18th Oct 2019 in Arts

The owner of the UK and Ireland’s longest running consumer fashion event, Belfast Fashion Week, has this season turned the event from being a promoter of fast fashion and mass consumption, to an event focused entirely on sustainable fashion and reselling vintage and previously owned clothes.

Cathy Martin said she had a complete change of heart after being passionately taught about sustainability in fashion during a summer programme at Conde Nast College, part of British Vogue, in 2017 as well as reading Dana Thomas’ FASHIONOPOLIS book.

“I’d previously worked in the textiles industry around 15 years ago, so had seen the massive amounts of water, dye and energy used to create fibres and fabrics, but if I’m honest I didn’t really consider the end game and the massively damaging effect on the environment so much, until recently.

“I did some research and got myself educated on the pollution caused and some really unethical production practices within the fashion and textiles industries, (particularly some ‘fast fashion’ producers, but some top end design houses are guilty too – the great Burberry burn-off is a good example here.) I also woke up to our over consumption and the constant need for new. I’ve been there. I’m guilty.

“The rental and shared economy is booming, and fashion can and must join in here.  It is estimated the shared and resale fashion economy is set to boom in the next 3-5 years. The growth of resale — especially online with sites like eBay, dePop, HEWI and Vestiaire Collective, among others — has been one of the biggest shifts in retail in recent memory. Rental sites are growing too, as the shared economy starts to make waves in fashion. And that shift shows no signs of slowing down.

“Events like our RESALE RAIL SALE, which will take place this Saturday 19 October in St Anne’s Cathedral, will help to increase awareness of the bigger issues of fashion and textiles eco-damage, and help show how reselling/buying second hand can help to balance out what’s been done and prevent further extensive damage. I’ve been selling, browsing and buying on eBay and in charity shops for over a decade, but want to help further normalise shopping second hand for fashion and provide a platform for those who want to join me.

“And it’s important to say that I still love creative design and fashion, and will still buy clothes. But I will do so more thoughtfully. I will check labels. I will purchase with the planet and long term in mind.

“I’m delighted to say that we now have over 70 resellers taking part, including vintage stores, charities like Oxfam and St Vincent de Paul as well as lots of individuals selling off their own previously loved items, so I would love to see hundreds of shoppers come along and shop sustainably with us.

“We have just this week confirmed sponsorship from HONEST Organic ® drinks, who’ll provide complimentary lemonade and lattes for everyone. And we’ll also have an honesty table with lots of goodies that visitors can help themselves to, in return for a voluntary donation.”

For those wanting a lively and free hands-on, sustainable experience at the event, there will be Stitch Up workshops running throughout the day, given by experienced creative curator, Ciaran Doran and her team.  After a warm up activity to show participants the stiches they’ll be using, the workshop will take them through a step-by-step guide to designing and hand stitching their own unique design onto a calico bag using a wealth of pre loved fabrics and trimmings. All equipment and material are provided and all attendees are encouraged to try some embroidery, share existing skills and learn some new ones.

Ciaran, who regularly works with museums and galleries in both the public and private sector, as well as libraries, charities and community groups or private collections, like the James Bond archive said: “If you have a textile item that you would like to work with, for example, a jumper, blouse or a silk scarf, we can show you how you can adapt it and re–wear with a whole new lease of life. Our workshops are fun and simple, and suitable for anyone from age 11 upwards.  Plus learning the skill of sewing and reworking fashion items means that we are being sustainable and ethical in our fashion choices, which is good for everyone – and the earth.”

It’s fair to say that over its previous twenty-eight seasons, Belfast FASHIONWEEK has always been innovative as far as consumer fashion events go. They had curvy models leading the way on the show’s runways over a decade ago, championing the early days of fashion for every size. Back in 2013 the team hosted a ‘Fashion over Fifty’ show in association with AgeUK, at which handsome 50+ male and female models modelled classic and edgy fashion with pride, way before other shows in London made this a ‘thing’; then in 2017 Cathy again championed diversity by being the first consumer catwalk to have a Downs Syndrome model take the lead on the runway. That model, Kate Grant, went on to do a global campaign for Benefit Cosmetics and a national campaign for River Island, among others.

Director Cathy Martin said: “So I suppose we’re no strangers to leading the way, and like our other campaigns, this is not a publicity stunt nor a fad. I think if you have a platform and a voice you should use it for good. And fashion needs to wake up and smell the pollution.”

The FASHIONWEEK RESALE RAIL SALE takes place this Saturday 19 October at St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, from 10am until 5pm. Entry is £3.00 Tickets available from Eventbrite here:


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