needless to say, they suffer from water scarcity.

  • Most of the labour employed are children or they're forced to work under poor working conditions exposing themselves to harmful chemicals to spare the additional cost of safety.

And this is without even getting into the impacts of the emissions from the factories.

How many of the purchases do you think are made out of boredom?

This startling truth about this industry and the number of clothes that go to landfills, some without even making it to someone's closet, strengthened Beth's commitment towards ethical and sustainable fashion.

The wedding accessories in the boutique, though not stitched from upcycled material, are made with ethically sourced and produced material to the maximum extent. She tries to obtain fabrics which are in their last lap of life or about to be discarded. Apart from these, she uses organic fabric, fabric from deadstock, peace silk, etc.

As a part of her upcycling business, she offers different extents of remodelling the pieces of clothing on a case by case basis. It ranges from embroidery, dyeing to entirely reworking the item. Her business has also had to adapt to the change in circumstances due to the global pandemic.


Photo by Olesia Buyar on Unsplash

The interest that people had in her upcycling services inspired her to help people to learn from their homes. She now has an online course for beginners in upcycling.

For any clothes that have a small stain or hole or alteration required, she offers creative ideas and a few simple hacks. Why discard when you can save yourself money, some water and so much more? Best of all, revive your favourite clothes.

You need no prior skill to get started with it. Her philosophy is to keep it simple and to have fun in the process.

"It's meant to be fun, not a chore" - Beth Paton, aka Madame B

Who is this course for?

All beginners with an interest to learn a handy skill! The course ranges across the fundamentals of fixing buttons to embroidering to covering stains.

Some of the highlights of her course are basic alterations, adding sleeves, adding some extra panels, basic embroidery and 3D embellishment—all of these with things you have in your house already.

Here's where you can find more details about the workshop. Do it at your pace, and there's even a follow-up group so that you don't lose steam after the course.

If you've held on till here, then don't forget what a champion you can be by refusing even a single tee shirt and upcycling old clothes. Realise what a thoughtful and generous gesture that is.

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