From rags to riches: Inside Samantha Drage’s recycled fashion collection

By Charlie Todd |

Samantha Drage/The Photography Dragon

We all know the mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle. However, one designer has taken this to the extreme.

Samantha Drage, 17, is a photography student based in Milton Keynes. She works primarily out of her bedroom and, when COVID-19 restrictions allow, her local Starbucks. Sam’s latest project, Recycled Fashion, caught my attention when I saw the behind the scenes process on YouTube. Watching her create dresses and jackets out of old pill packets, cereal boxes, fabric scraps, bin bags, CDs, and so much more was fascinating to me. I contacted Sam to find out more.

When did you start getting into fashion photography?

I’ve been doing photography for almost 4 years now, but it is only in the last year that I have started to think seriously about what genre of photography I might want to focus on more. I have always loved fashion and was dead set on being a fashion designer in my early secondary school years. Since discovering my love for photography, my fashion designer dream has died a little, but I never lost my interest in fashion. Studying photography has allowed me to learn a lot more about my chosen field and to experiment more. It’s been great, but I still find myself circling back to fashion and portraiture.

“I took all of my love for the
environment and all of my anger towards fast fashion companies and turned it into
something beautiful”

What inspired you to take on this project?

It’s actually a part of my coursework for college, but that wasn’t the original inspiration for it – although it certainly was the excuse I used to get my parents to agree to me turning their dining room into a storage room for my trash dresses! I have always been really passionate about the environment, so when I got into photography I thought a great way to raise awareness for the benefits of recycling would be to create some powerful images that would get people thinking.

Like the rest of the world, I was stuck in lockdown for about 6 months this summer, so I had plenty of time to work on my idea. I took all of my love for the environment and all of my anger towards fast fashion companies and turned it into something beautiful. I can only hope that the images I’ve created will make people think about the environment and the effects that fast fashion and plastic waste are having on our planet and that it will lead to more conscious consumerism.

Samantha Drage/The Photography Dragon

How did you make the dresses?

With blood, sweat and tears! I have a simple sewing machine from my days of wanting to be a fashion designer and a few dressmaking skills under my belt. I’m no seamstress, but I know the basics and that was enough to construct the basis of most of the dresses. I also used copious amounts of hot glue, which I managed to burn myself with several times, as well as staples and good old-fashioned masking tape!

What was your process for this project?

I designed the dresses and spent weeks collecting rubbish from all over the place before I started making them. I spent most of my lockdown in a room full of rubbish because it took months to finish them all completely. We took two dresses per day and spent 4 days shooting to get all 8 dresses done, which was a lot to say the least! I had to do all the set-up by myself as well as the hair and make-up, which really tested my skills, but we managed to get it done!

It’s hard to explain my thought process when I plan these sorts of things because I know what I want and have a vibe/feel in mind, but it seems impossible to get that across to other people. I generally spend a lot of time on Pinterest, doodling and thinking before I actually figure out what I’m doing and then I just sort of run with it…

Undertaking a project this massive in 2020 is no easy feat. What obstacles did you have to overcome?

Where do I even start?! The pandemic was a huge issue when it came to shooting because I wasn’t allowed to use the studio at the college or bring my sister in to model for me because she would ‘break the bubble’. This presented a whole load of issues because I had to find somewhere to shoot, source a background and borrow equipment from the college.

My grandparents graciously allowed me to take over their house for 2 weeks and turn it into my own little studio, which worked pretty well despite it not being ideal. It was tricky trying to get their house to work because I had to buy my own background, move their furniture around, find a hard surface to cover the carpet with so that walking on the soft carpet wouldn’t crease the background and try not to knock any pictures of the walls with my lights!

Samantha Drage/The Photography Dragon

The dresses look incredible, your hard work clearly paid off! What is your favourite dress you’ve made?

I’m so proud of all of them! But I think I’d have to go with the ‘space dress’ as I call it. I love the ‘jellyfish dress’ and the blazer as well, but I spent so long on the space dress and I think it really paid off because it looks great! It has that perfect ‘clearly made out
of rubbish’ feel whilst also still looking like something you might actually see on the catwalk, which was what I was going for.

Do you have plans to undertake similar projects in the future?

Absolutely! I have so many ideas for projects of a similar calibre and some completely different ones that I hope to be working on some time soon. Some of them are already in the works, although most of them have had to be put on hold due to the pandemic,
but I hope to get back to them soon and start working on some of my more ambitious ones too!

You can follow Sam and her future projects here:
Instagram: @thephotographydragon
Photography Blog: