Irish Design And Sustainable Fashion At Brown Thomas’ CREATE 2019 And The Need For More Accessible Options

By Colette Fitzpatrick

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CREATE is an annual curation of clothes, homeware and other bits and bobs at Brown Thomas that finds, showcases and sells some of the best emerging design talent, as well as more established brands, that Ireland has to offer. Sustainability has been something that has been considered as part of this curation in previous years but this year it was a central theme with Fashion Director, Shelly Corkery saying that, “These designers are the future of Irish fashion…” and the store following this with the conclusion that, “as such, they are tasked with ensuring it is kind to our planet.” Processes of making, ensuring the makers are fairly treated, keeping production local, circular production, and making pieces to last rather than be consumed and then quickly tossed aside are all central concepts to brands such as Four Threads, Jill & Gill, Faye Dinsmore, The Dualist, Moon & Mellow, Sara O’Neill, The Tweed Project, Emer Roberts, and Helena Malone.

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Sustainable practices – in choosing materials and additional details such as lighting – have also been employed throughout the display of the showcase, making use of recycled plastic polycarbonate, recycled glass, and Minerva – a sustainable terrazzo, and using LED lighting and buying green electricity to support renewable energy generation in Ireland. In addition, the accompanying issue of Brown Thomas Magazine (which you can pick up for free in stores) has lots of great articles on makers around the globe with such matters in mind and tips on how to shop more sustainably.

All of this is all well and good and admirable, of course but is only accessible here through considerable privilege. Not shopping at all or not shopping first-hand is the easiest way to shop more sustainably but that isn’t always an option. Sometimes you need something and it cannot be avoided or cannot be procured second-hand. In the case that we need or want something, most of us aren’t able to head to a high-end department store and choose to only shop from sustainable brands. If it is a key item that we want to invest in for sustained use over a long period of time, we may have a slightly bigger budget but, for most of us, that still won’t extend to spending hundreds or thousands of euros on one item of clothing. It is unfortunate that, oftentimes, it is near impossible to find a high street or even mid-level equivalent for such brands. And although the likes of H&M, Zara, and others may produce capsule collections of more “eco-friendly” pieces or send out greenwashing press releases about “doing better” in the future, these brands will never be an option with their current business models as the sheer quantity of products released and the ways in which the majority are made cannot be counteracted with publicity stunts. The harm simply runs far too deep.

So, what are any of us to do?  Not shopping, as we noted, is the easiest option. Not slavishly following trends and reframing how we think about clothes as commitments that have come at a cost and should not be treated lightly is important. Altering, upcycling and updating existing garments is an easy way to get a taste of something new or a trend without such a heavy price on the planet and relearning skills to be able to do these things yourself is a great idea. Shopping second-hand and vintage, going to clothes-swap events, sharing items between friends and family are all alternative ways of shopping. If you absolutely have to buy something first-hand, you can seek out brands that are more conscientious and at somewhat more comparatively accessible price-points (Reformation, Patagonia, Sézane, to name but a few) and seek out smaller local makers and support them where possible. You can try and set aside money to invest in high-quality pieces that will last a long time and not go out of fashion: hand knits, Doc Martens (mine are well over ten years old and still going strong), a good coat, etc.

However, until things change drastically, until we keep demanding that change, those who want to shop sustainably can’t just walk into a store and pick up anything they like the look of for purchase. We’ll have to think about it more than that. If we work together, if we put our money where our mouths (and the future we’d like to actually have) are, we can make change. It is wonderful to see incredible Irish brands that make beautiful things responsibly being showcased but here’s hoping we see wider adoption of such ideas and practices by the fashion industry at large – and stat! Here’s hoping that shopping sustainably doesn’t remain too difficult for those with too many to clothe or too little income because – as a friend once pointed out to me when I was being a big hypocrite on my high horse without any thought of the innate classicism in what I was saying and I was preaching that people should just not ever support dangerous high street brands – when you have dependents or not enough money to go around, you don’t always have the privilege to make such choices.

If you have the opportunity to shop better, kinder, do so. I know it can be hard but the main thing to work on is this need to consume that controls us all. We don’t need to consume mindlessly to be happy but we also don’t have to be miserable to do better by the planet, either. There are lots of options, and more and more by the day, so if you are in a position to take advantage of them, vote with your money for a better tomorrow. If that includes being able to invest in the incredible closet heroes at CREATE that are bound to treat you well for life, do so!

Now in its 9th year, CREATE opened in Dublin in the Grafton Street branch of the store on the 2nd of July and will continue until the 10th of August with a calendar of events to meet the designers and makers to complement the showcase. See their website for more details.

For more fashion content check out our interviews with Scottish Fine Jeweller, Ellis Mhairi Cameron and read about the 5 Style Lessons We Learned From London Fashion Week AW19.

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