A Haulternative Walking Tour - Fashion Revolution Ireland, 2017

8th May, 2017

Ask any fast-fashion devotee what their perspective of sustainable fashion entails and, more often than not, a series of lacklustre mental images are conjured up. Pre-conceived notions of garments bereft of vibrancy or innovation populate their minds, each convinced that an embracing of ecologically-viable fashion signifies death in style experimentation. Yet while such stereotypes may have held court when high-street chains were at the peak of their power, an ever-increasing number of fashion revolutionaries are turning the tables on dubious manufacturers - whilst showing off ethically-plausible fashion in all its multi-hued allure.

Spurred on by a long-standing love of vintage & second-hand garments - alongside a fervent desire to experiment sartorially minus any ecological ramifications - A Haulternative Walking Tour was devised for the 2017 edition of Fashion Revolution Week. Staged in the inspiring surrounds of Dublin's Creative Quarter - a continually-buzzing hub of imaginative businesses - the two-hour shopping tour encompassed five generously-stocked shops, all united by their mutual passion for quality-driven, personality-filled purchasing. An amiable atmosphere and tangible warmth filled each setting; their rainbow-clothing rails filled with collections specially curated for the day. From insightful supply-chain demonstrations to thought-provoking talks on ethical consumerism, each inspiring location pulled out all the stops to give sustainable shopping entirely fresh connotations:

With its status as a sparkling vintage Mecca long-cemented, there couldn't have been a more fitting boutique to inaugurate A Haulternative Walking Tour than Om Diva and its enchanting Vintage Basement. Brought to life by creative tour de force Ruth Ni Loinsigh - whose effervescent personality is as resplendent as the garments themselves - this dazzling space is filled with technicoloured treasures, all catering to the most diverse of fashion tastes. From print-adorned silk shirts to floaty, colour-popping frocks, the vast majority of stock derives from unworn, unsold inventory in mid-20th century Asian department stores (the main sources are Korean and Japanese). As Ni Loinsigh took us through her eclectic offerings with palpable enthusiasm, it came as little surprise to hear that each vintage collection is picked by hand. An unmistakeable attention-to-detail permeates each vivid display. While attendees would have happily spent an afternoon sifting through the boutique's four floors - including two levels dedicated to Irish Design, more of which will be revealed later - one empowering initiative on South Great Georges Street was waiting to welcome us:

Photograph by Tra My

Dedicated to complete transparency in its liberating operations, this principal Enable Ireland branch claims residency alongside some equally refreshing initiatives. Offering dual benefits to quality-driven charity shopping - giving a new lease of life to their second-hand garments not only rewards the environment, but directly sends your funds to a fantastic cause - the charity's relentless productivity aids over 5,000 people with disabilities each year. A staggering 100% of shop profits are channelled into making these life-changing services possible: a full break-down of fund allotments can be explored "here". As second-hand aficionados who carefully and rapidly curate their in-store items (over 200 new pieces emerge onto the shop floor each day), their sorting system is nothing short of meticulous in nature. To garner further understanding into the daily logistics of Enable Ireland shops, as a riff on brands displaying each step of their supply chains, Shop Manager Joan McGovern gave an expert demonstration of the streamlined, no-waste process from donation to display. 100% of the charity's recycling banks are self-owned (intriguingly, this isn't always the case) meaning that consumers can be entirely assured of where their donated pieces are going to. Each item has a shelf life of seven days, meaning that if they don’t sell in this time they'll be replaced by new pieces. However, rather than cast them aside, these unsold goods will be directly sent to another Enable Ireland outlet best suited to their category (a full list of shops can be browsed "here").

Additionally, the charity has enjoyed years of partnership with fellow second-hand cognoscente TK Maxx, both promoting wardrobe clear-outs with a (virtuous) difference. In Enable Ireland outlets, a selection of items, from clothing to homeware, are specially coded with TK Maxx tags, meaning that these pieces have been donated to one of the latter's various shops. The manner in which we dispose of our clothes bears major significance on their carbon footprint: as stated by Re-Dress, if choosing charity-shop donations over landfills, Irish consumers would reduce direct gas emissions by over 300,000 tons per annum. Moreover, you're guaranteed that your former garments will end up in another loving wardrobe! Inspired by these in-depth insights, we journeyed forth to the next ground-breaking organisation with a penchant for vivid vintage:

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Photographs by Tra My

After fawning over an ivory-lace vintage wedding dress in the Oxfam shop window, the tour's attendees were led through the eye-catching clothing rails onto the perfect "secret" location for our next discussion; an eye-opening talk on ethical consumerism with Oxfam's Communications Manager, Sorcha Ni Mhathuna (pictured above) alongside Georges St Shop Manager Kayoko. With its multi-faceted philosophy striving for social justice across 92 countries, Oxfam's global understanding of the urgency in supporting garment workers was present long before the Rana Plaza disaster of 24th April, 2013; the catalyst for ever-increasing consumer awareness, as well as Fashion Revolution's inception. The setting in question, tucked away one floor above the shop entrance, was Oxfam's Bridal showoom - an elegant space replete with beautiful dresses ranging from a mere €50-400. Peppered with ornate vintage frocks and colourful ball-gowns, it became instantly clear that shopping second-hand for your special day (or any special occasion) offers a once-off creation that's a fraction of the price of buying or even renting new pieces. Nevertheless, 90% of its wedding dresses are actually brand-new with tags, donated by bridal boutiques at the end of each season - click "here" to find more details of how to best make an appointment.

As Ni Mhathuna re-iterated following our tour's stop-off, "The fight for better working conditions and a fair wage for workers in the garment industry and other sectors has long been a part of Oxfam’s work. Just last week, our colleagues in the US shared the news that the largest poultry company there had announced new and expanded efforts to improve conditions for its poultry workforce. These commitments come after Oxfam and a broad coalition of organisations worked to expose the harsh realities inside poultry plants in the US, applying public pressure on the industry to set new workplace standards.

 "Other Oxfam campaigns have included ‘Behind the Brands’ which provided the people who buy the products manufactured by the world’s 10 largest food and beverage companies with the information they needed to hold firms to account for what happens in their supply chains. Consumer power is what helps to convince companies to make the wellbeing of workers their number one priority. Customers can have a big impact – they have a voice companies won’t ignore.

Oxfam interviewed men and women working in a garment factory in Vietnam who work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and still struggle to get by on the $1 an hour they earn producing clothes for some of the world’s biggest fashion brands. Photo:Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam

Highlighting the charity's multi-dimensional approach to empowering workers whilst informing consumers, Ni Mhathuna also revealed a vital Oxfam project giving aid to garment-factory workers across Vietnam: "Regarding the fashion industry, Oxfam colleagues recently interviewed women working in a garment factory in Vietnam who work 12 hours a day, six days a week and still struggle to get by on the $1 an hour they earn producing clothes for some of the world’s biggest fashion brands.

"One worker explained how the long working hours and high living costs in the city meant she cannot afford to live with her 14-year-old son, so he lives with her parents in her hometown – she sees him once a month. She packages t-shirts and shirts for global export. The processes that she is assigned to such as inserting the price tag or folding require absolute focus and sometimes the thought of making a mistake makes her feel anxious and scared, as she could get fired. 

Oxfam interviewed men and women working in a garment factory in Vietnam who work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and still struggle to get by on the $1 an hour they earn producing clothes for some of the world’s biggest fashion brands. Photo:Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam

"Her salary is affected by the change in products. She said she feels pressure because when orders come continuously, she cannot finish all the tasks in time. She said that if she could change one thing about her job, it would be that managers care more about the workers and that she had the chance to earn a better wage.

"Oxfam works in Vietnam with the Center for Development and Integration (CDI) to empower migrant workers to claim decent working and living conditions in urban areas in Hai Duong, Hanoi, Vinh Phuc, and Bac Ninh provinces. We do this by providing access to legal information and aid, capacity building and networking. Workers learn about existing labour laws and how to claim their rights. Labour unions, Vietnam Lawyers’ Association, and local authorities promote the implementation of labour rights through CDI’s work."

With over 45 shops spanning the length and breadth of Ireland - and a compact but colourfully-stocked vintage section residing on Georges Street - Oxfam is also no stranger to re-purposing, having partnered up with the Zip Yard on a special segment to turn second-hand pieces into red-carpet-ready attire. A full list of shops can be discovered "here", all equally welcoming of donations and purchases A few paces from this mid-way stop off, even more vintage specialists were on hand to greet us:

Photographs by Tra My

As the largest voluntary charitable organisation found on Irish shores, the Society of Saint Vincent's De Paul (SVP) has made,and continues to make, considerable impact for widespread social equality and abolishment of poverty. Its colourfully kitted-out vintage section may be a relatively recent addition to SVP retail outlets, but the charity's vintage connoisseurs have a knack for pairing quality with diversity - throwing in a sprinkle of unique prints for good measure. Both SVP's Georges St and Aungier St incarnations were the final "new" shops visited on our tour route, each showcasing a volume of coveted pieces. Amazingly, a smattering of rare, vintage Irish Design was also uncovered - proven by one of Carol Conway's finds on the day, a gorgeous forest-green jacket crafted decades ago in Dublin. After an eager browsing of in-store collections, the shop's effusive manager Elena Susan joined us on our trip down to Aungier Street, where a vibrant customer event was unfolding:

Photographs by Tra My

A vividly-attired live mannequin welcomed us, all smiles, to this many-coloured Aungier St branch. Following a chat with its Shop Manager Anita Csaszar and Elena (both decidedly knowledgeable on the pros of pre-existing clothes and cons of fast-fashion producers), attendees happily delved in to the abundance of vintage garbs on offer. An emphasis on sumptuous textures was clear to see across both shops. On Georges St, a silken dress in rainbow shades was displayed beside multi-hued tweed reminiscent of Chanel, while metallic-infused prints on pleated skirts and tactile, embellished knits reigned on Aungier St. I may have briefly combined my duties as tour guide with fellow vintage shopper, and purchased a luxurious velvet jacket for a song (€15, to be exact)!

Just like its fellow, aforementioned charity shops, SVP's store systems and fund divisions are proudly transparent. As a result, consumers and donators are ensured of exactly where their pre-loved goods and well-spent funds are going to. A deeply-personable, non-pressured ambience permeates each shop, creating a relaxed experience far removed from the fast-paced, often clinical environments that high-street chains possess. Regardless of whether you choose to simply peruse or make a few purchases, it's hard to resist the pull of floor-length frocks for €18 and multi-coloured blouses for €8.. especially when adding them to your closet is doing the environment (and a truly heart-warming cause) such notable benefit.

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Photographs by Tra My

As we cheerily returned to Om Diva and its beacon of colour & creativity, our stamina levels were replenished by a generous supply of prosecco (and an energising array of jewels, gems and garms on the boutique's entrance floor). Two additional rooms upstairs (Atelier 27 and 2nd Space) host some of the brightest talents in Irish Design, whilst a collection of in-house studios bring Dublin's #whomademyclothes movement to near-unparalleled transparency. Atelier 27 & 2nd Space designers (of which there are too many talented names to credit) range from Capulet & Montague's colour-popping, hand-crafted jewellery and Kiki Na Art's throughly-unique creations to Dolly Delinquent's ever-inventive garment collections. Recent additions include the wonderful wares of fellow colour enthusiast Tatsiana Coquerel and the inaugural collection of LSAD alumna Olga of Cats & Patterns. As A Haulternative Walking Tour officially wrapped up, one final surprise from Om Diva was in-store for all tour attendees: a multi-coloured goodie bag filled with sparkling buttons and embellishments! Perfect for all manner of up-cycling projects, its recipients resolved to add some extra individuality to their purchases - and to brighten up any wardrobe items in need of a little more TLC. 

With the tour group now proud owners of colourful vintage & second-hand steals, one final question remained: how will they go on to care for their clothes? As elaborate research has uncovered, our clothes-washing habits account for 25% of a garment's carbon footprint. The vast majority of care instructions haven't been updated for over six decades, despite the massive advancements in washing devices since then, and many of our usual laundry rituals (such as believing that hand-washing is more environmentally-friendly) are in serious need of an overhaul. This dilemma spawned the trailblazing Care Label Project, an initiative by AEG which is striving to change the care habits of consumers. A full low-down on the project, and its invaluable tips, can be found "here" - but some primary pointers are outlined below:

"We must stop labelling our delicate fabrics with “Dry Clean Only”. Stop washing in high temperatures and stop being afraid of putting wool in our machines."

"Temperature labels represent the maximum washing temperature, not the recommended one. Washing at lower temperatures will extend the life of your garments, making them feel new and fresh longer. A lower temperature is also better for your electricity bill - going from 40 to 30 degrees for example can save up to 60% of the energy consumption."

"Dry Clean - a chemical-heavy process that’s both hard on the garment and the environment... But thanks to recent advancements in washing technology and laundry detergents, it’s now possible to use gentler washing cycles, lower temperatures and drying settings to wash some of your Dry Clean Only garments directly in the machine. [Examples of these compatible garments include silk blouses and wool coats].

Some garments [made of a very delicate material such as cashmere, fur, sequins or with sewn-on pearls and beads] are Dry Clean Only for a reason. They contain details or materials that could change colour or become misshapen if washed at home. Luckily, the chemicals are not your only option; many dry cleaners have started using greener methods such as wet cleaning and carbon dioxide solvents. So, if you have to visit the dry cleaner, make sure to pick one that is environmentally friendly.

"DO NOT TUMBLE DRY is often seen as an enforcing instruction leading people to air drying instead. While it’s correct for some garments, a lot of sensitive materials such as outdoor and water repellent materials will last longer if they are tumble dried in the right cycle. With most modern technology you can even dry delicate fabrics like silk and wool. Look for tumble dryers marked with the Woolmark certification which let you dry even your finest wool with confidence." 

 

"Many people think that hand washing is the gentlest way to clean a delicate garment. This is what we have been taught by our parents and what the care label indicate. But today, with modern machines, that’s not the case anymore.

"Hand washing consumes both time and water, and tends to stress the fibres. When you’re washing by hand and rub the garment against itself, you are usually rougher than you think. Instead, choose a gentle cycle with lower washing temperatures on your washer and you’ll get the job done without mistreating your garment. In fact, as many as 75% of us hand wash, but only one quarter are satisfied with the result.

To commemorate this journey into conscious consumption, the brilliant Lilly's Eco Clean couldn't have been a better company to partner with. Created in the early 2000s following the owner Titta's illness induced by cleaning chemicals, the home-grown business paved unchartered territory in Ireland with its products made from 100% biodegradable ingredients (many of which are also organic). From multi-action dishwasher tablets and all-purpose cleaners to an all-natural Lovely Laundry range - the core focus of our collaboration - 50% of packaging on these eco-friendly items is made from post-consumer recycled plastic, reincarnated into a Lilly's Eco Clean bottle and ready to be recycled once more. Equally, the labels on the bottles are printed in a Carbon Neutral Company, meaning that every inch of these products is compatible with sustainable, environmentally-responsible households. Click "here" to get acquainted with this clothes-washing collection, giving your garments an entirely chemical-free cleanse (with your new-found care instructions) and fabric softening suitable for even the most sensitive skin. 

This year's global Fashion Revolution Week was louder, larger and brighter than ever before - and its Irish division was certainly no exception. These core topics belong at discussion tables of whatever scale all year round, giving power back to the consumers with sharing of key statistics. It's remarkable to find that extending the life of clothing by a further 9 months would reduce carbon, waste and water footprints by around 20/30% each. There is no place or tolerance for shaming/guilting consumers. Instead, our united focus should be to start a vital conversation on how we treat our world and the workers who produce our clothes; discovering facts and figures that have been long concealed to many of us. Even the smallest of changes to our sartorial habits can make a huge difference.

As for those interested in A future Haulternative Walking Tour, this colourful event will be re-launching in the coming months with even more surprises and insights! To keep in the loop with updates, click "here".

"Let's take a stand against disposable fashion, impulse buys and fast fashion fixes! We need to buy less, and love forever. The more we love our clothes, the more we care for them, and the longer they last."

Fashion Revolution
 

Amelia xx

La Femme Éclectique