Jen founder of Muto Jigsaw Stories

Tell us about Muto. How and why did it start?

I originally worked as a freelance artist for Falcon Support Services, a homeless charity in Leicestershire, providing creative activities for the residents that were there. We ran a range of workshops, from furniture up-cycling to mosaic work, to give them something meaningful to do during their day. From that MUTO was born. Trading Standards contacted us and asked if we would be involved with a project working with seized counterfeit clothing. The counterfeit clothing is seized, it goes through the courts, the people involved are prosecuted and the clothing which would normally go to landfill to be burned then comes to us as a chosen charity and we teach people how to up-cycle the clothing into other products.

That’s awesome! What happens during the up-cycling process?

The clothing is de-branded, so any signs of counterfeit branding is removed, which is a therapeutic activity for many of the residents. If we can’t de-brand an item because it’s too heavily branded, we will upcycle it into something else. We teach people how to make bags and cushion covers out of the material and products which can then be sold and the proceeds going back to Falcon Support Services.

So it’s essentially using creativity as a form of therapy?

It is. And when people come on the bus and work with us it really is about the taking part and the process of engagement, rather than the finished product. It doesn’t really matter what it looks like at the end, it’s the fact that they’ve come on the bus, worked with us, had a chat, been out of their normal environment.

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What has the uptake been like?

It varies. Working with Falcon Support Services we have a wide range of people who are here engaging with the project on a regular basis. There are a lot of specific individual needs and behavioural issues which will affect the way people engage with the project, but on the whole engagement is really good and it’s been proven to make quite a big difference to people’s lives. We’ve had quite a few people take part in the project who have gone on into employment and further education and a couple of people who have worked with us and then set up mini craft groups in the community. All that that has stemmed from gaining the confidence and skills working with MUTO.

That must be so rewarding. Would you say there’s been a particular defining moment where you realised the impact of your work?

We had a lady that came into the centre quite young and was homeless; she had great issues with lack of confidence, lack of self-esteem, lack of motivation. She worked with us on a regular basis with sewing and upcycling and found that she loved working in that area so much that she decided she wanted to go onto college and study fashion design. We helped her put together a portfolio, we saw her confidence grow, we saw her become much more outgoing because she actually found a real vocation, something that she really enjoyed. She went on to do fashion design in the September of this year.

What challenges do you come across?

Engagement. It’s really important that we engage people when we’re here and it can be really difficult overcoming people’s barriers and fears; people are quite uncomfortable taking part in a project when they don’t know what’s involved. The whole point of the MUTO project is to give people something they can enjoy and take part in that takes them away from their normal routine, which can be quite difficult. Communication is an ongoing skill you have to develop. You have to learn to communicate at all levels, from corporate individuals to clients where communication can be really difficult. Also, when it comes to awareness-raising, being able to present and talk about MUTO and knowing how to relay the project to a wide range of people is something you have to learn.

That aspect of raising awareness when it comes to the clothing industry is really important. How can we re-educate people?

We talk to everyone that buys from MUTO about the project, we explain where the clothing comes from and it’s really important that we do that, it’s part and parcel of the project explaining it’s counterfeit clothing we work with and it would normally be burned. People are really surprised when you tell them, they’re surprised at the quality of the clothing. Sometimes it’s really good quality and they’re happy to buy into it. We live in a really disposable society where people are really quick to dispose of their clothing, so it’s about encouraging people to upcycle as much as possible and reuse clothing, make it into something different. It’s about showing people what you can do with clothing to get them to reuse it again and again by cutting it shorter or adding other bits to it. Changing people’s views, especially if they’re quite deep-set is really difficult and it’s about chipping away. If they want to change then they change, you can’t force it upon anyone. But when you see the significant visual impact the clothing and waste industry is having on the environment, people are starting to think that now actually there is a real problem.

What three things should people be aware of?

Firstly, we need to be more aware of how we buy our clothing and the consumerism that surrounds society at the moment. We need to think hard about recycling or donating clothing to a charity shop once you’ve finished with it, and also buying from charity shops to become part of that cycle. We should also be aware of the needs of people who are homeless. The homelessness situation is growing year on year and particularly because of the current political situation it’s becoming worse. There is a need for homeless people to be involved in more activities to keep them busy and give them skills that can lead onto employment and education. Finally, we need to think more about environmental issues and avoiding the need for landfill. Our environment is visibly suffering, it’s very apparent seasonally and with pollution. People need to act quite quickly if it’s not too late already. Work is being done, but more needs to be done to get people on board.