Wetsuit kimono, anyone?

It's car crash telly at its very best (or worst) and not normally our cup of tea. However, since we had failed to avoid the new series hype, which promised retro rag trade rummagery in the first episode, we tuned in last night to watch the Young Apprentice in which 12 over-confident youngsters were tasked with making money from selling second hand clothing.

Unlike most entrepreneurs, young or otherwise, they had the twin benefits of a ready supply of raw materials from local recycling companies and (presumably paid-for) well-positioned pitches for selling their wares at a heaving London shopping 'mall' and the busy Battersea Park car boot sale.

We're not knocking the young people for having ambition and drive to succeed in the world of business, but it was excruciatingly painful to watch some of them in action (or inaction in Max's case, whose trouser folding skills made no appreciable impact on profit and led to him being first to be fired). The boys' 16 year old team leader and alleged fashion designer Patrick, had meanwhile committed a crime of gross indecency against an innocent wetsuit and brightly coloured kimono by melding them, at great expense, into a hybrid horror which, inevitably, no one wanted to buy. As Lord Sugar quipped, it might have gone down well at a cocktail party on the Titanic, but what was the boy thinking?  In true disaster movie style, they inexplicably abandoned the busy shopping centre early for Brick Lane, where they eventually found a real life rag trader willing to take their remaining stock for £40.

The girls were rather more sensible in having appointed an accountancy student / bridal shop assistant as their team leader as she kept tight rein on the budget, especially the 'customising' creative (?) activity with which Patrick lost the entire plot. Apart from not recognising the difference between a tumble dryer and washing machine in the laundrette, which had to be pointed out by the local Dot Cotton, they swept to victory, although it was somewhat Pyrrhic in nature given the little money either team actually turned over.

You certainly don't need Max's 11 A* GCSEs to calculate that 12 people spending two days on  hand picking, laundering, customising and selling second hand clothes at two premier London pitches, each with massive footfall, should have made a lot more money than they did - a profit, even?  Between them they made less than £1000 and we don't know how much, if anything, they paid for their stock or for their premier pitches.

So it's goodbye to Max, while the frankly irritating Patrick survives to commit more crimes of fashion (and probably business) in the coming weeks. Sadly, he isn't alone in his quest to destroy the integrity of original garments in the name of creativity. Upcycling and customising seem to have become the trendy new replacements for recycling and repair, the carving up and total destruction of original pieces being the preferred option even when they are entirely fit for purpose and re-lovable in their presenting state, albeit with a bit of TLC.

While we are not averse to a bit of hem shortening and tailoring ourselves in order to make a garment rather more courant, we are always saddened to see beautiful vintage pieces lose their soul (and often their value) as the result of the scissor-happy activities of self-proclaimed style gurus. Too often we have come across 50s dresses which have been shortened to destructive lengths and we have even seen original sought-after vintage labels (Horrockses, anyone?) cut out of garments to be replaced with local shop branding, which may be nouveau but is most definitely not art! We would call it a veritable scandal.

Vintage and antique textiles may naturally have deteriorated due to age, damage, storage and/or general 'wearage', in which case they may need to be modified or even de-constructed if they are to be reworn or reused, and we don't have a problem with that. However, the wanton destruction of original pieces is, in our opinion, every bit as eco-criminal as the fast fashion industry which churns out a never ending supply of cheap and cheerless textiles which will go straight to landfill after one wear (or sometimes none at all).

When it comes to quality second hand or vintage clothing, remember that buttons and zips can easily be replaced, belts and accessories can customise a garment without doing irreversible damage, and hemlines and sleeves can be lengthened or shortened (but please try to maintain the integrity of the original piece if it is of a particular era/style). We confess to having quite a few frocks in our possession which are waiting for small repairs and adjustments so that they can enjoy a new lease of life. Others have small flaws which don't affect wearability and simply add to their character, while a few need some professional help from specialist seamstresses and cleaning professionals - but they're worth it!

Although the Young Apprentice wannabes didn't manage to make a silk purse out of the proverbial sow's ear (unless the wetsuit kimono becomes the Next Big Thing through prime time media exposure alone), the rag trade can be a rewarding business for those of us who are in it for the love as well as the livelihood. A little common sense goes a long way, but then you're only young once!

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