Why illustrator Caroline Tomlinson is 'worn out' with fast fashion

Caroline Tomlinson's work in her studio
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Article by: Gaynor Orvis

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Caroline Tomlinson

Caroline Tomlinson is an award-winning, London-based illustrator and a visiting lecturer on the Fashion Illustration elective at Ravensbourne. Drawing inspiration from travel, fashion and culture, she creates dreamy, inky scenes that ooze with energy and sophistication.

Caroline has worked with household brands such as Christian Louboutin, Fortnum and Mason, Marc Jacobs, Sephora and Space NK, to name just a few. Her work has appeared in the likes of The Guardian, Suitcase Magazine and Vogue. 

She is passionate about creative collaborations and in late 2019 launched a sustainable fashion and homeware initiative ‘The Worn Out Project’ with stylist Emily Evans. The Worn Out Project offers a more conscious and eco-friendly alternative to buying, giving pre-loved, vintage fashion and homeware a new lease of life.

The Worn Out Project also supports Young Minds, a charity working to support the mental health of young people. Through its mantra of ‘Imperfect–I’m perfect’, The Worn Out Project challenges the obsessive culture of aesthetic perfection and instead celebrates imperfections and uniqueness. 

We caught up with Caroline to chat about The Worn Out Project, her illustration work and staying creative during a pandemic.

Find out more about The Worn Out Project

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Caroline Tomlinson work

Thank you for chatting with us Caroline. Firstly, as a visiting lecturer at Ravensbourne, what types of things do you teach the students and do you miss face-to-face teaching?

I teach Fashion Illustration at Ravensbourne. I also work as a full-time illustrator and really enjoy inspiring others to get creative and get their hands covered in inks.

And yes, I definitely miss face-to-face teaching. There’s often lovely moments in students when something clicks and they have a breakthrough. That’s lost on Zoom, sadly.

Also, it’s easier to inspire a student to step out of their comfort zone during the creative process when you are side by side. Again, with Zoom although that’s not impossible, it is far more challenging.

Caroline Tomlinson illustration work

How have you been coping during the pandemic and have you been able to maintain motivation for your own work?

I’ve been very busy both with commercial work and my own pieces I’ve been working on.

This time last year I was working on pieces for two exhibitions that happened (despite lockdown), last summer in France and Berlin.

There is a real power in having deadlines and a focus. We all need a purpose more than ever now  it’s vital for our mental health and our creativity. And I’m very thankful to harness my work in order to navigate through such a challenging period.

Caroline Tomlinson illustration work

On the topic of mental health, do you feel the fashion industry has a role to play in perpetuating young people's sometimes unrealistic ideas of beauty?

I do feel the fashion industry has a responsibility to change a narrative that is unrealistic for everyone. And I do believe it is happening. It’s been so embedded within the industry though, and these things do not happen overnight.

With any change there is always a resistance too, but small constant steps make a big difference and continue to keep conversations flowing, which in turn keeps us actively aware of what is happening and why.

Caroline Tomlinson illustration work

Can the fashion industry do more to support young people’s mental health?

Fashion plays such a big part in our mental health and is a way in which we express ourselves and our individuality. I think there is such a clear and obvious link.

Lockdown has taught us all not only how much we miss going out, but the ritual of putting together a look!

It can be a feel-good moment of the day and a reminder of who we are. Rather than using fashion to remind what the majority of us aren’t (6ft-plus and thin) it can celebrate what we all are human. 

Visit The Worn Out Project website.

 Visit Caroline's website and Instagram to see more of Caroline's illustration work.