Manchester Fashion Movement.
12 May 2021
Camilla Cheung and Alison Carlin are the founders of Manchester Fashion Movement.
Their main aim is to enable communities in Greater Manchester to better understand the impact of the fashion industry and recognise the benefits of a more responsible approach towards consumerism; to make a difference to our collective future.
Camilla: I worked for COS as a retail store manager and visual merchandiser and although the brand created really nice pieces, eventually I lost my drive for encouraging selling of new garments all the time. I realised that actually we don’t need to have as many things in our wardrobe.
Often people buy the wrong things, things they think they need. The time I spent with people in a fitting room wasn’t ever long enough because there was so much more that I wanted to help them with and talk about.
After that I started training in counselling because I wanted to help people and understand why they feel the need to buy things. I set up a business called Wardrobe Wellbeing which is all about helping individuals to get more creative with what they’ve got rather than buying more and also to get them to understand themselves and their style.
I met Alison and we were both in similar fields working independently, we realised that together we could reach many more people and be so much more effective. Individually we can all do things but collectively as a movement we can really change things.
Alison: I worked for a corporate for a number of years in business development and sales. It allowed me to do lots of nice things and I fell in love with the lifestyle; but I soon realised that I was plastering over various things by spending money. In the end I really wasn’t enjoying working in that world anymore or comfortable with some of the practices that go with being a commercial business. People said to me just take your money and go home but all of a sudden after 15 years I was standing up saying, 'I don’t agree with that!'.
It’s taken the last four years for me to pull together my entire skill set, values and passions and put them into my job so I feel pretty lucky now to be doing something I love. Plus the fact that I’ve met Camilla too!
I’ve always been a collector of vintage clothes and been creative with outfits since my teenage years. I knew that I didn’t want to sell clothes, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m a collector. Camilla and I wanted to do something more than only collecting and selling vintage garments which was one of the reasons why MFM was formed. Manchester Fashion Movement is about communicating a message and shifting mindsets through the arts, education and events all of which we know can make a real difference.
Camilla: Manchester Fashion Movement has three pillars we’re focusing on at the moment beginning with ‘Education in the community’. From this month we’ve actually started going into schools to teach kids about sustainability and also asking for their feedback. We want to get in at grassroots level.
The second pillar is ‘Communication through the arts’. An example of that is our partnership with Science and Industry Museum which we’re particularly proud of. We’re curating a fashion event as part of their climate change programme which will include a performance featuring upcycling, innovation pieces and fashion tech. We’ve teamed up with students from all of the local universities to deliver it too.
Everything we focus our work on has the overarching message to 'Influence policy change through campaigning’ and it's important to collaborate with individuals and organisations on this. We were part of an awareness raising exhibition for the #payup campaign during Fashion Revolution Week; PAYUP is there to support garment workers rights and how we see the third pillar for MFM is to raise awareness and influence policy but in a creative way. The changes we want to see must come from brands, business and government, all of those things have to change in order for sustainability to be recognised as a necessity.
Alison: Recently we were lucky enough to be selected by Huckletree for their ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’ programme. That means we get office space at the Express Building in Ancoats for a year and also much needed business mentoring which is just amazing for us. We’ve been building MFM for the last year and have come to a bit of a crossroads where we have secured partnerships and great stuff is happening but how do we actually monetise this and scale up. We’re a Community Interest Company so everything we do is for the communities we work within so it's important we get help to continue strengthening our city.
We really believe that Manchester can be a leader when it comes to responsible clothing consumption and waste, a benchmark for other cities. Our plan is to have partnerships in all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester by the end of 2021, we’re working in three of them already. It’s important to us that we get to the hardly reached communities where maybe there are real socioeconomic reasons why people buy what they buy or perhaps they don’t know about the benefits of sustainability or think it’s elitist. We’re in no way finger pointing, we're keen to come at responsible consumption from a different angle.
Camilla: Sustainability should be at the forefront of everything but it’s not. It is all about making small changes but you can’t make them if you don’t know what they are, it's actually just the simple things first, like loving what you have for longer. For now, head to our Instagram page, sign up to our mailing list and receive our monthly newsletter, read our ‘Orange Pages’ and people’s experiences; be inspired by one another, find out about the brands that are on your doorstep and support them when you can.
Everybody knows about the Northern Quarter and its independent shops but it’s also about recognising what you have in your own neighbourhood. Stockport, Sale and Stretford for example have so many charity shops and amazing new businesses. Go in there and look around. Take a bit more time to research those brands that are more environmentally conscious, it's time to go out and support your little shops, see local high streets thriving again and tell each other about what you find! It's so important to spread the word.
You have the leading brands on the high street that talk about being sustainable but unless they make less products then they can’t really claim to be sustainable. They may be using organic cotton but if they’re making 50,000 pieces then it’s still detrimental. The best thing that you can actually do is just be a bit more mindful; slow down and buy less things.
Interview and photography by Christian at Blossom.
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