“Look at this – this really very, very, distressed 19th-century Victorian patchwork. It was really falling apart so we spent hours re-backing it first of all, then cleaning it, then this, then that – and I think we’ve saved it.” Founder of By Walid, Mr. Walid Damirji, said it was like telling a life-saving story.
“I didn’t tolerate waste – I thought it would be so disrespectful to waste any bit of this fabric.”
By Walid was launched at a time when the word sustainability was hardly considered within the traditional fashion system. From day one Damirji has made it his mission to use every last scrap of material.
Tucked away in a modest West London mews, the treasure trove of a studio is full to the brim with antique clothes, heritage fabrics and tapestries waiting to be cut, dyed and upcycled. Each garment and design is re-patched and re-used with any cut-offs developed into the most tactile of tote bags, with the process described as a complete zero waste re-patch.
T: I have so many imaginations about your studio. I picture it as a time machine that brings antique treasures back here into modern time. What exactly does your studio look like?
W: It is a simple London Mews house that I can walk to from home with the downstairs housing the team working on cutting tables and surrounded by hanging patterns and toiles on one side and completed garments on the other. Upstairs is my room with administration next door.
Originally working out of Damirji’s home in West London, By Walid now produces six collections a year with between 60-80 garments across two studios, one for treating the textiles and one for design, and we have a shoe line twice a year, accessories lines, and homeware.
T: What triggered you to embark your journey with the motto, ‘The Luxury of Zero Waste’?
W: I’d always liked old textiles and as the eye travels and grows accustomed your tastes evolve. So I had this big collection that now has completely disappeared because I’ve gone onto bigger and better and bigger and better.
It’s just continuous. I just made this one jacket that everybody wanted, and it was sent to Paris by my friends. It was completely bizarre – because I was staying at this apartment, there was no signage, there was no buzzer, I don’t know how people made their way up to the second floor. And we got all these fantastic orders. I had one jacket with me and that was it. And I thought I was going to come back with orders for 10 – maximum 20. Eight hundred! That’s what triggered it all.
Established in 2011, By Walid creates sustainable couture in modern silhouettes. Walid Damirji’s personal philosophy encapsulates “The Luxury of Zero Waste” with his one-of-a-kind, pieces now extending beyond fashion and into the home with covetable creations including 18th-century quilts, embroidered cushions, handmade chairs and sculptured heads. The provenance of their cloth is preparing to absorb a new story.
Damirji繼續解説：「The Luxury Of Zero Waste當中的奢華是無形的，是製作背後的無數小時，而他最有興趣的是創造一些比人一生還要長久的作品 —— 一種慢時尚的哲學。甚至乎我們在製作中裁剩的布碎，也會被放到鞋子或其他設計上。無論是從18世紀的宗教織物，還是19世紀的中國絲綢，每一件都有自己的故事要訴說，每一件成品都遠遠超越當今的即棄時裝。」
Damirji describes luxury as the unseen; the vast number of hours that go into making something. His interest lies in creating pieces that last longer than a lifetime, a philosophy of slow fashion. Even once we’ve cut it up and made something of it, those pieces are going to go into a pair of shoes or something else. Every item, whether crafted from 18th-century ecclesiastical fabric or 19th-century Chinese silk, has its own story to tell. Each ‘look’ reaches far beyond disposable ready-to-wear.
T: As I listen, it feels like they are the stories of you and your old friends.
Antique Chinese embroidery, French crochets and linens, rococo Italian opulence, ecclesiastical silks, workwear and Spanish shawls……By Walid modernises and reinterprets historical treasures. At a time when traditional, seasonal fashion demands to be cast aside for the new, Damirji’s couture offerings actually improve with age and he affectionately dubs his ‘movers and shakers’.
W: Basically, we have six collections a year. It’s all very organic because what happens is, it’s the textile that speaks through so every season we add another new element – like recently we’ve added military canvas, so you’ve got the vintage military canvas, or 19th century piano shawls, or 19th-century French crochet. Every season there is another thing to recycle and to play with.
What By Walid has done is to create the bond that used to exist between a customer and a designer, dressmaker or tailor.
T: Kantha stitches from India are very common in your works. Is this mainly for reinforcement of the fragile antique cloth?
W: I love this traditional form of stitching and how it reinterprets distressed textiles.
T: Oh! Congratulations on being included in the Forbes Lyst 2020 among “Brands To Watch”! What do you think about the future of fashion?
W: Upcycling and repurposing has always been around but not taken seriously. I believe this is now changed with more sophisticated production and especially an informed and discerning customer.
T: Do you have any principles in mind when giving a second life to these antique treasures?