Fashion has become so global that I've found it hard to look at it on a local scale. I joined Farnham Transition Town in September and the group has Started Doing Things. Much of the Transition work is around food (in fact, we've just launched a garden share scheme). So, it was an obvious choice for me to look at clothing.
There is a whole re-skilling side to the Transition approach. It's a little bit too much of a leap to start rearing sheep, growing flax and weaving from scratch, which seems to me what the permaculture folks encourage. I decided to move forward in not-at-all-clear direction and see what emerged. I find it a useful strategy when most flummoxed. Firstly I went to a conference at London College of Fashion about sustainable futures. Secondly, I spoke to a few people to see what they thought about local fashion and sustainability. And, thirdly West Dean College approached me about doing some teaching.
The conference at LCF gave me so much to think about. Except, interestingly, peak oil and acting locally were not a big items for discussion. One aspect of the conference which really made me think in a newer or deeper way, was when we talked about people and how they interact with fashion, their attitudes and their lost sense of power. It seemed to me that we could help women (and maybe men) get together and become more creative as a community. Women used to dress beautifully without being trend slaves and buying lots of cheap clothes that go into the rubbish. They can use their creativity to style themselves, feel beautiful or whatever they want to feel (yes I do have a grumpy look). I realised I wanted to help get the community talking, supporting, encouraging and dressing in a different way - not just in the way we look but in the way we feel and we have got there.
I've always made clothes, or at least since I was 8 years old which feels like forever. I'm always bemoaning the fact that people don't know how to sew anymore. They don't know how to use a sewing machine. I had very little money as a teenage but this wasn't going to stop me. I was a bit obsessive maybe but everyone knew how to get a sewing machine out in those days. You don't have to get quite as excited as me about making hand-pleated curtain tops, but being able to adjust a skirt or take up your trouser hem is quite motivating.
So, I met Robert Pulley, director of West Dean College at Origin in October and the short courses office soon got in touch. It's a beautiful place on the South Downs, near Chichester. I'd often found myself browsing their website, wanting to learn a new skill in such a beautiful setting. They select tutors who are practising artists, writers, designers and so on. I met the organiser without really knowing what I wanted to do or what they wanted. For some reason teaching tailoring didn't feel right. It was too specialised. We ended up deciding to start a course for Basic Sewing Skills. It was, in fact, what I felt passionate about. The amazing thing about it is the response I get from people when I say I'm doing this; everyone says they want to do the course too. It's a fairly good sign that I'm onto something.
So, I'm teaching a course in June (will post details when they come online) and I'm looking at this as a taster experience for me. I'd really like to kick off a programme of re-skilling locally but also consider having some form of sewing programme which is more closely related to my fashion label. I love the way one of my favourite knitwear labels, Keep and Share has started doing knitting workshops. It seems to respond to a basic desire to be creative. I also think of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his River Cottage workshops and Andrew Whiteley's bread-making courses . It seems rather a luxury to have the time to make in this way, but if the peak oilist folks in the transition world are right, maybe it's a wise thing to learn. We may have to get back to knitting, baking and growing when we can't cart goods round the world quite so easily. Also, I think that adult education centres, even though I've had good experiences myself, lack an energy. I'd like to create a haven when people can learn to sew again.
As well as the sewing I wanted to find a way of getting people together and being creative. I spoke to Paula Beaumont from Purity, the eco-boutique in Farnham and also my friend Chantelle Znideric who is a very successful stylist and writer. Paula offered the first floor of her shop and Chantelle was very interested too and suggested we hosted a Clothes-Swap party. We met up recently and have put a date in the diary: 5th March Clothes Swap Farnham. It's a start, and we hope to make Purity the venue for a range of events where people do stuff around fashion that is sustainable.
My real interest, I confess, is in the community coming together in a new way. It's an old way really, but there are new mechanisms... do join our Farnham Sustainable Style Group on Facebook.