In the Middle with XR Leeds Fashion

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ITM sits down with Leeds Extinction Rebellion Fashion organisers Eliza and Grace to discuss their recent shoot.

Hiya, tell me a little bit about yourselves and introduce yourselves?

Hi, my name’s Eliza, I’m at University of Leeds in my second year studying Classics and French and I’m in a couple of societies. I enjoy XR as it’s different to anything else I do and feels bigger and more important than my studies in some senses. I became a coordinator a few months ago after seeing a callout on Facebook, so I thought I’d give it a go.

I’m Grace and I graduated with an English Literature and Film degree from Leeds University last July, I’m currently working in Opposite Café which is really lovely. And I’ve been involved in XR since about November last year when it was really small everywhere, but especially in Leeds. In that sense it’s been really nice to watch it grow. This is my first role as a co-ordinator, and I found out the same way Eliza did about the role.

What interested you in joining the fashion branch of XR specifically?

G: I’ve always been interested in charity shopping – I was brought up in charity shops. I’ve always found it amazing how you can walk into a charity shop and feel like you could find anything there. You don’t go in looking for anything specific, but you come out with really beautiful clothes most of the time. You find such unique items in charity shops, and the whole sustainable aspect came after that for me, as I just grew up thinking it was completely normal to shop in charity shops. It was sort of an afterthought that I realised it was really good for the environment and to boycott the whole fashion industry.

E: I’m very similar in that charity shopping has always been an intrinsic part of my life, and I started volunteering when I was about fourteen in my local charity shop. I found what you could find at vintage sales, charity shopping or even clothes swapping much more exciting than what was on the high street. It just seems boring that you can get twenty or thirty of exactly the same item on the high street. So I think one of the huge draws for me is how unique the pieces you find are. With all the environmental disasters that have occurred recently, it’s nice to do something creative with XR related to fashion, whilst showing your support for the environment.

credit: @extinctionrleeds

What have you guys done so far as coordinators and what are your upcoming projects?

G: We’ve had a lot of meetings, still working to get things off the ground with XR fashion in Leeds. In London there’s a lot going on at the moment, such as their big action to ‘End Fashion Week’. I’d like to clarify that we don’t want to end fashion week, we just want to make it much more sustainable. When we think about what actually goes into fashion week there’s just so much waste – all the water, fabric, people and planes make a huge impact. This photo shoot we’re doing right now is one of our first actions, and we’ve got a clothes swap coming up on Sunday at Wharf Chambers with XR Leeds and also non-binary Leeds. They’re holding a discussion with trans and non-binary people to discuss any climate issues they might have.

E: We’re working towards a bigger fashion show in the summer which would be held in June, so we’re in discussion with the XR media group and some sustainable Leeds based brands. We’ve got the vision for it, it’s just about getting them on board and turning that vision into a reality.

credit: @extinctionrleeds

You’ve briefly touched on the shoot today already but I’m curious as to what inspired this particular action?

G: The wider XR fashion group did a shoot similar to this with people wearing their own second-hand clothes and holding a sign explaining why they’re boycotting the fashion industry. I saw it and thought that it was something really simple we could also do to encourage people to boycott fast fashion in Leeds and get more members in Leeds for our working group. People just love dressing up and showing off their second-hand finds!

E: We’ve discussed how a lot of people think second had shopping and XR in general has a very particular aesthetic. We wanted to show that that’s not the case, as there’s such a range of clothes in charity shops it’s so easy to create your own style and tailor it to your own needs. We want to shake off this idea of there only being one aesthetic.

G: I think one of our aims with this is to make it look somewhat like high fashion. We want the reputation of using second-hand fabrics and repairing your clothes to be much more high-end than it is now.

E: thrift shopping in its very nature can be seen as almost couture, all about finding one of a kind garments that no one else has.

As a fashion editor, I spend a lot of time writing and learning about sustainable brands. So, I’m wondering why the decision to completely boycott fashion, rather than encouraging people to switch to more sustainable brands and less fast fashion?

G: My issue with sustainable brands is that it’s such a wide encompassing term, there is a tendency to greenwash. An example would be using paper packaging instead of plastic, but still using materials in the clothing itself which is harmful to the environment. A lot of brands aren’t as sustainable as they say, so personally I think we need to shake up the whole fashion industry and start from scratch. If we stop buying huge amounts of new clothes, we can reset and start from there. I also think we just have enough clothes and there is no need to be buying and making loads of new clothes constantly.

E: Going back to greenwashing, I think that’s a huge issue. H&M has a ‘conscious’ collection, which advertises itself as environmentally friendly and organic, but H&M still burns nineteen tonnes of clothing every year, which is the equivalent of 50,000 pairs of jeans. Many other companies are also guilty of acts like this. Whilst it’s true they are taking steps and this does have a positive effect on the average fast fashion consumer, people should be aware that there is a better alternative that doesn’t waste millions of tonnes of clothing each year. There’s some statistics which show that we buy 300% more clothing each year now than we did thirty years ago, which I think says a lot about our current perceptions of what we need, which is to go back to style rather than trends.

G: We love fashion, we don’t want to get rid of it we just want to change it. There’s no fashion on a dead planet.

Instagram: @extinctionrleeds and @xrboycottfashionleeds and @xr.boycottfashion