This blog is about a Vancouver artist I know, Katherine Soucie, and her incredible work as a zero-waste textile and design artist. Her business, Sans Soucie, turns pre-consumer waste hosiery into new textiles for high-fashion women’s clothing and, more recently, 3D forms. Although Soucie is not an outsider artist, I met her through my outsider art connections and since this is my blog… I get to write about all sorts of cool art events.
When I first met Soucie, I couldn’t really imagine the world of re-used textiles she described. As a person who can ‘almost’ sew a button onto a shirt, I was at a loss to imagine the extent of her industry or the breath of her skill and creativity. I remember thinking that her work embodies everything an artist ‘should be’ in this century: exceptionally skilled, fully committed, highly imaginative, and engaged in global issues. In Soucie’s case, the issue is the staggering ecological impact of the clothing industry on the environment. It is second only to the big oil producers. Few of us think about our carbon footprint when we buy ‘fast clothing’, with its long chain of getting clothing to market: growing natural textiles (with pesticides), producing synthetic textiles (from oil by-products); dying it (with toxic chemicals), manufacturing it in industrial settings, shipping it around the world (using fossil fuels), and its ultimate disposal in landfills. But Soucie does think about these serious issues and her life’s work has revolved around creating haute couture – truly wearable art pieces – from pre-consumer waste hosiery.
Soucie’s zero waste design philosophy means that she creates items from products that manufacturers have discarded; the process is environmentally sound, low-impact, and free of metal toxins. Any waste she produces is collected and re-purposed by other artists in the design community. In short, Soucie creates gorgeous clothing from waste that would otherwise end up in the trash. And what vibrant and sensuous clothing it is! Her highly-collectible work was lauded in British Vogue magazine last year.
Having mastered the art of clothing design (in my view), Soucie is turning to other creative ventures. At her recent exhibit at Seymour Art Gallery, she displayed some of her quirky ‘wrapped’ sewing machines, each one a unique and colourful reflection of her creative energy. They remind me of the objects that outsider artist Judith Scott so lovingly bound with strips of cloth. For Soucie, the machines are the tools of her trade, dating back to the Industrial Age of the 18th Century when garment manufacturing began in earnest. If only those cloth merchants could see her now! The other artist in the exhibit was Michelle Sirois-Silver, who uses scraps from Soucie’s production to hook colourful rugs.
The word ‘garbage’ doesn’t exist in either of these artists’ vocabularies.
The most intriguing of Soucie’s recent ventures has been her residency with HCMA Architecture + Design, an architecture agency that explores the public realm, seeking to ’tilt’ their perspective by watching artists at work. In Cast ON, Cast OFF, Soucie ‘knit’ a sculptural room from waste hosiery. A crown of LED lights hangs above the sculpture, inviting us to step inside the warm glow. The other pieces are seats, filled with natural latex foam. Soucie asks us to consider what its like to be inside a garment that is not a garment. For Soucie, the residency was a perfect fit because structure and architecture has always informed her work as a textile designer. The project was another reminder that we all, as consumers, must step away from the frenzy of fast fashion. There are more sustainable ways to make the clothes we live in.