The Big Challenge: Learning to tread more lightly

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Common Thread does slow fashion in style. We are a voluntary, community project, that organises social exchanges of local clothing, repair workshops and playful upcycling activities. We waste not, but live and laugh lots. Currently we run a quarterly seasonal clothing exchange, and a monthly craft club on the last Sunday of every month.

Everyone is welcome at Common Thread events - they are inclusive and accessible. Though we must cover costs, and volunteers take responsibility for tasks to make sure the project continues to deliver quality service and meaningful activities, the sustainability plan is a post-capitalist model: to provide goods and services based on a currency of commitment and exchange, only spending cash to support the local economy, and finding avenues to zero in terms of reducing our carbon footprint, particularly in terms of clothing and textiles.

Why do we want to reduce the carbon footprint of clothing? Well, I don’t seek to overwhelm readers with statistics, but if we just take one example, the manufacture of a typical pair of synthetic running trainers generates 30lbs of emissions, equivalent to leaving a 100-watt bulb burning for a week.

That’s before we take into account the emissions generated in laundry and disposal of the trainers. Pretty scary for an item that doesn’t require electricity for its day-to-day use, is designed for health purposes, and often for the wearer to enjoy the outdoors. I’m not saying we should all be walking around barefoot, but how can we make more informed choices about the things we wear to protect our bodies?

At Common Thread, we seek to educate about the negative social and environmental effects of the fast fashion industry by demonstrating a real, affordable and actually enjoyable alternative to high street shopping. The current capitalist model of fast fashion hides hugely complex issues which cannot be solved overnight, but the hope is that creating communities who care about updating their wardrobe according to the four seasons, not the fictional 52 ‘micro-seasons’, are a group more likely to call for change - to reject the enormous amounts of wasted energy, fuel and fabric, and to call on governments to raise the standard of living, health and wellbeing of people who work in the clothing industry.

Simultaneously, we are improving local community cohesion with a welcoming supportive environment, fostering a culture of volunteering, sharing, exchanging, kindness and tolerance.

I’m proud to have gathered a team of such wonderful volunteers who push the project forward

Volunteers are trained to reserve judgement on taste, and instead help participants to find their own style, look and feel great without costing the earth. Furthermore, the aim is for participants to learn simple skills to prolong the lifetime of garments, and to overcome their fears of repairing, redesigning, repurposing and remaking, then to pass on these skills freely and with kindness and compassion.

I’m proud that my co-workers and people that I’ve come to know in a professional context attend Common Thread events, enjoy them and learn something. I’m proud to have gathered a team of such wonderful volunteers who push the project forward with their enthusiasm, and who want to give their time, ideas and energy, for free.

And I feel pride in partnering with Timebuilders at St Mary’s, Peace in The Park, Repair Sheffield and Sheffield Donations for Refugees.

I’m proud that Common Thread is recognised as a real-life meaningful project which - in a small way - challenges capitalism, social inequality and combats loneliness. Right now it’s simply a quarterly clothing exchange, and a monthly craft club. But moreover it’s about communities learning to tread more lightly, one step at a time.

Our next craft club - with a ‘bunting beautiful’ theme - is on Sunday, May 28, from 1pm to 5pm at The Hub on Sharrow Lane.

And the clothing exchange has made it to the city centre. We’re hosted by Union Street every quarter. Visit us on June 3 between midday and 4pm.

n Email for more information.