How Clean Are Your Clothes?

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Razz sat down with Catherine Cartwright, a local artist and print maker, who is spearheading a campaign as part of the Grand Challenges scheme to educates students about fashion ethics.

Catherine will be on campus in the Forum from 10-4 on Monday 17th March, where her talking shop will engage the University’s sartorially brilliant students in discussing the heritage of their clothing. Catherine would love to get as many students involved as possible; you don’t have to be part of Grand Challenges or Razz Mag either!

Catherine, and her clothing rail – which is doubling up as her studio for the day – will be in the Forum to sketch student fashion in a whole new approach to street style. By compiling pieces from popular student brands, Catherine hopes she can distill student fashion into distinct collections based on the brand and how ethical their approach to manufacturing is in the wake of the Rana Plaza factory disaster in Bangladesh.

Catherine had this to say about the project, the associated exhibition and her own attitude towards fashion ethics:

Your project and exhibition is dedicated to enlightening us about the politics of fashion ethics. How are your sketches going to facilitate a discussion on ‘How Clean Are Your Clothes?’ 

The idea is that it is in the process of making the drawings that dialogue is raised about ethical clothing. During the ‘How Clean are Your Clothes’ event, I invite passing students and staff to have their clothes drawn. As they stand in front of the mirror, I draw onto cellophane that is attached to the mirror, seeming to draw on the mirror itself. As they stand close to the mirror watching my pen trace round their clothing I want to create a few minutes of time where the mind can focus on the items of clothing and not the person in it. I ask gentle questions about their clothing, if they’re interested in where they come from and who made them. I am creating the opportunity for curiosity to rise up. There are specially-designed swing tags with further links which I encourage them to check them out.

Students from the Grand Challenge task have been involved in the first event to involve students or staff further with a game of Fashion Ethics Trump cards (which were created by students from the Geography department). I wanted to create an event that could involve students or staff for a range of time from 2 minutes to half and hour depending on their own schedule and interest.

The exhibition will include a range of work responding to ethical fashion from not only myself, but also students at the University and also from Year 12s & 13s from a community college in Totnes. This range of responses will aim to draw in viewers to find out more and inspire curiosity.

Prior to commencing the project, did you try to shop ethically? 

Mmm, I’ve had a few goes. For one year I tried to only buy ethical shoes and I have subsequently failed on this as my vanity and taste isn’t satisfied by the choice.

I like the People Tree brand but I can’t afford it. Since discovering the free2work website that publishes detailed coverage of the ethical viability of brands it is so helpful to see other brands I can feel less guilty about. Ethical clothing is a nascent business with a long journey ahead.

Do you believe that you can shop ethically without compromising your personal style? 

If your personal style is purely a statement of your beliefs then yes. However for me it is more than that.

How would you describe your personal style? And does this correspond to your artwork?

Colour blocking but no, it doesn’t correspond to my artwork – but it’s an interesting thought!

Finally, what elements of student style do you think sets Exeter apart from other universities? 

I enjoy the casual style that I see students wearing. The students in general bring a vibrancy to Exeter. I would love to see more raw, ‘way out’ style though!

For more fashion ethics, visit the blog at: http://whatnotfashion.wordpress.com/

…and visit Catherine’s website at: http://www.catherinecartwright.co.uk

IMAGE – Issey Miyake, 1994

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