Oxfam Wastesaver Factory Visit

Melody Uyanga Ramsay, BA Fashion Design

With the support of SiAG I was able to visit Oxfam’s huge Wastesaver Factory in Batley, Huddersfield. My work in fashion design focuses on sustainability, ethics and its intersections, utilizing fashion as a vehicle to discuss the consistent legacy of colonization and its relationship to our current climate emergency.

In my final year I aim to be explicit about how we can change our consumer identity and the way we value our clothes as all these issues are linked to consumption (fast fashion, climate change, colonization and globalization) and have been exasperated by middle class and wealthy people in white dominated countries. Currently ‘greenwashing’ is turning our solutions into pure capitalistic endeavors by mostly only promoting and upholding people from one socio-economic background and race.

My graduate collection will be made entirely from second hand or otherwise discarded fabrics, largely displacing the loss of life to animals, environmental destruction and worker exploitation in addition to confronting our lethal desire for newness, and the people we champion in the pursuit of sustainability in fashion.

Our current fashion industry has been designed in a linear system, all trade routes for cotton, silk and many resources used in the industry, as well as labour, correspond exactly to historical colonial routes, and this makes us see how the fashion system is one of oppression and exploitation.

I felt that this opportunity to visit the Wastesaver factory just couldn’t be missed, in order to find out the truth about the UK textile waste system as Oxfam states on their website that, “We’re proud that no item donated goes to landfill.” Yet with over 2,000 tonnes of clothes being exported abroad each week in that factory alone, I was skeptical of this claim.

My suspicions about how Oxfam discard their unsold clothes were confirmed by the trip, as I found out that the majority of the clothes that don’t sell on their online shops are sent to be burned at an energy plant or sold on to markets in Senegal via Frip Ethique an Oxfam-run social enterprise.

On a surface level, of course this system is much better than sending waste fabrics to landfill immediately and it provides jobs, and a livelihood to a community. Yet I struggle with this waste displacement system as it is again a structure where people of the Global South are dependent on the West’s unwanted products and strips them of the opportunity to control their own textile economies and local businesses.

Charity shops are embroiled in commodity chains which perpetuate poverty, yet this shouldn’t stop us from donating our clothes, however we do need to be more open about the power dynamics involved in ‘thrifting’.

This is all quite heavy information to handle, but we can try to do our best once we have been educated about the truth. The most impactful ways we can radically do the right thing is by:

• Shopping second hand.
• Supporting small local businesses.
• Mending what we already have.
• Consuming less, of higher quality (will you wear it more than 30 times?).
• Hiring and empowering more women, and women of colour.

Please click here for a short film I made about my trip to the factory:

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