Amsterdam is my spiritual home: whenever I am there I am energized in a particularly essential way.
The city is home to lots of incredible designers, as well as organizations and initiatives that are tackling the shortcomings of the complex (but alluring) beast that is the fashion industry—in very creative and engaging ways.
Here are two that I recommend checking out: Fashion For Good and Common Threads. These two beautifully demonstrate the diversity of ways one can support and engage with sustainable, ethical, and slow fashion. And one doesn’t have to be local to Amsterdam to take on and apply what both organizations or initiatives are proposing.
Last March, I had the chance to visit Fashion For Good: a global hub and platform for sustainable fashion innovation headquartered in Amsterdam. Within the landmark building are contained event spaces, offices for the organization, a co-working space (which is utilized by some of the startups participating in the FFG incubator), and notably, The Experience. The Experience is an interactive museum-like space complete with a store/showcase The Good Shop, which features a selection of design products corresponding to a theme of sustainability. The theme—and accordingly the inventory—change every three months. The Experience (which reminds me of natural history, science and technology museums with its accessible and educational presentation of statistics, text, and material exhibitions) offers visitors many ways to engage with the past, present, and future of sustainable fashion.
Fashion For Good also hosts many events to further conversation, collaboration, and community. I attended an event for the first time last month during Fashion Revolution Week: From Goat to Garment. I’ll write more about it separately—I’m sure your attention has been piqued by the event’s title. In short, the screening and workshop revealed the production chain behind the mohair that is woven or knit into our coats, sweaters, and scarves, among other things. Whether it’s through an event with innovators and experts in a particular aspect of the industry, or through a space like The Experience, Fashion For Good speaks to curious, casual or obsessed fashion folks alike. Go visit!
I also met with Živilė Meškauskaitė, one of the cofounders of Common Threads, which brings people together to teach them how to look after their wardrobe and thus extend its lifespan. We clicked instantly and had a great conversation about the initiative she and Mérida Miller founded and the importance of caring for our clothing, and thus caring for our communities and the environment. I wasn’t prescient enough to record our chat, but Živilė was kind enough to revisit some points in writing.
When did you start Common Threads and how did it come about? Why did you start it?
Merida and I met in 2018 when we both volunteered at TEDxAmsterdamWomen. We got along right away because we’re both total go-getters and have a crazy amount of things in common.
A couple of months down the line, I asked her if she could teach me how to use a sewing machine as I had always wanted to learn how to properly sew and Merida is a pro at that. But me being me, I instantly suggested we organize a workshop around it, and make a whole thing out of it. We started having meetings to really break down what it is that we care about and want to achieve. We looked for some common threads within the themes we were invested in: sustainable clothing and their lifecycle, being hands-on, sharing knowledge, building a community—and Common Threads was born. We launched online in December 2018 and had our first workshop in February 2019.
Who are you? What is your personal relationship with fashion, sustainability, mending and handicraft, and community initiatives/engagement/education?
In my educational background, I have nothing to do with fashion or sustainability. I studied film and television, and I work as an event and project manager. I run a book club, and just love getting people together for a common purpose. For a few years now, I casually host ‘Tipsy Crafts’ for my girlfriends, where we meet up, craft, and catch up on life. Since I was a little girl I have been in love with hands-on activities: mending, crafting, embroidering, you name it! In my family, I was always around women sewing, knitting, and fixing torn clothes; they knew about fabrics. I believe that’s where I get my interest in sustainable fashion and clothing in general, and through my work in events and clubs, I get my love for community building. So if I were to draw a Venn diagram of my interests, Common Threads would end up right there in the middle.
As for Mérida, she is way more pro than me (in regards to fashion matters and sewing). In her personal life, she is a maker, baker, and cat mom. She studied fashion design in college and upon graduating became a concept apparel designer for the sports fashion brand Under Armour.
She recently left her corporate fashion job and is now a part-time professor at a fashion management university in the Netherlands where she teaches Corporate Social Responsibility and sustainable fashion practices. It’s a concept that is new to a lot of the students but she feels she’s making an impact on their way of thinking about the fashion industry.
There is so much going on in Amsterdam (like sustainability meet-ups, talks, and exhibitions) about what’s happening in the slow fashion movement but we felt there were not a lot of accessible hands-on ways to learn day-to-day skills to keep your current closet living longer. After all, wearing [clothing] sustainably creates just as much impact as buying ethically sourced clothes. Enter: Common Threads!
How has Common Threads been received? Who makes up your community?
Our community is quite diverse, from local Amsterdammers, young professionals, new moms, sustainability beginners, to sustainable and sewing businesses from all over the world. The huge amount of support and collaboration offers from other sustainable businesses has been incredible. We are currently working on strengthening our local community to ensure we are better connected to people in Amsterdam.
How do you engage and connect with people? How do people learn of Common Threads?
We’re still learning about all of this! Hands down the best way is through word of mouth, especially at events: people are keen to bring a friend and that is the best way to spread the word. We are also on social media and it helps to collaborate with other brands and cross-promote. The most engagement we get is when we are personal: talking about what we are up to, what we are struggling with, and what we want to learn ourselves. I feel like we are taking our community on a journey, as we ourselves are always learning something new.
What kind of programs or workshops are you hosting, and what sort of spaces do you this in?
Our signature workshop is a Repair-a-thon, which is also the event that kicked us off back in February. We invite people to bring any piece of clothing that they want to fix up or refresh, and we teach them how to do that. This can be sewing on a button, embroidering a shirt, and anything in between and beyond. We have many ideas for various formats in the future. We’re also investigating what our community wants and what is relevant for them. In terms of spaces, we collaborate with businesses that support our mission, and we’ve been very lucky that many places have invited us to host workshops.
What have you learned so far from your work with Common Threads?
So much! From the perspective of running a project: it might not seem like it but it takes a lot of time to run something like this; failures are ok and part of the process; you have to listen to what people want and not just do what you want to do. Otherwise, we are learning every single day something new about sustainable fashion from our followers and from initiatives that we follow ourselves, whether it’s a super creative way to mend jeans or new statistics on what the fashion industry is doing to our planet.
Where would you like to take Common Threads in the future; what’s your dream or wish for it?
We are all about growing a community, so the biggest wish right now is to expand and have more and more people involved in our activities, mending at home, and spreading the word.