As part of The Future is in Our Hands campaign, we spoke to Julia and Sarah, the founders of The Sustainable Studio, about attitudes shifting and how to embrace sustainable fashion.
What is The Sustainable Studio?
The Sustainable Studio, which has been running since 2016, is a collective of makers, artists and musicians all sharing a space to better the city’s creative economy.
Sarah Valentin and Julia Harris, the founders of The Sustainable Studio, put sustainability at the heart of everything they do, for example, in their garment construction within their slow fashion brand, Dati Clothing. Everything that you see in the studio is second hand. It has either been reclaimed, upcycled, taken from the skip or donated.
Julia shared, “it’s so easy for us to walk into a shop and say, ‘I need a white t-shirt’ and ‘I need a grey hoodie’ and pick it up and not actually think about how it was made, who made it, and the cost of production”.
“What we try to do through some of the workshops and getting people into the studio is showing them that process. We discuss where that piece of cloth has come from and toile (a trial mock-up of the garment). We encourage visitors to have a go at sewing and try on pieces they make. When they see that process, they realise it takes a long time and lot of skill”.
How have attitudes to sustainability changed?
“When we started on this journey over 15 years ago, we were seen as these weirdos because we were upcycling our wardrobes, and putting on clothes swaps and community fashion shows”, explains Julia. “Now, there are so many ethical brands launching every day on social media. Sustainability is almost this word that goes in one ear and out the other – it’s becoming a passive word”.
She continued, “there’s lots of information on what’s being done globally and a sense of how people are trying to make an impact and improve the fashion industry, so there’s lots of good news. But also, there are lots of questions that are still unanswered”.
Sarah added that “sustainable fashion is about thinking that there will be a time of change. It’s starting to happen, but we’ve still got a long way to go. There are quite a few campaigns throughout the year like second-hand September with Oxfam that encourage you to wear secondhand for that month. We should be doing that every month, but at least they’re trying to get into people’s heads that you don’t have to buy new all the time – you can go to a vintage shop and on Vinted”.
Upcycling is a great way to make clothing last longer and help to be sustainable. However, it may not be as easy as we think. Sarah shared, “sometimes people think upcycling is really easy because you’re just making something from something else, but it’s almost like a puzzle. You’ve got a pattern, but you might need 3 jumpers or t-shirts to do that one arm, so it becomes more of a challenge. That’s kind of why we like it, because you don’t know what you’re gonna get”.
How can we be more sustainable with fashion at home?
“Starting education as early as you can” is essential to having a sustainable mindset, says Sarah. “Encouraging your kids to hand down their clothes to their brother or sister, or swapping clothes with a couple of people who are a similar size to you” are great ways to start.
Julia adds that her “kids grew up wearing secondhand clothes. I loved when they used to ask ‘who gave it to us?’ because I got to explain the story of where it came from. There was an excitement about rummaging through the bag and seeing what was there. They wouldn’t have everything, but it was like finding treasure”.
“We’ve got a clothes swap rail here in the studio. Someone will say they’ve put some stuff on the rail and everyone goes there like bees to honey. It’s fun because it’s free and you’re swapping. So everyone can do little things like clothes swaps, Vinted and Depop”, continued Julia.
Asking yourself a few questions can help you realise whether you’re buying from impulse, or if you need something. Julia advises that “if you are going to buy new, ask yourself if you really need it and whether it’s going to last beyond one season. For example, I just bought some new walking boots, but my others were like 15 years old and absolutely wrecked. I thought to myself about where I’m going to buy them from and what companies are paying a fair wage and are transparent about where it’s coming from. For me, those considerations are a no brainer, but for some, it doesn’t come up”.
The Future is in our Hands is a campaign run in collaboration with Bloedd Amgueddfa Cymru, a collective working alongside 16–25 year olds to experiment, create and innovate.
If you’re interested in learning more about the processes behind fashion, Sarah recommends watching The True Cost.