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In conversation with Clare Press

In conversation with Clare Press

This month, we sat down with someone who has inspired us ever since we started arkitaip: Clare Press. 

Clare was named VOGUE's first ever Sustainability Editor in 2018 and is globally regarded as the go-to journalist on the subject of ethical fashion. She also hosts the podcast 'Wardrobe Crisis' where she interviews key players from the field of sustainable fashion. We are very excited to share what we have learned from Clare. 

Interviewed by Lea Wieser

Milou and I 'met' about one year ago: I contacted her via email after I stumbled upon her beautiful art in an East-London pop-up. What I loved about her work was the nostalgic aesthetic and the complex simplicity that I also saw represented in arkitaip. So I decided to get in touch. A couple of months later Milou and I found ourselves, not only knee-deep in a pandemic, but managing to successfully launch two editions of a very magique collaboration ...

In a world where where being 'sustainable' has become a trend used by a lot of companies to greenwash their operations, how do you define sustainability?

CLARE PRESS: It’s becoming one of those overused words, and of course some people and companies misuse it, but I think sustainability is the most useful term we have right now. 

I look at it as a broad umbrella that covers treating people right and striving to live more lightly on our beautiful planet.

With the fashion industry often cited as the 'the second most polluting industry in the world', it’s no longer a secret that change needs to happen - fast. But may it be already too late?  

CP: Well, firstly if I can stop you there? Because fashion isn’t the second most polluting industry, although it’s certainly up there. If you want to know more on this fake fact and how it gained currency, I recommend you read this by Alden Wicker

But regardless of whether it’s the third or fourth and whether we measure that according to its carbon footprint or its chemical or water use, we do know that it’s a major polluter. It’s also a major employer – at least 60 million garment workers depend on it for their livelihoods and most of them are young women with kids. 

Our challenge is how we make the industry more sustainable within the framework we all operate in, i.e. global capitalism. There’s no easy answer as to how we might achieve that, I’m afraid! But I do feel optimistic – there are so many amazing young labels and creatives pushing for a new way of doing things.

You’re hosting the amazing podcast 'Wardrobe Crisis' where you speak with key players of the sustainable fashion movement. Who has inspired you the most so far? 

CP: Thank you so much! I’m very lucky that I get to speak with many inspiring individuals working in sustainability, but also to scientists, academics and fashion insiders on all sorts of subjects, from how the fashion system works to human rights to global warming. One of the most fascinating people I’ve had on the show is William McDonough, co-author of Cradle to Cradle and expert on the circular economy. I also loved to interview my friend Livia Firth, who is an amazing advocate for garment worker rights and sustainable fashion in general, and Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution. (...) But the fact is, every new show is my favourite …

How can a business be both, sustainable and profitable? 

CP: I think we need to redefine profit and success, to take account of natural capital. Our current system must mean only money, but what about all the other valuable attributes we don't currently count? Things like culture, kindness, happiness, wellbeing, and also of course sustainability. In Rise & Resist (Clare's book), I mention the work of ecological economist Tim Jackson. He argues that we should reshape the economy to focus on wellbeing. I love that. 

You've picked fashion-eco-activism as your battlefield - have you ever received any criticism for it as one may argue that overconsumption is deeply rooted in the (at least fast and contemporary) fashion industry? 

CP: Oh sure, but criticism is healthy. You can form a pretty great argument for stopping shopping altogether, for giving up consumerism full stop, but I work inside the fashion industry and I love clothes and designers and the positive aspects of the industry so my chosen route is a somewhat different one.I do not advocate for the end of fashion, only for changing the way the current system – which is insanely wasteful and too often irresponsible and unfair - operates. And why shouldn’t we change it? Fashion’s all about change, isn’t it?

Did you grow up in an eco-conscious environment yourself? 

CP: Not really. I had a pretty regular middle-class childhood in Yorkshire. I don’t remember anyone ever talking to me about environmentalism when I was a kid. But I studied politics at university, and I expect that has something to do with my activism today. 

Mostly, though, it came later and from my deep sense of the urgency we face when comes to the looming climate crisis. I don’t want to look back and think I did nothing, said nothing, sat back and allowed it to happen. We need to fight.

Do you think grassroots activism is enough to stop the environmental crisis or do we need more top-down decisions in order to minimise the negative environmental impact of humanity? 

CP: We need governments to accept the fact of the climate crisis and legislate to decarbonise. We all have a role to play though - we must speak up on behalf of the environment and call our leaders to account. 

I admire Greta Thunberg enormously. I love how she rocked up to the UK Parliament and told British MPs, ‘This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind.’ And I like how Michael Gove said she was, ‘the voice of our conscience.’ 

So far, what were some of your biggest milestones?

CP: Making more than 80 episodes of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast. It’s pretty relentless, producing a podcast each week, and as a one-woman band. But it’s my passion project and I have been so delighted to watch it grow and to hear listeners’ feedback.

And last but not least, what are your hopes for the future of fashion, humanity, and our planet? 

CP: My hope is that we can change our priorities and start to put nature and the environment at the top. Because what's the point in any of it if we don't have a healthy planet to live on? But I don't want to end on a gloomy note - I think we can change. I think humans have endless capacity to do good, to think creatively, and to bond together and inspire one another. It's up to us to do that now. Not because nature needs us: but because we need her. 

Clare, thank you so much for broadening our horizons!