Born in 2021 from the creative minds of Lauren Beham and Callum Pidgeon, Prototypes is a Swiss-based upcycling brand dedicated to repurposing deadstock garments and materials. The collection captures the zeitgeist, with a sense of humour and positivity that stand in antithesis to overproduction and waste in the fashion industry. As senior partners of Ye, Prototypes has contributed to the creative development of Yeezy and has stitched sustainability into every thread, even those in Bianca Censori’s recent hosiery haute couture.
Their newest season, Series 06, is a tribute to the unification of football in working-class Britain. Shot in the very same football club that Pidgeon played for as a kid, Series 06 is constructed from upcycled sportswear like tracksuits or old football shirts. Prototypes are rebranding sportswear as a new kind of uniform; durable, statement pieces that outlive seasonal scores and fixtures.
Prototypes Series 06 draws us back to the grass-roots, back to the pitch, where looks are gleaned from an authentic understanding of the protagonists of British working-class culture: the groundskeeper, the kit man, the coach, the youth; each a vital contender in the social fabric of local clubs. I spoke to the makers of about the birth, life, and future of the brand.
Hello, thank you for speaking with us. Where are you answering from?
A pleasure. We are currently in Zurich, Switzerland.
Congratulations on the release of Series 06! Can you elaborate on the concept behind it? How did this theme come about, and what message are you hoping to convey through this collection?
We’ve always had football in our repertoire, with an unconditional love for the sport. Callum played football growing up, his dad was a coach and the sport’s working-class roots, especially in the UK, strongly resonate with our own ethos. As Prototypes is a brand focused on upcycling, we are always looking for garments and deadstock which is available in high quantities, like military or workwear uniforms. Sportswear renews itself seasonally, so there is an abundance of material to work with and we’ve upcycled football gear for past collections already, like scarves or tracksuits. This time around, we wanted to devote an entire collection to football and highlight all the characters that make up its social fabric, especially in the amateur-level and grass-roots Sunday League: the referee, goalkeeper, the mums on the sideline, the groundskeeper, or the coach. We really tried to dig deep and not just appropriate one specific look that’s hip currently. Rather, Series 06 is a collection about youth, about growing up in the countryside and about the football club as a shared meeting ground and a uniting passion.
No detail is overlooked, right down to the muddy, grass-stained knees, but what lies behind the scenes? Could you provide more insight into your approach to sourcing materials for your upcycled garments?
As sourcing is the most important aspect when working with upcycled materials, a lot of time is invested in the process: visiting different wholesalers, warehouses and vintage and surplus suppliers. Sourcing, as much as the creation of a new garment, requires an eye for design: not only the print on a vintage T-Shirt is important, but also its shape, size, and condition. It’s about quantity as much as it is about quality. Not all the pieces we make can be made from preexisting garments, so we also work with deadstock fabric merchants to buy final rolls, which makes the pieces limited quantity. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
When drawing together strings of inspiration, which would you say holds prime importance, the past, the present, or the future?
Series 06 is about the past, present, and future of football and Prototypes is about the past, present, and future of fashion. All three are equally important: you learn from the past, you reflect on the present, and you apply all that for the future to assess what will still be needed. It’s about awareness of what has been done, good and bad, how that influenced the present and what can be done in the future to change or amplify that.
Prototypes is deeply connected to the communities it draws inspiration from. Can you discuss any collaborations or partnerships you've formed with local organisations or individuals to further engage with these communities?
To bring it back to Series 06 once more: we shot the campaign at the Long Bucky Football Club, where Callum grew up and used to play for many years, his dad was a coach at the club, too. Shooting there was humbling and enjoyable, everyone at the club was as friendly and helpful as we remembered from 10 to 15 years ago. It was another way to connect our own past with the present and future! We booked their clubhouse for producing the shoot and Prototypes will be sponsoring the new women’s kit for the upcoming season and also supply new advertising boards for the pitch. This way we are bringing visibility to the small-town country kids, rather than just taking inspiration from them. We wanted to include the people working in the club and around it, as a sense of community is important to us.
Next to that, we work with schools and universities, like the fashion department of FHNW, the art and design academy in Basel. Laura worked with them previously, and we offer internships and positions to graduates and postgraduates and are planning guest lectures and workshops, starting from this month. As a brand, we have the responsibility to give back to communities by sharing knowledge and experience. We want to encourage others that it does not matter where you came from and that an education should be available to anyone. There are so many different jobs in the fashion industry that a lot of young people do not even know about: everyone wants to be a designer, DJ, or creative director. But no one is thinking about becoming a pattern maker or tailor anymore, because the industry does not pay attention to inspire a younger generation to pick up these careers. Prototypes was founded because we want to provide this inspiration.
I can’t help but notice a disparity between your source of inspiration in working-class communities and your prospective clientele. For example, the Bedsheet Dress, listed at £619. How do you ensure that your brand remains accessible to people from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds?
Our source of inspiration is where we come from, growing up in a small town to teenage parents, surrounded by hard-working people. Friends and family members feature in our look books and it feels right to us to highlight these communities from a personal and honest point of view. As Prototypes is a brand focused on upcycling and repurposing, production isn’t standardized. There are no quick and easy patterns to cut off the roll, the time and creativity that is required to cut up existing shapes to develop something new comes with its labour. The production costs for an upcycled garment are around thrice as high as when producing a garment from zero. Hopefully going forward, the upcycling process becomes the new norm for factories, with everyone becoming more accustomed to the importance of reusing materials. Working with deadstock garments, the factories have to learn a new way of making clothes. This approach requires much more attention. Seamstresses and pattern makers need to learn how to deconstruct and reconstruct, basically they have to learn how to design and that time costs money, which determines the price.
We also want to add that our Proto Prints and Proto Packs have been a core offering since Series 01: offering patterns and full DIY-kits to make our designs with whatever you have available at home. Each Proto Pack allows you to replicate a style from our collections and comes in different difficulty levels. Almost anyone can create a hoodie out of two old sweatpants (that are either laying around or could be easily bought in a vintage store of choice.) An even smaller effort is required for the Proto Prints: the transfer prints can be ironed onto any garment, allowing for the customisation of, for example, a T-shirt you have been tired of wearing before. Eventually, we plan to present more of our patterns and step by step guides on our website as free downloads. To make Prototypes available to everyone.
Tell us a bit more about Proto DIY. How does it contribute to your principles of upcycling?
Ideally, the consumer becomes the supplier and producer, which is as sustainable as it could get. Everyone has old garments in their wardrobe that can be given a new purpose. It’s important to understand the process that goes into making clothes, it takes time and thinking. Clothes should not be disposed of or disregarded as quickly as we do in today’s society. We want to ultimately elongate the life cycle of any given garment, without being bothered by a short-lived and capitalist logic of trends.
How likely do you think it is that other brand labels follow in your footsteps with regard to the redistribution of power from the hands of the many to the few?
The community is constantly growing, so it’s already happening. We have to make sure that this process continues, by openly sharing knowledge and experience with others and leading by example.
Looking ahead, what are your plans for the future growth and expansion of Prototypes? Can you  let us in on any new initiatives, collections, or areas of focus that you're particularly excited about exploring in the coming years?
We will be showing again this Summer in Paris, which is always exciting. On top of that, we are collaborating with brands directly now, eating their waste and reusing their deadstock. Also, we have our eyes on footwear, expanding our sustainable ethos to a new area.
And finally, do you think Prototypes really could be a prototype for the future of the fashion industry?
Absolutely, otherwise we would not be doing this. It shows that other brands are picking up on what we are doing, upcycling and repurposing becomes more and more important in fashion. The European Parliament recently announced new rules to crack down on fast fashion and reduce waste, including a ban on destroying unsold clothes. Together, we can make a change and it’s only a matter of time before bigger players will be latching on. And we are already ahead of the curve, prototyping a different industry.