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THE TIME IS NOW: How can we become more sustainable in wardrobe departments?

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Sustainability needs to become a priority for everyone working in the entertainment industry. It’s time for wardrobe to step-up its game.

It is unfortunate that with ever decreasing budgets set against grand artistic vision the need for sustainable solutions in costume is often at the bottom of a productions priority list.

But outside of the buzz of working in the theatre or on set in a studio, the planet is under intense pressure because of human behaviour. We are heading towards a climate catastrophe and the world of wardrobe has its part to play in reducing the impact that the entertainment industries have on the earth’s eco-system.

It’s no secret that fashion is dirty. In fact, fashion is the second dirtiest industry behind fossil fuels when it comes to impact on the environment.

This means wardrobe departments are part of the total carbon footprint of the fashion industry too – and the pressure to do things quickly and cheaply (Particularly in theatre and TV) often leads to costume solutions that are less sustainable.

Whilst it is probably impossible to minimise the impact of a wardrobe department to zero, it is still possible to reduce impact significantly.

Pinched budgets do not mean we have to choose less sustainable options. In recent years there has been a growing awareness and a steady shift towards sustainable design, often lead by creative problem solving when faced shrinking pots of money. Sustainable thinking has become part of the whole aesthetic of many shows in recent years.

Julie’s Bicycle is an organisation who specialises in helping theatre and production become more sustainable.

They have a handy guide which we encourage everyone to read, with specific guidelines for wardrobe departments. You can check out the full guide here.

They say:

“When it comes to theatre and production, the impacts of stage fabrics and costume making are complex and it’s increasingly difficult to separate the environmental issue from the wider social ones. Between issues around cotton growing and bleaching, embodied carbon and water from manufacturing, the ethical labour concerns of textile workers, and the huge amount of textile waste which ends up in landfill, it is hard to make an informed decision on sourcing costume and stage fabrics.”

Julie’s Bicycle advice you to approach sustainability in wardrobe departments by using their four R’s approach:

“Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle. If used in the correct order as listed, these serve as a valuable methodology to simplify your decision-making process.”

The guide splits tips into three sections when giving tips on sustainability, pre-production, production and post-production.

Below is an extract from Julie’s Bicycle guide. Please take the time to read the advice below and apply the principles where you can. Some of this is aimed at producers who are thinking about sustainable costume methods, but most of the guide is still useful for those working in costume departments, if for no other reason than to check your employer/ production company is taking responsibility for sustainability :

Pre-Production

Action
-Identify your environmental goals and objectives with the production manager before the design and production process has begun. Communicate these to the wardrobe department team (if relevant) via the production’s environmental policy or a statement of intent specifically for your department.

-Prioritise alternatives to making costumes from scratch. There is an incredible pre-existing stock of theatrical costumes available in storehouses, hire shops, charity shops and so on, which can be utilised both for reuse and repurposing. Design costumes to maximise the reuse of existing garments and/or off cuts and fabric you have stored in-house.

For buying new fabric, look for certified organic textiles that have a majority percentage of organic content.

Use environmentally conscious suppliers who not only stock eco-friendly fabric but are also committed to improving the sustainability of their production and operational processes and the welfare of workers across their supply chain. (Ask to see their environmental policy if it’s not on their website, and look out for certifications like GOTS, GRS and OEKO-TEX® Standard 1000.)

Purchase fabrics that will be suitable for machine-washing to reduce reliance on dry cleaning.

-Buy fabric manufactured and located as close to you as possible to reduce transport emissions.

-Look for eco alternatives to plastic and metal accessories. For example, coconut shell buttons.

Switch all equipment off when not in use.

Be economical with your threads and fabric offcuts – use and reuse these as much as possible within your construction process.
For example, could your fabric offcuts be made into cable ties for the production crew to use as alternatives to PVC tape during rigging?

Production

Action
-Don’t throw unneeded hangers into the general waste. If they’re broken see if they can be repurposed. If they’re undamaged and you no longer need them, donate them to someone in the team who does, or a local charity shop.

-Launder clothes at 30 degrees. Use a detergent with the AISE sustainable cleaning charter logo or EU Eco-Label. Drip dry clothes and avoid using tumble dryers. Per load, only 10% of the total energy used goes to the washer motor; the rest goes into heating the water. By laundering at 30 degrees you can use 40% less energy than a 40-degree wash. Plus your clothes and fabrics will stay nicer for longer!

-For dry clean only clothes use alternatives like hand washing or steam cleaning. Find a dry cleaner that uses lower impact methods such as wet cleaning and CO2 solvents, or any other methods that avoid the chemical Perchloroethylene (PERC), which is hazardous to health and the environment.

-Switch all cleaning and alteration equipment off when not in use.

-Avoid using toxic dyes and fabric paints – use natural dyes such as tea/coffee to stain or break down costumes where possible.

Post-Production

-Employ your stage manager for an additional week to ensure that all costumes find new homes and are not sent to landfill. Contact local schools and theatres to see if they can use materials.

Evaluate your environmental performance against your original objectives. Document good practice and good suppliers found during the process and other useful learning for inclusion in an environmental production policy for future shows. Feedback to the production manager on what you think went well, and what needs new solutions.

Share any learning and good low energy products that you’ve found with peers.

For more information on sustainability in theatre and production please visit www.juliesbicycle.com for more information.

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