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Wimbledon staff, students and alumni address the urgent issue of sustainability in the costume industry

group of girls performing in costume
group of girls performing in costume
Ali Wright, Performance in Sustainable costume
, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Wimbledon College of Arts
Written by
Tyrone Huggins
Published date
01 November 2019

Guest post by Kathleen Ridley, Lecturer, BA Costume for Theatre and Screen.

At this critical time, just as governments around the world are declaring a climate and environmental emergency in response to growing public pressure, it seemed a good opportunity to reflect and discuss changes we can make at home and at work for a more ethical and sustainable future.

Sustainability is widely discussed in the fashion industry, and although there are many common issues in costume, some practices that are specific to the industry don’t get enough attention.

Students on the BA Costume for Theatre and Screen course are encouraged to develop a sustainable approach in their projects, using various methods such as upcycling clothing, recycling textiles in innovative and creative ways and making informed choices when sourcing fabrics. But beyond integrating these practices into their own work, we wondered how they could become part of the wider conversation about these issues.

With this in mind we organised an event in May this year which brought students at Wimbledon together with alumni and industry practitioners for a panel discussion looking at how we all can be agents of change.

Panel and speaker at forum event
Caroline Akselson, Sustainability talk
, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Wimbledon College of Arts

Below are some of the reflections on that event from those who participated:

“The evening was so inspiring because of the range of people presenting, we looked at sustainability from so many different angles and I think that's really important. We spoke about how the state of the environment and the practices of the film and TV industries can get you down and feel overwhelming, but there was also a real feeling of positivity from the innovative and proactive projects by the panel.” - Katie-May Boyd, materials designer and researcher, panellist.

“It was a really interesting insight into the world of costume, which I'm not so familiar with, and sparked some great conversation!” - Charlie Bradley Ross, founder and director, Offset Warehouse, panellist.

“It was great to be able to introduce the students to a new angle on working in costume, fashion and textiles and engage with them on a topic that will become very important as they start their working lives.” - Caroline Akselson, co-founder of Selkie Patterns, panellist.

girl posing in costume
Ali Wright, Performance in Sustainable costume
, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Wimbledon College of Arts

“The talk was a fantastic idea. Personally, I felt it was very enlightening. Talking about such an important subject is a major step towards implementing change for the future. I hope these discussions will continue to develop.” - Amanda Cox, costume designer and supervisor, panellist.

"It has made me hopeful to see that there is a willingness to discuss the topic of sustainability within costume. Now we need to keep the dialogue going!" - Franziska Plagge, BA Costume Interpretation alumna.

"Getting to learn about sustainability within the costume industry through various professionals, explaining their place within it and sharing their experience, allowed me to question my personal practice, as well as reflect on what I could potentially do to help out." Julia Mercadier, BA Costume Interpretation second year student.

“This evening was truly eye-opening. It was great to realise that there is a whole community of 'environmentalists' within the fashion and costume world that strive towards a more sustainable future for our industry. I felt less alone with my worries about climate change and more hopeful that we can create a fairer and sustainable future while still enjoying our work as costume entrepreneurs.” - Miriam Holzl, BA Costume Interpretation third year student.

Two girls in stop motion with arms reaching upwards
Ali Wright, Performance in sustainable costume
, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Wimbledon College of Arts

“As a third-year student, this event gave an insight into the broad range of career opportunities showcased within the fields of sustainable fabric sourcing, printing and pattern making. It conveyed a positive and hopeful attitude towards the need for sustainability and waste reduction in the costume industry, something often viewed as a bleak subject.” Eve Oakley, BA Costume Design student.

“The discussion made me think differently about my pre-conceived thoughts on how costume creation and design could work in the future with a sustainable mindset. The panel came from a wide range of backgrounds, giving us a broad spectrum of ideas and information. The presentations and dialogues provided historical, current and future possibilities that help to drive the discussions for sustainability improvements in the costume industry. I greatly appreciated the sustainability lecture; it is a great step forward for the costume program. Linnea Maertens, BA Costume first year student.

girl dancing in balletic motion
Ali Wright, Performance in Sustainable costume
, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Wimbledon College of Arts

We hope to host other events in future to promote the exchange of ideas around best practice in terms of sustainability and employability, and involve our students in current conversations that are happening in industry.

Want to find out more about our BA Costume for Theatre and Screen? Find out more on the course page and book now to visit our open day