Words: Amy Callaghan
Manchester is a city with a vibrant fashion and style scene. From the abundance of chic young professionals in the city centre to the students sporting unexpected combinations of vintage and contemporary clothes up and down Oxford Road, there’s always at least one eye-catching outfit on every street you walk down. And given the highly prolific vintage, second-hand and independent business scene in Manchester – concentrated in the city’s famous Northern Quarter but with outposts everywhere from Salford to Withington – it’s no surprise that sustainable fashion is finding a home in the north’s industrial epicentre. It’s difficult to imagine a more perfect apex of Manchester’s style sensibilities, vintage roots, and, of course, love of a good time, than at Manchester’s Sustainable Fashion Party, the first of its kind in the city.
Manchester’s Sustainable Fashion Party, held late February this year, in Salford’s high-ceilined, white-walled fivefourstudios, puts ethical consumption at the heart of fashion. As more conversations open up about the climate emergency, the culpability of the fashion industry in employing dangerously wasteful fashion practices is becoming harder and harder to ignore. Looking to step away from treating many finite resources as disposable, both those involved in the fashion industry as well as consumers are increasingly seeking out more sustainable and ethical practices – and those people in Manchester decided to have a party to raise awareness, support, and funds (all profits from the night went to local non-profit Emmeline’s Pantry, who provide food, clothes, toiletries and baby items to women in need and their families).
The event was organised by Alison Carlin, who moved to Manchester 25 years ago and became thoroughly involved in the arts and culture scene in the city. Founder of Ally Pally Vintage, Alison aims to encourage second-hand shopping and the fun and creativity that go along with it, along with the incomparable ethical and sustainable benefits such practices create. This attitude, in fact, shone through the whole night, particularly from those speaking about their local businesses and efforts to combat the damaging effects of fast fashion, but also in the catwalk, which showcased exactly how stylish sustainable fashion can be.
Opening the event was a poem from Kermit Leveridge, formerly of the band Black Grape, read by Kelly Hughes. In it, Leveridge effectively critiqued the fast fashion industry – as he points out “the time between new collections seems to be getting shorter and shorter” – how can this obsession with disposing of old trends and bringing in the new for a short period of time be sustained?
This conversation was continued in the panel discussion of people involved in various ways in the fashion industry, many of them local to Manchester. First to speak was Sophie Benson, a former stylist who left her job as she couldn’t reconcile what she was doing with the insidious practices that keep the fast fashion industry running. Sophie is now a freelance writer trying to raise awareness of how we can all engage in more sustainable fashion practices – her tips ranged from the everyday and expected (shopping secondhand wherever possible) to bigger picture calls to action (she recommends contacting your MP as government legislation could really help to curtail the negative and unsustainable practices of the fashion industry).
Niamh Carr, owner of brand and creative outlet NEMCEE, aims to make things to last as long as possible, as she believes that extremely high-quality garments that don’t need to be replaced are crucial to a sustainable fashion future. Every element of Niamh’s designs are considered with a view to being, essentially, irreplaceable, in the sense that they should never need to be replaced – she only uses buttons and never zips, for example, so that they can be replaced easily if necessary. Another independent business owner local to Manchester, Anita Smith, also emphasised the positive impact doing things for yourself at home can have on ethical fashion. She runs Sew What, designing and making clothes inspired by vintage styles using only deadstock, vintage or donated fabric. Anita also runs workshops showing customers how to make their own, as she believes that if more people knew how to sew, the dissonance between the price of a garment in, say, Primark, and the effort it takes to make it would be exposed more clearly – and they would realise how cheaply they could make their own clothes from charity shop fabric!
All the other panellists (Vinnie Tao of SneakerPharm, Rich Gill of Bags of Flavour, and Camilla Cheung of Wardrobe Wellbeing) also emphasised their own backgrounds and how the disconnect between their increasing beliefs in ethical practices and sustainability led them to where they are today, each running businesses that aim to promote more sustainable and ethical style choices (Camilla Cheung, for example, worked formerly in retail management then trained in counselling in order to provide a comprehensive service that links fashion and wellbeing).
The response from the comments of the whole panel from the audience was phenomenal, with many of their remarks being greeted by cheers – and when Alison herself made an appearance on stage, she brought the house down. The event clearly attracted an audience in Manchester – of all ages, and all, in my opinion anyway, very fashionable – who are deeply interested in increasing their own sustainable and ethical practices, and rejecting those of the fast fashion industry. In the catwalk immediately following the panel, the audience got a taste of what’s on offer right here in Manchester to help them do so, with outfits modelled from a wide range of local vintage, secondhand and sustainable shops and boutiques, from Suzy Loves Milo, Pop Boutique and Bee Vintage to the slightly more specific but just as stunning Camilla Vintage Wedding Dresses. Followed by a stunning performance from House of Ghetto, a vogue dancing group, and DJ’d by Danielle Moore of Crazy P, the event soon turned into another Manchester favourite – just generally a cracking night out. The success of the event can only leave us with an optimistic view of Manchester’s future as a leader of sustainability, and a hope that many more events like it are soon to follow, if only for the excellent time that was had by all.