The Art of Eco-Punk: An Interview with Lucinda Graham

The Art of Eco-Punk

Photo cred:Lucinda Graham

Written by Danielle Olavario

“Minimalism? Who is she? We don’t know her, she’s not welcome here,” Northern Ireland-based designer Lucinda Graham said, laughing, when I brought up her maximalist aesthetic. She was in her studio in Co. Down, surrounded by vintage dresses on one side and old four-metre draped curtains on another. From the second the video call started, I was struck by her vibrance. She sported a multi-coloured patchwork coat made of vintage blankets, which she paired with thick tortoiseshell glasses and yellow crocs. The colours are a direct contrast to the grey Irish weather outside (as we were talking, it started snowing). It was clear from the get-go that minimalism is not in her vocabulary.

“Clothes are meant to be fun,” she explained. “I don't think that you need to be serious to be sustainable or to enjoy clothes.” This philosophy is clear in her designs, a kaleidoscope not only of colours, but of patterns and textures. Should you buy one of them, you might see the following declaration on the label: “Lucinda G. Sustainable, not shy.”

Her stance on sustainability stemmed from not being able to find clothes for herself. “I'm 5’10 and I have between an hourglass and a pear-shape, but large,” she explained. “So High Street just isn't going to cut it. I learnt that really young and just started vintage and charity shopping.”

looking divine in her custom recycled Sunday set Photo cred:Lucinda Graham

The Art of Eco-Punk

Graham graduated in 2019 with a degree in Fashion, Textile, Art and Design, but sustainability has been a part of all her creations since she was a child. She credits her upbringing for this. “I think that probably comes from my family being very aware,” she said. “We would have gotten the fair trade magazine and we would have bought as many of our Christmas presents from fair trade and stuff like that when we were younger. And I upcycled all my clothes when I was growing up.” 

In her teenage years, Graham became involved in the rave and nightlife scene, and every event warranted a new outfit. She recalled a time when she was attending a rave she helped organise, but couldn’t afford to buy a new outfit. So she took an old suit she already owned, made a cropped jacket and skirt combo and lined the hem with dangling safety pins. She wore the co-ord with buffalos and decorated her then-shaved head with stick-on tattoos. “It’s whatever you have in the cupboard, in the wardrobe, just make it work, but make it work in a way that is also OK for the environment.”

“You want to turn a look. You want to be noticed. You don't have the budget, you've just finished a 12 hour shift. So, what are you going to do? You're going to cut up a suit. You're going to spray paint something. You're going to slash the clothes that you have and pair them with some huge boots or something,” she explained. Today, Graham calls this eco-punk: the art of using whatever you have around you to create an outfit. “Punk is so political and it's so freeing,” she said. “It's not paying five grand for something. The real energy of punk is completely DIY. DIY or die.”

High Street just isn't going to cut it. I learnt that really young and just started vintage and charity shopping.”Photo cred:Lucinda Graham

Running her own business

Before the pandemic hit, Graham had a full time job that was supporting her to do creative projects. When she lost that job, she had to move home and found herself in a now-or-never situation. “I was like, well, if I don't try this now and if I don't give this a go to make and create full-time, then I never will,” she said. “I was like, right, you have all these fabrics. Just start making and start teaching yourself as much as possible.”

Now that she has established her own brand, Graham doesn’t deny that it’s hard work. “I knew that starting my own business would be hard,” she said. “I knew it would be my baby, it would be a full-time job, seven days a week. But I don't think you could be prepared for how difficult it is.” The pandemic has only added another layer of challenge for Graham, as now, her sourcing has to be done online. Brexit has also brought complications and hefty tax fees with it.

The upside, though, is that Graham now has a network of vintage fabric suppliers that she gets vintage clothes from. But sourcing fabric that can make her visions come to life remains a challenge. “It’s frustrating because I might dream up something and design something. But I want to work with Jersey and I'll need maybe, like, an 8-metre roll of Jersey, but I can't afford it. So I just have to park that design,” she explained. “It’s almost a curse of eco-punk because I want to do all this stuff. But also you just have to work with what you have.”

I want to make sustainable clothes that people of all sizes and expressions can just engage with. And so I guess you can look out for pieces that are casual, but they're not shy.”

Photo cred:Lucinda Graham

The Future

Despite the difficulties of running her own business, Graham is excited for the future of her brand. “We’re literally gearing up for two of the busiest months of my life so far,” she said. With her new assistant, Graham is preparing for a sample sale happening in the spring, where she will take the already upcycled fabrics used in her previous Saccharine collection and will repurpose it again. A few months later, Graham will unveil her ready-to-wear summer collection, which she aims to be size-inclusive. “I really want to work on creating clothes and patterns that can be adapted from a size 6 right through to a size 20,” she said. “I want to make sustainable clothes that people of all sizes and expressions can just engage with. And so I guess you can look out for pieces that are casual, but they're not shy.”

Graham is ready to take her eco-punk philosophy to another level. She told me that she wants to show people ways to be resourceful, to reimagine waste and recreate it with what is lying around and is readily available. Above all, though, she wants to create clothes that last. “I would love for people to have a set from me, and they keep it for years and then they pass it on to their kids or they pass it on to their friends because they don't want to sell it, because they love it so much but they want their friends to have it,” she explained. “I really want to create stuff that has a legacy that people keep, and just get them really excited about clothing.”