We Find Out More About the Ethical Atelier Ahead of Their Sustainable Fashion Event at Cleaver & Wake

Words: Addie Kenogbon
Photos: Anna Rose Heaton
Friday 23 February 2024
reading time: min, words

Next month, The Ethical Atelier, a popular sustainable fashion event which has been a big hit in Derby since its launch three years ago, will be making its Notts debut at Cleaver & Wake’s upstairs event space, offering eco-savvy fashion lovers a chance to shop for sustainable brands and learn how to foster more mindful and environmentally friendly shopping habits. We caught up with event organiser, business owner and sustainable textile activist, Abigail Wastie to find out more about her upcoming event…

Annaroseheatonphotography Abiwastie Theethicalatelier 195 (1)

With a surname like ‘Wastie’ it seems almost ironic that Abi would end up working in the world of sustainable activism, but it’s a passion she had many years before she married and adopted her husband’s surname. 

“For me, it's been a lifelong interest based on ethics in manufacturing. When I was a kid, I used to get my class to write to Tony Blair to petition for better trade laws outside of the EU. I've always had a curiosity and a passion for the connection between how we shop and how it affects the people that are involved in the chain,” she says.

Following those early years, this interest and ethical mindset affected the way Abi shopped, with her pledging at the age of eighteen not to shop at highstreet brands, and opting to instead shop at charity shops.

Abi then went on to embark on a career in textiles and garment development which saw her work at companies such as Paul Smith, but after tiring of being unable to afford to shop at ethical fashion brands in her early twenties, she began to make her own clothes.

“I wanted to buy and wear skinny jeans and you couldn't get them in the charity shops at that time, so I started to make them. I then started posting the clothes I made on Instagram and started to get requests from people asking if I could teach them how to sew too,” says Abi.

It was this that led to the decision to launch her business, Thread of Life, where she teaches people how to sew their own pieces and adopt more sustainable consumer habits. Three years on, the business has evolved into a place where people from all walks of life gather to learn tips and advice for how to be more mindful consumers through engaging workshops and events like next month’s upcoming Ethical Atelier event.

During the event, visitors will be able to shop accessories, clothing, jewellery and more, from a range of carefully curated sustainable fashion and preloved clothing brands from across the region. “Most of the companies work solely on a pre-order basis, so there's no overstock. This means you've not got that issue of waste. All the sellers must go through an application process too, and we don’t take on anyone that is using virgin plastic or virgin resin,’ says Abi.

Meanwhile, for those who’d like an even more sustainable way to refresh their wardrobe, they’ll be able to take part in a pop-up Big Swap clothes swap, allowing them to trade in their unwanted garments for a range of size-inclusive garments from other swappers. 

Annaroseheatonphotography Abiwastie Theethicalatelier 177 (1)

According to recent figures, 65% of fashion buyers care about the environment, but Abi says the problem is people often don’t know where to start. And, with reports of greenwashing increasing each year, for many shoppers, it can be hard to know what to believe.

Abi says, “I think there is an appetite for change, but actually when you look statistically at the market, brands like Shein and Boohoo are all still growing exponentially. So it's about trying to capture that appetite and create really accessible options, because at the moment, the pace at which fast fashion is growing is huge. But, when you talk to people, they really care about the environment, they really care about people's well-being and their workplace and textile manufacturing, but it's just harnessing that interest into consumer habits.”

It’s believed that the fashion industry produces around 100 billion garments every day, with as much as 92 million tons of clothing ending up in landfills. And, the average person wears an item of clothing approximately seven to ten times before throwing it away, with only twenty percent of textiles collected for reuse or recycling globally. 

For Abi, a key part of driving change is empowering consumers to make better informed decisions about how they shop, and the engaging panels at each of her events are one way she’s helping to do that. “It's really important to me that the event is just as much about learning as shopping,” she says.

“If I just do a shopping event, it's not really changing anyone's habits,” she adds. “I wouldn't be practising what I preach. I would just be encouraging everyone to keep shopping, and while they're still shopping somewhere far more meaningful and where the money has far more impact, it is still shopping. And that is not, in my mind, the solution. The real solution is to relearn what materials are, what impact they have, what impact our choices have, and to get a better understanding of that.”

Next month’s event will feature two panels where visitors will get the chance to take part in discussions with industry experts and business owners from the fashion world. The panellists, which include freelance journalist and publicist Sophie Benson (British Vogue, The Guardian, DAZED), will be discussing two topics - ‘Textile waste and what is actually happening to our discarded clothes,’ and ‘Demystifying the eco jargon.’

“There’s so much jargon in the fashion world,” says Abi. “When people say, it's recycled or made from recycled plastic bottles, what does that actually mean? Or when they say something is circular, what does that circularity mean? It’s about just getting our heads around it to really simplify those things and making them more digestible and easy to understand.”

Abi adds: “On the panel, we've got people who actually work in the industry, who can legitimately tell us from their experience and bring some home truths. Scientifically, as soon as a plastic bottle is turned into a garment, it can't be recycled. Hopefully an event like this gives people that are interested the opportunity to come and they can ask us questions. It's a really open panel. The best way to learn is to ask questions.”

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When making the decision to shop more sustainably, it can be a minefield with so much misinformation out there, however if rethinking your consumer habits is one of your resolutions this year, Abi has shared a few of her tips to get you started.

Hit pause on your shopping
“Stopping shopping is the first step. If you hit pause, it will help you to just reflect on what's going on. If you're an analytical person, you could potentially go through your wardrobe, make a spreadsheet of everything that's in there and work out what you're wearing and what you're not wearing and have a wardrobe cleanse and then go from there.

“But if you're more of an intuitive person, then just hit stop on spending and just write down things you think you really need, and work out what you need. But, don't buy it yet and just hit pause for a bit. Even if just for one month at first.”

Consider garment fabric content
“Once the shopping slows down, then you can really have the headspace to think about the manufacturing process and the farming process that’s going into garments. There are different campaigns out there and loads of different people you can follow and events like The Ethical Atelier events you can come to, to learn. 

“Think about what fibres are naturally coming from natural ingredients, and what fibres come from synthetic, which is essentially plastic. Compare them and look at the difference in their performance for you as a user, but also the ecological effects of them, of manufacturing them and disposing of them. Even if you're buying a lot of second hand, it’s worth being conscious of what you’re buying.”

Opt for natural fibres like wool
“By opting for wool, you're supporting the UK manufacturing scene as well as buying garments that will have more longevity and higher levels of quality. It performs incredibly because it's antibacterial, it's thermo regulating. So it's perfect for sportswear, and different seasons.

“I want to undo some of the damage that Fast fashion has done, and I think the best way to do that is to reduce the amount of synthetics out there, which would mean acrylics which are never going to decompose.”

The event will take place at 10:30am on 2 March. Find out more about the event here, or to buy a ticket in advance for a discounted price please visit abigailwastie.as.me/ethical-atelier-cleaver-and-wake-2024


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