On Thursday 19th September we continued our GOLDIE in conversation season at The Devonshire Club with a discussion on sustainable fashion: what steps we can practically take to spread the word and encourage others to change their relationship to consuming fast fashion?
As a positive psychologist I believe that the most productive way to generate change is by creating easy steps which can incrementally be adopted. I also feel that highlighting the benefits is more likely to change peoples’ minds than making them feel guilty or constantly talking about what’s wrong. I have been to many discussions, sat on many panels and taken part in a lot of consultations around the idea of sustainable fashion. I often come away feeling hopeless and with a sense that there is no real answer; this industry I love is doomed. I didn’t want the GOLDIE conversation to feel like that. My aim was to fill the room with hope: hope that we can make a difference; hope that change is on the way; enthusiasm for ways to adapt our own way of doing fashion in order to maintain the pleasure without doing further harm.
I choose the panel to reflect alternative ways we as individuals can approach sustainable fashion. There is no right or wrong way to consider this question as long as the end result is less clothing produced, less damage done to the planet and more care for those who are making our clothes. Some would say that ultimately the idea of sustainable fashion is an oxymoron and all fashion is wasteful, harmful and unnecessary. However as humans we are obliged to wear clothes in public spaces, as Patrick McDowell pointed out in the course of our conversation, we are required to cover up our naked bodies and fashion in that respect meets a legal requirement. We need clothes in order to live in the world. And for many of us clothes are a way to express ourselves, be creative, make friends and add to our wellbeing.
So starting from the premise that clothing is necessary how can we as consumers ensure we do no harm? As it is Secondhand September I decided to focus on the side of sustainable fashion that I find the easiest to connect with, namely buying secondhand and reusing existing clothing. We will be exploring other sustainable practises in future GOLDIE in conversations.
Paul Woods from Urban Trenches London began his flourishing fashion business when he started selling off his own excessive clothing collection. Like many of us during the 80s and 90s Paul just bought whatever took his fancy: “fashion was my drug of choice.” When he realised that this could be a business he developed a recognisable brand known for taking high-end designer items. Paul’s business has expanded into the Asian market, an area where fast fashion consumption is considered to be a growing problem, so it would seem that although up-fucking is relatively niche there are signs that isn’t only an East London trend. There is cachet in the luxury labels that he converts which can be transferred to the new owners of the garment, after all isn’t that the reason many people are attracted to well-known brand labels? Paul plans to use his business model to create an academy that teaches conversion skills to young men, offering an alternative to a lifestyle where crime is considered cool. Perhaps in converting designer clothes these young men will bring about a conversion in their own lives?
Kelly Ann Saunders works in the frontline of secondhand fashion in an Oxfam shop in Dalston. She shared tales from the shop floor along with the processes that take place in the chain from donation to resale. The sheer amount of stock in any local charity shop is mind-blowing. But for some it isn’t a place where they would even consider venturing. How do we convert fast fashion users to explore the wealth of pre-loved clothing already available on the high street? I think if you walked into an Oxfam that Kelly Ann had a hand in merchandising and styling you would soon be enthralled. In making the clothing stock easy to understand and creating exciting looks which reflect current trends Oxfam shops such as Kelly Ann’s make it simple to get the same buzz that we are after when we pop in to Zara in our lunch hour. In fact one guest at Thursday’s event was so convinced that she has decided to overcome her dislike of pre-worn garments and give charity shopping a chance. That is the challenge isn’t it, to talk to those who love buying new clothes not only to the already converted?
Kate McQuire has a huge following on Instagram with the Converted Closet. Her outfit-of the-day posts all comprise clothes converted to bring them a new lease of life. By her own admission Katie isn’t a sewer but she is very good friends with her local drycleaners. How many of us have no idea that most drycleaners also offer tailoring services and can not only put in a new zip but can remake, adapt and help us to reinvent our existing clothes? Of course there are plenty of ways we can also just do it ourselves. YouTube is full of tips which don’t require complex skills. Katie mentioned just one example where we can take the sleeves form a jacket to create a gilet and use the fabric from the sleeves to create a frilled hem. With so much fabric available in the shape of already made clothes it makes sense to re-use rather than continue to source new textiles. I think we all loved Katie’s change of language around sustainable fashion – there is something positive and forward thinking in conversion as opposed to the less obvious ‘upcyle’; I wonder how many of us have been converted after hearing Katie speak?
Patrick McDowell’s rise to fame this year has been swift. His Central St Martin’s graduation collection earned him lots of attention; he recently showed at London Fashion Week in the positive fashion area and has a pop up in Selfridges this week where he has been sharing ways to re-make stuff that shoppers have bought along. Patrick’s conversion skills started young when he took some old jeans to transform into a new school bag. He takes his inspiration from the stories around him and as a designer begins to weave those stories into a collection before he sketches. The collection starts with a tale that’s waiting to be retold in fabric.
Patrick has a very clear understanding that in order to change the way fashion is consumed by the masses we need to get the attention of the influencers who set the tone for the way trends trickle down. If someone like a Kardashian is wearing sustainable fashion then it will have a massive effect on the reach of this conversation. First and foremost sustainable fashion must be Fashion. Like Patrick I have a hope that in the future we won’t be adding sustainable to fashion as it won’t be relevant: we will accept that ethics and values are part of the fashion process. A young and influential designer like Patrick is in a position to show that compromising personal values to be successful in the fashion industry isn’t going to be the way to do business in the future. His integrity isn’t for sale.
All of the panellists on the night had personal stories to share which began when they were young and forming their identities through clothing. There is a sense that today’s young people really get the need to make a difference – young girls such as Greta Thunberg are leading the way in influencing us all to care more, consume less. I didn’t want the conversation on Thursday to become entrenched in what is wrong with the world and how fashion is responsible for so much pollution, damage, destruction or misuse of human labour. These topics did arise and I hope that I didn’t offend anyone if it seemed that I skirted over them. As I said at the start I wanted to focus on solutions. I want to make loving clothes and loving the planet compatible. I want to encourage creative dressing with all its joy so that consuming loses its appeal. Not everyone is motivated by fear, it’s human to seek pleasure and fashion meets that need. Let’s find new ways together to fulfil that need without it costing the earth.
Thank you to all who attended, we can’t wait for the next GOLDIE in conversation, ‘How to be a Happy Dresser’, 17th October.