CREATIVE DIRECTOR, DESIGNER OF KATCHA BILEK
Written + Photographed By Kelley Mullarkey | Video Produced By Sean Stillmaker
For centuries academics and industry leaders have battled the paradoxes surrounding a very simple yet complex seven letter word: fashion.
Some argue clothing represents nothing more than a meaningless act of reckless consumption. Others believe our clothes reveal the inner workings of our subconscious selves and act as a fundamental component strongly integrated in the fabric of our lives.
Katcha, a Bristol based accessories and 3-D art designer, believes genuine style should not reflect constant consumption, but instead a desire to preserve and repurpose.
A colorful vision, Katcha’s philosophy of personal style follows the same beliefs she designs under her eco-friendly line katcha bilek. Simple yet powerful, her wardrobe conveys an enormously loud message.
Fashion for Katcha has never been about the trends. For her, personal style is imbedded in the soul of the craft and the healthy global response it produces.
The fashion industry has long been an ever-changing business where consumer demand and trends dictate the rapid pace, which is faster than an overnight celebrity creation and can result in reckless consumption. Despite this restlessness, Katcha is living proof on how to endure it and redefine its direction.
While living quite nomadically on the road during her mid twenties in a 1968 Mercedes Benz fire truck travelling across North Africa and Europe, Katcha became inspired to reuse old rubber tires and craft them into gorgeous functional handbags, which has been constantly confused for leather by the untrained eyes.
Environmental sustainability is trending amongst fashion brands and governments, but reusing and recycling has always been a way of life for Katcha.
“I’ve always been inspired by what I could create out of something presented to me. I’m never like ‘I want to make a chair.’ It’s always the reverse way. I look at something and think what can I make out of it? I like to build off of materials that already exist. Waste is unnecessary.”
Instantaneously you can feel the inspiration exuding from Katcha’s studio – a multi-level artisan heaven in Stokes Croft dedicated to the coexistence of art, music, enterprise and innovation. Sean and myself arrived at the studio welcomed by an original Banksy mural painted above a life-size rubber crocodile Katcha created.
After navigating up three floors past puppeteers and painters, we arrived at Katcha’s studio, a space overflowing to the brim with scraps of old rubber car, tractor and bicycle tires. All of which was illuminated by a chandelier she constructed out of TV remote control circuit boards and bicycle rims.
Soft spoken and beaming with unmatchable enthusiasm in front of her aged industrial Brother sewing machine, Katcha welcomed us into her world. Dressed in a simple second hand lapis blue romper and chunky beaded necklace, Katcha is the epitome of alterative causal cool.
“For me it’s always style over fashion. I like clothing that has meaning. Whether it’s my grandmother’s 70-year-old coat, an old pair of my mother’s boots or a jumper made by a co-operative of women chatting around a table. I couldn’t possibly buy a T-shirt from Primark. It’s so empty.”
Born just outside London and raised in Holland, Katcha’s mother installed in her an organic ethical code frowning upon mass production and celebrating the art of taking nothing and turning it into something. Even as a young child Katcha found a way to turn plain cardboard boxes into Noah’s Ark.
“I see it as a failure to even buy ready made food in a can. I can’t see why anyone would do that. It completely strips away the beauty.”
Following the completion of her adolescent studies, Katcha moved to Spain at age 18 to study Spanish with the intention of moving to South America. Ironically enough she went on to venture everywhere else but there. But Spanish, alongside French is one of five languages she speaks today.
Shortly afterwards, she uprooted to Bristol to study archeological at University of Bristol, but quickly realized structured learning wasn’t her forte. After being cultivated in Chicago, the rave scene made its way through Europe and Katcha made it her mission to follow the music and the road.
Having to deal with spare tires and seeing so much rubber along the road, an idea popped into Katcha’s head to create a handbag out of it. Although she began first making costumes out of rubber for friends that performed in fire juggling acts, she started handcrafting the bags in 1999 and sold them at local markets in whatever city she was in at the time.
She worked for various music festivals designing 3-D art, spent time squatting in Ibiza and saved up money by selling the handbags at markets in Italy, Spain and Portugal.
The initial design, still her favorite today, is called Tsubi. She perfected it around 2003 when she went back to Spain and learned a traditional leather cross stitching technique to sew up the sides.
Greatly inspired and driven, Katcha came to the realization she wanted to design full time. In 2008 she officially set up her business and busily worked away adding more rubber innovations. Today, there are over 20 designs from handbags to wallets to belts most of which are named after her friends.
Each one of the pieces is handcrafted in the UK, which is important to Katcha from an ethical, eco-friendly and qualitative standpoint.
“It’s been suggested to me that I could make a lot more money if I took production to Romania or somewhere else, but that takes away the whole idea of it. It wouldn’t seem real to me. There are enough people here in Britain that need jobs. It’s not so eco-friendly if it’s being made somewhere else and constantly shipped. It defeats the purpose. I can only create with an achievable purpose at the end.”
Regardless of what she’s creating, her heart and vision lay within an honest conscience and devotion to paving the way to a future of sustainable fashion and forward thinking.
Katcha’s aesthetic demands that we reconsider how we use materials and examine how to add value to them. A wardrobe that emulates self-expression shouldn’t be treated as disposable. Rather it should be nourished like a home.
Music By Gobo Gee