Thrifterviews - Alexandra Papathanasiou

Welcome to my second episode of thrifterviews. I interview creative people about their practice and their relationship to fashion--or thrifting to be exact. I would love to normalise thrifting and inspire people by showing different creatives from all around the world. The creative industry and creative jobs specifically are underrated, I believe, and this could show people which paths people take and how we can all be creative as well as thrift more.

This time around I interviewed Alexandra Papathanasiou from the sustainable jewellery brand Hera and Ares. I'm so stoked with our conversation since I am a big fan of Alexandra's jewellery since the beginning.

Viki: Can you introduce yourself and describe your creative practice?

My name is Alexandra, and I'm the designer/maker behind the brand Hera and Ares. I make brass jewellery inspired by ancient cultures, the moon and stars and traditional talismans.  I'm currently based in Edinburgh, but I’m originally from Greece, which I think shows in my constant use of evil eye and sun motifs in my work!  All of my jewellery is made entirely by hand in my home studio, and it’s all 100% vegan, meaning I don't use animal products, either in the finished product, or at any stage in its production. I also avoid the use of the toxic chemicals which are traditionally a part of jewellery making, instead substituting natural and eco-friendly alternatives. Sustainability is at the forefront of my work, and I choose to work with brass as it is almost always produced from recycled scrap metal, rather than raw materials.

V: Your jewellery pieces look so precious and have this sort of mysterious ancient kind of atmosphere about them that I absolutely am obsessed about. It's beautiful to see where you get your inspiration from and to look at the photos you sent me and see how you make the jewellery. I'm so impressed (I bet videos of you making your jewellery pieces would be so calming to watch, maybe even with ASMR sounds of the fire gun and the cutting noises--I'm kind of kidding but also not, would love to see videos). How did you start your business?

Alexandra: Making jewellery is something I had always been interested in, but I didn’t know if I’d like it, or be any good at it, and I didn’t know how to start even finding that out. 3 years ago, I was at a complete dead end career-wise, and decided I needed to take a risk and learn some new skills that would hopefully lead to something different. I signed up for an evening jewellery class, and a short floristry course. I absolutely fell in love with silversmithing from the first class and that was my decision made. I signed up for the next level of my jewellery class, bought myself some basic tools and metal, and slowly started working on different designs. Less than a year later, I rented a bench at a shared jewellery studio then, shortly after, the shop I was working in offered to start stocking my jewellery, and it slowly grew from there.  

V: This is so inspiring! I find it incredible how much lines up when you just start doing what you genuinely want to do. And this is proof for it, isn’t it? I know this is very personal and for each person different but I’d love to know what kind of advice you would give to anyone who wants to take the leap and start making money with their creative practice?

A: I think once I decided this was what I was going to do, I was unstoppable!  I think the best advice I could give is just to do it and not have a safety net or wait for the right time.  If I had waited, I’d probably still be waiting, but every time I made room for my jewellery practice (by stopping my previous side hustle of selling vintage clothes on ebay, by giving up hours at my part time job) it started to become more successful and more than made up for the money I lost from giving something else up.  The other really important thing for me was taking it seriously as a career from the start, and making it my priority, which means there were days I’d finish an 8 hour shift and go straight to my studio for another 6 or so hours, making jewellery until late, then get up and go to work again. It’s HARD, and it’s not for everyone, but I believe determination is the single most important thing in making money as a creative.

Here's Alexandra's beautiful home studio. V: Name 3 artists that inspire you.

A: It’s such a cliche, but Frida Kahlo, as much for her beliefs and the way she lived her life as for her art.  

Vanja Vukelic (@merakilabbe) who I found on Instagram, and who does the most beautiful earth mother magical art.  

Francesca Woodman, a photographer who I discovered at an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery last year.  I absolutely fell in love with her work, and I was fascinated by the way she saw the world.

V: I LOVE LOVE LOVE Francesca Woodman! And I saw that same exhibition last year :)

How do you stay creative, even in difficult times like the current pandemic? 

A: I think when your creative practice is your job, it tends to seep into every part of your life, for better or worse. Literally everything is inspiration for me, whether it’s for new designs, new packaging ideas, my social media presence, new avenues I might want to take my business down in future--I see potential in everything I come across. My work is influenced by all my other interests as well, so researching moon phases, or pre-Hellenic goddesses (for example!) might spark an idea for a new design or concept. I might find it difficult at times to be productive, and to actually work on my new ideas, but they’re constantly bubbling away in the back of my mind!

V: You've mentioned already how highly you value sustainability in your practice and that you use recycled scrap metal for your jewellery. How did you get into upcycling and thrift shopping?

A: It’s been a long, slow process for me! I originally started shopping secondhand on ebay because it was a cheaper way to shop, and I was always really thrifty. I’ve also been passionate about environmental issues for as long as I can remember, and the more I learnt about overconsumption and the damage caused by fast fashion, the less I could bring myself to actually buy anything from high street shops, so secondhand and vintage seemed like the obvious answer, as sustainable brands were (and still are!) out of my budget. The process was helped along by getting a job managing a charity shop a few years ago--that completely started my charity shop addiction, and my love for searching for hidden treasures. Obviously when buying vintage or secondhand, things often aren’t perfect, or the right size, so naturally I had to start upcycling them to make them work for me (as much as my limited sewing skills allowed!) My goal in the near future is to learn to properly use a sewing machine so I can start doing some more upcycling, as it’s something I’ve been dying to do more of for years!  V: This resonates so much with me! Sustainable brands are expensive, and sewing* actually gives you the ability to make all those (or similar) clothes yourself, which is just beautiful. *I mean obviously this comes with a certain privilege which I want to acknowledge here. In order to make clothes you need a sewing machine, time and of course material that you can use. Which brings me to the next question: can you name 3 brands/people that inspire your wardrobe? 

A: Ooh, that’s hard! I’m obsessed with vintage so I love @forloveofthemoon on Instagram - she curates the most beautiful collection of vintage and upcycled clothes and has the best aesthetic--I wish I could buy everything, but instead I hunt for the £5 versions of her finds on ebay and depop! Kristen Leo on instagram and youtube is a huge inspiration because her wardrobe is entirely thrifted and costs next to nothing, so she proves that there are so many affordable treasures out there. And finally, I’ve been re-watching the original 90210 and coveting Brenda’s entire wardrobe.

I’m loving the early 90s aesthetic at the moment-- neutral colours, chunky shoes and natural hair and makeup, and the eternal summer that is Southern California!  V: Yes Kirsten Leo is inspiring, and I just checked out 90210 and their 90s summer aesthetic is on fleek! I really wanna watch the show now. I love Xfiles for their 90s fashion too, the 90s are just amazing. What kinds of clothes do you wish to find secondhand that are currently difficult to find?

A: 90s dresses that aren’t frumpy! And embroidered vintage blouses that aren’t super-expensive! Generally stuff in my size, as everything I find always seems to be too big for me:(  This is another reason I need to start sewing more!

V: Vintage seems to have attained this prestigious status where blouses are often too expensive and coats unaffordable. I mean thankfully this isn't always the case and there's so many beautiful vintage shops out there with good prices. I mean that's why thrifting in charity shops is so amazing, you can find vintage stuff that's actually cheap. Trickier here in Luxembourg but there's at least one thrift store I can go to that sometimes has amazing things. What changes do you wanna see within the fashion industry?

A: I’d love to see brands like Boohoo and PLT disappear completely--every single single thing about them is wrong. V: My thoughts exactly. A: I’d like to see the pace slow down as well, and both designers and the high street start producing far fewer collections--it worked in the past, so I don’t see why it can’t again. I’d like things to be produced under fairer conditions, with respect for the environment and the people involved in every stage of production. I’d also get rid of synthetic fibres, and move to eco-friendly alternatives, like hemp, linen, ramie, and organic cotton. And I would slow down consumption--even the most eco-friendly clothes can’t be sustainable if we keep consuming as much as we are now!  

V: So true! That’s why I prefer secondhand to new anyway--the most sustainable clothes are those that are here already in need of new homes! Renting clothes is also really quite a cool idea! What do you think about renting and other innovative fashion ideas that you’ve seen or are burning to see?

A: I think renting is great for events where you need something you won’t realistically wear again, though I would personally be terrified of destroying borrowed clothes! I’d love to see more clothing swaps being organised, as I’ve always wanted to go to one, but the big ones I see are always in other cities! 

V: You should totally go to the Clothes Swap that the Gate Church Carbon Saving Project is hosting (I co-founded it with a friend and absolutely miss it, it’s such a beautiful event. It’s in Dundee, but you could totally make a day out of it, I can give you some recommendations;)). And now to my favourite question: What’s your OOTD? (who thinks of a pandemic anyway when they make up questions for a thrifty interview series) Even through lockdown I still got dressed every day, even if it was just to take my dogs out or to go to the post office! This outfit was just worn to take my dogs to the park on a sunny but chilly day. The skirt is actually a dress which I bought a while ago from Etsy, the sandals are also old from Yoox, the bag is vintage from Ebay, the jacket is secondhand and I bought it about 5 years ago on Ebay, and the top is the first thing I bought once charity shops started re-opening here. This is making me realise how much more I wear my clothes and how much longer I keep them since I stopped shopping on the high street--aside from the top, everything I’m wearing I’ve had for at least 3 years!

V: I love your outfit!!! Thank you for sending it over :) It's wonderful how our mind can sort of switch and how we start to apprecaite our clothes much more once we stop consuming so much. It's like we slow down and actually take the time to digest the information that's in front of us. Can you list your number one reason why people should choose secondhand over new?

A: Because there are already more than enough clothes on the planet to clothe all of us for years to come!  

V: Your favourite thrifted piece?

A: Ahh, this is so hard! About 5 different things came to mind, but I’ll say a vintage black silk slip/night dress that I bought from eBay to wear as a dress. I can dress it up with a vintage men’s blazer, or down with a denim jacket, I can wear it with sandals or boots--there is literally not a time or place I wouldn’t wear it, and it’s probably the piece I feel most myself in.  

V: Where do you like to thrift?

A: Everywhere! Charity shops are the best because I like being able to see things in person and try them on, but you have to really hunt to find something good. I use ebay a lot because you can search by brand or size if you’re after something specific, and I’ve managed to find so many things really cheap just because no one else bid on them. I have a love/hate relationship with Depop, but you can occasionally find some hidden gems on there as well.  

V: Tips for people who are starting to thrift

A: Go in with an open mind and lots of time! You definitely can’t expect to find exactly what you’re looking for in your size, and you have to see the potential in everything! I would recommend watching thrift hauls and thrift flip videos on youtube to get ideas for styling or upcycling pieces you maybe wouldn’t normally consider. For someone who’s just starting out, I would also suggest vintage shops or fairs, or the “boutique” versions of charity shop chains, where the best stock has already been filtered out for you, so you don’t have to do too much digging.  

V: And my last question: Can you give us one story about a thrifted item?

A: This isn’t a very exciting item, but it’s got sentimental value, as it represents the beginning of my love affair with charity shops! I bought this massive black vintage mohair scarf for £12 in my first week of training for my charity shop manager job, and it was probably one of my first (if not the first!) pieces I ever bought from a charity shop. Nearly 7 years later I still have it and I dig it out every winter, and it’s like new. This was part of what made me realise that older things were just much better quality and will last for ages if looked after properly, whereas nothing I bought new for £12 would still be around now! I love that I can have things I could never afford to buy new, and which will last me forever.  

V: So true, sometimes you can find true gems that you never wanna give away ever again. I love finding knitted jumpers that someone made at home, it brings me so much joy to wear those jumpers.

Thank you so so much for taking part in my Thrifterviews! It was a pleasure hearing about your creative practice and your views on thrifting. It actually makes me want to go thrifting right now...

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