From Kings Norton to Shoreditch via Milan and Amsterdam, the talented young designer Rhys Ellis is turning a looming environmental disaster into fashion gold
How many coffee pods do you go through in a day? We reckon at Brum Living Towers we consign at least 30 of the little blighters to landfill every single day and we’re not alone. Cue talented designer Rhys Ellis whose stunning work transforms the nuisance material to catwalk chic with striking results. His eureka moment came in Milan where drinking coffee is like breathing, and now the fashion world is starting to sit up and take notice.
Lucky enough to bag free studio space at super cool Gallery Six at the Old Truman Brewery in London, Rhys is working on a new collection that will feature wearable day-to-day pieces to be sold through retailers as well as his signature couture style. There are roughly 6,000 pods in each dress. Each pod is treated and manipulated by hand then attached to a mesh structure allowing Rhys to mould the garments. It sounds pretty technical and quite a feat of engineering as well as clever design. The structural quality means it’s no surprise to learn that Alexander McQueen is one of Rhys’s heroes.
FOOTBALL VS FASHION
Not always into fashion or saving the planet, football was Rhys’s jam throughout his teens which he played to a very high standard until a nasty injury spelled the end. While he was completing a foundation course in sculpture and textiles at Birmingham City University and wondering what to do with his life, one of Rhys’s tutors suggested fashion design which struck a chord. He took her sound advice and embarked on a BA in Fashion Design at BCU.
As part of his course Rhys spent a year in Milan which cemented his career path. “I mixed with loads of people from the creative industry including architects and interior designers which was phenomenal,” he said. He learned from a highly respected 74-year-old tailor who had ‘trained Armani before he became Armani’ if you see what we mean. It was important for Rhys to get this traditional tailoring experience. He explained: “I wanted to be able to make clothes not just draw them for someone else to make.”
With this grounding under his belt, Rhys then went to train with someone at the other end of the design spectrum, Iris Vanherpen in Amsterdam. Iris’s designs are futuristic and she’s hugely into technology, so it couldn’t have been more different and Rhys came back buzzing with ideas. He began networking with hotels, schools and universities mooting the idea of taking their used coffee pods off their hands.
Rhys has found the fashion world to be utterly supportive. “I’d heard bad things about this industry, but I haven’t experienced any of it. Whether that’s down to the environmental thing I’m not sure.” He’s referring to things like being offered free studio space which is a huge bonus and means he’s in the heart of a creative hub in an accessible part of town allowing him to get up and running without the financial pressure of renting in the capital.
The first collection took five months with influences including art, sea creatures and history. A number of pieces from the Spring/Summer 17 collection will be displayed at Selfridges Birmingham for the next couple of months as part of the store’s Material World project. For Rhys who worked at the iconic store as a student it’s incredible to have his creations on show. “It makes me so proud to see my work on display in my home city.”