By Alix Norman
We bond over buttons. Smooth, tactile bamboo buttons; tiny hand painted ceramic buttons in the shape of geese and cars and boats; large ceramic buttons in shades of Tiffany blue. There’s even ribbon with buttons printed on it in a riot of pastel hues. Now, as an avid sewer myself, I’ve always had a love for all things crafty and, with Christmas just around the corner, I’ve stepped up my game a notch or two in order to ensure everyone gets a personal, handmade present. But, I’ve got to admit, I’ve nowhere near the skill or technical ability of Marina Chrisostomou. So, once I’ve stopped playing with the buttons, I might just find myself filling out my gift list with a few of the gorgeous items from Marina’s Sewing Room…
A divine little shop-cum-workspace nestled in the centre of Old Strovolos, Marina’s Sewing Room is based on the titular owner’s lifelong passion for fashion, coupled with her deep interest in environmental solutions. And this is the key to the produce, for the softest cotton tshirts with their wacky prints, the dreamy handknitted scarves and the tiny, adorable baby bibs she sells are all ethical fashion.
“We spend a lot of time thinking about what we put into our bodies,” explains this softly-spoken young woman. “Is it environmentally friendly, is it ethically sourced? But we tend to give little thought to how the clothes that we put on our backs are made; or the workers – often children and frequently underpaid – who have picked the raw materials, and woven or sewn that tshirt we love so much. We may not want our own child to wear toxins, but maybe we also need to consider someone else’s child who spends the day surrounded by toxic cotton in a field or factory.”
With a young family of her own and a background in fashion, Marina is perfectly placed to spearhead the revolution of ethical, sustainable clothing in Cyprus. And with Marina’s Sewing Room, she’s putting into practice not just her ethical awareness, but also her years of experience in the fashion industry.
Having lived most of her life in London, Marina got her BA in Fashion from the University of Westminster – even taking part in Graduate Fashion Week – before working as a designer for various high profile fashion chains in the UK. But after several years in the world of easily disposable clothing, she felt the fashion industry wasn’t enough: “I wanted to make a difference, to give back to the community, so I took my PGCE and went to teach Arts and Crafts in Wood Green.”
It’s hard to imagine this sweet, quietly humble young lady in an inner-city classroom, but Marina appears to have revelled in it. “In terms of behaviour, it was a difficult school,” she says, “but I loved it – you really felt you were making a difference. And teaching is something I continued with when we moved to Cyprus, before I decided to start the Sewing Room.”
Two long years in the making, Marina’s Sewing Room has been a labour of love throughout. And though it’s only just opened, the range of ethical fashion has been taking Nicosia by storm. “I’ve sold quite a lot already, even abroad,” she says with a shy smile, as if surprised by her instant success. “This is the first time I’ve had to work by myself,” she adds, “and it’s quite hard; there’s nobody to bounce ideas off.
But this is an up-and-coming creative area – there are some wonderful galleries nearby – and I really love what I do.”
With a small studio at the back (creative heaven, packed with fabric and paint and – yes – buttons!) Marina is able to produce her entire range right from her workspace – sewing, knitting, embellishing, stencilling and crocheting – the clothes she sells on the handcrafted racks in her shop. Repurposed yarn and untreated wool become velvety scarves just begging to be wrapped round and round the neck; organic cotton Fairwear tshirts – made in India at a carbon neutral factory powered by wind turbine – are handpainted with catchy designs; baby clothing is printed with cute motifs in non-toxic inks.
“A lot of my designs are inspired by traditional Cypriot fabrics,” Marina explains, showing me a tshirt print that’s a modern take on Lefkara lace, and a lengthy scarf that mirrors the red, white, blue and yellow stripes of a village tablecloth. “Ethical fashion also includes the idea of involving local people in the process,” she says, “benefiting the community by, for example, getting my village neighbours to knit scarves and local tailors to help with the sewing.”
With a full range of clothing, homeware and accessories in the offing, Marina is certainly going to be putting community talent to good use. And she’s also hoping to spread the idea of ethical fashion even further afield with a range of workshops in silk screen printing, tie dying, weaving, pattern cutting and felting, to name just a few. “These are all things I used to teach,” she says, “and as well as speaking to local schools about the idea of ethical fashion, I’d like people to be able to make and customise their own clothing. I’m all in favour of recycling, upcycling and thrift shops,” she adds, emphasising that every item she sells comes with a reusable tote bag made from a mixture of organic cotton offcuts and recycled plastic.
The perfect Christmas present, then, for anyone with a conscience who wants something that will last forever: not only will you be giving a unique, handcrafted item, you’ll also be helping people all over the world in the process. And as I finish off my homemade gingerbread biscuit – yes, it’s shaped like a button! – I’m mentally toying with the idea of buying the whole stock. But that wouldn’t be fair… there has to be something left for you!
Marina’s Sewing Room
Stadiou Street, in Old Strovolos. For further details, call 99 211 884, visit www.marinassewingroom.com or email [email protected]