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Can Leeds change the face of fashion once again?

Leeds wouldn't be the city it is today if it wasn't for clothing and textiles.

If you look back at the city's history, you'll see how its growth into the city that we know today has so much to do with the textile trade, and clothes manufacturing.

There'll be names you'll likely be familiar with - such as Montague Burton - the mass-market tailored suit pioneer - alongside so many other entrepreneurs and countless factory workers who built perhaps the most important industry in Leeds' long history.

So it's only natural that we've delved into that rich history in our work, when we've explored what we can do to reduce the negative environmental and social impacts of our clothing choices.


Through our Zero Waste Leeds project, we've run campaigns on a wide range of themes - and clothing is one we come back to time and time again.

That's because it's such an engaging topic - we all wear clothes.

It's also because the clothing and textile industries are estimated to be responsible for somewhere around 10% of global CO2 emissions.

We explored the environmental impacts of the fashion industry with Dr Mark Sumner.

So the choices we make about the clothes we wear matter - as we look to take action in response to the Climate Emergency.

We're really pleased to see increasing interest in looking at how to reduce the negative impacts of the clothing industry - most recently this announcement of Government funding for a programme focused on sustainability in the fashion industry.


The value of a place-based approach - in a city with rich textile heritage

We plan to continue to focus on clothing and textiles as one of the main themes in our work around the circular economy - and we are keen to collaborate with local and national organisations that are also looking at this issue.

Over the last three years we have run a number of projects - which we've summarised below - and we believe that this gives a great foundation for doing more place-based work on this issue.

Zero Waste Clothing campaign

Through our Zero Waste Clothing campaign, we aim to make it easier for people in Leeds to make more sustainable choices about the clothing they wear. The starting point for the campaign was to explore how we could reduce the amount of clothing and textiles that get thrown away in Leeds every year - estimated at 4000 tonnes.

The project has a real practical focus, with one of the most popular elements of the campaign being our Zero Waste Fashion Map, which makes it easy for people to find places like charity shops, vintage shops and clothing exchanges.


Zero Waste Fashion Week

During our Zero Waste Fashion Week in 2020, we hosted a series of online events, championed local designers and makers, and shared lots of top tips on how to reduce the environmental impacts of the clothes we wear.

The most-watched video on our YouTube channel


Leeds Fashion Futures

Building upon the success of our Zero Waste Clothing campaign, in 2020 & 2021 we collaborated with the RSA on Leeds Fashion Futures, as part of their Regenerative Futures project.

The RSA worked with us to explore what a "place-based" approach to creating a more sustainable, circular economy around clothing and textiles might look like.

Where better to do that than Leeds - a city with such a rich clothing and textile history?

We launched the project with a Leeds Fashion Futures Week - which included a series of online talks and seminars on a broad range of themes relating to clothing and sustainability.

We also shared the first impact report for our Leeds School Uniform Exchange project - which we'd set up in 2020 to make it easier for people to share second-hand school uniform - and reduce the amount of uniform that ends up in the bin.


Leeds Textile Trail

We believe that looking back at Leeds' rich textile history offers a great starting point for looking forward - to how as a city we can play a central role in creating a more sustainable clothing industry.

To celebrate this heritage, in 2020 we worked with Leeds Civic Trust to create Leeds Textile Trail - a celebration of the people and places that are central to this story.

Sunny Bank Mills - featured on Leeds Textile Trail (and home to this year's Sewing Bee)


Leeds Fashion Futures podcast

To pull together various threads in our work on clothing and fashion, we worked with local journalist and TV presenter Peg Alexander, to create a podcast featuring key figures from the local and national fashion industry to explore the question - Can Leeds change the face of fashion once again?


Leeds School Uniform Exchange

Alongside our Zero Waste Fashion and Leeds Fashion Futures campaigns, in 2020 we set up Leeds School Uniform Exchange - a network of hyperlocal exchanges that make it easy for people to share free, good quality, second-hand school uniform.

Find out more about Leeds School Uniform Exchange on our website

Eighteen months later, over 90% of schools are covered by an exchange, and thousands of items of uniform have been shared for free - saving people money during a cost-of-living crisis, whilst also helping to reduce the amount of textiles that get thrown away in Leeds, estimated at 4000 tonnes per year.

Leeds School Uniform Exchange is a great example of how we look to design projects based on practical circularity - making the circular economy meaningful to people in their daily lives. We've explored how we did this in this blogpost.

You can catch up with all the local and national media coverage for Leeds School Uniform Exchange on our YouTube channel.


So, can Leeds change the face of fashion once again?

We certainly think so! And as this quick overview of our work on the topic demonstrates, there is real interest in Leeds in continuing to explore this issue.

We are keen to build upon the collaborative work that has already taken place, to explore in more detail how Leeds can once again lead the world - this time with a real focus on sustainability, good working conditions, and a practical response to the climate emergency.

And it's great to see increasing interest in this issue, and recognition of the role a city like Leeds could play - as a speech from Stephanie Phair, the outgoing Chair of the British Fashion Council, at a recent Downing Street launch of a circular fashion initiative, outlined:

"Imagine a great city like Leeds reclaiming its heritage in this industry – but with reprocessing plants for fabric reuse, and take-back centres for clothing in high streets.”

That's a vision we can certainly get behind!

If you would like to explore working with us on this, please get in touch.

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