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The Slow Fashion Show: Keeping things slow & sustainable

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Hannah Clugston is passionate about raising awareness of the incredibly damaging nature of the fast fashion industry whilst educating people about the sustainable alternatives on offer through her website My Indie Wardrobe. We chatted to Hannah to find out more about her work and to hear about her upcoming event The Slow Fashion Show, which will hopefully take place in July at Theatre Deli.

Firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what prompted you to organise The Slow Fashion Show?

Many years ago, when I was a student, I naively embarked on an article about ethical fashion. As I started speaking to people and looking into the working conditions behind many of our high street labels I was absolutely horrified. What started out as a project for a student publication, turned into a life transforming process. I can't buy clothes anymore without a voice in my head saying "who made that garment?" And if I can't answer that question, I can't buy the item.

Over the years of speaking to others about sustainable and ethical fashion I found people objected to altering their shopping habits on two grounds: it is too complicated and unfashionable. I don't think either of these things are true which is why I set up My Indie Wardrobe, a website where people can see the incredible sustainable and ethical outfits of others whilst getting tips on where they shop. The Slow Fashion Show marks one year of My Indie Wardrobe whilst celebrating all the alternative ways to shop in Sheffield. The show will be a way to shout about all the amazing designers in Sheffield whilst reconsidering our shopping habits.

Why is fast fashion so problematic?

In the fast fashion industry, profit is king, which means workers' rights and resources are endlessly exploited. The fast fashion industry is about producing tons of garments as quickly as possible to sell as cheaply as possible. For example, last year Missguided sold a bikini for £1. If you think about the material, work and marketing that went into that product, there is no way it can be £1 without someone somewhere being exploited. Every week, 1,000 new products arrive on the Missguided website. All of those garments use up resources like water - it takes over 2,700 litres of water to manufacture just one t-shirt, which is almost four years' worth of drinking water for a healthy adult.

There are numerous stats about the ills of the fast fashion industry, but essentially it is set up to enable a small group of people to make a huge amount of money, whilst the majority of workers rarely earn more than two US dollars per day. The thing is, it doesn't have to be this way. Ethical companies like People Tree, Know the Origin and Lucy & Yak prove every day that you can create and sell great fashion without engaging in the fast fashion industry.

My Indie Wardrobe has a list of shops we recommend

What can people do right now in their everyday lives to stop contributing to the fast fashion system?

When I need something new, I start by working out whether I actually do need something new or if there's already something similar in my wardrobe. If there isn't, my second step is to see if I can borrow something from a friend or I go to charity shops and clothes swaps. Buying out of the mass of clothes already out there is one of the best ways to shop sustainably. Finally, if I do truly need something brand new, I will research brands that are transparent and trying to be sustainable. My Indie Wardrobe has a list of shops we recommend.

I think we also need to alter the way we think about fashion and see our garments as investments. It takes 200 years for a polyester dress to decompose, so we need to realise that when we purchase things, they are going to be around for a long time, so we'd better keep them for a long time!

Who else have you joined forces with for The Slow Fashion Show?

Girl Gang Sheffield is my main collaborator. They have done great work in Sheffield uniting communities and creatives to run inspirational events, so they make the perfect partner. In addition, the fast fashion industry is a feminist issue because many of the workers are women. Know the Origin recently said: "You can't exploit women in one country to empower them in another". The fast fashion industry tells us that it celebrates women by allowing them to express their individual identity through clothing, when really they are making huge amounts of money off the exploitation of women.

All the designers included in our fashion show are women, which means we'll be offering the audience the chance to support local female-led businesses rather than an industry which exploits women. Common Thread will be bringing their wonderful monthly clothing exchange to the evening and we've got lots of other amazing creative makers, experts and designers involved too.

What's the significance of Fashion Revolution Day?

Fashion Revolution Day marks the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013. On 24 April, an eight-story commercial building in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,138 garment workers (and rescue workers) and injuring 2,600. This is despite the fact that the day before large structural cracks had appeared and the shops and bank on the lower floors were closed. Garment workers were ordered to remain. Some of the brands known to have been sourcing from the Rana Plaza include Benetton, Bon Marche, Mango, Matalan and Primark. Fashion Revolution was set up immediately afterwards to ensure we never forget what happened and to push big businesses to do better. They do great campaign work and have a website full of information and resources.

To have a real effect on fast fashion, there needs to be significant system change. What do you think are the most important elements of that change?

As much as the real change has to come from governments better regulating the behaviour of these huge companies, we still have a lot of influence as the consumer. Every time we buy something, we are voting for the type of world we want to live in. If we all stopped shopping at these huge brands, they would be forced into altering their behaviour. H&M still has a long way to go, but now they list the addresses of many of their factories on their website and that is because of the pressure they are under from the consumer. I honestly don't know what the future will look like for the fashion industry, but I have seen an increased awareness of their practices over the past 10 years, so my hope is that big change is on the way.

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