Leeds Community Clothes Exchange started in 2007. Run by a fantastic team of volunteers and with over 2000 registered members, they host nine events throughout the year at Woodhouse Community Centre, with roughly 200 people attending each event. Here, creative director Becky writes about LCCE, sustainable fashion, and the importance of community eco initiatives.
LCCE originally started as part of Lizzie Harrison’s ‘Remade in Leeds’ research project, which explored local supply chains and reclaimed material as a source of its fashion inspiration. As a brand, ReMade in Leeds highlighted the need for an easier way for people to access sustainable fashion. Since Lizzie and her label Antiform relocated, LCCE has run as its own unique event through a voluntary team of co-ordinators and supported by a group of volunteers who share our passion for sustainable fashion and waste diversion.
At a Clothes Exchange, members bring along up to 20 items that are clean and in good condition to swap. Whilst there are some items we cannot accept, all are recycled by Leeds Community Trust so that nothing goes to landfill. After checking in, members are issued with tokens equating to the number of garments. They are then free to rummage in the swap, and try on their finds, with any unused credits stored on our database until the next event.
Our main focus has always been about encouraging people to think in a more sustainable way about their clothing, effecting behaviour change through our events and social media channels. Put simply, the Fashion Industry needs to change. Currently it is one of the top five most polluting industries globally, starting with the fibres used to creating our clothing all the way up to the finished product.
Eventually we fall out of love with the clothing we have bought, which often sits in our wardrobe barely worn. A large proportion of this clothing goes to landfill, where it takes decades to biodegrade, because much of our clothing is made from synthetic fibres. The majority of this can and should be worn again and again, which is where the idea of LCCE comes in. By bringing your quality clothing to events such as LCCE you are helping to divert this clothing from landfill.
Consumption of fashion is at an all-time high, as Fashion Revolution states, “Global clothing production has more than doubled since 2000, in 2014, 100 billion garments were produced”. With the rise of fast fashion, we see the process from design to shop floor taking as little as four weeks, so depending upon the retailer, there can be up to twelve seasons per year! This has helped to drive spending on fashion to an all time high; the UK alone purchased 1,130,000 tonnes of clothing in 2016. We have developed a mindset that an outfit can only be worn once, and feel pressured to not be seen wearing the same thing twice.
When we walk into a high street store we question how that retailer has produced the item so quickly. The garment industry equates to modern slavery, with workers often paid less than the local living wage and forced to work in dangerous conditions. With the clothes exchange, we are trying to encourage consumers to slow down and think about where they are buying their new clothing from.
Increasingly we have been seeing attendees who have self-imposed shopping bans where they buy nothing new from the high street, with some choosing to shop from independent retailers, charity shops or vintage fairs. It sounds scary to restrict yourself in this way, however it opens up a whole world of opportunity to truly develop a personal style! One of the ways we hope to bring about change is to share people’s stories of personal style to inspire others.