Life As I Know It: Aisling Byrne

By Eco-Age
25.08.19

In the latest in our Life as I know it series, the founder of The Nu Wardrobe Aisling Byrne shares her journey in sustainability so far and the impact it has on her career and daily life.

 

When I began to write this blog I had one specific event in mind that I have always credited with my interest in sustainable fashion. It was a trip I took to India where I saw firsthand the devastating social and environmental impacts of fashion. But in the course of writing this and trawling through childhood photos, I came across an image that has convinced me that my journey to sustainability started long before that. 

It’s a photo of me, crips in hand, wearing my Pocahontas t-shirt. 

Two to five-year-old me was OBSESSED with Pocahontas. Bed sheets, birthday parties, clothes - you name it. I went as far as only answering to Pocahontas for quite a while (but I never quite got to an official name change). 

It was the first movie I ever saw in the cinema and this is what I imagine two year-old me was thinking: ‘who is this absolute legend of a woman - master of diplomacy, protector of nature, and girlboss extraordinaire who doesn’t need a man to validate her. And who are these lads claiming everything left, right, and centre??’

I got a T-shirt of my idol and this is where my greatest sustainable fashion accomplishment occurred. I wore this T-shirt non-stop for three years. When it got dirty, my mum would have to wash it and dry it before the next day (because apparently no one could deal with the fall out of me not getting to wear that t-shirt). #30wears? Oh please! Five year-old Aisling takes the biscuit with #1,095wears. 

So, it makes me sad to think that I’ve never loved another piece of clothing quite like I loved that T-shirt - and it makes me realise how important it is for us to be emotionally invested and emotionally attached to our clothes in order to give them a full life. 

Fast forward 10 years and I’m a fast fashion obsessed teenager wanting a new outfit for every event. I never stopped to consider where clothes came from before they reached the shop floor and had no idea where they went after they left my wardrobe. I just didn’t care - I didn’t know it was something I was supposed to care about and I was under the impression that I was achieving something by staying on trend and keeping my wardrobe full and ever-changing.

This came to a halt in 2013 when I spent three months in India and saw the devastating effects of fast fashion first hand. It was the summer after the Rana Plaza disaster and the horrors of the fashion industry were front and centre of global news. 

When I first arrived and saw the pollution and destroyed rivers, and met the wonderful people that it affected the most, I genuinely didn’t believe it could be as bad as it appeared. If this was really happening, why did we live like this back home? Why did it seem so fine for us to walk into a fast fashion store and pick up a piece of clothing for less than a loaf of bread if the real cost behind it was to people and the environment.

It was every bit as bad as it appeared, if not worse, and it took me a long time to come to terms with it. I came home, a broke university student, and slipped back into normal life - but continued to research the topic and two years later The True Cost documentary was released. After that I really couldn’t look away. 

I was angry and frustrated and upset that I had been so complicit in an industry that caused so much harm, and I resented that I wanted to enjoy fashion but couldn’t because I simply didn’t know how to do that without in some way being a part of the problem.

My friend Ali had a similar experience and we talked and talked about it. It felt good to know I wasn’t the only one freaking out about the state of the world and my role in it. We didn’t have any money and many sustainable alternatives felt like a luxury, something we couldn’t afford, so we went in search of an accessible and affordable solution. 

We didn’t want to start from a point of buying ourselves to a more sustainable wardrobe - we had so many clothes already - but it didn’t take long for us to realise we were already solving the problem in our own way. 

Any time there was an event coming up we’d borrow from friends. Dresses got passed around like pass the parcel at a childhood birthday party and by consequence those dresses had a pretty vibrant social life.

It was with this realisation that my career shifted and The Nu Wardrobe was born - a social network to share clothes with people in your local community and extend the life cycle of our wardrobes. 

The idea to us was liberating. For every share you would offset a significant amount of C02, water and waste that would have been used in the production of a new garment and we could do this with the clothes we already had. We could distance ourselves from an industry that we didn’t feel represented us, creating our own network and eco-system in which we could enjoy fashion on our own terms, no longer at the mercy of brands and their inaction to solve the global fast fashion problem.

So for the past two and a half years I have worked full-time on Nu and in the sphere of sustainable fashion, growing our idea and team from a small community and web platform in Dublin to a recently launched app in London, with growing communities in Dublin, Cambridge and Cork. 

It can be hard sometimes (...or most of the time!); hard to keep a steady focus on a mission to change an industry so global and so rooted in an archaic notion that figures on the bottom of a spreadsheet matter more than people and our planet. But, when I feel most down I watch The True Cost to remind myself why I’m doing it, have a good cry, then get up the next day and keep going. It helps that I work with the most incredible and inspiring people, who I am lucky enough to call my friends, that have all approached our mission with a firm belief that fashion can once again be a force for good and a celebration of creativity; as individuals and a team, we have the ability to make that happen.

Considering I spend most waking moments thinking about sustainable fashion, it naturally flows into most aspects of my life. I am by no means a saint! I find it really difficult to be sustainable but I rarely buy clothes now - I share them. I’ve got my KeepCup, glass water bottle and Vejas, and try to stay as up-to-date as possible on innovations in the field of sustainability. This is great to curb any total freak-outs about climate change and I constantly use the Good on You App to watch how brands rate against social and environmental impacts. 

I was at a lecture a few years ago where they talked about ideal life cycles. For humans, it’s that we are born from love, live a long and happy life, fulfilling our purpose along the way, and we eventually die and go back into the Earth.

I was at a lecture a few years ago where they talked about ideal life cycles. For humans, it’s that we are born from love, live a long and happy life, fulfilling our purpose along the way, and we eventually die and go back into the Earth. 

For objects or garments, should it really be that different? All of the objects that we make (fashion in particular) are made from our finite and rapidly depleting resources. Each object deserves to have a long and full life cycle - and to carry out its purpose for as long as possible. So, as the ‘owners’ of these objects I believe we have a responsibility to give these items a full life. When we cannot do this individually, we can look to do it collectively (like sharing!) - but it’s important to keep this in mind before you purchase something. 

So, next time you go to buy yourself a new piece just think: 

‘Do I love this piece the way Aisling loved that magnificent 90’s Pocahontas t-shirt?’

If the answer is yes (and the piece is made with love and respect) then I think that’s probably a piece worth investing in.

 

Read more from our 'Life as I know it' series.

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Life As I Know It: Aisling Byrne