Friday, 5 May 2017

Edmontonians Breathe New Life into Pre-Loved Clothes

This past weekend, Change of Clothes hosted their third annual Clothing Swap, Repairathon, Upcycling, and Panelists event, the culmination of a week of Fashion Revolution events. Change of Clothes shares in the Fashion Revolution goals of awareness, positivity, and participation by providing a space for Edmontonians to extend the lives of their wardrobes through mending, swapping, upcycling, and donating. Change of Clothes also shares in the Reuse Centre's goals of diverting waste from landfills; in only two years, Change of Clothes has processed over 700 pounds of clothing through repair, swapping, upcycling, and donation!

When Claire Theaker-Brown returned to Edmonton after living in China, she felt that there was a lack of community focus around sustainable fashion. Edmonton already had the repairathon, random clothing swaps, craftspeople focusing on upcycling, and recipients of clothing donations; however, there lacked a hub to bring all of these people together. This sparked Change of Clothes, a space for makers to share knowledge and resources while fostering a community where shoppers and brands are brought together in one physical space.

Change of Clothes 2017's Panelists: Crystal Tracy, Janna Stewart, Brittany Nugent, and Claire Theaker-Brown.
Photo Credit: Piyush Patel, instagram
This year's event kicked off with a panel discussion featuring: Brittany Nugent of the Publicity Room, representing the consumer; Crystal Tracy, the creator of beautiful children's clothing at Sweet Jane Studio; Janna Stewart, owner and operator of Cinder & Smoke women's fashion and the newly created Arturo Denim; and Change of Clothes co-founder Claire Theaker-Brown, also founder of Flatter:Me Belts. The panel provided an opportunity to hear about the struggles and successes of makers within this community of sustainable fashion and allowed members of the public to engage in honest discussion.

Wading into the waters of sustainable fashion can be intimidating. As Claire aptly points out, there are two words that really freak people out: "sustainable" and "fashion." But it doesn't need to be so complex. Fashion doesn't need to be fancy, expensive, or exclusive. And sustainability is about "progress, not perfection", as Claire often repeats throughout the panel discussion. One sure way to know you're making a difference is simply by extending the life of any consumable, offers Claire.

A great example of this was included in the day's activities. The House of Sew, Jillijade Jewellery, and Makers & Mentors were on hand to help participants upcycle jewelry and turn old t-shirts into fashionable headbands, as modeled here by participant Adam.

Enjoying some relaxed crafting with his crew, Adam rocks the repurposed t-shirt headband. Photo Credit: Ellen 
Cathy Jackson of Makers & Mentors showcased another beautiful example of upcycled t-shirts in the form of a stylish skirt. Photo Credit: Ellen
Kristen, an Edmontonian attending the event, believes we already have so much and don't need to consume more. "Sharing is caring," she jokes, explaining a sense of joy in the swap when you release, reminding yourself to let it go. She is no stranger to swapping. In university, she and her friends created what they called "The Sisterhood of the Travelling Dress", by time-sharing one versatile dress among the group. This spin on renting is a tenet of the Fashion Revolution's 7 Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle, rent, research, repurpose, repair.

Kristen proudly showcasing her swap finds. Photo Credit: Ellen 
A die-hard vintage hunter and self-professed denim enthusiast, Piyush frequently circulates through Edmonton's second-hand clothing venues. He sees the value in pre-loved clothes and has a keen eye for particular textiles, patterns, and brands. Piyush has fostered a close relationship with his tailor who helps him see his creative ideas to fruition, whether they be simple hemming or outlandish DIY concepts. At this year's event, he made use of the repairathon to add a patch, created by a Toronto designer that he recently acquired on Etsy, to a denim jacket. If you don't have the skill, resources, or interest in sewing yourself, take a page from Piyush's book and utilize the community around you!

Piyush has more control over design, material, and fabric when he shops second-hand
and repurposes or mends special pieces. Photo Credit: Ellen
Kassia, a veggie lifestyle blogger, gushes about the Change of Clothes yearly event, claiming it's the best swap in the city! She not only feels better giving her pre-loved clothes a second life, but maintains that some of her most valued pieces have come from this particular swap. Kassia explains that as a poor student, she sought to fulfill her glam style with the cheapest, most accessible stuff. What she noticed was instead a closet full of junk. As she "grew up" (her words!) she began leading a plant-based diet and began researching every aspect of her life, realizing that cheap clothes were not necessarily more economical.

Kassia finds classic pieces by swapping what no longer works for her wardrobe. Photo Credit: Ellen 
This is the second time I've heard this idea, as panelist Brittany Nugent affirmed, "I don't make enough money to buy cheap clothes." She was speaking of her own journey into sustainable fashion and I admit, the concept took my brain a few beats to understand. The idea is pretty simple: buying cheap clothes is not only unsustainable, but it's throwing your own money away. Cost-wise, it makes more sense to buy fewer items, being more intentional and less impulsive with our purchases. Each piece may cost more but by buying quality items, we ensure a longer lifespan. Worried about the shelf-life of fashion trends? That's where repurposing (upcycling) and swapping come in handy. Other options include renting current fashions or vintage shopping.

What's more, intentional shopping, by design, eliminates impulsivity. It requires research and thought. It requires asking the difficult questions and possibly writing a letter to your favourite brands asking who made the clothes. As Claire explained during the panel discussion, for her, it's less about where the clothes are made and more about who made them. Whatever your main goals, as a consumer, the power is yours. "I'm voting with my dollars," says Brittany who makes the decision to spend with retailers when she knows the story behind the clothes. "We've lost the value of our clothes," says Janna. It's time we rethink this.

These are the exact reasons Chelsey mends her damaged clothing. She believes repairing a favourite piece not only prolongs its life and allows her to continue enjoying it, but she also finds it much cheaper than buying a new item. She focuses on selecting clothes that will last year after year to get their full wear and mends items when necessary.

Chelsey has damaged items mended to extend their life. She also has clothing tailored to alter their style enough to bring them into current fashion. Photo Credit: Ellen
Claire asserts, "building a sustainable fashion community is not going to happen out of guilt." Happily, Change of Clothes has provided a space to meet the motivations of anyone, from a sense of duty to simple economics. And with numbers growing steadily each year, Claire believes there could be a need for the event to run twice a year. They've got a great space at the Ritchie Community Hall and a great base of volunteers. So if you're interested in learning more or engaging with the community, reach out by tweet or instagram!

- Ellen (Volunteer)

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