How can we strengthen design and material reuse networks in rural places? SFS Insights

After our first community discussion focusing on rural places, led by designer Hannah Clinch based in Dunoon, Argyll, what became clear was a shared, hopeful determination for a more sustainable approach to textile and clothing production in Scotland, as well as frustrations around keeping local textile and manufacturing skills alive due to them being undervalued in our society and by the government.

At Sustainable Fashion Scotland we are looking forward to making our work and impact more relevant to rural places and communities. We are so grateful to be able to work with passionate people across Scotland such as those who joined us for this insightful, inspiring discussion. Below are our key takeaways from the call, but you can watch the recording to listen to the full discussion.

In rural places across Scotland, you will find spirited people championing place-based, sustainable approaches to local textile and manufacturing processes.

While it can be isolating to work in remote locations (especially after the pandemic), there was powerful energy in the group to share learnings and knowledge, support each other’s organisations, and work together for collective impact. On the call, ideas for collective action were flowing, offers of support were generously exchanged, and stories were shared about the struggles and triumphs of organisations such as Prickly Thistle (​​the only tartan weaving mill in the Highlands) and upskilling-focused Creation Mill CIC in Langholm, Dumfries and Galloway. As it was clear that more spaces are desired by rural practitioners to get inspired and learn from each other, a working group focusing on rural issues and action was suggested to bring together people and enable greater impact.

“​​One of the things about living and working in a rural area is you don’t always get a feel- get a sense that you’ve got a network of people. So for me this has opened my eyes that there is a network of people out there that are galvanised by an overriding mission and commitment to sustainability which is something that I think is really nice — so thank you.” — Hannah Clinch

Illustration by SFS Volunteer Rachel Tame, @rtame_

Paid placements and training routes in the local textiles and manufacturing industry are critical to creating a more sustainable approach to textiles and clothing production in Scotland, particularly in rural areas.

Unfortunately, these skills are undervalued by society and government, resulting in mills lacking financial capacity to provide well-paid training and work opportunities. This is due partly to consumers not valuing the making of fabrics and garments which interlinks with a lack of funding for local manufacturing from the government.

“We need to put that fair price on the fabric and the quality, and the craftsmanship that goes into it.” — Emma Duncan

Despite Scotland having a rich textile history and heritage, the devaluing of local manufacturing — partly due to offshoring textile and clothing production — means there is a reducing number of people who have knowledge of these traditional skills. On the call it was noted that as long as people can get higher wages stacking shelves in supermarkets rather than weaving beautiful cloth, it will be difficult for manufacturers to retain employees and attract young people to work in the industry.

“It only seems like the fabric is valued once it’s made into something. The fabric is made into a Chanel jacket and that’s when it gets whacked [with] thousands of pounds but the jacket wouldn’t exist with the fabric and the fibres.” — Emma Duncan

Poor wages mean economically disadvantaged people in particular are excluded from working in fashion. A sector that is valued more than textiles however is tourism: on the call we discussed how we could prompt money to be redirected towards heritage projects related to textiles, to help enable people to work in these spaces with good wages.

“If the government could fund student placements through the holidays, wouldn’t that be amazing?” — Emma McLellan

In our own communities, we can build on the unique strengths of our textile heritage and place, helping people to reconnect with and value local production processes.

As Hannah shared on the call, the devaluation of local manufacturing comes partly from “a lack of connection to making [textile heritage] important and culturally important, part of our pride.” We discussed how we can engage our communities and ways to help people reconnect with local production processes, such as participating in Doors Open Days to expose people to the skills and time required to make fabrics. Social events and craft activities such as mending circles and markets that focus on reuse and repair can help develop community awareness of textiles and issues related to waste. Building on ‘learning through play’ approaches used in schools was also recommended to warmly welcome people to get involved with textiles. Getting people involved in the regeneration of their local ‘space and place’ can help bring back pride and care.

We will be working our way backwards through past Community Call recordings and insights to upload to our website and Medium blog, so keep checking our social media (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn) or subscribe to our newsletter (in your inbox every 2–3 weeks) to be the first to know as they become publicly available.

These insights were synthesised by SFS Directors Mairi Lowe and Liisa Lehtinen and were derived from the SFS Community Call on Thursday 28th April 2022, led by Hannah Clinch. If you have any feedback, please get in touch.

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Sustainable Fashion Scotland
Sustainable Fashion Scotland

SFS is a community-led nonprofit connecting the fashion community in Scotland and accelerating collective action for a sustainable fashion transformation.