Searching For Sustainability Beneath The Gloss

In the March edition of The Gloss (the monthly fashion magazine of the Irish Times), 100+ stylish women shared their brand preferences. Eva Power, owner of The Ethical Silk Company, listed labels with sustainable credentials, but if you weren't already familiar with Reformation, Everlane and People Tree, there was no clue that these brands were ethical. Does it matter? It wasn't a piece on Sustainability, so there was no reason to expect ethical preferences to be highlighted, but I was kind of hoping for more ethical brands to be featured. Trawling through the entire magazine, there was no mention of the impact of fashion consumption or the growing movement of ethical options. I guess, being so immersed in the issues myself there's an expectation that it's more mainstream than it is and The Gloss was a reminder that there's a long way to go in raising awareness. We know not to use plastic bags and to challenge


unnecessary food packaging. Currently under the spotlight are single use items like drinking straws and take-out coffee cups and we know what to do about them – say no to straws and have a Keep Cup with us when we're out and about. So why is the conversation regarding fashion so quiet?

Perhaps, The Gloss is not representative of the attitude of the country at large, after all, it's existence is predicated on the advertising of stores like Brown Thomas and Arnotts and there's not a strong ethical message coming from such companies – yet. If an absence of ethical fashion issues in The Gloss is a true reflection of the level of unconcern or unawareness nationwide, then it's clear, there's a good way to go in getting the information out there for people to start making informed choices, or at least raise awareness that the choices we make as consumers are a reflection of our values, ethical or not.

During my perusal of The Gloss I found a tiny mention of Wicklow designer Colette Ashe whose cashmere pieces are made 'with particular emphasis on sustainability'. Also, the design duo behind Tissue, are 'passionate about sustainability'. That was something.

I was also looking out for mentions of Irish designers and artisan makers in general and gratifyingly, there were a few – not many, but a few. Domino Whisker, makes exquisite hand embroidery, two knitwear designers; Agne Nazebetauskaite in Magherafelt and Paula Marron's label Castanea and a traditional Irish embroiderer, Jill De Burca. Obviously, this is my area of special interest, because I love to find out the stories behind these makers.

It's important on many levels, not least to promote and nurture what is actually going on creatively and economically in Ireland, but because it continues the tradition of making, often by hand, and it is this that adds to the texture of our culture. I was exasperated to read Breege O'Donoghue, declare that she's 'proud to wear Penneys clothing' because she 'champions' Irish design. That's simply misleading. She can wear Penneys clothing if she wants, but opting for runway knock offs made in developing countries is hardly championing Irish design.

We can't carry on consuming the way we have, because it isn't sustainable and it's puzzling that there is still so little conversation about this in the world of fashion. It's as if we don't think it's a bad as it is. Christopher Raeburn, (he guests in this months recommended podcast), whose fashion business is based on the three R's of Remade, Reduced and Recycled, talks about how otherwise 'clever people' ask him 'how long the sustainability trend will last?'. The thing is, it's not and can't be a trend and the sooner it becomes mainstream, the better.

Tamsin  ✂️

Wardrobe Crisis - Christopher Raeburn, Remade, Reduced, Recycled | Ethical Listening

I can't get enough of Clare Press and her hugely, likeable idiosyncratic approach to the issue of sustainable fashion. Self confessed fashion magazine junkie, she's been writing about fashion for twenty years and is the author of the book Wardrobe Crisis; How We Went From Sunday Best to Fast Fashion. Based in Australia, her podcast Wardrobe Crisis, introduces us to designers, activists and all manner of folk with a sustainable philosophy whom we may not otherwise come across.

She manages to tackle the issues in her book and through her podcast, with steely assertiveness and a lightness of touch making the prospect of actually doing something about it seem quite achievable. Clare Press has described how she has feet in both fashion camps and serves each with equal passion; she adores the world of fashion for all it's frippery and show, but has also become a respected advocate of Sustainable Fashion as well as an activist.  Indeed, Australian Vogue are so impressed with how she flits between the two worlds that they created a role especially for her, Sustainability Editor-at-Large.


This podcast features English fashion designer Christopher Raeburn, tracing his time in art college when he first began de-constructing army surplus supplies to re-make into something contemporary and wearable, to his free repair service enabling people to prolong the life of their Christopher Raeburn clothing, to his community workshops in his London studios giving people the opportunity to get creative themselves, plus his use of organic cotton and PET recycled plastics.

Christopher talks about how people question what they can do as an individual, but for him 'that's the entire point. It's about what we can do ourself, but also as a collective'. And I love, as Clare Press points out, how he tells his stories and talks about the future of the planet in his own reasonable, sensible and ultimately relatable way.

Tamsin  ✂️

Talking Slow Fashion | Meeting Students at Kinsale Community School

When I got the email asking if I'd be interested in giving a talk to a class of students at Kinsale Community School, my instinct was, oh, I don't think I'd want to do that. Then I thought, as it's something I feel strongly around, know a little about and am trying to adopt sustainable practices in my designing and making, that maybe I should find out a bit more before hastily declining. Ms Hayes explained that her Year 2 CSPE class (that's Civic, Social and Political Education, I had to google it) had been learning about the impact of fast fashion and she was hoping to bring someone local in to talk to them.

In February, I stepped out of my comfort zone and had an amazing time with this class of informed and curious young people. The talk ranged from why clothes have become so cheap today, how the quality of clothes was better in the past, assembly line manufacturing vs making a complete garment and a bit about my own story. At the end of the talk, they had lots of great questions prepared before the bell rang and they dashed to get home. And I returned home, too, feeling unexpectedly elated and optimistic.

Tamsin Blackbourn Kinsale Community School.jpg

Carmel Somers wears the Charleville dress 

Carmel Somers (front right) of Good Things Cafe, Skibbereen chose to wear the Charleville Dress at an event hosted by The Irish Times.  At a gathering of top Irish chefs, the future of Irish restaurants was discussed, along with diversity in the kitchen, why there is a shortage of chefs in Ireland and the problem of no-shows. 

Check now for sizes and availability

photo credit; The Irish Times

photo credit; The Irish Times

Book | The Thoughtful Dresser By Linda Grant

Published in 2009, The Thoughtful Dresser anticipates the avalanche of disposable fast fashion and the decline in quality of the contents of our wardrobe. Linda Grant considers 'What fashion is, it's significance, and why clothes matter' as she strips back the reasons we actually wear clothes, why they matter so very much, from the practical need to cover up to protect ourselves from climate, cultural shame and personal embarrassment to the desire to adorn ourselves for the sheer pleasure of seeing ourselves transformed by fabric, the cut of a garment and it's embellishment, to dressing to send out signals about our place in the world.

As Grant explores the concepts of shopping, age appropriate clothes, shoes, handbags and the ideal body, she weaves in the compelling story of Catherine Hill, an Auschwitz survivor, who had an internationally respected career in fashion, pioneering the introduction of European fashion designers into North America. This is an enjoyable device, almost delivering two books in one, providing the reader with an individual journey of the meaning of clothes in Catherine Hill's life, parallel to a meander amongst the other themes.

The Thoughtful Dresser is an antidote to the fickle world of fast fashion as Linda Grant acknowledges our love of fashion; 'People like variety in their clothes. They want the latest fashion. This is to do with the twin desires for pleasure and for change.' She also sincerely believes, as do I, that clothes tell the story of our lives and that if you gathered together all the clothes you'd ever worn you'd have your autobiography. She talks about clothes as being a loyal comrade 'they comfort and protect us; they allow us to be who we want to be... I'm here for you, it says. Don't worry, we'll get through this day together.'.

Rarely does fast fashion hold more than a temporary position in our lives – by design, it is not made to last or has anything about it from which could develop a fond attachment. Ultimately, The Thoughtful Dresser is a reminder of how we use to think about the clothes in our wardrobe and how we valued their role, be it as clothes we could depend on to serve us whatever the occasion or a special number that would absolutely make us feel the best about ourselves. And the good thing is, we can choose to have that profound relationship with clothes once again.


Preferably, order The Thoughtful Dresser through your local independent bookshop, but it's also available on amazon.