Sustainable Fashion: Edinburgh’s Eco-Champions

This convenient guide to sustainable fashion in Edinburgh, and Scotland as a whole, will introduce you to some of the amazing organizations working to minimise the great harm caused by the mainstream fashion industry on fragile natural environments, and on human health and liberty the world over.

By Jenni Flett

An Introduction to Sustainable Fashion

Who made my clothes?

This is the question posited by Fashion Revolution, a worldwide organisation working towards more transparency in the fashion industry.

As an expression of who we are or just for practicality, the clothes we wear are an essential part of our everyday lives. The push nowadays is to go back to basics with our clothes, to learn skills like sewing and knitting and if you do buy new then to think about where our clothes come from. The truth behind the manufacturing of fast fashion items is not pretty.

We need eco champions to allow shoppers to make more informed decisions, learn new skills, help our communities and help the wider world by empowering workers and not contributing to one of the most polluting industries in the world, the textile industry.

Fast fashion – The facts

Fashion Revolution, an organisation founded by Carry Somers, released the Fashion Transparency Index in 2019 which reveals the truth behind fashion industry practice, social and environmental policies and impact. This is a selection of facts and stats from this extensive research:

  • Global textile production emits 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases annually – this is more than international flights and maritime shipping combined
  • Our clothing consumption worldwide is set to double by 2030
  • Only 55% of brands publish annual carbon footprint in their facilities with only 19.5% publishing this information for their supply chain
  • Over one-third of female manufacturers in the UK report sexual harassment every year, and are regularly beaten and abused for not hitting targets despite long hours and low pay – In South East Asia it’s believed to be over half of women garment workers
  • It contributes to 20 per cent of water pollution in the dyeing of fabric, chemical fertilisers, and run-off in production
  • £140 million of clothes goes to the landfill every year

Sustainable Fashion in Scotland

It’s clear that it’s time for climate action and greater transparency in the fashion and textile industry – but what can we do at home?

Textile companies in Scotland can receive support, information, tools and even a climate change levy through various organisations like Zero Waste Scotland, Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) and Ethical Fashion Forum (SOURCE platform).

Consumers can make mindful choices of where they get new clothes from, and fortunately, in Scotland and especially in Edinburgh there are sustainable champions to make that lifestyle change a reality.

A Guide to Sustainable Fashion in Edinburgh

This is a focus on Edinburgh, but these kinds of organisations exist in communities across Europe and beyond. These are brands, organisations and charities leading the way in Scotland’s capital city to give you the consumer an idea of how you can enact change in your everyday life.

Learn to knit and sew like a pro!

Edinburgh Remakery

Based on Leith Walk, Edinburgh’s most multicultural community is the Edinburgh Remakery. This award-winning social enterprise is committed to diverting waste from the landfill by upcycling, restoration/refurbishment and repairing everything from computers to furniture. The biggest asset they provide, aside from their shop is education. They hold weekly workshops where anyone can sign up to learn sewing, knitting, bookbinding, upholstery, lampshade making, woodwork, upcycling and finishing techniques, box-making, and more. Skill sharing like this is essential to communities – it empowers people, improves our capabilities and saves us money too! Imagine being able to fix that hole in your jumper instead of buying a new one? Fashion based workshops in 2020 include making your own tote bag, machine knitting, hand embroidery, make your own dog coat, sewing machine skills, knit your own poncho and knit your own scarf. They do sell out quickly so make sure to book!

Edinburgh Remakery from outside, sustainable fashion in Edinburgh
The Edinburgh Remakery, a symbol of sustainable fashion in Edinburgh
Repurposed goods in Edinburgh remakery, sustainable fashion in Edinburgh
Inside the Edinburgh Remakery
Inside Edinburgh Remakery, sustainable fashion in Edinburgh
Inside the Edinburgh Remakery
Inside the Edinburgh Remakery, sustainable fashion in Edinburgh
Inside the Edinburgh Remakery
Sign in window describing workshops, sustainable fashion in Edinburgh
Edinburgh Remakery Workshops

Artisan Stitch

Run by Jen Skedd, a lifelong sewist, Artisan Stitch is in the arts complex St Margaret’s House on London Road near the city centre. She has an impressive background; as a member of the Embroiderer’s Guild, her pieces have been sold in shops around the UK and to designers, as well as high street chains. She runs classes and workshops for everyone including beginner’s, children and works one-to-one with customers to make them a sewing pro. There are beginner’s sewing classes, dressmaking, children’s sewing classes, free motion embroidery, refresher sewing classes, and her ‘rags to riches’ upcycling class which transforms old, tired clothes into stunning new pieces worthy of a catwalk.

Sewing kit filled with spools of various colours
Sewing kit

Second-hand vs high street shops

Bethany charity shop campaign

Charity shops are a fantastic source for fashionable pieces for bargain prices. Edinburgh homeless charity Bethany Christian Trust is asking people to #shoptostophomelessness. Charity shops go both ways, while you pick up something you need, you also help a local charity help people within this city without homes or stability. The campaign is backed by social media influencers to show just what you can pull together with a few quid! The charity focuses on homelessness prevention, crisis intervention and housing and support services and operate a Care Van in Edinburgh. Bethany have shops all over the city in six locations – Duke Street in Leith, Stockbridge, Summerhall Place, Morningside, Haddington Place and The Bethany Bookshop in Leith. On the last Thursday of every month, they also hold a furniture clearance event in their warehouse on Jane Street. Take the initiative to help the homeless community, buy yourself a bargain and be sustainable all at the same time.

Bethany charity shop, sustainable fashion in Edinburgh
A Bethany Charity Shop
Inside a Bethany charity shop, sustainable fashion in Edinburgh
Inside a Bethany Shop

Bride to be…

Stockbridge Bridal Charity Shop

Weddings are not cheap. Those wee costs quickly add up, so the British Red Cross shop in Stockbridge has created a second-hand bridal service to help with the costs! According to the National Wedding Survey, the average cost of a wedding dress in the UK is £1385, with some dresses costing hundreds or thousands more. The average cost for the whole wedding in the UK is £31,974. This charity shop started with a few donated dresses which they would display in their windows, now they have a full-on bridal section with dresses, veils, shoes, shawls, jewellery, bridesmaid dresses, mother-of-the-bride outfits. There are also coats, suits, ties and cravats for grooms, best men and ushers. If you’re not getting married you can donate to the shop, and if you are getting married their shop assistants can help you find something special. The British Red Cross helps refugees, asylum seekers, people with money problems or affected by an emergency and do international work facing hunger and conflict. You’ll be helping people all over the UK and worldwide with your purchase or donation.

Inside British Red Cross, sustainable fashion in Edinburgh
The British Red Cross, another great source for sustainable fashion in Edinburgh
Wedding dresses inside Red Cross, Edinburgh
Wedding dresses inside Red Cross
Hand holding the delicate stitching of a wedding dress
Bride to be

Clothes swaps and local markets

Out of the Blue Drill Hall

Community centres do essential work for locals and offer the space for people to organise events to enable us to make more mindful choices. Out of the Blue Drill Hall in Leith is a cafe and events space that does all the above. On the last Saturday of every month they hold a Flea Market where you can pick up second-hand bric-a-brac, clothes and household goods, combined with their other regular event, the vintage kilo sale this makes this community centre one of the go-to places for vintage wear in the city. One thing that sets them apart is the Makers Marque which is more than just a market of local traders and designers. At this event, people demonstrate their unique skills and products with demonstrations and open studios, but the best thing about this event is that it allows people to try a workshop and learn new skills. Workshops vary each time but range from things like tote bag making or creating paper jewellery.

Clothes swaps in Edinburgh

To combat fast fashion there has been a push towards organising clothes swaps. Its concept is simple – you probably already do something like this with friends! A clothes swap works like this – you take along a bag of clothes and donate the bag, then people swap with each other and anything leftover can be donated to charity. For £5 you can fill a bag while you donate a bag in Sofi’s Bar who hold regular clothes swap events. They promote reusing preloved clothes and recycling clothes you no longer want with money from ticket sales going to charity. The Eco Larder on Morrison Street holds a seasonal swap shop for clothes, books or even craft supplies to put the old proverb ‘one person’s trash is another’s treasure’ into action. Zero wasters can also keep an eye on the Edinburgh Fashion Society, an Edinburgh University group who organise clothes swaps with coffee and cake – even if you have no clothes you can go chat about sustainable fashion and meet new people!

Sustainable Fashion Brands and Stores

Ethical shopping in Edinburgh

Not everything has to be about making things, upcycling or buying second-hand and vintage – it can also be about buying from ethical and sustainable brands and shops of which there are many across Edinburgh. Scottish designer wear can be found at Concrete Wardrobe, while funky boutique Godiva sells repurposed clothing from independent designers. Joey D is a legendary designer who sells recycled vintage clothing and accessories, meanwhile slow fashion store Totty Rocks make beautiful outfits from locally sourced fabrics – it takes around two to three weeks for an order to come through, but it’s worth the wait! For designer knitwear, family-run Bill Baber only uses natural yarns in their clothing and has a contemporary and colourful range of knitwear in their Grassmarket store. Other little ethical clothing gems are Bohemia, Dandelion and Ginger and Hibiscus Flower.

Fast Fashion – Real Talk in Edinburgh

Zero Waste Hub

The Shrub Coop is the UK’s first student-led community cooperative, but now describe themselves as community-led with anyone free to join. The Zero Waste Hub on Bread Street has a swap shop where you can shop for second-hand items, including swapping your old items for tokens to be used in the shop. They also have a fashion working group who hold sustainable fashion monthly meetups to discuss fast fashion and what can be done about it within the Edinburgh community. They ask for all attendees to be read up on the subject to share ideas and facts with some tea and cake. For more hands-on workshops they run weekly sewing and upcycling sessions on Thursdays in their Shrub Space on Guthrie Street.

Red vintage clothes
Vintage clothes sale
Vintage clothes on rack, sustainable fashion in Edinburgh
Vintage clothes sale

Eco Champions Across Scotland

Across Scotland are organisations combatting fast fashion, here are more eco champions you can support in Scotland:

MADE in East Lothian, Haddington – A mixed-use venue who also support those with mental health issues and additional support needs, they have a maker’s gallery, workshop, ink station, community groups and upcycling and reuse services and hold markets for local designers and artists.

Glasgow Eco Trust – A local environmental charity and social enterprise in Glasgow. This innovative group hold a Community Environmental Forum collective to look at individual action to maintain and improve the local community and environment.

Greener Kirkcaldy – A community-led organisation who have several projects tackling climate change, one being the Climate Cafe which is a monthly event with guest speakers, movies and discussions. They also have a fortnightly sewing group, and regular reuse and repair workshops.

Miixer Zero Waste Hub, Dunbar – A non-profit social enterprise operating across East Lothian, sells everything from bric-a-brac and furniture to vintage clothing and diverts over 30 tonnes of material every month from landfill to reuse for community benefit. They have a zero-waste shop in Dunbar, Zero Leith pop up events and run the Big Pick in Musselburgh where you can buy clothes by the kilo for £6.

Charity shop chic, sustainable fashion in Edinburgh
Charity shop chic

A Change in Attitude

Hopefully, you have found some value from this guide to sustainable fashion in Edinburgh. We are in the middle of a seismic shift in how we think about our clothes, where they come from and how this affects the environment. From picking up a pair of knitting needles to treating your local charity shop the same as a boutique, these are positive changes in attitude that we can easily incorporate into our everyday lives. These organisations exist because they are vital services within communities and for the good of the planet. Fast fashion is convenient, but what’s the real cost?

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