Podcast - Can Leeds change the face of fashion once again?
TV and Radio Presenter, Peg Alexander, explores the past, present and future of fashion in Leeds to see whether Leeds can, once again, change the face of fashion in a more sustainable direction.
This episode explores three themes: the heritage of fashion in Leeds, skills and resources and valuing our clothing. The podcast is part of Leeds Fashion Futures, a collaborative project led by Zero Waste Leeds and the RSA.
Peg is joined by voices from across the clothing, textile and fashion world, including
Corinne Coolican - an independent fashion designer and founder of the sustainable fashion brand COOLI.
Dominic Browning - Leeds-based sustainable fashion designer (@dominicbrowningtextiles).
Lauren Cowdery - director of Leeds Community Clothes Exchange, a community project
Gilda Smith-Leigh - Senior Economic Development Officer for Leeds City Council.
Dr Mark Sumner - a lecturer focussing on sustainability within the textile, clothing and fashion industry, at the School of Design, University of Leeds.
Jacki and Bob Lawrence - Leeds historians and former employees at Montague Burton’s factory.
Jude Smallwood - a sewing teacher, who has been teaching for around 14-15 years in Leeds.
Jenny Whisker - founder of The Sewing Kind, a community group.
Sally Cooke - a maker, designer and doctoral research student
Rob Greenland, Gill Coupland and Suzanne Nicholls from Zero Waste Leeds
The podcast also features clips from Patrick Nuttgens 1973 documentary - In Search of the City - based in Leeds. Patrick Nuttgens was an architect and broadcaster and is also Peg Alexander’s (the presenter of this podcast) father.
The David Attenborough clip was taken from A Life on Our Planet (film entertainment for Netflix).
This podcast explores three themes: the heritage of fashion in Leeds, skills and resources and valuing our clothing. Listen to the podcast clips from each of the themes below.
Heritage of Fashion in Leeds
One of the core themes of the Leeds Fashion Futures project is the heritage of fashion in Leeds. This section of the episode explores how Leeds led the way in garment manufacturing, and how this helped to define the modern city centre. Leeds was home to some key figures in clothes manufacturing, including Michael Marks, Montague Burton, John Barron and Joseph Hepsworth.
Michael Marks was a Polish Jewish immigrant, who in 1884 set up his famous Penny Bazaar in Leeds market. His son Simon, who took over the business in 1909, recognised the possibilities of selling quality goods of many kinds, and built up a chain of stores, Marks and Spencer, which have had a profound effect on almost all town centres in Great Britain, as well as in Leeds itself.
Montague Burton’s factory in Harehills, was once the largest clothing factory in the whole world. Peg chats to former employees and historians, Jacki and Bob Lawrence, about the history of Burton’s.
John Barron started off with a shop on Briggate. You could almost say that fast fashion began here in Leeds with John Barron and his use of a bandsaw to make multiple items of clothing at the same time.
Lastly, Joseph Hepsworth founded Joseph Hepworth & Son in 1864 in Leeds which went on to become Next, the British multinational clothing, footwear and home products retailer.
Zero Waste Leeds and the RSA have been working closely with Leeds Civic Society, and Leeds museums and galleries to develop the Leeds Textile Trail to showcase the rich history of clothing and textiles in Leeds.
Skills and Resources
Skills and Resources is another strand that has been identified as being really important to the Leeds Fashion Futures project. Peg talks to Dawn Wood, founder and CEO of Fabrication Crafts, and Jude Smallwood, a sewing teacher in Leeds, about the benefits of sharing skills and providing resources for people to make more sustainable fashion choices.
Dawn talks about the Leeds Fashion Map which showcases resources around the city, including sewing supplies, workshops, machine sales and repairs, alteration and repair shops, sustainable designers, clothes exchanges, charity shops and textile banks. She also discusses the Beginner’s Sewing Tutorials that have been pulled together to help people learn to sew.
Jude talks about how from her experience, sewing skills in students at school are very limited. However, when they do pick up new skills the impact is massive. She says that the pride on their faces when they have produced something using their own hands is second to none.
Valuing our clothing
Valuing our clothing is the third theme of Leeds Fashion Future, alongside Heritage and Skills and Resources. Dominic Browning, a Leeds-based sustainable fashion designer, thinks that we have lost touch with the value of clothes due to fast fashion. He thinks that attaching memories and stories with particular garments helps to build sentimental value and bonds with clothes, slowing down the process of fast fashion.
Jenny Whisker, founder of The Sewing Kind, thinks that valuing the clothes that are already in our wardrobes is one of the most important things we can do. She also encourages people to think consciously about where they are spending their money, and to think about investing in pieces that will last you a lifetime wherever possible.
Peg speaks to Lauren Cowdrey, the director of Leeds Community Clothes Exchange, which is a community project encouraging the exchange of clothes and accessories in order to develop community spirit, reduce consumption and raise awareness of unethical consumer habits. Leeds Community Clothing Exchange has over 3,000 people on its books, coming from right across the north of England and even further. The idea of the exchange is to allow people to value clothes for longer, providing a way for people to access new styles whilst still being sustainable.
Environmental Impact of Fashion
Peg Alexander talks to Gill Coupland from Zero Waste Leeds and Dr Mark Sumner, a fashion sustainability lecturer at the University of Leeds, about the environmental impact of clothing especially relating to the climate emergency.
Gill discusses how many of us are aware of how to reduce our environmental impact for example through recycling or buying less plastic. However, many of us don’t yet associate our clothing choices with their environmental impact, probably because there is a lack of awareness.
Dr Mark Sumner discusses the scale of the problem highlighting that there is around £14 billion worth of clothing sitting unused at the back of people’s wardrobe in the UK. There is also a significant amount of clothing that goes into landfill or incineration - approximately 350,000 tonnes per year in the UK. He equates that to almost a billion T shirts thrown away. Gill highlights that in Leeds, around 4,000 tonnes of clothing end up in black bins each year. That’s roughly 12 kilograms per household. You can watch the video showing what 12kg of clothes looks like on our Youtube channel.
Dr Mark Sumner summarises that some of the major issues in clothing production include the use of non-renewable resources, water consumption, pollution and also social impacts.