On Saturday 26th January, Durham University Charity Fashion Show held their first Festival of Sustainability, raising money for this year’s charity of choice, the Environmental Justice Foundation, whilst aiming to ‘create a dialogue and debate around issues of environmentalism and sustainable fashion’. Stalls hosting (local and student) sustainable brands, initiatives and organisations lined the cloisters of Durham Cathedral in this innovative new addition to DUCFS pre-show events. There were performers throughout, whilst vegan cake, environmentally-friendly glitter, and arrays of clothes and accessories made from sustainable or recycled materials were on offer from ten thirty in the morning til half five in the afternoon. If this wasn’t enough to entertain your sustainability-related interests throughout the day, an impressive eight talks were also held in the Prior’s Hall.
Deputy Fashion Editor Frankie Reffell discusses the third of these talks:
‘Before becoming a member of Durham Uni’s Department of Archaeology with expertise in sacred vestments, 17th-century embroidery, and the politics of innovative fibres, Mary Brooks has enjoyed an impressive career in textile conservation worldwide. This made her a valuable contributor to the series of lectures at the DUCFS festival of sustainability with her extensive knowledge and passion for textiles communicating well in her talk, ‘The History of Sustainable Fashion’.
Firstly, Dr Brooks introduced the forgotten fibres of the second world war (in the pre-nylon, polyester and acrylic era) used to compensate for wool shortages by being blended into their limited provisions of wool supplied by the British Empire e.g. New Zealand. The experimental additional fibres mentioned were made from slaughterhouse waste, feathers, egg white, fish scales, corn maize, peanuts, soybeans, and lastly milk which was the predominant focus of the talk. Not particularly vegan-friendly! A print issue of 1942 Harper’s Bazaar was quoted “now we wear milk – dress in new milk-fed clothes based on discoveries that are rocking the fabric industry and taking the sting out of wool shortages”. This was a very entertaining example of the recruiting of esteemed fashion authorities in normalising such an unusual fibre during the war years to encourage people to wear them.
The biodegradable nature of these supplementary fibres proved both unappealing and impractical, as did the chemical-heavy process it took to extract the protein fibre through a gruelling spinning of organic curd into a thread which was then strengthened by formidable formaldehyde. Dr Brooks concluded the talk encouragingly by acknowledging the improvement in contemporary developing sustainable materials such as soy fibre, and appreciated the positive environmental impact sustainable textiles are having in the reduction of the environmental crimes of the fast fashion industry. I personally am a fan of bamboo and soy materials, which are often very soft and insulating for those of you with arctic accommodation!’
Later on a panel, chaired by Sasha Reviakin, explored the topic ‘The Future of Sustainable Fashion – Attitude, Technology, and Business’ with guest speakers Abbie Morris, CEO of Compare Ethics, Ruth MacGilp, leading blogger on sustainable fashion and contributor to the ‘#fashionrevolution’ campaign, Muchaneta Kapfunde, editor of Fashnerd, and Lauren King, founder of ‘Ara the Alter’ a sustainable jewellery brand. The well-researched chair conducted the panel discussion fluently, inviting the guest speakers to collaborate their thoughts on some challenging questions leaving the audience well informed to the complexities of a sustainable fashion industry. After introducing the panel, Sasha opened the talk asking whether technology is the answer to a more sustainable fashion industry to which Muchaneta agreed explaining the importance of technology in the development of sustainable materials and the spreading of the sustainable message through communication technologies. Ruth concurred, explaining how technology has created an online space and influencer economy used to contribute to raising awareness of the damage of fast fashion. Online campaigning such as ‘#fashionrevolution’ and ‘#whomademyclothes?’ are part of Ruth’s work using social media to encourage transparency in the production and distribution of clothes in the fashion industry which has been no stranger to humanitarian scandal e.g. the use of slave workers.
Similarly to Ruth, Abbie Morris explained how she uses the internet to promote an eco-conscious message by founding her website ‘Compare Ethics’, which culminates an easy online shopping experience tailored to consumers ethical requirements. The website has an ethical filter system where shoppers select sub-categories from the main three categories that they want their search result to adhere to, these include: ‘Social Good’, ‘Planet Friendly’, and ‘Animal Cruelty-Free’ making an eco shopping experience more accessible without the need for lots of time-consuming research. Lauren King, founder of ‘Ara the Alter’ told how she wanted to make a 100% sustainable jewellery brand by working without stones and only 100% recycled silver and gold after researching mining and companies not having complete transparency in the ethics of their sourcing. Muchaneta and Sasha concluded this part of the talk nicely by acknowledging the benefits technology have offered the sustainable fashion movement, and summarising a message for the audience to discourage unethical fast fashion by creating a demand for more sustainably sourced clothes which will result in the continuing growth of the eco market and economy. Muchaneta also warned consumers of the use of buzzwords such as ‘ethical’ planted on clothing which may not adhere to your ethical standards, encouraging the use and trust of websites such as Compare Ethics who have dedicated researchers investigating the degree of truth behind brand use of the words ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable’.
Sasha asked how realistic the possibility of a sustainable fashion industry would be, to which the panel unanimously agreed that it is possible but will require a total deconstruction of how the fashion industry currently functions. Ruth suggested that ethical bloggers and young influencers are the driving force of such change in a society saturated by social media. Muchaneta built upon Ruth’s idea, explaining that peoples approach to fashion will have to change for a sustainable fashion industry to prevail, whether this will be encompassed through the continuing of fast fashion culture but materialised in sustainably sourced fabrics, or the concept of clothing ownership disseminating. In Amsterdam, there is a wardrobe library called ‘LENA’ where members borrow clothing lessening their own impact on the demand for new garments but still having a rotating wardrobe, a need that the fast fashion culture has created. Muchaneta also encouraged the incorporation of home economics into broad education to discourage the wasteful throwing away of clothes with small defaults which are mendable with a needle and thread. I left the talk feeling totally inspired and hopeful for the future of a more sustainable fashion industry and encourage readers to do some research on the work of the panel as leaders of the battle towards a more eco-conscious world.’
Finally, to end the talks with flair, the room was packed full to the brim for the highly anticipated talk given by Lucinda Chambers, formerly of British Vogue, in “Chambers’ Dictionary of Fashion: Leading stylist and former Fashion Director of British Vogue Lucinda Chambers talks Design, Direction and Experience”. She discussed her fascinating trajectory to the distinguished creative leader she is today, recounting a hilariously brilliant story about gaining her big career breakthrough trying to avoid getting caught smoking indoors in the British Vogue Offices, which ended up gaining her a crucial promotion. A particular point that stuck out was her rather inspirational outspoken dislike of nepotism within Fashion journalism hiring, having herself worked her way up from the bottom of the office ranks, as well as her encouragements to simply be yourself and not overly concern yourself with being ‘cool’- remembering without regret a year over which she only wore purple. I was, however, distracted throughout her talk somewhat by her amazing boots (Prada, I asked). Chambers discussed her new label, Colville, and to think that someone so continuously influential in the fashion world made the time to attend a student event regarding sustainability is highly encouraging for the future of both the environment and the industry itself.
The DUCFS 2019 Festival of Sustainability was a wonderful day, during which you could calmly explore the possibilities and current options of sustainability today, whilst celebrating creativity past and present, and an idea which I, in fact, would like to see repeated annually. The location of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Cathedral was the perfect setting for this celebration of sustainability – a site of great beauty, peace and historical importance which has been carefully preserved, respected and enjoyed by generations. Hopefully, events such as this will begin to encourage us to treat our planet in a similar manner.
Photographs: Alasdair Harriss and Maddie Flisher