We are excited to introduce the multi-faceted Ophir El Boher to the Portland Textile Community. Ophir is an apparel designer and systems thinker focused on ethical-sustainable models for fashion from sourcing and production to use and after-life. Ophir also uses fashion and costume to explore cultural phenomena and promote environmental awareness and activism. As a design educator, Ophir promotes cultural and behavioral shifts around fashion consumption, providing knowledge, tools, and methods for creative alternatives to satisfy materialistic desires.


How does reuse or upcycling figure into your work?

Everything that I use in my work has been used beforehand. The materials, mostly textiles, are normally post-consumer fabrics that I reclaim to make something new. But not just the materials; I use past knowledge in my work too. And I try to stretch the concept of upcycling to consider not just the physical material but the non-materialistic matter as well. For example, I try to incorporate as much of the labor that was already put into something in the new end result. To be more specific, I might use the buttonholes of a shirt as the fastening for a new pair of pants. The configuration isn’t very complex, I do what humans (mostly women) have been doing since the very beginning: I take material that was used before and isn’t useful anymore and make something new, exciting, and useful out of it. To reuse is really just in our nature. The more complex areas of my work are concerned with questions like how might reuse help us reduce our solid waste on a global scale? Or, how might upcycling prevent consumption? Or, how could my upcycled designs cause a behavioral change? One of the biggest, overarching questions that I really enjoy thinking about is: how might we use fashion practices to resist consumption?

These questions, followed by many hours of research, led me to one conclusion that leads most of my work in recent years: to reduce waste we need to reduce consumption, and to do that, my suggestion is to provide alternative possibilities for what to do when one recognizes that urge to get something new. Rather than buying, which is the status quo and ‘business as usual,’ there are other things we can do to feed that urge. The alternative I am providing is to make something. I design for people to make their own clothes out of reclaimed textiles. Sometimes my projects provide the user with the material itself (mostly fabric that I patched and screen-printed with my graphics) or just the instructions. Other times it might be a workshop, a written article, or an art piece that’s actually a layout for sewing a garment. I want more people to consider reuse/upcycling as an appropriate, attractive, fun activity that can replace at least some of their consumption habits.

Other than this focus, I also make one-of-a-kind clothes and costumes out of random materials that are mostly considered trash, mostly for performance. This kind of work is extremely creative and joyful and it helps to widely spread the idea that reclaimed materials can become absolutely stunning outfits, that they can be precious and fantastic. One project of this kind is The Naked Soul, produced in collaboration with artist Stacy Lovejoy, that’s currently on view on Artsy in an exhibition by bG gallery titled What to Wear


Is it important for you to use your artwork as a tool for education and activism?

Absolutely. I am an educator as much as I am an artist. My art practice consists of workshops and classes in which I literally and practically teach people how to incorporate my system of upcycling into their everyday practice. I do this with artists, designers, and makers as much as with everyday people who have no background in arts or crafts. I definitely consider my educational work as part of my artistic practice. As a designer, I was trained to tackle a problem, so everything I do has to fit into the strategy I defined for tackling the wicked problem of waste and inequality produced by the current fashion system. That includes my educational work, my artistic practice, every design I produce. They are all part of my strategy toward my vision: a world in which fashion benefits the earth and its inhabitants.

This way of working keeps me passionate and encouraged and is essential for maintaining both my work and my personal wellbeing. However, for the viewer, this doesn’t always have to be apparent. I try to show work that, at first sight, is visually intriguing and stimulating, potentially thought-provoking, and sensual. If interested, the viewer can lean into the meaning by reading my provided texts, or even dive deeper, by acting on the provided designs and making them for themselves and/or others. So, while I am very transparent about my motives, I try to allow a cold read for the viewer and the thread of thoughts they might pull out of it without my help.


How are you staying connected with your creative network while adhering to social distancing guidelines?

I was very privileged to have a few projects still going regardless of the pandemic and that kept me pretty well connected (online obviously). Teaching two upcycling-fashion courses through PNCA, I was very lucky to stay occupied as they, luckily, weren’t canceled. Instead, I was teaching online, and that was surprisingly much more fun than I first anticipated! I knew it would be challenging to run a studio course online, but honestly, it had great benefits, and it became the highlight of my week very quickly. My students provided a very fertile creative network through their projects and the critical discussions we had together.

I also had quite a few collaborative projects running, which kept me busy. These include my solo exhibition, Patterning, and the video tour of it, which I worked on with EM Fuller and BriAnna Rosen of FullerRosen Gallery. In addition, I wrote a book to expand on the work in the show and worked on its design with designer Oskar Radon. I also joined a recent mail-art project—The Art That Reconnects by Simone Crowe—and I am producing some videos of earlier work with artist Stacy Lovejoy and videographers Alberta Poon and Raynee Roberts. These projects and others require collaborative work with other creatives and provide me with much to do and many wonderful people to communicate with on a daily basis.


What projects are you currently working on?  

My exhibition at FullerRosen, Patterning, kept me busy till very recently. While the artwork itself was installed over a month ago, I was also writing a book that expands on the work in the show by providing the full instructions for remaking the garments exhibited as well as exposing and discussing the logic behind the work. On May 30th we are finally releasing the video and the book, which I am very excited about.

It happened to be the case that this project comes to an end at the same time with a few others, and that means I have much more availability to revisit projects I started in the past, which I am extremely excited about. The one I’m most happy to go back to is my initiative Make Awear; this project is a system designed to produce DIY kits from upcycled materials for handmade designer outfits.

The new situation of more free time also allows me to start rebuilding my strategy for the next few years and come up with new projects, which is thrilling! These include a really fantastic collaboration with Renegade Opera designing and producing upcycled costumes for their upcoming project Justice or Mercy, an immersive modern adaptation for Mozart’s La Clemenza Di Tito. And concepts for this year’s Portland Textile Month, based in collaborative and social garment-making events and upcycling post-consumer textile waste.


Sebastian Zinn has a B.A. in Comparative Literature with an allied field in Art History from Reed College. Since graduating in the Spring of 2018, he has been working as a freelance writer and editor covering a diverse range of topics, including visual and performance art, fashion, literature, film, music, healthcare and economics. He is currently producing social media and blog content for Portland Textile Month.