Queen of recycling who converts rags to riches: Janette Swift tells Rose Rouse how glamour and green ideas can be combined

JANETTE SWIFT is clearly the mistress of reinvention. Walk into her south London home and there's a plastic laundry basket as a kitchen lampshade, an enormous kettle as a plant pot and a mosaic from broken plates around the mirror in the hall. 'My mate runs an Italian restaurant,' she says cheerily, 'and she gives me all the broken crockery.'

Skips, car boot sales, markets, friends with restaurants - they all provide rich, yet cheap, pickings for the woman dubbed the hip queen of recycling. Ms Swift first appeared on the London scene in 1988 as the instigator of a recycling art group called Reactivart. 'I got excited by environmental issues in the States in the mid-Eighties,' she says, 'then I came back to Britain where no one was interested.'

Reactivart, a loose collective of about 20 people, held its first art show in Kentish Town. 'There were collages from bus tickets, a living moss jacket and old bits of wood painted in different colours,' she says. 'The art was crap but the enthusiasm was great.' Determined to get young people excited by the environment, Ms Swift made bizarre latex jackets - out of plastic bags stuffed with bedsheets covered in emulsion - which had memorable labels like City On The Shoulders.

More art exhibitions and fashion shows followed. 'At first, well-known designers rejected the idea that fashion and the environment could be mixed,' says Ms Swift. 'However, we finally had a fashion show at the Empire Ballroom where designers like Rifat Ozbek and John Richmond contributed. The trouble was, people thought I was making lots of money out of it. I wasn't. I got meningitis and had to stop.'

Undeterred in her basic recycling and fashion philosophy - that it is possible to recycle and still be trendy - she decided to approach Oxfam. 'My idea was to open a shop run by fashion students where all the clothes were recycled, the prices were cheap and all the money went to the Third World,' she says. Thus NoLoGo, an Oxfam project instigated by Ms Swift and funded by the charity, was born in Marylebone High Street in 1991.

Having transformed the shop using her considerable talents of persuasion - electricians worked for nothing, local companies donated materials and there were those familiar Italian plate mosaics on the walls - NoLoGo featured a mixture of one-off designs created from old and hand-picked, second-hand clothes. It was a great success. Last year, NoLoGo made pounds 25,000 for Oxfam.

One of the keys to this success was Ms Swift's eye for what is going to be the next big fashion fad. 'I used to go up to the Oxfam factory in Huddersfield and pick out material for the designs,' she says, 'then we'd turn it into flares or long dresses.' Customers attracted to their originality, low prices and the fact that all the proceeds go to Oxfam, include Annie Lennox and Emma Freud.

A second NoLoGo opened in Ganton Street, off Carnaby Street, at the end of last year. And Ms Swift's success has given her the confidence to try broadening her horizons to include television. 'When I started five years ago, no one thought it was possible to combine fashion and the environment,' she says, 'now I want to get the message to a much wider general public.'

Ms Swift sees herself presenting a show which will tell people how they can beat the recession cheaply and inventively. 'I want to tell single mums with two kids,' she says, 'that there are ways of making money out of nothing, ways of making your home glamorous without going to the Conran shop.'

As we talk across the kitchen table, she is making up elaborate beaded chokers and necklaces to sell to the totally trendy Janet Fitch shop in Old Compton Street. The beads have been found over the years at jumble sales and the wire was bought at a car boot sale. Had she learnt these skills at college? 'No, a friend taught me,' she says, clipping off a bit of wire.

One day a week, she teaches sewing to 16- year-olds at North Westminster High School. 'What I really want to do is make them see how easy it is to make clothes,' she says. 'Often I undo all their wrong seams myself, so they don't lose their enthusiasm.' She used to watch her aunts sewing and by the time she was 10 she could knock up a pair of trousers. 'Even now, I'm very impatient,' she says.' If I can't finish a dress in an hour I don't want to know.'

She uses her skills when making clothes for herself. 'My leather trousers were pounds 1 in a jumble sale. I chopped out the pockets, took the waistband off and turned them into hipsters,' she explains, 'and my jumper is made out of four different sweaters which have been cut up and sewn together in patches. I particularly liked one children's jumper so I took a house and some flowers from that. It took me an hour and I have to wash it by hand.'

This multi-jumper look has been all over London this winter, especially since the arrival of 'grunge' on the fashion scene. Ms Swift was doing it five years ago. And to prove it, she runs into the bedroom and grabs a horribly colourful jacket with a wild Seventies pink woollen collar. It was photographed for Elle back in 1988. 'All my friends were nearly sick when I made it,' she says, 'they thought it was hideous. But they're all over the place now.'

(Photograph omitted)

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
News
Jennifer Lawrence at the Vanity Fair Academy Awards party in February 2014
people12 undisclosed female victims are seeking $100m in damages
Arts and Entertainment
Adam Levine plays a butcher who obsessively stalks a woman in Maroon 5's 'Animals' music video
music'Animals' video 'promotes sexual violence against women'
News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
voicesI like surprises - that's why I'm bringing them back to politics, writes Nigel Farage
News
Bear and hare woodland scene from John Lewis Christmas advert
newsRetailer breaks with tradition, selling real festive fir trees online for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Horowitz will write the next 007 novel
booksAnthony Horowitz to write new instalment in spy series for 2015
News
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
people
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

Sport
Kicking on: Nathaniel Clyne is relishing the challenge of the Premier League after moving from Crystal Palace
footballSurprises include a first ever call-up for one Southampton star
Voices
4 May 2013: The sun rises over Tower Bridge in London. Temperatures across the UK could be higher than several European holiday destinations by Monday, including parts of Italy and France (Andy Hepburn/PA)
voices
News
The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients
science

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    HR Advisor - East Anglia - Field-based

    £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: To be considered for this position you will n...

    General Cover Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: We have opportunities for Cov...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to tea...

    Digital Fundraising Analyst/Web Analyst - West Sussex - Permanent - £30k DOE

    £25000 - £30000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?