Kate Mason is an eco-designer and slow fashion champion who has combined her love of sewing and sustainability to create ByKatyMac. Here she talks about picking up the thread again this year
I’m a born & bred Scouser. I dropped out of uni (training to be a navigational officer on a ship) and retrained as a computer programmer. I have poor health and consider myself disabled. I then worked in admin, in offices and banks, until Civil Service voluntary redundancy led me to becoming the owner/manager of an outstanding nursery. After 13 years we went bust due to the change in early years funding. I have always been a bit of an eco-geek and I had costumed several ballet shows, word book day and various shows/talent contests, so ‘byKatyMac’ was formed from the love of sewing, sustainability and a bit of theatrics.
I started the business properly in September 2019 and had only done five or so Christmas fairs and two post-Christmas events before lock-down. I had just started to ‘find’ my customers but of course it all went a bit sideways. I think at the beginning of the year I was optimistic and hopeful of bigger things. I had exhibited the ‘Sweet Dreams’ gown twice and was in negotiation for it being display at libraries in the area – promoting waste reduction.
During the first lockdown we were shielding and had already taken this action when it was announced by the Government, as my husband has lung disease and my daughter has asthma. She and her boyfriend had moved in just before it officially started (they are vegetarians and we aren’t, so that was fun – particularly when we went three weeks without a Tesco delivery!).
We adapted marvellously and, until my mum was taken into hospital seriously ill, we were having a really good experience, working and living together very co-operatively. However, that all changed, and my organisational skills were stretched to their limits, ensuring my mum had everything she needed. Sadly, a month later, she died and a month after that we had the funeral which no-one could attend.
Looking after my immediate family and my extended family has been very complex these last few months; and, sadly, my business hasn’t been my priority. I have started attending outdoor events as I am still very wary of the virus. Whether my business weathers this storm is still to be seen; but emotionally I have been shattered – we had a further two losses during lockdown.
But I am sewing again, if sporadically and starting to teach as well, so I have every hope that byKatyMac will prevail.
Lockdown 2.0 was more of lockdown 1.0, really. I’ve still lost inspiration and motivation but I have started having little patches of sewing time which is helping, I think.
The bridal side of the business was very embryo at the start of the year. I had made two gowns and was altering one. The trauma of cancelling or postponing hasn’t been a worry for me – although I have stepped in with some emergency bridesmaid alterations for a hastily rearranged wedding.
At a market recently I was asked the price of one of my wedding gowns. I explained that it was a wedding dress so quite expensive, and the customer said but I just want to wear it not as a wedding dress……
I have been very lucky as in general the wedding industry alongside performance-based industries have been devastated – I have had costumes for a huge show postponed which represented thousands of pounds worth of work.
I feel more and more that a sustainable lifestyle and therefore clothing is essential. David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and Prince Charles are all huge proponents of lifestyle changes but it’s the individual that matters. The mum that uses hand-me down-clothes or second hand reusable nappies; the teen that buys her prom dress from a charity shop; the vintage leather jacket worn by an emerging pop star; the availability of sustainable toiletries in your local eco shop or the supermarket – the small things matter.
And while I can feel proud of the things I do which are sustainable, I won’t feel bad about the things I can’t do because every paper bag is a success, every bar of soap or second hand jacket is a triumph. It took from around 1992 until 2019 until I got the solar panels I wanted, but I didn’t give up on sustainability because I ‘couldn’t do it all’ – I just did what I could: such as getting a smaller engine car and a well-insulated house or riding a bike. And if everyone did the best they could, the world would be better and safer.
My health limits the work I do and now affects the markets I can attend. I am looking to streamline my transportation system by perhaps converting a trailer or caravan into a mobile shop to reduce the lifting in and out that I have to do at events.
I am keen to expand my ‘mending tables’, where I go to groups and show people how to mend or alter their own clothes, maybe combining this with upcycling classes. I would love to liaise with a funding body to offer this for free.
Inspiring people to ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ or ‘make do and mend’ will continue in 2021 and hopefully throughout the next decade.