Fighting Fast Fashion the Thrifty Way…
Interview with Rachel Parry – Oxfam Darlington
The Oxglam fashion show has been a highlight of the Festival of Thrift since the very first event back in 2013, showing ways to recycle clothing and create a unique and stand-out personal style. Hugely popular with visitors, it provides a refreshing antidote to ‘fast fashion’ and reflects the trend back to more sustainable clothing choices.
In an interview with the Festival of Thrift, Oxglam organiser, Rachel Parry, reflects on the plans for this year’s show, the true impact of throwaway fashion, and how much fun doing the show is for everyone involved.
What have you got planned for this year’s Oxglam fashion show at the Festival?
We are basing our show around the two themes for the festival – ‘Clean Air’ and ’50 Years Since The Moon Landing’ – which should allow our team of sewists to get really creative with their designs! As well as ladieswear, we’re hoping to get a bit more menswear for this show, and to include a children’s section, too. Expect a mix of wearable items, and some more outlandish creations, too!
What first inspired you create the fashion shows at the Festival?
We were at the first Festival of Thrift to run a swap shop and have a stall selling clothing, books and bric a brac. The fashion show came about for us when Jon Christian, then manager of Oxfam in Jesmond, stepped in to quickly put together a fashion show using clothing from our stall. The event was a big success and the rest is history! We’re really happy to organise the show as it’s a great way to bring Oxfam to people’s attention and it has helped us to recruit lots of volunteers for the store who upcycle and repair items for us.
What are the stand out moments from previous shows?
Oxglam has been a feature of every Festival of Thrift so far and they have all been so different! I think my personal favourite was 2016, when we created the show based around Redcar’s heritage, as it was our first time at Kirkleatham. We created outfits based on ‘A day at the Races’, fishing and the steelworks, which included a dress made to resemble a giant lobster pot and a stunning black dress with the skyline of the steelworks running around the skirt, lit up with hidden fairy-lights stitched into the fabric.
What impact do you think the shows have on people’s attitudes to recycling and upcycling clothes?
Hopefully, the show, as well as everything else that goes on at the festival, encourages people to see the potential in upcycling their existing clothes rather than buying new. We are often guilty of chucking out perfectly good clothes just because we want to change up our wardrobe, and the fashion show shows you that unwanted items can be turned into something new and unique. We do take it to the extreme for the show – but the underlying principle is sound.
What are your views of ‘fast fashion’ and the trend for wearing an outfit once and then throwing it away?
Fast fashion is one of the leading causes of industrial pollution, second only to oil. Our desire to wear on-trend clothing means manufacturers are churning out countless tonnes of clothes which will be worn only a handful of times before they fall out of favour, and end up either donated to a charity shop or in landfill.
As well as the environmental impact, the fashion industry has a history of being linked to low wages for their workers in developing countries, as well as using child labour. The human and environmental cost is far too high – people need to learn to say no to fast fashion, and to hold the fashion industry accountable for its poor working practises.
Do you see any evidence that people are making more sustainable clothing choices and moving away from our throwaway culture?
I think in general there are a growing number of people who are more concerned about the impact their lifestyle choices have on our planet. Our Oxfam shop in Darlington has an extremely varied customer base, from children through to retirement, and it includes a lot of people who shop with us because they don’t want to buy in to fast fashion, and want to do what they can to protect the environment.
The number of customers who have had their eyes opened to the perils of fast fashion is growing, and I see this reflected in conversations with them, and in the interest in our store’s upcycling and sewing class.
Our shoppers are also choosing to buy Fair Trade products from us and environmentally friendly cleaning products and toiletries, which also demonstrates that they are more concerned about protecting our fragile planet. We are also seeing more donating customers who are bringing us items which aren’t wearable anymore, but they know by passing them to us, we will make sure they are recycled and therefore kept out of landfill.
How many volunteers supported Oxglam at last year’s festival and how did they feel about being involved?
Altogether, over 40 people are involved in putting on the show – it is no small undertaking!
We had about 14 models last year, all volunteers, who rocked the catwalk for us. Lots of the models have been with us for the last three or four years – the show is a big event they look forward to every year!
We have a team of 10 to 12 sewists to make the outfits from their own designs, 6 who come back to us year after year, and the rest first timers. We then have our shop team who work really hard to help the designers find the materials they need from donated stock, organise getting it to the show, and help out on the day.
To make sure the models look amazing we also have volunteers to do the models’ hair as well as make-up student volunteers from Stockton Riverside College.
There are different reasons for everybody who gets involved – for some, it’s the sense of pride at seeing something they have imagined and created being worn on the catwalk, while for others it’s a great opportunity to practise theatrical hair and make-up skills or to walk a catwalk in front of a large crowd.
We do have a lot of people coming back to us year after year, and they say they come back because it’s fun and exciting, with a new theme every time to look forward to.
How can people get involved in this year’s Oxglam – what skills, time and commitment are needed?
We are always looking for more designers to join in and create an outfit for the show, so if anyone is interested or wants to find out more, they should get in touch.
We also need more models, particularly male models. We love to demonstrate diversity and inclusiveness on the show too, applicants just need to be aged 18 or over.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The show only happens because of all the others around us who join in and give their time for free. This includes not just the designers and models, but the local colleges who bring along hair and make-up students, and the volunteer team at the store who work so hard to make sure the event runs smoothly. I cannot thank everybody enough for what they do for the show – they are all amazing people!
How can people get involved with this year’s Oxglam show?
Just get in touch with us! Send a message to our Facebook page @OxfamDarlington, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org, call the shop on 01325 382415, or pop in to see us at our shop at 24 Skinnergate, Darlington DL3 7NW and ask to speak to the manager .