An Israeli-Canadian fashion duo creates new clothes from old, but the garments are a cut above the pieces from which they originate.
Growing up in Georgetown, Ontario, a city of about 40,000, Andrea Hughes moved to Toronto to study the business end of fashion at George Brown College. After a stint at retail chains like Aldo and the FX Boutique, by age 23 Hughes was designing her own clothes.
Today, four years on Hughes has moved again, and now she and her husband Shai Wallach are running a unique family business – a line of “upcycled” fashion items for women and men – out of their PopLove studio in south Tel Aviv.
“Basically I decided I was done with working for other people and wanted to design for myself,” Hughes tells ISRAEL21c, explaining that “upcycled” refers to clothing which is recycled into garments that are a cut above the pieces from which they originate.
Wallach and Hughes took materials sourced from a local women’s charity that collects donations of clothes to create PopLove. It’s an online fashion retail brand that can be found in Tel Aviv’s trendiest boutiques, like those in the Gan Hashmal (Electric Garden) area. Items for sale online are popular with American, European and Australian clientele.
Finding fashion and family
Hughes and Wallach met in Toronto. They moved to Israel in March 2008 after a year or so in London where Wallach, originally from Israel, worked in photography and Hughes in fashion.
“We needed a fashionable city – that’s why we moved to London,” says Hughes. But London was tough. “It was an intense atmosphere and we were there for a year, but we both wanted to be somewhere closer to our hearts.”
Wallach’s roots are in Israel (he’s Jewish, she’s not) and the two decided to live closer to his family in the Middle East. Tel Aviv’s Florentine neighborhood fit the bill. Hughes says the weather is a lot better than it is back in Canada, adding that Florentine is “fun and young and modern and hip; the equivalent to Queen West in Toronto.”
They model the clothes themselves, also filling the roles of designers and distributors. Wallach’s skills as photographer are apparent in the PopLove catalogue.
Their design process begins at the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) second-hand clothing shop for charity, where they pick out the fabrics and baubles that catch their fancy. Then they wash the materials and cut them up, using the older, pre-worn clothes as the source for their lines of shirts, skirts, dresses and more.
Impossible designs come to life
“We start with, say, a few shirts from WIZO. We clean them and from there start to cut patterns into the shirts,” Hughes explains. Building layer upon layer, “the pieces are cut into the shapes of our patterns which we then take to a local sewing place of very high quality – a high-end sewing factory which pieces and puts things together.”
The end products come in collections in a range of sizes, and with hundreds of variations. “We will try and sort things by color scheme such as the reddish shirt and the bluish shirt. But every single piece, because of where the material comes from, is one of a kind,” she explains.
The fun really starts when they pick up the clothes from the factory: “We add our own elements such as water-based inks, eco-friendly screen print designs on shirts. We add studs, grommets and all kinds of crystals depending on what is suitable for the piece,” says Hughes.
This is where Wallach’s fashion sense shines. He loves to work on the screens and prints, beams Hughes, who says that the irregularities and oddities in the previously-worn clothing makes the end result “fun looking.” Suddenly a bit of a logo will be on your back, and you’ll see a design and shape come to life that you wouldn’t have thought possible, she remarks.
We’re not hippies!
Hughes, who had designed her own line of alternative club wear in Toronto called Hysteric-Faerie, was first inspired to work with recycled materials after noticing the copious amounts of fabric scraps on the cutting room floor of her upstairs neighbor, who also works in fashion. Learning that all those swathes were simply thrown away, she envisioned recycling the material as a way to create sustainable fashion.
The idea was reinforced by the ambience of the Florentine neighborhood, born of the jumble of studios belonging to young artists and clothing designers that rub shoulders with high-end furniture stores, old-school carpentry shops, and everything in between.
“We decided we wanted to go for an angle that would be sustainable. There is a stereotype that green is hippy. But at the end of the day it’s just material, and where you get it from has an impact,” Hughes concludes.