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Wicklow County Council’s Relove Fashion: Chambers Ireland 2020 Sustainable Environment award winners


Winning the Chambers Ireland Excellence in local government award for Sustainable Environment was Wicklow County Council’s Relove Fashion competition, a project encouraging secondary school students to forge an interest in reuse and sustainability, and to rethink their approach to fashion. In this blog, they tell us more about the initiative.

Wicklow County Council created a new competition for secondary schools looking at the reuse of textiles, called Relove Fashion. The project involved students repurposing an old outfit to create a contemporary piece of fashion for a younger audience, helping to introduce students to sustainability and circularity in fashion. The Relove Fashion Competition aimed to encourage secondary school students to rethink their approach to fashion and the clothes they wear. It refocused attention away from fast fashion towards the use of durable garments.

Students were asked to create a wearable outfit using an older item, reworking how it looks and functions as clothing. The skills of working with textiles come to the fore in creating a new look, and all textiles used had to be second hand. Students worked through the process of developing their idea using a mood board and on to creating their design. They were also asked to provide their views on sustainability in fashion and textiles. Students were allowed to undertake the project either in teams or individually. The competition is designed to complement the Home Economics curriculum, but has also engaged art and Transition Year students, alongside those considering a future career in fashion or design.

Wicklow County Council created the concept for the competition in 2019 and developed it working in partnership with The Rediscovery Centre and the local authorities of Meath, West Meath and Dublin to pilot the competition in 2019.  In 2020, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown, Fingal, Kildare, Laois, Longford, and South Dublin all joined the competition.  The ten local authorities have worked together to coordinate delivery of the competition across the region. The competition is fully funded by the ten local authorities.

Two finalists are selected from each local authority to compete in the final which is held in the Rediscovery Centre, now the National Centre for the Circular Economy. Circular Fashion is one of four core hubs in the Rediscovery Centre.

The 2019 final was held in the Rediscovery Centre with students presenting their outfits to a judging panel and being questioned on their design concept and views on sustainability in the textile industry. For the 2020 competition, deadlines were extended to take account of the disruption caused by Covid in schools. The final was held in virtual format using dedicated social media accounts to showcase finalists through video in the run-up to the online event.

Fashion and textiles is one of the top areas for resource consumption globally. Clothing is ranked the eight largest sector in terms of household spend but fourth in terms of impact on the environment. Only food, transport and housing have greater impact. One tonne of clothing generates 23 tonnes of carbon emissions, 7 tonnes of water consumption and 1.7 tonnes of waste generated.

Trends in consumption have moved towards fast fashion in recent decades with increasing disposability in clothing, partly fuelled by increasing online retail sales. The average lifespan for a garment is estimated at just over three years. Fashion has a particular resonance and relevance for youth. Opportunities’ to explore sustainability in fashion is a tangible way young people can engage in taking Climate Action and look closer at their own consumption of resources.

Creative innovation and design are central to developing the circular economy. The skills to work with material will also be needed to imbed circularity into local economies. The Relove Fashion completion allows students to develop design skills drawing out and developing their ideas using a mood board. Successful design will involve the use of good quality fabrics that can be reworked.

The marking scheme used in judging entries was designed to focus attention on areas and processes that students need to consider in producing outfits that fully address sustainability. There are marks for style and creativity, wearability of the outfit, source of the fabrics used, tailoring skills, the storyboard and entrants views on sustainability in textiles. The marking scheme encourages students to give consideration in the design process to the final use of the outfit created. The completion fits in well with the curriculum for Home Economics as well as being a suitable project for Transition Year students.

Relove Fashion aims to encourage young people to appreciate quality and durability in textiles, reimagine how older items can be repurposed. It takes students through the process of design and craftwork.  It recognises creativity, innovation and skill in working with textiles.

The competition helps the local authorities deliver primarily on Sustainable Development Goal 12, responsible consumption and production, but also on Goal 6, 13 and 17 – see below.


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