A Belfast TikTok star has gone viral with his trend-setting DIY designs, creating “thrift-flipped” clothes from the likes of Tesco and various second-hand shops. AJ Tinsley is currently studying fashion design and development at the London College of Fashion and during the pandemic turned his attention to showing off his iconic style on social media.
The 23-year-old, who is from the Shankill area, told Sunday Life that friends, and even strangers, would always ask how he created his handmade and unique looks, and so decided to show off his creative process on TikTok and Instagram.
“I always had people telling me they would love to know how I make my clothes, and I had wanted to start a YouTube channel, but like many people, I downloaded TikTok during lockdown and seeing how quickly it took off, I knew it was the right move to start sharing my DIYs on there,” said AJ.
After only establishing his account last year, the aspiring Gen Z designer now has over 30,000 followers from all over the world on TikTok, with some of his DIY videos being viewed over 350,000 times in just a few months!
“My recent ‘Making Tesco Fashionable’ series has really taken off,” he explained.
“Because everywhere was closed due to lockdown, I couldn’t go to vintage shops where I would normally shop, so I came up with the idea of making Tesco clothing more fashionable with simple DIY tricks, from dad jeans to trendy jeans.
“The most viewed DIY Tesco video is of a pair of £20 jeans which I bleached in a wavy pattern and cut up the middle, then sewed back together, leaving the raw edges out to give a more urban and high fashion look to them,” he said.
“Generally, this kind of work, bleaching and stitching, could take me just an hour to create, but my patchwork clothes may take over four hours, it all depends on each individual piece.”
Most of AJ’s pieces cost less than £30 to buy, including a black jumper which he bought from Tesco to recreate as a ‘thirft-flipped’ Balenciaga piece, which was retailing at over $1,000.
He has also put his own stamp on pieces inspired by Chanel and Louis Vuitton, showing his followers that you don’t have to spend a fortune to create a high fashion piece.
The Belfast man explained that ‘thrift-flipping’ is a relatively new term which has come about in the past few years.
“Essentially it means going into a vintage shop and seeing an old dress, jeans or jacket and so on that you think you could recreate into something new and modern, giving it a new life,” he said.
“What I love about DIY is that it can be anything you want it to be, to me it’s creating a unique garment that no one else will have, it’s a one-of-a-kind that you made.
“It’s not always about being perfect either, you can be as free as you want with creating and I would say that I see inspiration in almost everything.”
It’s not just Tesco, vintage shops or even clothing that AJ has decided to recreate into something new, he has also made clothing from painters’ trousers and dust sheets, bought at homeware stores, and also a bucket hat made from upcycled tobacco packets.
The local designer said that lockdown has presented some particularly difficult hurdles for fashion students like himself.
“As fashion students our exam work is based solely on what we create, but not everyone has a sewing machine and even fabric shops have been closed,” he said.
“There is only so much our teachers can do online for us without actually seeing our work in person, but I am lucky I am still able to work from home as I have recently created my own mini studio in my home in London to work and film from.”
He added that, since the pandemic, people’s opinions on ‘fast fashion’ and the benefits of buying second-hand clothing has also changed for the better.
“I generally buy a bit of everything, but I do wear a lot of my own work,” said AJ.
“I think a lot of fast fashion brands, even though they are cheap to buy, need to improve how they work and source their clothing.
“The pandemic has really helped people to become aware of maybe how much they were spending before and where they were buying from, and so people are wanting to become more sustainable in their clothing choices, wanting something that will last,” he added.
“Spring Summer 2021 season is all about vintage styling, so DIY and ‘thrift-flipping’ is all taking off, from upcycled platform boots to hoking out your granny’s old sweater, so you can still be fashionable and save the planet at the same time.”
He added that his popular ‘Denim Series’ on TikTok has helped to highlight the different ways fabric can be repurposed.
“I try to waste very little and have even creatively used different scraps of fabric by saving them and creating things like bags or tops to make sure nothing is wasted in the process,” he explained.
“The entire series cost around £90 for all the denim, which was thrifted from vintage stores across London, and the materials used.”
AJ said that he has had an interest in fashion and art from a young age and has been sewing his own clothes for the past seven years but has been experimenting with DIY pieces for about nine years now.
“I knew I always wanted to have a career in art or the fashion industry in some way,” he said.
“I went to Belfast Boys’ Model School and left with just one GCSE in art and no clue what I wanted to do next.
“After school I enrolled at Belfast Met to do Level 2 Art and Design and it was during this course I really fell in love with sewing.
“After a year out, I studied hard to gain more of my GCSEs before finally being able to pursue onto a Level 3 course,” he added.
After thinking that he wouldn’t be able to get into any universities, AJ took yet another year out to decide what he wanted to do next, and it was only then that “a fire lit in me and I truly found my passion”.
“I began to experiment and set about teaching myself fashion through YouTube and different outlets and it was then when I started to see where I wanted my life to go and knew if I wanted this life to work out, I needed to put the hard work in,” he said.
“I went about creating my own brand, Urban Runway, and was so proud with how it turned out.”
AJ used fabric from shops around Belfast to create some unique pieces, all handmade in his bedroom at home, costing around £150, and called on friends to help him model the pieces.
“I decided I was confident enough at this stage to just go for it and apply to universities, and University of the Arts London (UAL) was always my top goal as it was named the top university in the world for fashion, and now I am in my second year,” he said.
“For anyone wanting to break into the fashion world, don’t be afraid, trust in your abilities, your potential and unique style and just go for it.
“I don’t follow any one designer or take influence from any one person, it’s all about creating and doing what you love every single day.”
To follow AJ Tinsley on TikTok you can search for the @ajxtinsley handle.