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

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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  ✂️

Saturdays at Skibbereen Farmers Market

In May and with some trepidation, I began getting up earlier on a Saturday morning to head off to  Skibbereen Farmers Market.  Having had several years experience of the bricks and mortar kind of retailing, being outside in what is basically an open tent and subjected to the weather, was a scenario that was a little daunting. However, my partner, Donagh Carey, a fine artist, was to join me and together we brought a combination of wares that possibly hadn't been seen together at Skibbereen Market before.  

Skibbereen Farmers Market is everything you want a market to be.  A diverse collection of local stallholders selling interesting  things that you actually want to buy.   For those who appreciate Slow Food, you can do your weekly shop at Skibbereen Market and be confident that you're buying from the person who has produced it and who has travelled just a few miles.  You can only get fruit and veg that's in season, because you'll only find local food here.  There are stalls specialising in collectable jewellery, glassware or china, secondhand books and vinyl records.  There are contemporary ceramicists  and knitters of hand dyed yarn, plus many stalls selling plants for the garden or polytunnel  and a lady who grows her own  flowers and sells the most charming cut flower bouquets.  It's a real authentic market.

Having a website is grand, in fact in the 21st Century it's essential, but I was missing out on  interacting with clients and getting feedback. It's one thing presenting images and descriptions online and a totally different experience meeting people one-to-one and hearing their responses and seeing how the clothes actually fit.  And of course, for customers, it's much easier to know whether something is going to suit you if you have it right in front of you and can see and feel it.  I've even customised a private fitting area complete with mirror and carpet so you can try things on.  

There are many lovely aspects to spending a Saturday at Skibbereen Farmers Market and they are all connected to the people who are there, both stallholders and market goers.  Having an opportunity to have conversations about sustainability and what it means, finding out what resonates and what is important to different people and explain how I'm approaching sustainability in the collection, all make for a very fulfilling day at the market.  One lady, dreamily lost in her own thoughts whilst examining a garment made of printed cotton fabric, suddenly commented, "These remind me of clothes I use to wear".  That will do for me.  

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We'll be at Skibbereen Farmers Market on the Fairfield off Bridge Street every Saturday from 9am to 2pm come rain or shine (but probably not hurricane).  Contact me for me details on anything to do with the collection or the market.  For more information about the work of Donagh Carey click here.

Tamsin

Fast Fashion and the Myth of Greater Choice

'Fast Fashion is sold to us as expansion of choice.' - Oma

 

Every week on the high street, there will be a new display of garments to browse, new styles and colours. Not only that, but if we don't buy that top we can't live without, we can be pretty sure it'll be gone by tomorrow. Best to get it now whilst it's still there, it can always be returned if we change our mind – it can, but will we be bothered? And as it is so cheap, why not get that other little top that's reduced, too? And now we have two cheap tops which we may or may not wear, but it's not as if they cost much, I mean they were practically 'for nothing'. Then repeat and repeat, never spending much, but somehow not seeing how these routine spending sprees actually add up to a bit more that we thought we were spending. But we fell in love with them and they bring a dopamine rush which feels lovely. How long does that feeling last? How long do the tops last? How long do we love those tops and is it ok to fall out of love as quickly as we fell in? Buying frequently makes it hard to love everything deeply.

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What if we were to buy occasionally, to spend time considering the place a garment would have in our wardrobe, the value it might have in terms of number of wears and the sheer pleasure we get from wearing it again and again. We have been educated out of thinking that way about our clothes, out of thinking of things as made to last – after all that isn't congruent with practicing mass consumption. Just consider how many items we get through daily that are actually designed as single use items – from food packaging , to face wipes and take out coffee cups. We've been encourage to think about clothing in this way, too, that it's ok to get just the one wear from something, or even no wears. What happens to all these hardly worn garments is for another blog post, but what if we purchase fewer items less often, make thoughtful and considered choices and look after through careful laundering and repair? This is how older generations regarded clothing, as something that should last, that should be worn until it wore out.

In a world of instant gratification, is boredom to blame for our need for a fast fashion fix? In fact, which came first, the constantly changing availability of variety or the need for instant gratification? Either way, if you truly love something, do you get bored of it? Or do you take care of it, cherish it, wear it to bring you luck and grieve for it once the day finally comes and you have to admit it's time to part. The chances are that will only happen if the garment was of good quality design, construction and materials at the start. Without these characteristics, it is unlikely a garment will last very long whether you love it or not.

It was Vivienne Westwood who coined the much quoted phrase 'Choose Well, Buy Less, Make It Last' and I read a blog post recently where the writer had decided to radically change the way he purchased clothes. Based on a monthly spend of approximately $150 per month, rather than select multiple cheaper fast fashion items, he would choose one really good piece, that he would take time to consider before committing himself.  One thing about higher priced items is they tend not to sell out so fast. At first, he said it actually hurt to spend so much on a single item, not to mention resisting the temptation offered by cheap fast fashion, but in time he realised how much more he appreciated the superior quality and design of the new clothes and ultimately he liked them better.

In food, we have become interested in where our food is from and who made it. The rise in attendance at Farmers Markets by producers and customers alike is testament to this and means that through buying locally, we may even know who made it as well as where it was grown or made. What is it about this that makes us want to invest and return regularly for more? We enjoy buying locally from small producers and we like buying from people we know. We choose quality and knowledge over the supposed greater variety and cheaper prices at the supermarket. However, there's no point having more options and being able to pay less if it's not the food we want to eat.

It's no secret that Fast Fashion is not made to last and if it did it might be harder to justify throwing it out. We actually expect the seams to unravel and fastenings to fall off or it not to survive going through the washing machine.

Detail from a handmade, slow fashion dress

Detail from a handmade, slow fashion dress

 We have no idea who made our clothes apart from what the label tells us is the country of origin. This will only state the final place of assembly and be far from the whole picture. All consumption is going too fast and the environmental impact of single use items in landfill is increasingly under the spotlight, but it seems particularly wrong to treat clothing as a single use items.

Fast Fashion is presented to us as providing greater variety, but I'm far from convinced it's a choice we need and it rarely rewards our soul with lasting beauty and pleasure. It's a mind shift, just as what happened in the Slow Food movement; we can learn about what makes a better garment from the fabrics, to the design and construction. And we may understand that spending more on fewer clothes may go against what we've been taught in recent years, but will be more satisfying in the long term. By finding out more about the story behind our clothes, where they were made and who made them, we might just start falling in love with (fewer of) them and value their provenance and integrity as well as how we express ourselves through them.

Tamsin

Back Stage At DesignedBy Runway Show

DesignedBy was one of the many innovative events taking place to celebrate and promote local design in Northern Ireland's first city, Belfast.  Staged at The MAC, Belfast's contemporary arts centre, DesignedBy was a curated exhibition of clothing and accessory designers by fashion stylist and journalist, Jessica Fok.  Jessica was keen to put on a fashion show that focused on design rather than trends and Belfast Design Week was the perfect fit.  

We were invited to participate in DesignedBy to show what sustainably designed clothing looks like and were delighted to show alongside Northern Irish designers including Attune Womenswear and Marie Claire Ferguson.

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Northern Ireland's pre-eminent Arts Centre is always buzzing and there's always lots happening, so The MAC proved to be the perfect venue for the DesignedBy runway show.  

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Back stage, the designers fitted each of their looks to one of the models from the Maureen Martin Model Management. The Charleville Dress is ready to debut... 

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Runway models were attended to by hair and beauty designed by Hair Artist Kelly White and Chief Make-up Designer Joanne Gray.

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Models backstage awaiting their moment to walk:  Ella wears All Seasons Dress in indigo Irish linen and Lauren is dressed in the cotton Kinsale Shirt.  We partnered with CrossEyes spectacle specialists, whose retro styles perfectly complimented our sustainable clothing.    

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A favourite image of Vuitton wearing the Gabriel skirt in wool tweed and side buttoned top in Irish linen.  Curator and organiser, Jessica Fok ensures the schedule is seamless.