TWO West Cork business women are at the forefront of the movement against fast fashion and are urging us all to rethink our wardrobe buying habits this year.
Tamsin Blackbourn, is a Schull based ethical clothing designer and Phoebe Webb, Skibbereen, runs Fashion of Ireland, an online boutique that promotes sustainable Irish craftsmanship. Both women are committed to creating and selling sustainable and traceable clothing.
Tamsin grew up in England with grandmothers who had worked as dressmakers, tailors and milliners, and says sewing and making was always in her family.
She says fast fashion never seemed right to her ‘because it didn’t add up that a t-shirt could cost a couple of eurowhen I knew how long it took to make things.’
‘Fast fashion used to be about how quickly runway knock-offs could leave the factory and arrive on the shop floor, but now it’s about the speed we buy, then discard and buy more.
‘For many, many people this has become the normal way to think about how to buy clothes.’
But she says she wants to know where her fabrics have originated and works only with suppliers who she has a relationship with and trusts.
‘I also like to use up existing fabrics, sometimes vintage, that I have collected myself or get passed on to me – obviously, those pieces are unique, unrepeatable and often have a little story to accompany them.
‘I’m also concerned to create as little waste as possible, so I take time to work out the way I’m laying out my pattern pieces to use as much of the fabric as possible, this takes time and an experienced eye.’
It wasn’t until the recession hit that Tamsin, who has a stall at Skibbereen farmers market, really started to look at her own buying.
‘I had a period of about five years when I over consumed clothes, but I was buying from quality brands. I’d buy at sale times and get good deals, but I still bought way more than I actually needed. When the recession came, I stopped dead buying anything unless it had literally worn out. As my over-indulgence had been of quality clothes, it turned out that they served me through the following years and many of those pieces are still in my wardrobe and I love them all the more for being dependable and for the times I’ve had wearing them. Every single thing I buy now, I consider what will become of it when it comes to the end of its life and generally that means avoiding plastic whenever possible. I also re-cut existing garments to get another look out of the fabric and of course, I mend clothes. A button missing, a hem down or a split seam is easily fixable.’
Phoebe Webb, meanwhile, set up Fashion of Ireland (fi) curated online boutique of contemporary clothing, jewellery and accessories from a selection of Irish designers in 2017 after reading ‘Overdressed, The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline which she said opened her eyes to ‘the damaging world of fast fashion.’
‘That book was the very start of my journey. After that I continued to research every day, finding out how I could shop more sustainably and locally. I tried to find contemporary Irish pieces online but to my surprise I couldn’t find much.
‘This baffled me, as I knew there were lots of jewellery makers and fashion designers in Ireland but the choice was very limited online.
‘With the few websites I did come across I couldn’t believe the poor quality of the images on some, and I couldn’t even buy off some websites, they were just brochure webpages. As a consumer, this was not ok for me, and I had spent way too much time researching, time no one else would spend. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if there was one secure website I could go on to, with quality images to find all these amazing contemporary pieces made in Ireland by lots of different people and purchase them! And that was when I thought of starting fi which lives by the famous words of Dame Vivienne Westwood, “Buy less, choose well, make it last”, encouraging customers to buy quality over quantity when it comes to their wardrobes.’
She feels people are starting to see the benefits of buying less, but buying well: ‘Sustainable is the new buzz word, it compliments the other subjects people are talking about these days such as reusable take away cups, veganism, yoga and mindfulness.
‘People want to better themselves and their lifestyles, and being a conscious consumer is a big part of that movement.’
The last piece of clothing she bought was a shirt from Liberty & Jasmine, a vintage boutique in Skibbereen: ‘I have a rule, if I buy something I must take something I don’t wear any more to the charity shop, or give it to someone I know. I would never put something in the bin. If something can be mended I will.’
Tamsin says it’s not sustainable to carry on consuming and disposing at the rate we do and pointed to the public outcry last year when it was revealed that Burberry had incinerated millions of euro worth of unsold clothing, which they’ve since pledged to stop.
‘As a society, we have adopted the habit of recycling plastic, paper, tins and bottles and lately, we are rejecting single use items, like drinking straws and take-out coffee cups and carry our Keep Cups instead. We’re now questioning what’s happening with all the unwanted clothing we are disposing. At the moment, the infrastructure just doesn’t exist to recycle, re-use or re-purpose, so reducing our consumption needs to seriously considered.’
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