Photo by Antoinette Marshall

Most visitors to Belfast have an aversion to our weather and many of us locals use it as an excuse for ditching our bikes and sticking with a car but when Polish born, Danish raised  Joanna Karolini first came to Belfast and met with our constant companion, the rain, it didn’t put her off.

For Joanna pedal power is more a matter of principal than comfort, the driving rain was just another small problem needing a resolution.

Wearing ugly waterproof bike trousers was not an attractive option, Joanna wanted to make a practical garment she could wear while cycling which could be quickly wrapped on and off as the weather changed but still look fashionable and attractive. Thinking in a more creative way that most, she fashioned her first ‘rain skirt’ from an old broken tent, a perfect solution for warding off the seeping rain whilst still retaining some cycle chic!

Photography by Tomek Cegielka

Not long after her tent recycling experience, whilst attending a popular Irish weekend music festival, Joanna came face to face with a shockingly wasteful attitude sadly prevalent in our society today. Due perhaps to poor weather, hundreds of festival goers had simply abandoned tents, camping gear and food leaving them for bulldozers to clear up and dump in landfill.

Initially astonished and frustrated by this sight, Joanna felt that she couldn’t stand by and do nothing, for the next few hours before the bulldozers arrived, she stripped the tents and gathered together a harvest which would provide enough material for her first year in business as ‘Belfast Rainskirt’.

Over the past three years Joanna has developed the business, designing and making bespoke skirts, hats and aprons, which cleverly re-use not only the tent material but also zips, fastenings and buckles. ‘Belfast rainskirt’ has been represented at music festivals including Glastonbury (2010) and Electric Picnic where Joanna sells her unique creations and offers advice on sewing and up cycling.

We may not usually think of camping gear as being fashion conscious but the tent crop, which Joanna harvests after festivals constantly, presents new colours and patterns which reflect the seasons current trends. This diverse range of tent material allows Joanna to continually up date her collection of bespoke pieces.

photography by Tomek Cegielka

Joanna’s philosophy is to pass on her ethos of up cycling, waste reduction and preservation of sewing skills. She is focused primarily on creating a social consciousness about our attitude and responsibility to the land, encouraging people to recognise that they can change their actions individually and collectively to preserve, re-use and create.

With every rain skirts Joanna sells, comes the opportunity to sew a new seed by passing on the story of turning something destined for landfill into a new and beautifully crafted practical piece of clothing. Joanna is keen to share her vision, teaching others how to sew and up-cycle, hoping that the rest of the world will catch on to the idea of giving new life and function to what we so easily see as rubbish.

Joanna’s Rainskirts can be found at St Georges Market with ‘Go Green Glass’ every Saturday and Sunday and also online at

The photography on this post is by Antoinette Marshall (portraits of Joanna) and Tomek Cegielka (Rainskirts shoot)

This article first appeared in ‘The Ulster Folk’