An upcycling brand based in the South of France, el/if. studios supports a new way of living that is "close to our environment, while appreciating a fashion that emphasises the handmade". Used hosiery and jackets are just some of the materials the founder, Elif uses to handcraft her delicate designs. Today, we turn the lens on the brand’s creator and explore the philosophy behind her brand.
What drew you to fashion originally? Did it always appeal to you?
First of all, before I was attracted to fashion, I was interested in the practical know-how of my mother. When I was little, I used to watch her carefully doing embroidery, crochet lace and sewing. From the knowledge I gained from her and the more I grew up in my adolescence, the more I took pleasure in distinguishing myself with creations that I made myself. My older sisters used to take me to markets and thrift stores where I loved finding rare items that others no longer wore.
My obsession for fashion came naturally at a very young age and that's why I wanted to study it. I wanted to go from making clothes to creating them for amazement. In my love for fashion, I never had the desire to follow it but on the contrary to participate in its evolution. I have always loved people who assert their identity through their clothes, people who wear crazy looks and who are 100% confident in the creations they wear. My love of fashion is therefore a mix of a love of know-how, affirmation of each human's identity and perpetual creation.
Espousing renewal, preservation and individuality, el/if. upcycles discarded clothes. Could you expand further on the essence of the brand.
The el/if. brand was created as a result of a personal questioning of my own consumption and the impact that it can have on the planet. I have always been sensitive to fashion and to the fact of asserting oneself in one's identity and I therefore wanted to combine this love with respect for everything that surrounds us. Today, fast fashion, which has taken a large part in the population's choice for clothing, does not respect the workers, the creators, the planet nor the materials. So, I wanted to put forward my know-how and my taste for creation through my brand el/if, but respecting the values I defend. I take a real pleasure to take a garment from oblivion, to take a model reproduced in millions of copies to rework it and make it unique.
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My brand in its essence is a French brand that works in France and does not produce elsewhere, which respects the environment by reworking materials already produced and limiting the production of new material. But the essence of my brand is also the handmade, the fact that a person who wears one of my creations can think of the designer through a unique piece. I want to get out of this logic of unlimited production of fast fashion which has only an economic goal. I don't unroll strips of fabric to make dozens of jackets, so none of my clothes can be the same in terms of structure, colour or materials. I also do everything in my studio, from communication, to drawing, to the making, to the thank you card, to the packaging. Behind the brand el/if. more than an essence there is a being.
But the essence of my brand is also not to impose anything, I want to show people that we can through his, her or their imagination wear garments in different ways. This is the case of the "Blazer and bra" where you can wear the bra inside or outside and the "Top blazer" where people can attach the threads according to their desires and their modesty. Unveiling without revealing via the play of transparencies and shapes is an integral part of my brand.
You are the eponymous founder of el/if. Is there a meaning behind the punctuation you used to syllabify your name?
That's a very good question. Behind my brand, as I said, there is a being. So, it seemed natural to me to give my brand my first name. In many countries the name Elif seems original but you have to know that in my country of origin which is Turkey Elif is a very common name (like Marie, Georges and Frank in France). So, I wanted to dress up my name as if dressing up with a piece of clothing. I added common punctuations to my first name which in itself is very common.
One of the reasons you upcycle clothes is to encourage your customers to have greater control over their clothing and be free from the choices offered by other brands, could you elaborate on this?
When we buy a garment, we often have a crush and we want it in our wardrobe. The system that fast fashion has managed to put in place is a frenzy of purchases through low cost at the expense of the environment, materials and workers, at a huge speed of execution often allowed by copying models of other designers with large amounts of subcontracting. New models appear every month which creates an effect of excitement and lack of importance with the consumers.
Unfortunately, many of the pieces purchased are not worn at all and entire containers of clothing are thrown away. Even in our good conscience to give away our piles of clothes, we must know that the mountains of clothes that go to developing countries often end up on African beaches, forming artificial dunes. New models of clothes appearing very quickly which we consider our last purchases are no longer relevant. No story can be established between clothing, the body and the identity construction of the person [at that rate of consumption]. The garment is often put away or thrown away while the purchase label is still attached to it. So, I want to encourage people to see differently and to consume differently. I would like to say that in the past, I myself was part of the people who used to consume fast fashion items, today thanks to all the information we have, we can't close our eyes. It is very important to educate ourselves and to understand that our small isolated choices are not without impact because each individual choice put on a planetary scale will cause an unprecedented disaster.
I therefore encourage people to upcycle their own clothes, the demonstrations of upcycling I often do on instagram of before and after have this objective in mind. This is also why I mark on my tags "If you don't like or need me anymore: transform me, sell me or donate me." We always have the choice to buy better, to take our time to think about whether we really like this piece. Fast fashion puts its consumers in boxes; our imagination and our sensibility that have no limit are there to get us out!
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On the designs’ tags you encourage your customers to continue reusing and upcycling, they read “transform me” – do you hope for materials to become eternal?
I would like to but it is impossible, any material has wear and tear either by use or by time. On the other hand, we can take care of the materials and our clothes. If there is a small hole we can repair it, if we don't like it anymore we can transform it or someone else will like it, there is no point in throwing it away. Clothes are a part of our history and our identity, let's not throw it away. Humanity is rich in personality, let's not let big brands integrate us in a straight line, but learn to develop our imagination to give a second life to clothes.
A few of your innovative designs upcycle hosiery into tops or skirts showing that even fragile materials have longevity; how do you choose your materials? Could you guide us through your creative process from idea to completed garment?
My pieces made from tights were my first creations that I made public. For this particular example, the idea of transformation came from personal questioning. The expectation of tights is very important. So much so that we do not accept seeing a hole in them and systematically throw them away when they are damaged. My objective was to imagine another way of wearing tights by reworking this very fragile material. I wanted to show that we can break commonplaces. It was so obvious for a person to throw away tights with holes in them and now I hope in the future it will be obvious to rework our used tights according to our desires and our imagination.
In general, my inspiration is made of everything that surrounds me in my life like design, architecture, different textures, the 90s and minimalism. My French-Turkish culture is also an inexhaustible source of inspiration for me. I am fascinated by the body, the skin, I like the play of transparency, unveiling without revealing. Other times, the inspiration comes from simply looking at worn fabric. An idea then takes shape in my mind. Soon after, I make sketches from my mood board and go hunting for clothes that will match the look I have designed.
Many of your collections have a provocative accent – is it important for you to show that transforming unwanted clothes can create clothing that is both alluring and also celebrates the body?
First of all, I never create with the idea to provoke, I love to work the curves of the body, to put forward certain parts. Clothes are a part of our identity, so I assume that a person who will wear one of my creations will feel fully comfortable in it because this creation will magnify the part of herself and the image she wants to put forward. I love to see videos or photos of my clients who are 100% comfortable in the street or in public with their clothes.
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