Sustain Me! York

Sustainable fashion can often feel like a contradiction in terms. Trends come, trends go, before you know it you’ve a wardrobe fit to burst and trying to put together an outfit in the morning is like a heavyweight military operation to avoid drowning in an irrevocable sea of cheap sequins and leather. If only you’d invested in a pair of arm bands instead of that fifteenth little black dress…

For most of us this is where the pursuit of the latest styles often leaves us. As key catwalk looks diffuse to the high street from season to season, a kind of wear-it-once mentality begins to develop, we fall out of love with our clothes and keeping one step ahead takes precedence over the social and ecological implications of our purchasing. But being a conscious fashionista isn’t about feeling guilty, or paying premiums on ethically sourced goods, it’s about thinking carefully about what we buy and how often we shop, and is easier than you may think, with the Ethical Fashion Forum working hard to challenge contemporary standards and exploitative industry practices.

The Sustain Me! initiative is just one of the efforts set up as part of this ethical fashion movement. The brainchild of non profit organisation Oxfam, it aims to redress (excuse the pun) the balance between looking good and dressing responsibly through shows, shops and a bit of fun. Launched in early 2009 the campaign has seen backing from the likes of Jourdan Dunn and Heidi Klum and has led to the opening of a number of Oxfam boutiques in London, Durham and Cardiff stocking their exclusive, rarer donations.

Last month the project made its way up to York under the coordination of Tash Almond, youth manager of Priory Street’s BeInvolved volunteer project and Charlotte Smitherson, responsible for the Oxfam shop in Acomb. For one night only the Salvation Army on Gillygate was transformed into a vintage wonderland for a fashion show with a difference that not only displayed the creative talents of the bounty of young volunteers (all aged between 16-25) involved in the event but pulled out all the stops to promote the issue of sustainable fashion; taking pre-loved Oxfam clothes and turning them into an on trend and fabulous collection.

Set to a more than respectable soundtrack featuring The Eurythmics and The Cure, the models – with their slicked back hair and sparkly smoky eyes – didn’t just walk the catwalk, they danced, skipped and twirled their way through a number of lively choreographed routines, blowing bubbles and waving feathers as the clothes jumped from era to era, from bold 80s power dressing to cutesy printed shifts and biker jackets, and, as a personal favourite, a maroon off the shoulder velvet bodycon number.

To makes things even more worthwhile all of the outfits displayed were put on sale at the end of the show. This caused an inevitable scrum of old and young alike, myself included, to the stage, determined to get our hands something great. Amongst the madness I spotted a beautiful Marc by Marc Jacobs orange maxi dress for just £9.99, a gorgeous pair of vintage Versace city shorts – very now and a preppy Jaeger skirt to name but a few. Suffice to say it wasn’t long before most of the pieces were snapped up but I managed to take home with me a couple of cute shawl brooches and a wonderfully fitted pencil skirt from now ceased trading German brand Mondi.

Speaking to Tash and some of the other volunteers at the end of the night it was clear to see how much dedication and effort had gone into the event. As she said all of the young volunteers had been brilliant to work with, despite such a small time frame (just 9 weeks) and had full support for the importance of developing a global fashion conscience, be it through an awareness raising event such as Sustain Me! York, or even the simple act of donating a couple of unwanted items to Oxfam every now and again. The night was a great success and fantastic fun – something we definitely need to see more of, so go on, get creative and join the fashion revolution (and make getting dressed in the morning a little less dangerous). For more information check out Oxfam and the EFF.

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