It’s about the journey inward…
The world knows her as an internationally recognised opinion leader in sustainable fashion. As a slow fashion campaigner, I remember gasping at the opportunity to interview Orsola De Castro when Slow Fashion Movement organised an interview on Instagram Live. To be honest, the exhilaration and the eagerness to unfold her enriching journey had literally paralysed my mind as I was waiting for her call minutes before she and I would go live.
Like a little child in me, I just couldn’t keep calm, elated that I was. Reading through my notes, going over a few questions, and memorising the introduction of this amazing human, whom the sustainable fashion world admires, and whom I would be speaking with, in a few seconds, about her massive life story as a fashion revolutionary.
“We are caught in a vicious cycle of excess, of disrespecting nature, as opposed to a virtuous cycle of living in symbiosis with it.”
Orsola De Castro calling….My phone rang and suddenly, I saw a radiant face, smiling right back. Very briefly, just a few moments before we would start the interview, we spoke about her excitement, my nervousness, and the idea of putting on some lipstick before we’d go live! On our live stream for Slow Fashion Movement, we then spoke about her book “Loved Clothes Last” published on 11th February 2021, which has already been translated into Italian (Corbaccio Editore), French (Edition Marabou) and German (Doerlemann Verlag). The core argument projected in this book is that “mending is a revolutionary act”, an action that she affirmed can change the entire fashion ecosystem. My experience knowing her has been larger than life. How can a person so simple yet so powerful, creative and fragile yet so strong head be all in one!?
“You can not challenge the mainstream unless you champion what’s going to come next! ”
Orsola De Castro is vocal and believes in speaking her mind. This transparency in her personality is what she seeks from the fashion industry too. The impact of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 24 April 2013 led to not only the loss of 1134 human lives but revealed how opaque the fashion industry is. The enormity of this tragedy led her and Carry Somers to start Fashion Revolution, a global movement that soon emerged as the world’s largest fashion activism space, with teams in over 80 countries across the world.
“Fashion Revolution for me, was always supposed to be a beginning and it has given agency to so many movements to come about and so many conversations to happen and this is the point of “NOW”. ”
In that same interview on Instagram, I asked Orsola to express her opinion about the “oxymoron” we all witness in fashion. Most of the revolutionary movements in fashion are led by women, and interestingly enough most of the workers in the supply chain are women. All the while, most often daughters are trained in embroidery and crochet versus sons. It is believed women love clothes and fashion more than men. Meanwhile, big fashion brands are femi-washing, using feminism as a tool to strategise and market. But most of the fast fashion brands are owned by men, while most of the fossil fuel companies are founded and owned by men. Is sustainability a feminist construct? Where are the men? We don’t see them in climate change conversations, and we certainly don’t see them in ethical fashion narratives. Why then is the dilemma of hyper-consumerism on women only? Orsola explained that, “ I am a raging feminist. In the fashion industry, if we look at the origins of textiles, it’s a female industry, which is 100% linked with innovation. We were brilliant at this job and then it was hijacked, taken over by the big masculine industry, which exploits people and resources. Female workers all over the world are paid less than their male counterparts. That needs to change. ”
“You can not challenge the mainstream unless you champion what’s going to come next! ”
Recently, in an interview with Cynthia Ko, a slow fashion campaigner for Slow Fashion Movement, she asked Orsola when and how her conscious fashion journey began. Orsola explained that her relationship with clothes is as old as herself! It was never about the journey or a specific incident, but her love for clothes, fabrics, textiles, fashion in totality, and every manifestation of it is what got her to start her own upcycled fashion label in 1997 by the name “ From Somewhere”. This multi-award-winning brand was a pioneer in the field of upcycling as the primary sourcing was from post-consumer waste. It took just two months for it to create an upheaval and reach international stores and celebrities.
Within a year’s time, From Somewhere established its place in a really influential store, and started being sold in some of the world’s best boutiques — including Tesco Clothing, Robe Di Kappa, Topshop, and Speedo. I mean, who could think of doing crochet on jumpers with holes? In retrospect, the principle of not getting into business with an American brand, which was proposed to her and to sell designs for their mass production model, defined her journey. However, the narrative of sustainability did not exist during the ’90s. She just did what felt right and decided to not sell to the American brand. She realised, the more she walked, the more she needed to rebel!
“Transparency is the first step towards a different culture for the fashion industry- one where brands become accountable and open, and consumers and citizens are ready to scrutinise and stay vigilant.”
Orsola is an epitome of aesthetics and creation, which she beautifully articulates through her work in the space of sustainability. This reflects in her work of art, be it through her upcycle brand From Somewhere in 1997 or Estethica in 2006. Or be it her involvement in amplifying young designers through her association with platforms like Redress Design Award, Fashion Mash, Fashion Open Studio, and in British Fashion Council Foundation’s initiative NEWGEN as a mentor. Orsola has also been supporting and nurturing emerging talents in the fashion landscape. She is a regular lecturer at Central Saint Martins, an Associate Visiting Professor for the faculty of the Arts at Middlesex University, and a Visiting Lecturer on the Distance Learning MSc Humanitarian Intervention at the University of East London (School of Psychology).
When Orsola was speaking with Cynthia about Estethica and its vision, her eyes sparkled. She explained how Estethica intends to create something new from something old. It first took birth under the light of the highly acclaimed Sustainable Fashion Showcase at London Fashion Week (which she has recently reformed). Through Estethica, she now wants to promote, support, magnify and celebrate the positive changes happening in fashion. Creating agency for change in the fashion industry with innovation, inclusivity, vision, and kindness as the core values of Estethica.
“When we look at fashion in 10 years from now, we will have a completely different concept of what affordable fashion is and what luxury fashion is. We have the opulent quantity of fast fashion and we have the opulentity of fakeness in luxury fashion. Estethica wants to show you what’s possible. Estethica wants to show you what fashion can look like.”
The amount of knowledge, wisdom, and experience Orsola has, makes her a school of thought. It was very obvious for Cynthia to end her interview with a question that I too wanted to be answered: What advice does Orsola have for the Slow Fashion Movement to create greater impact? To which, Orsola smiled and explained, “ At the end of the day, we all are working, so that we don’t exist. Movements such as ours should be one big coalition. Movements need to operate collectively. Co-campaign, co-create, co-brand, and co-operate because if we don’t do that, we all become an island.”
From “Mending is a State of Mind”, the first chapter of her book Loved Clothes Last to the last chapter, “All Together Now”, Orsola De Castro continues to inspire one, and all. Mending is a revolutionary act in fashion, and we need to affirm our belief that this act can mend the fashion industry at large! Did you get a chance to embark on this journey alongside Orsola while reading this book?
Written by Puja Mishra
A corporate trainer in Business Etiquette by profession and a mindful lifestyle blogger by passion, Puja is a slow fashion campaigner based out of Mumbai, India. As a Global Community Lead for the Slow Fashion Movement, she has been building and strengthening capacity for the slow fashion community through action, intervention and collaborative efforts with global collectives, fashion schools, local groups and ambassadors, to dismantle the dominant fashion system. With a robust outreach program lead by her, SFM has created impact through multipe campaigns for its global community.