In the next instalment of my Would You series, I’m looking at the role of upcycling in the world of fast fashion. There was no better woman to chat to than Carrie Ann Moran, Circular Fashion expert and Head of Fashion and Textiles at the Rediscovery Centre in Dublin. If you have never been to the Rediscovery Centre you should. It is an amazing space that provides learning opportunities with some of the best in the field of sustainability. Speaking of experts, I was lucky enough to sit down with Carrie Ann to talk all things fashion and sustainability.
What started out as my quest to explore upcycling turned into something much more which is indicative of Carrie Ann’s knowledge and passion. We spoke about everything from upcycling, the term sustainability and its overuse, green technology, textile waste, food waste, ethical makeup and poo (that was my contribution thanks to baby Lucille). Carrie Ann knows her stuff and that is exactly why I wanted to talk to her. I started by asking her thoughts on not shopping for a year, something she has done herself. Carrie Ann’s approach to sustainability is a holistic one in which she emphasises that sustainability needs to be incorporated in every part of one’s life. It makes sense but how can I apply this to what would be the most challenging task I could undertake; not shopping for a year. I think of this in terms of clothing, shoes and accessories but of course there are a lot of other details to decide on. For example do I allow myself to shop for basics and what exactly are basics? How often do I repair something before I replace it? And if items are being replaced should they only come from ethical sources? All of this can be decided but if I take Carrie Ann’s approach to sustainability, is fashion the only area I should consider? Just another question to add to my never-ending list. Carrie Ann also pointed out two very important things. Firstly, sustainability can be overwhelming so it is best to start with small changes and secondly, she suggested it is best to focus on one area at a time. My aim of not shopping for a year is to reduce my contribution to the damages caused by fast fashion so maybe starting with clothes, shoes and accessories is not a bad idea after all?
I continued to pick Carrie Ann’s brain and asked her thoughts on a less daunting task; buying only second-hand clothes for a year. Again there are a few details to iron out, like is there anything that can be bought new? Underwear comes to mind! All finer details that can be determined but overall, to me this seems like a positive move. I’m removing myself from the fast fashion cycle and buying second-hand clothes contributes to communities and charities. Win win. But maybe not. I have one major problem with this. These clothes have most likely been made in unethical ways so while their second or third life may be reducing the production of fast fashion, what do we do with the way they were made in the first place? Carrie Ann highlighted the fact that it’s not just the human impact of how these clothes were made but that the environmental costs also need to be considered given the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world. This fact has been thrown around of late and Alden Wiicker of Ecocult does a great job at breaking it all down and shows how the numbers have some how been muddled up. Regardless, whether it is the second or eight biggest polluter, the fashion industry has a lot to answer for and something needs to be done about it.
It was here that Carrie Ann introduced me to Green Technology. In a report written by Carrie Ann in which she investigates How Green Technology is Shaping the Future of Fashion, it is defined as “A technology that directly influences a biological process with the intention of supporting sustainable use of global resources”. It really is a fascinating area and one that provides a bit of hope into the way brands can fully indulge themselves in circular fashion. There are some amazing innovations being developed which look to address the impact of fashion and textile waste. Carrie Ann stressed that the retrospective impact together with future ambitions of the industry must to go hand-in-hand. She argues that given the size of the fashion and textile industry, more needs to be done and she isn’t the only one calling for action. According to the Global Fashion Agenda annual Pulse of the Fashion Industry report (a very interesting read if you want to know more about industry),
‘To put fashion on a path to long-term prosperity financially, socially, and environmentally, the level of change needed will require more than individual companies realizing just incremental improvements. What is needed now is active collaboration and a clear commitment by the industry’s leaders to prioritize a responsible long-term strategy, despite the pressure of quarterly results.’
So where does upcycling fit into all of this? As Carrie Ann pointed out this concept isn’t new. She spoke about the prevalence of fast consumerism and the need to ‘go back to basics’. She used her mother’s generation as an example in which items were bought to keep. I can’t speak for an entire generation but I imagine they didn’t have the same luxury of choice that we now enjoy. I imagine shopping was based on needs and if items became worn, they were repaired. Repaired and most likely passed down to other siblings, family members and neighbours. I couldn’t help but think that this was what we should be going back to. If I consider my wardrobe an investment, why don’t I place more of an emphasis on my skills to maintain these items I’m so fond of? If I had the skills to extend the life of my much-loved wardrobe, it would eliminate the need to shop; instead I could repair, alter and upcycle. Carrie Ann made a very good point with regard to extending the life of clothing. We agreed on the importance of knowing your style and body shape but what happens when they change? She discussed the fact that our bodies change, whether it is because of health reasons, motherhood or age and if we have the skills to adapt our wardrobes alongside these changes there wouldn’t be a need to shop for what can sometimes be temporary changes. Even if these changes are more permanent ones, imagine having the skills to upcycle a favorite piece to fit your style and body at that particular time. My pregnancy is the perfect example of that. You all know how I felt about maternity clothes. Similarly, now post-pregnancy my body is still adjusting to what ever it is going to become and it would be wasteful to buy clothes while my body continues to change. Instead I could use what I have to adapt to the body that is in front of me.
The more we spoke the more I felt this was an area I needed to follow up. Carrie Ann runs many workshops at the Rediscovery Centre all from an Introduction to Sewing, to Alterations, to Upcycling. I was lucky enough to attend the Introduction to Sewing workshop and despite having very basic sewing skills (and having attended other sewing courses in the past both in Melbourne and Dublin), Carrie Ann did something in this course that I hadn’t experienced before. She explained how a sewing machine works. Rather a simple thing you might think but it highlighted that my very basic sewing skills are like bad habits. I can do a few things, enough to get by with small projects but with no actual understanding of why I’m doing them. Often I get stuck on something, not knowing how to fix it because I don’t know why I’m doing it in the first place and the sewing machine goes back in the cupboard. This has now changed. Of course, my sewing skills are still very basic but at least I know the basics well. After chatting with Carrie Ann and attending the workshop I can see that upcycling is worth my time and investment. It’s not about making entire garments or on the other end of the spectrum, limiting one’s wardrobe. I see upcycling as a way to reduce my shopping habits but also to allow for some creativity with the items I already own and love. What do you think about upcycling? Is this something you see as a worthy, long-term investment? Maybe you do it already? I would love to hear from you and even see items that you’ve upcycled. I’ll be posting any upcycling projects I take on and will also keep you updated on workshops I plan on attending in the new year at the Rediscovery Centre.
I must say a very big thank you to Carrie Ann for being so generous with her time and sharing of knowledge. You can probably tell that my conversation with her has moved my mind to different topics, introduced me to new concepts and challenged personal ideas I had about the fashion industry and that is exactly why I wanted to talk to her.