The last day of August. One in the afternoon. The Living Lab Stage. Body and Soul Arena. Electric Picnic. To the curious observer, the throngs of teens and twenty-somethings convalescing around the stage (and spilling out onto both the grass and benches of the periphery) might have suggested the performance of some popular musician, perhaps a DJ something-or-other. I was questioned more than once, as I stood observing from my chosen perch at the edge of the crowd, “What’s going on here? Who’s in there?” “Keelin and Ellie Moncrieff,” I replied.
The fact that the former, a 21-year-old sustainable fashion blogger, has accrued such a following is partially due to her candid and witty social media content. But perhaps this growing wave of interest in climate action is also a sign of the times. Keelin Moncrieff and her fans represent a shared sense of responsibility many young people today feel regarding the climate crisis. When I asked her about this rise in popularity, she seemed hopeful, noting that today there are “many more people who are interested in and care about the environment than there were even two, three years ago. It’s constantly growing.”
“…the conflict between fast and sustainable fashion is perhaps most relevant to college students. One can see the battle lines subliminally drawn in the halls of the arts block or the niches of the library.”
Moncrieff, who originally studied fashion buying, first learned about sustainability from one of her college instructors: “It wasn’t even part of our course, she taught it to us off the syllabus. Once you learn about the effects of fast fashion it’s pretty hard to ignore.” To give a bit of context, fast fashion, the rapid production of cheap and trendy clothes that move quickly from runway to retail, is a term applicable to many highstreet brands. Examples include Penneys, Zara and Pretty Little Thing. In an effort to bring of-the-moment clothes to the public at a rapid pace, such brands use toxins, harmful dyes and synthetics which seep into water supplies and release lead and pesticides into the air. From the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 to the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the textile industry has a long history of exploiting garment workers, a group consisting primarily of women. Recently, Pretty Little Thing was embroiled in a scandal when the company publicised its use of chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects.
And still, these companies continue to garner appeal for the affordability and availability of their products. They market toward the budget-conscious fashionista, the student shopper — and they’re successful, at least among many of my peers. As such, the conflict between fast and sustainable fashion is perhaps most relevant to college students. One can see the battle lines subliminally drawn in the halls of the arts block or the niches of the library. Quite visibly, there are those who choose to align themselves with the security of our future, and those, who for lack of awareness or effort, do not.
“We all have a choice to shop in a way that mitigates our environmental footprint, to buy clothes that aren’t made to be worn once, to look for sustainably sourced materials, and to reuse and upcycle when possible.”
When asked how she would advise one to balance the time and cost of living sustainably as a young person, Moncrieff is realistic. “It is so easy,” she admits, “when you’re in college to just order loads of takeaway and not cook for yourself. But then you end up with a bunch of plastic waste and no money. I usually go to co-ops and markets to get my groceries without any excess packaging, but obviously not everyone can do that.” Moncrieff, notably, was plastic-free for the entirety of July of this year. Until we’re all able to achieve her level of commitment, however, she recommends cooking from home as much as possible. “Another thing you can do,” she adds after a pause, “is really try to inform your housemates on the proper way to recycle. I even put up signs above my bins because my housemates kept messing up the recycling and compost.” Even if you fancy yourself a conscious recycler, it’s important to note that any remnants of food waste in a bag of recyclable materials renders the entire contents unsuitable for reuse. Wash your bags and tins, kids!
At this point our conversation naturally shifts to the merits of sustainable fashion. “Shopping secondhand is an easy way to make a positive impact. Most cities these days have vintage shops, and it’s also so much cheaper to shop sustainably.” For those who may not have ready access to a vintage retailer, Moncrieff lauds the online marketplace Depop, where users can buy and sell their own clothes — in effect, an environmentally-friendly alternative to online shopping. She herself recently moved from Dublin to Galway to open her own vintage shop, operating exclusively on Depop and Instagram. “Being your own boss is kind of scary,” she says, but she enjoys the freedom it affords her. “I mostly upcycle clothes, jumpers and peasant tops — like the one you’re wearing!” She gestures to my blouse. “Thrifted clothes don’t have to look old.” We all have a choice to shop in a way that mitigates our environmental footprint, to buy clothes that aren’t made to be worn once, to look for sustainably sourced materials, and to reuse and upcycle when possible.
“Our generation doesn’t want to sit behind a desk nine-to-five every day and make money, we just want to be outside, connecting with each other in a healthy environment.”
Our setting lends itself particularly well to another important discussion about sustainability amongst young people: the festival scene. More often than not, music festivals like Electric Picnic or Indiependence contribute an enormous amount of waste to their surrounding communities. A peremptory glance around the grounds of a campsite on the last day of a festival can attest to this — hundreds of tents, chairs, bags, clothes, cups, boxes, and cans are left behind for the landfill. It is, truly, an apocalyptic sight to behold. Moncrieff notes an occasion on which she witnessed a festival stage belch flames for the better part of a day. “That’s just not necessary,” she says, “it’s ridiculous. Festivals have gotten a bit better with their waste management in the last few years, Body and Soul did a really good job, but there’s still more to be done. Festival organizers can help by setting up more bins, loads more bins, and people at the festivals really just need to try to clean up after themselves.”
As our conversation comes to a close, I ask Moncrieff what she envisions as an ideal solution to the climate crisis. Her reflection, clearly much pondered, comes easily. “Obviously, in an ideal world we’d all have farms in our back garden and live and work locally, but I know that’s not possible right now.” Instead, she talks about trying to restrict the impact of massive corporations. A mere 100 companies are responsible for around 71% of global emissions since 1988, the Carbon Majors Database reports. This was one of the primary concerns of the recent student-led strike for climate action, which drew millions of participants worldwide, nearly 100,000 in Dublin alone. Why is there such fervent enthusiasm among the student population? I’ll let her answer this one: “Our generation doesn’t want to sit behind a desk nine-to-five every day and make money, we just want to be outside, connecting with each other in a healthy environment.”