Blog: Building the climate revolution within fashion – tips from Ophelia Dos Santos

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Fashion Revolution Week (18th-24th April 2022) is the world’s largest fashion activism movement. It was created to mark the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed 1,138 people and injured many more in 2013.

What is the link between fashion and deforestation?

Fashion has a high social and environmental price tag, with certain materials, such as viscose, rayon and leather taking their toll on tropical forests.

Clothing made from natural fibres is often considered more sustainable, as it will eventually biodegrade and does not shed plastic microfibres, like polyester does for example. However, fabrics such as viscose and rayon are made from wood pulp, which is a major driver of tropical deforestation, especially in Indonesia.

Likewise, clothing, shoes and accessories made from leather also contribute to tropical deforestation, as forests are cleared to make way for grazing cattle. This is having devastating consequences for forests, wildlife and indigenous communities in Brazil, which is the second largest exporter of leather globally.

In the UK, it is estimated that around 350,000 tonnes of wearable clothing with a value of around £140 million are sent to landfill every year, and in 2019, we spent a massive £59.3 billion on clothing. When the clothes, shoes and accessories we wear can have such a destructive impact, waste and overconsumption means bad news for forests.

How can slow fashion help?

To reduce your impact on tropical forests you can embrace the concept of slow fashion. Slow fashion means keeping your clothes for longer and getting good use out of them, as well as upcycling, repairing (check out visible mending) and buying second-hand (or pre-loved) items. It also means buying well and fairly made garments that will last.

Where fashion meets climate activism

Ophelia Dos Santos stitching in her studio
Ophelia Dos Santos is a text designer based in Cardiff. Photo: Ophelia Dos Santos

Meet Ophelia Dos Santos – a Welsh textile designer, advocating for climate justice and sustainability within fashion. Focused on a collaborative effort, Ophelia aims to inspire environmental and social change by encouraging people to think about how we buy, re-use and throw away fashion. Through her workshops and embroidery, up-cycling services; she educates people of how small changes can make a great impact.

Working within the community, Ophelia focuses on skill sharing as a powerful tool to explore the complexities of climate change, driving both participation and action. Through her platform she creates educational content, to inform and encourage conversations around sustainable fashion, over-consumption and equality.

Ophelia’s top tips

Tip #1: Connection > Consumption

Try to make more meaningful connections and consume less disposable things/thoughts. Connections can include things like taking time to appreciate & connect with the environment;  listening to others;  Being present by spending time with loved ones without the distraction of technology; Being mindful of your actions; valuing and caring for material goods (like fixing those trousers that have been sitting at the back of the cupboard); Skill and knowledge sharing – using your expertise as service to your community & teaching your skills.

A group of people around a table at a stitching workshop led by Ophelia. here is a small baby sitting on the table.
Ophelia running a workshop at her studio in Cardiff. Photo: Ophelia Dos Santos.

Tip #2: More is Less

Having an unlimited number of options when buying clothing can seem like a good thing – we’ve all sifted through endless store pages, waiting for the perfect item to appear. Choice has saved many of those ‘I have nothing to wear’ dilemmas. However, having an abundance of options ultimately requires more effort to make a decision, leading us to feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied with the choice we eventually make. When applied to fashion, having more choice might be a reason why so many of our clothes are abandoned in our wardrobes. We have so many options but still ‘nothing to wear’.

Fast fashion needn’t always be bad

Although it’s often used in the pejorative, we shouldn’t completely avoid fast fashion because it’s deemed ‘unsustainable’. Many of us own items of clothing from fast fashion brands that we may really love! Fast fashion should not be wasted, as long as you can address your consumption habits and relationship to your clothes – any item can become better for the planet.

Fashion has a huge impact on our self-confidence, when we wear things that we like it radiates into our personality. So, if fast fashion makes you feel happy and comfortable, try buying fast fashion from charity shops or online second-hand markets (such as Depop or Vinted). You could even organise a clothes swap with your friends!

A person standing in front of a tree wearing an example of Ophelias work
An example of Ophelia’s work. Photo: Ophelia Dos Santos.
To learn more about Ophelia Dos Santos, follow her Instagram to keep up to date with her work and check out her website.

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