Lydia Morrow on ethical fashion and making work at the intersection of neurodivergence, disability and gender
A well known name in the ethical fashion movement, Lydia explains how she’s got to a point where “productivity no longer dictates my creative energy” and talks us through two significant pieces to date.
- Jyni Ong
- 10 November 2021
Lydia Morrow understands the power that one single word can yield and in turn, she utilises the multiplicity of language in her multi-disciplinary practice. A Glasgow-based textile artist and designer, Lydia is a central voice in the local (not to mention international) ethical fashion movement. Her work lies at the intersection of neurodivergence, disability and gender; where, she tells us, “the act of wearing sits parallel to performance where both the garment and wearer are active participants.”
As fast fashion is one of the world’s biggest polluters, Lydia emphasises the importance of ethical fashion throughout her work. Actively highlighting the impact of fast fashion, her work not only advocates for slower and more thoughtful alternatives, it also pays tribute to the labour and craftsmanship that goes into making clothes. She says, “fast fashion generates unconscionable amounts of waste, uses dangerously high amounts of water, create an immeasurable impact on the land over-farming and chemical use, disrupts or destroys local fashion economies globally, and has numerous other horrible impacts.”
Garments are modes of communication for Lydia, whether off or on the body. She’s always been interested in fashion and making things, and telling us more about her crafty upbringing, Lydia says, “Growing up in a low income household that valued creativity and finding clothes that fit my style was always an exciting challenge. She remembers sifting through hand-me-downs and fingering the hangers of charity shop rails which she would then customise by dyeing, sewing or knitting. For this maker, creativity wasn’t just expressed through what she made however, it was also indicated through a sense of style – “and buying things new was rarely ever a part of that.”
Lydia went onto study painting and printmaking at The Glasgow School of Art where she spent most of her time learning textile processes and teaching herself advanced skills that would become the foundation of her practice. During this time, she began to understand “the amount of skill and effort it takes to make clothes and I became more passionate and vocal abut ethical fashion and the pay of textile of garment workers.” The tenets of ethical fashion became a core pillar of Lydia’s made-to-order underwear brand where she highlighted the lack of inclusivity in high street retailers and raised awareness on the importance of stocking larger sizes.
The business, titled What Lydia Made, continued for a few years til she was diagnosed with the rare condition Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS). She adds, “After being diagnosed and having a bit of a breakdown due to pain and mental health struggles, I decided to move away from the business and re-adjust my position in the field.” And now, as a model, consultant, stylist and knitwear designer, Lydia now finds new ways of fulfilling her creativity. Through new avenues, she plays with the relationship between language and fashion, inviting the wearer or viewer to form their own interpretation of words depending on their cultural contexts. “People who see my pieces in person linger on the text,” she says, “like it can be somehow decoded.”
Themes of folklore and superstition underlie Lydia’s textiles – “there are so many libraries of symbols and images with deeper meanings” – and folding these into beautifully crafted textiles, she tells nuanced stories through the imagery and words. “As a neurodivergent person,” adds Lydia, “I really struggle with imagination and following strict systems or my current hyper fixation is the only way for me to create new ideas for work.” With this in mind, the artist tells us about two recent works. The first, Sweet Cream Clot was commissioned as part of an exhibition curated by Courtney Love and draws direct inspiration for her album, Pretty on the Inside for its 30th anniversary. The piece challenges the viewer stating, “Why Do You Want More”, exemplifying the tension that is created when women are expected to do more than what they can give.
The sheer dress featuring bold red text embroidered on the chest is the second kind of dress of its kind created by Lydia. The first was made when she became a new mum and “felt only half of myself”. She goes on, “I liked the idea of putting on a dress that would speak for me and communicate how I felt when I felt barely there, and the idea that that dress, hung in my absence, would be a sort of ghostly presence speaking for me after I was gone.” Elsewhere, Lydia’s piece Earth 2021 was made using a combination of charity shop yarn bins and hand dyed yarn. Combining the poppy colours of electric blue (“so bold it almost feels digital”) and candy floss pink, Lydia wanted to create something that evoked the “quintessential ‘granny knit’” garment. The pairing reminded her of a 17th century plate inscribed with the phrase “you and I, are Earth 1661” but instead, she’s updated it for today’s date. In this exploration of old and new, the self and the other, she clashes the age of the anthropocentric with object-oriented philosophies in an ode to the human relationship with the planet.
As for the present, Lydia is excited to have reached a point where “productivity no longer dictates my creative energy”. She hopes to design more in the future within the fine art spectrum and invest more time in developing ideas alongside being a parent. There are a few projects currently in the pipeline that she can’t talk about right now, but she knows that all in all, a zero waste practice is the way forward. “We know that fashion is an intersectional issue,” she finally goes on to say, “but with the vast majority of fast fashion’s negative impact landing on countries in the global south, changing the way we engage with fashion is also an important part of anti-racist progress and work on decolonisation.”
GalleryCopyright © Lydia Morrow, 2021
Response & Responsibility – Cop26
During the next two weeks, over 120 world leaders are meeting in Glasgow to agree on the actions needed to pull the earth back from the brink of a climate catastrophe. The most important conference of our lifetime, in response, we are exploring creative responses to the climate crisis throughout the duration of Cop26.
Copyright © Lydia Morrow, 2021
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.