The freedom of anonymous design

CONGREGATIONdesign
United Kingdom (London)

Nope, we’re not at church – but this anonymous congregation are here to worship all things creative.

 

Working to a new (and enjoyably loose) brief each season, CONGREGATIONdesign’s evolving membership of designers, photographers, writers, makers, artists and stylists work collectively to produce ‘things, thoughts and fun’. 

For each collection, they create clothes and accessories to a brief put out by Congregation’s founder, Marie. When she finished her MA at the Royal College of Art, Marie found that traditional structures – either the huge demands of founding an independent label, or the stifling world of big brand design – didn’t offer what she was looking for. “As a creative, I just needed to create,” Marie says. “And I had friends who felt the same. I created a first project and put a brief together and asked my colleagues and friends if they wanted to join the brief as an extra activity around their 9-5 work.” They had formed a congregation: CONGREGATIONdesign.

The collective has since been fluid, changing with each brief to offer designers flexibility – and always the chance to experiment. Briefs are deliberately open, Marie says: “we encourage contributors to design really freely, there is no audience target or ‘this is working really well so we’re going to do it again’. It’s pure creativity.”

Animation: Sara Carlyle

The result has been a series of clothing collections that are surprising, colourful and wide-ranging in their aesthetic and approach. There is joy in this unpredictability: designer #3 made a much celebrated pair of cycle shorts at the last minute when, because the brief doesn’t specify the type of garments to be created, a collection needed another pair of bottoms to complete an outfit. “I just looked at what was surrounding me, and saw a pattern from a previous collection and some cycling jersey with this beautiful pattern. It created something unexpected.”

This in turn inspired the next brief: Marie invited members of the congregation to create upcycled garments. The previous collection’s cycling shorts were transformed into a dress and swimsuit.

Image: Celine Antal

Another recent creation prompts people to apply this upcycling mentality to their own wardrobe. Embroiderer Jodie embellished an Adidas jacket to give it new life; and customers will have the option to pay for her time to embroider their own garments. Marie explains, “it’s really important that people realise it takes time to make garments, and not everything is made by machines. This is one way to involve and educate the customer on how things are made and what things should cost.”

Image: Olympia Vlas

Congregation’s goal isn’t only to enable creativity, though this is crucial; but to allow space for creativity that will prompt questions and new directions. 

“We don’t pretend to solve any problem,” Marie says, “we just want to provoke something on both sides, for designers and customers. To really explore and experiment with alternatives. There is no unique solution, just different attempts. At this time when the industry really needs to reboot I think it’s a good way of trying new things.”

CONGREGATIONdesign’s many faces also appear at events and exhibitions that are driving the conversation about sustainable fashion forward. They took part in London Fashion Week as part of the Positive Fashion Exhibition (see image of printout), CommuneEAST’s sustainable futures rave (which asked: ‘what can we do to avoid the capitalist, non-functional, dystopian future?’), and Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Open Studios, where they have run upcycling workshops and hosted dance performances

Image: TRASHMag

While the congregation get involved in these events and their first names are shared, the collective generally stays anonymous. For designers, this takes away the tendency to be led by ego (“which can be very big in the traditional fashion model…” Marie adds). And for customers, it prompts us to question what we love about a garment. “Do you love something because it has a little logo on it, or because of the design or quality? Our anonymity means there’s more opportunity for people to experience the design and quality of a piece – and consider that things cost what they cost because of the work behind them, the human and environmental resources involved.”

AtlasAction: Unleash your creative talents by joining the Congregation

All images courtesy of CONGREGATIONdesign.

Written by

Becca Warner (21 April 2021)

    Project leader

    Marie, Founder

    Partners

    This project has been selected as part of FashionFutures, a new  content channel that maps the work of people transforming the fashion sector: the designers, craftspeople, social innovators, educators, community leaders and communicators. Atlas of the Future is excited to partner with Makerversity, with the support of The J J Charitable Trust and their network of fashion friends.

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    Image: Cherry Au

    LFW, Positive Fashion

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