This week we spoke to the founders of Sustainable Fashion Scotland (SFS), a community-led nonprofit with the mission to connect the fashion community in Scotland and accelerate collective action for a sustainable fashion transformation, founded in early 2020. Founders, Liisa and Mairi, spoke to us about SFS, their value system and how it helps with their work, and creating a better industry and community within Scotland.
Can you tell us a little about who you guys are and what it is that you do?
I am a Scottish freelance Content Marketer, Systems Practitioner-researcher, MSc Social Innovation graduate, and Creative Director at Sustainable Fashion Scotland. Focusing on sustainable fashion in Scotland, my research/practice involves navigating complex challenges through a systems change perspective. I am particularly interested in the unstoppable power of community and relationships, and try to weave hope, joy, kindness, and equity into everything I do. The #SustFashScotland community welcomed me with open arms when my mental health was at its lowest, and every day I strive to do the same for others.
I am a fashion and circular economy practitioner and researcher, freelance seamstress, lecturer, MSc Social Innovation graduate, and an Operations Director at Sustainable Fashion Scotland. I work in many fashion areas, which helps me have a broader view of our industry and community of people who work in fashion in Scotland. I like to explore how circular economy is being integrated into fashion, how social justice is being addressed in fashion with circular principles, and how we can create accessible spaces for all.
For those who aren't familiar with you guys, what is Sustainable Fashion Scotland?
Sustainable Fashion Scotland (SFS) is a community-led nonprofit with the mission to connect the fashion community in Scotland and accelerate collective action for a sustainable fashion transformation.
As SFS launched just before the pandemic and first lockdown, most of our activities have been carried out online. We currently have three main areas that we focus on: online events (Community Calls), systemic research, and the annual SFS magazine. Alongside this we have developed reimagining future workshops (delivered to business owners as well as students at universities, colleges, and schools) that help people think about how they can take part in designing the sustainable future they want to see. We also support changemakers in our community to connect and build relationships with passionate people across Scotland, and develop other events that empower people to connect, share knowledge, and celebrate the talent and diversity in sustainable fashion in Scotland. We are in the process of refreshing and adapting our strategy for 22/23 and hope to be developing some unfinished projects such as the SFS Directory.
Our Community Calls began in July 2020 and occur on the last Thursday of each month. At each call, we invite a practitioner from the #SustFashScotland community to lead a discussion on a topic of their choice, and to share their practice with the community. Our team then synthesises the key takeaways from each conversation - where people from across Scotland (and sometimes beyond) share their personal thoughts and lived experiences - to help us understand what the fashion landscape in Scotland looks like, as well as frustrations shared by the community and the opportunities for collective action to create impactful change. We were delighted to be awarded Magnusson funding from GCU to be able to pay our guest speakers to share their knowledge, redistributing wealth across the fashion community in Scotland.
In December 2020 our team was thrilled to receive Connected Innovators funding from Creative Informatics, meaning Directors Liisa and Mairi (plus a few other internal and external researchers) were able to dedicate time to systemic research with a focus on mapping the fashion landscape in Scotland. This led us to host an actor mapping workshop with stakeholders across Scotland and working within different areas (including design, manufacturing, education, rental). The actor map showed us the huge diversity of people all working to create change in fashion in Scotland, and has enabled us to invite more people to get involved with SFS in future projects. Although our funding has since run out, we are continuing to build on this work to influence our strategy and next steps, led by our community’s lived experiences, strengths, and opinions.
Finally, the SFS Magazine is a digital publication (possibly to be printed this summer!) released on an annual basis. This acts as our impact report but also includes stories contributed by the #SustFashScotland community about their sustainability practice. We were so glad to have had a brilliant group of volunteers helping to put Issue 2 together - thank you!! The theme of issue 2 was ‘Fashion led by community over consumption in Scotland looks like…’ which encouraged contributors to both imagine what an alternative community-led future for fashion would look like, as well as to share how they are implementing this approach already in their current practice. It was brilliant to be able to launch issue 2 of the magazine at our in-person 2nd birthday party in March 2022 (where we also had another brilliant group of volunteers supporting the event organisation - thank you!!) and to watch people flipping through physical pages thanks to a small sample print run. You can read both issues of the magazine on our website: https://www.sustainablefashion.scot/magazine
We also support change-makers in our community to connect and build relationships with passionate people across Scotland
Why did you decide to start SFS and how did the idea of launching your own platform come about?
We launched in February 2020 with 70 spirited people who joined us for an in-person event, who all wanted to connect and collaborate to create more impactful change. SFS emerged after a few people (Liisa and Mairi included) realised that although there are incredible individuals and organisations championing sustainable fashion in Scotland, they didn’t have well-connected networks or infrastructure to support collective action. The environmental and social issues caused by the fashion industry (specifically fast fashion) are so complex that we know not one single organisation can solve these problems and the climate crisis alone. But we do know that by working together, aligning our individual practice to an inspirational shared vision and collaborating on joint efforts when it makes sense, we can transform the fashion system to one that is just and regenerative for all.
Liisa and Mairi met in 2019 during their MSc Social Innovation degree at Glasgow Caledonian University. Soon after they were introduced to Izzie Eriksen, Founding Director at ApparelXchange, by Ruth MacGilp, Communications and Content Manager at Fashion Revolution. Izzie’s support was crucial to the launch and first year of SFS, and we are very grateful for her and the rest of the original core team - Jacki Clark, Cassandra Belanger, Katy Wood, and Antoinette Fionda-Douglas, Gordon Black and current steering group’s support in making SFS the success that it is!
But we do know that by working together, aligning our individual practice to an inspirational shared vision and collaborating on joint efforts when it makes sense, we can transform the fashion system to one that is just and regenerative for all.
So, you all share a passion for fashion? Important question - what is your current favourite item of clothing and why?
My current favourite item of clothing is a pair of hand-knitted woollen socks I bought on a recent holiday to the Faroe Islands. In the town of Fuglafjørður we visited a small, local community shop, cafe, and events space. People living nearby can come along to drop off and sell their wares in the shop. The team member working told us that often people will meet up socially to knit together, and then sell some of the goods in the shop. It felt incredible knowing that my money was going to support a community-focused space as well as somebody living in the town, and to have a high-quality souvenir that I can wear and love for a long time! They are pink and cream, super warm, and they fit just right.
I tend to love all my clothes that make me feel comfortable, confident, and like myself. Most of all I love clothes that are made of wool or linen, somehow knowing that these items are good for my body and will last for long. The one favourite piece of clothing I have just now is a yellow wool cardigan that I knit myself, combining a couple of different knitting patterns and coming up with my own, to develop a garment that is unique. It is soft and comfortable, I love the colour, and my cats love curling into it when I am not wearing it. This is also one of the first big knitting projects that I have done, it helped me explore my creativity and give purpose to my anxious hands and mind during lockdown.
Imogen and I launched POY almost a year ago, and it took us a lot of courage to bite the bullet and go for it. Did you guys find the process of launching SFS scary or intimidating? If so, how did you overcome this feeling?
Knowing there were a few of us who recognised there was a need for some sort of a network definitely helped calm the nerves. Once we were at our launch event, you could feel the excited energy in the room, and after that my spirits were kept high knowing that we had a community of determined, ambitious changemakers in our corner! As we have evolved, I have felt uncertain and guilty at times for not making as much progress as we would like. However in the past year or so I have become a lot more comfortable working within this uncertainty and complexity. We have big dreams and big goals at SFS, and every day we take action is a step closer to a shared vision of a fashion system that is just and regenerative for all people and the planet. Knowing that there is a community of spirited people all working on unravelling the issues of the fashion industry and building a brighter future also keeps me going - we are not alone in this fight.
We have big dreams and big goals at SFS, and every day we take action is a step closer to a shared vision of a fashion system that is just and regenerative for all people and the planet.
I had been mulling something like SFS for a while in my mind before meeting Mairi (it was actually one of the reasons I decided to do the Masters, to further my knowledge). So by the time it came to the first event - the launch event at ApparelXchange where we could see the number of people all joined by the common need for change, connection and action, it felt natural and even necessary to make a proper start with SFS. Pandemic, the lockdown, the continuous political, environmental and social issues within the fashion industry and in our society make me feel sad, frustrated and angry. SFS is one of the things that makes me feel that we are making a change, and that I am taking action for the better. It is easier to launch something, when you have like minded people who share your vision!
SFS is one of the things that makes me feel that we are making a change, and that I am taking action for the better.
What are some of your personal values and how do you apply them to the work you guys produce for SFS?
Two of my top personal values are hope and kindness; I apply this to how I interact with the wider world, my closer surroundings, and myself. Working in such uncertainty (due to issues around sustainability being so complex and always evolving) can be stressful. Instead of giving into the overwhelm, I try my best to approach my systems practice with kindness and hope - knowing that every action I take is having at least a little positive impact, and knowing that there are many other kind people working in Scotland to help build this impact into great, collective change. Additionally, hope is a verb, which means that it requires action. I try hard to shift my feelings of uncertainty into feelings of curiosity, and to transform my overwhelm-induced anxiety into hopeful action.
My values are respect, listening, fairness and kindness. This is based on the world I want to see, how I want to be treated and how I aim to treat people myself. The work that we do at SFS is trying to understand the fashion system in Scotland. But the knowledge comes from our community, which requires us to listen and respect the experiences we hear to be able to communicate the deep rooted issues and how we can collectively solve them. Showing respect to the diversity of experience, voices and opinions (not just the predominant growth and standardisation mentality) can hopefully encourage more diverse ideas to flourish in our community.
How do you feel that these values help and create a better industry and community?
Our values revolving around kindness are rooted in equity - equity for the people who we work alongside with and the environment over the economy. Although the economy is also important, we believe it should serve the planet and communities instead of being the all-encompassing focus of decision making. By grounding our values in this way we are inviting more people to join the conversation - and it works. We are very grateful to receive positive feedback detailing that we are providing friendly, authentic, inclusive, and hopeful spaces to connect with each other and learn about important sustainability topics.
By grounding our values in this way we are inviting more people to join the conversation - and it works
Here at Point of You we highly value the power of community; we are constantly trying to grow our community, as well as joining and empowering others. What value do you get personally from being part of different teams and creative communities, outside SFS?
As a freelancer who usually works alone from home, I often feel lonely and so community is vital for my mental health and wellbeing. Meeting like-minded people, whether that is to do with climate action or other areas of my life, gives me so much energy and hope to keep going in life.
I love hearing and seeing other people’s experiences, thoughts and knowledge as it expands my world view and helps me understand the type of solutions we need to make a better world. I get inspired and empowered by the energy of people in the different teams and communities, which is amplified when the experiences and perspectives are diverse yet all have the same need for change in the world.
I love hearing and seeing other people’s experiences, thoughts and knowledge as it expands my world view and helps me understand the type of solutions we need to make a better world.
How do you see SFS evolving?
We are in the process of refreshing and adapting our strategy for 22/23 and hope to be developing some unfinished projects such as the SFS Directory/Directories. A big part of our work and our strengths has been mapping the fashion landscape, and as we want to be transparent in our practice, we would like to make this mapping available to continue to help people to connect and collaborate for collective change. We have just run out of both our funding streams, so will be applying for more funding once we know which projects we want to move forward with.
We would love to make SFS more of a decentralised organisation, so that the work can continue without requiring ourselves (Mairi and Liisa) to be there all the time. We’re not sure what that looks like yet but the idea of organising ‘working groups’ for specific issues and solutions has come up a few times recently, so this will likely be part of our next steps in some shape or form! What we know for sure is that we want to continue being led by the #SustFashScotland community, valuing diverse perspectives and many varied lived experiences so that we can achieve sustainable futures that are just, regenerative, and kind to everybody.
What we know for sure is that we want to continue being led by the #SustFashScotland community, valuing diverse perspectives and many varied lived experiences so that we can achieve sustainable futures that are just, regenerative, and kind to everybody.
What is your main piece of advice for those who want to make the switch from fast fashion to the slow fashion movement?
My advice is to think of yourself as a citizen rather than a consumer. Clothing/fashion is not just about buying - it is about identity, relationships, our personal values, wellbeing, and so much more. Consider how your personal values as a citizen could be applied to your relationship and actions with clothing (beyond buying).
Clothing/fashion is not just about buying - it is about identity, relationships, our personal values, wellbeing, and so much more.
Be kind to yourself. When I started understanding the numerous issues of the fashion industry I was paralised with not knowing what to do, whether I could shop anymore, what clothes I could wear and what does it say about me. Listen to your values and start slowly. We still need to buy clothing and we can’t all afford sustainably and ethically made local or artisanal pieces, and we are not all skilled at finding the great pieces in second hand shops. Identify steps that you think you can make with the knowledge you have, whether it is wearing clothes for longer and caring for them, renting clothes, engaging in activism (such as Stop Cambo), engage with local textile community groups that have a gentler way to learn and equip individuals, or something else. By taking small steps at a time, you notice yourself getting more knowledgeable and it will become easier to make changes in the future.
By taking small steps at a time, you notice yourself getting more knowledgeable and it will become easier to make changes in the future.
Thank you so so much to the women at Sustainable Fashion Scotland for being so incredibly inspiring! It is an honour to have interviewed you for POY!
Keep doing great things🔥
If you'd like to keep up to date with what they are up to and/or if you'd like to get involved, you can follow the links below :