Corné Edwards is obsessed with cloth. In her work as a graphic artist and fashion designer, she was not only bothered with the patterns on the cloth. She also cares about where it comes from. Mari Beukes talked to her about her environmentally friendly clothing range and the idea that clothes can not only be reused, but also recycled.
The light streams white through Corné’s apartment windows. It reflects across the floor’s wood patterns and draws a shiny border around her face and short cropped black hair. Sitting in the corner of the room, she looks almost too fine and defencelessly beautiful to live alone in such a large, open space, like a butterfly alone in a large glass bottle.
On the table in the corner opposite her, again, there is no question of space. Colored materials lie scattered everywhere in neat piles and tumbled heaps. A sewing machine, trimming machine and the tip of an iron barely protrude below the material. Although Corné is a graphic artist by profession, her real passion lies in clothing and fashion design.
‘I have always had a love for cloth and clothes, and I have been making my own clothes all my life. It’s always nice to wear something that no one else has. ‘
She starts excitedly telling about the part-time ‘pattern course at the technikon’ which she is engaged in and of her new work at the township.
This social enterprise provides jobs as tailors to women living in townships and finds inspiration for their materials – and clothing designs in the colors and textures of the townships themselves. “Wait, I’m a visual person, I have to show you.” she says.
She searches for the designs on her computer and then shuffles with her chair to the kettle to make coffee. We eat chocolate banana bread and start talking about Cotton Tree, her own range of eco-friendly clothes.
Cotton is a thirsty material
Kottonree was originally created as part of a project in the final year of her degree in Visual Communication, at Stellenbosch University. She started researching eco-friendly fashion, a new trend, which is already popular overseas, but has not yet really taken off in South Africa.
“I first focused on cotton. This is the most unsustainable cloth there is. To make just one 1kg of cotton, between 10,000 and 20,000 liters of water are needed. And 1kg is basically the equivalent of a shirt and a pair of jeans. ‘
This research brought her to the idea of recycling clothes; and the idea that old clothes can not only be reused when donated to charity, but that they can be transformed into completely new clothes through design and creativity.
Green is what you already have
‘The’ greenest ‘clothes we have are existing clothes. These are the clothes we have finished. And I think if you work with existing clothes, such unique shapes and patterns come out. ‘
However, that of the area was not the only inspiration for Kottonree.
“I thought it was great now, we’re recycling clothes, but what can we do about it now?”
Her course required her to incorporate a non-governmental organization into her work and Corné became involved with the Stellenbosch Hospice. The Hospice provides daily care to patients with especially cancer, tuberculosis and HIV / AIDS, as well as people with physical disabilities. She started looking at how clothes made these people’s lives more comfortable.
“They actually designed the clothes for me in a way so I could see what their needs were.”
Some of the designs she has created from this process are a jacket with a shorter back pant so that someone can sit in a wheelchair more comfortably if he wears it. In a shirt design, horizontal stripes again disguise the narrowing of someone’s shoulders.
‘Cotton wool is environmentally friendly clothing, but it also has comfort properties. There’s an element of fun and play in it. ‘
One of Corné’s awkward designs is a jacket with a zipper in the middle of the back. You can literally zip the jacket in two halves. . . The middle panel over the chest of another jacket, which she recently designed for the actor Neels van Jaarsveld, can also be completely zipped out. If you wrap one of her dresses around, there is a new pattern on fabric – actually a new dress – on the inside.
‘Sustainable clothing is much more than just organic cloth,’ she explains. ‘It can also be clothing with more than one purpose. Or it can be timeless style – basic clothing that you can keep for the rest of your life. ‘
She looks around and flutters her hands as I ask where the inspiration for the designs themselves comes from. Why the earthy colors, pale blue and coral red? Why the simplicity? ‘Oh, I do not know. It just comes naturally. ‘
I look at the collage of sketches, souvenirs and magazine clippings on the wall next to the computer: a card orange buttons, a photo of James Dean, a maroon stocking, green and pink coloured cards and a red paper fan. I realize that the visual elements with which Corné surrounds herself reveal much more about her than she herself is willing to reveal. So I asked if I could take the apartment.
“Yes, wait, this will be nice to take down.”
She puts a wooden crate full of brightly colored zippers on the floor. Then a stack of folded cloth: delicate red flowers, blue and white stripes, women in traditional African dress on a peppermint background.
I shuffle around the room to take down the decor. A wooden ladder serves as a bookshelf. The books lean comfortably against one side. The cover of The Fashion Book curls slightly. On the steps below it lay Contemporary Graphic Design and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.
In between my photos, I ask about her hobbies. What does she do when she’s not making clothes? ‘Oh, I do not know. I swim in the sea. I ride a bike. . . No! What are you doing now?’
Butterfly in the flesh
She soon found out when the camera turned to her. It makes her uncomfortable because she is usually the photographer. She laughs and something of the defenseless butterfly is back.
“How would you feel if I had to take you down now?”
“OK, you can,” she says.
She laughs even louder as I take my camera off my neck and give it to her. She adjusts something and we both laugh.
‘Wait, hold your hand like that with the pen. And you need to look at me a little more. ‘
Later in the afternoon I look at the photos. My photos of Corné are out of focus and she keeps looking away. However, my own face appears perfectly sharp on the screen. Maybe this is the best way to have a conversation with an artist. To listen less and watch more.
Butterflies are hard to catch…