Photography / Editorial / Print

Sustainable fashion and the world of José Hendo

As featured in Unfolded Magazine Issue 06

Designer: José Hendo @
Model: Kristel @
Mua: Mutsumi Shibahara @
Words and Photography: Nardip Singh @

In the desire to get away from 'fast fashion', designer José Hendo has invested much thought into adhering to her guiding principles of 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle'.  Hendo promotes the use of organic, untreated raw and recycled materials to “support ethical trading and fair working conditions”, whilst raising awareness about the “environmental problems and throwaway culture" that she is against

The use of Bark Cloth, made from the ficus natalensis tree, a UNESCO-recognised process dating back to the 15th century, is something Jose Hendo would like to see used more in “mainstream fashion”. Given its many uses, “different textures” and as Hendo states is a “completely renewable resource as the tree regenerates after a few months”: it makes for a compelling case. The arboreal leather-like textile is durable, hardy and importantly “doesn't require the same chemical-intensive tanning of modern fabrics”.

Having visited the workshop, set up since 2008, in Tottenham, viewed the rails of clothing and admired the walls adorned with ideas; drawings and photographs: we can see the passion Hendo has in promoting the clever yet economical use of material. Evident in the use of cut-offs and end of rolls, Hendo also tries “to buy organically such as with the use of hemp - we try to void wastage, fighting against fast fashion, being economical with clothing and extending the life of recycled garments”.

The drive and passion to make clothes must come from somewhere and we are told her “mother was very elegant”, and as a child, Hendo “loved making clothes for dolls” in fact, she “made families of dolls (laughs) and dressed them all” using her “mother and sisters' left over scrap material”. Later in life she went into finance, but the creative artist within her submerged and a course at London College of Fashion (University of the Arts) beckoned.

Hendo describes her style as "Beautifully sculptured, tailored, inspirational and passionately conscious of the times. Drawing inspiration from nature, sculpture and architecture". The 'Resonance collection' is “all about mother nature”, with garments crafted from bark cloth. Hendo says its ultimately about “what binds us all together”, with “mother nature as my muse”. Nature is interconnected, “plants, insects and animals are dependent on one another for regeneration,” so resources we use, should ultimately “go back into that cycle”, be recycled or be biodegradable. Hendo is conscious that “fashion should be sustainable, timeless and something to last for years”, but also adaptable and “be worn many different ways” - nature can be “sculptural, creating works of art that inspire”. The versatility in the design is evident throughout the interview and photo shoot, as the cloth can be “pinched, extended or even turned inside out” to create a new shape or form, allowing one to create their own interpretation – “empowering them”. The thought process is evocative of how nature adapts and the beauty is in its design.

Looking to the past, the 'Memories collection' is primarily up-cycled and dedicated to her father, who Hendo remembers as 'always wearing a tie,' the colour or style of which 'gave her a sense of his mood when she saw him go off to work at the accountancy firm'. The statement pieces take those memories, but also the 'memories of clothes that are re-used', merging them together to create a visual impact, one will definitely remember. Design is important, and when asked which celebrity or person (past or present) she would you most like to dress, Hendo ponders and says "Audrey Hepburn", because of her "classic timeless elegance". It is something Hendo tries "to infuse into my garments, a sense of timelessness".

Taking some of the past, but also looking to the future, the 'Contact collection' plays on the subtle contrasts, different tones and textures of organic cotton. It explores “how we connect with people, past, present and future by using neutral tones to focus more on the shape and form of the garment”, It could be said that the “silhouettes capture the imagination”, with twists, turns and curves signifying a path from past to present. If there was a model Hendo would most like to see wearing her designs on the runway, it would be "Iman - if she were still modelling - for her beauty, poise, elegance and presence".

Hendo runs "workshops designed to empower women of all ages" by enabling them to construct simple garments. "What I do is simplify the pattern making process. I also provide an up-cycling workshop which involves redesigning and reconstructing used garments. This is a very inspiring experience for them and this is where my 3R's come into play. The underlying message in the workshops are to promote the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle fashion consciousness". The workshops are provided free by Hendo and she also finds time to fund-raise for a children's charity, donating a percentage of profit from sales.

The Radical Designers award Hendo won are important as "formal recognition of the designer's hard work", but also "help when it comes to the PR and marketing" aspect of her label.  It helps raise awareness of Eco-Fashion and Hendo believes that "people's attitudes to ethical fashion have changed and will continue to do so. People are now interested to know the story behind the labels and are more aware of the environment and social impact of fashion".

Hendo is clearly pushing boundaries with sustainable fashion and her avant-garde work. Funding her label has been hard, but to date, her venture has been completely self-financed.  As advice for young designers, Hendo says "Designing garments in these times require an awareness of the environmental and social consequences" and hopes that those who read this article "keep this at the forefront of their work. It is also important to persevere because this is a very competitive industry". Of the future, Hendo is looking forward to showcasing her “A/W collection in February” and as she firmly believes, “with God's grace”, will look to move ever more “forward with her work” and vision for the label.
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