Dundee is hosting the hotly-anticipated Scottish Fashion Festival from November 15, with the focus on making the industry more eco-friendly. Gayle Ritchie chats to those involved.
Design and fashion pulses through Dundee’s veins: it’s done so since the birth of the jute industry in the early 1900s.
It’s no surprise then, that one of Scotland’s most ground-breaking fashion festivals is returning to grace the city’s catwalks on November 15.
The six-day festival, run by social enterprise Scotland Re:Design, is all about pushing boundaries, embracing bold new looks and empowering people to use fashion to “be whoever they want to be” – and there’s a serious message about sustainability in there, too.
The focus is on reducing the devastating global impact of ‘fast fashion’ which ruins lives, destroys the environment, and leads, quite literally, to earth-shattering consequences.
Ultimately, the message Re:Design organisers want to get across is that while fast fashion is a huge issue, our home-grown Scottish industry is strong on style, talent and ethics, and features many eco-friendly champions.
Running from November 15 to 20, the festival is being held at V&A Dundee with a few city-wide events on offer, too.
There’s some exceptional Dundee-based talent in the line-up including knitwear designer Jolene Guthrie, aka Jo-AMI, Isolated Heroes founder Sam Paton, and artist Tilda Watson.
As well as watching models strut their stuff, fashion fans can take part in a series of eco-friendly workshops.
Some invite you to bring along your own clothes and turn them into something ‘new’ while others encourage you to mend old garments in need of TLC.
There’s also the Talking Threads exhibition, which lays out the ‘herstories’ and hidden tales of Scottish music and fashion, plus the ‘Show Us Yer Plaid’ fundraising ceilidh.
Rounding things off on November 20 is a drag show and club night “celebrating all things sustainable, fashion and queer”.
Meanwhile, Dundee DJ Dicky Trisco, a regular with international acts and events like Glastonbury, Optimo and Horse Meat Disco who has done remixes for Bryan Ferry, Belle & Sebastian, Edwyn Collins and worked with Andrew Weatherall, will be spinning the wheels of steel to accompany the networking reception, runway and after-party.
Before you get your glad rags on and indulge in some fabulously fashionable fun, check out what those involved have to say on the matter…
Annie Marrs, lead officer of Unesco City of Design Dundee, wants Dundee to be the “centre” for Scotland’s celebrations in fashion and textiles.
“Supporting the Scotland Re:Design festival is a really important part of that,” she enthuses.
“As Dundee is the only Unesco City of Design in the UK we really want to promote all design disciplines and that includes fashion and textile design.
“We have an amazing fashion and textile sector in Dundee with a mixture of small, medium and larger scale businesses supporting a range of jobs so it really is something to be proud about!”
The V&A is without a doubt an amazing place to host the festival – for the second year running.
Annie agrees: “It’s an iconic design building and the perfect location to have an event of this calibre.
“Its unique space creates an event like no other and the backdrop of the building is one that no other fashion event in the world has!”
The festival, which offers a whole range of activities from the big gala runway event and awards night, to collection launches, a Unesco pop-up shop, and free exhibitions, is a great way for people to connect to fashion designers, says Annie, and she hopes it will make the sector “more accessible”.
“It’s a big deal because there is no other event in Scotland like it and I hope with the support of Dundee it will go from strength to strength,” she adds.
“I hope the festival will help people to understand a bit more about the love and energy that is put into creating a collection, or a product.
“Now more that ever it’s important that we think about the impact that the fashion industry is making on the environment and that we are confronted with the reality of the poor working conditions that fast fashion supports.
“With the designers that are showcased during the festival you can meet the person who designed it and the people who make it when you are buying direct and local.”
Megan is the designer behind Little Peril, which offers a range of products – including clothing – featuring hand-drawn prints designed by the 25-year-old. The brand launched in 2020 during lockdown.
“Sustainability is a passion and I’m shocked by the damage the fashion industry causes globally to the environment and its workers,” she says.
“I don’t want to perpetuate that damage and believe fashion can still be accessible, fun and expressive without being environmentally-damaging or taking advantage of workers.”
Since Megan launched Little Peril she’s kept every scrap of fabric – all her products are made from upcycled, reused and sustainable new materials with zero waste as the goal.
“Little Peril is home to a range of dreamy, slow fashion essentials,” says Megan. “Joyful fashion shouldn’t cost the Earth!”
She’s hosting two events during the festival – a sustainable accessories masterclass and a ‘trunk show’ showcasing her runway collection and enabling fans to try on outfits.
“Historically Dundee was a hub for textiles and it’s amazing to see that textiles and fashion community return and thrive here now,” says Megan.
“Exposure to brands with quality workmanship, sustainable ethos and ethical practices is massively important to reduce reliance on global fast fashion brands and promote ethical buying and sustainable dressing in future.
“An easy way to minimise carbon footprint when shopping is to buy from local sellers rather than global as the item will travel less distance, using less fossils fuel emissions.”
Sam founded Isolated Heroes in Dundee in 2012, quickly becoming one of Scotland’s leading fashion brands.
The sass queen’s infectious personality and transparency with customers has gained her a loyal global following.
“Isolated Heroes is on a mission to empower babes of all shapes, designing confidence-boosting clothing that helps customers feel like the sassiest versions of themselves!” says Sam.
“As one of the first independent brands to champion body positivity, we’ve developed collections in a size range accessible to all – we’ve designed sustainable, stand-out partywear in sizes six to 30 to be treasured in wardrobes forever!”
The brand will showcase its 10-year anniversary collection on the gala opening night runway show and Sam is hugely excited.
“The collection encapsulates the spirit of Isolated Heroes and is full of sequin and sass,” she says.
“Expect empowering pieces and gorgeous luxury partywear.”
Why is the festival such a big and brilliant deal, in Sam’s mind?
“It’s the ONLY event of its kind that supports home-grown talent and the Scottish fashion sector!” she beams.
“The sector is currently worth £2.8 billion to the Scottish economy, employing just under 30,000 people, so it’s extremely important that we take time to come together and celebrate each other’s achievements.
“It’s about offering the time and space to network and collaborate and evoke new business opportunities.
“The festival is packed full of events that are great for anyone who appreciates fashion or wants to get into the sector.
“It focuses on championing Scottish manufacture and the fantastic creative businesses that underpin the industry and have chosen to grow their businesses and provide employment opportunities for creatives in Scotland rather than moving south of the border.
“All the events are unpretentious and super-accessible and open to the general public.”
The highlight for Sam will be the runway show.
“The festival has made it possible for Scottish designers to access a high-profile runway show which often is completely inaccessible to designers starting out in their career due to costs involved and location,” she muses.
“I love that the runway is always exceptionally curated with fresh new talent, designers starting out on their journey, established brands and heritage companies bringing everyone together under one roof.”
Designed and ethically made in small batches in Dundee, all Jo-AMI knitwear and crochet designs are made using reclaimed, recycled and natural high quality yarns.
The brand celebrates Jolene’s personal connection to the Scottish knitwear industry – in which her great, great uncle’s family owned Donbros Knitwear in Alloa in the 1960s.
“Being part of the fashion festival is really exciting and allows me to showcase Jo-AMI on a larger scale,” says Jolene.
“It’s amazing to see your own creations walk down the runway. Last year’s festival was brilliant and I think this year’s will be even better!”
Jolene’s workshop will show participants how to produce a reimagined, unique piece of knitwear that “you’ll want to wear over and over” – whether that’s a jumper turned into a vest, or simply jazzing up a collar.
Dundee-based artist and DJCAD graduate Tilda Watson interpreted and co-produced the Talking Threads exhibition alongside curators Chris Hunt and Caitlin Miller.
The show explores “hidden tales of Scottish fashion, from medieval textiles to post-industrial and contemporary practices”.
It will display archive photos, film clips and textile samples from post-industrial factories and mills – such as Paisley’s renowned Coats Thread Mill – alongside footage of contemporary Scottish textiles and fashion studios.
Now more that ever it’s important that we think about the impact that the fashion industry is making on the environment and that we are confronted with the reality of the poor working conditions that fast fashion supports.”
Designers whose work is featured on the fashion festival’s runway share stories of relatives who worked in now closed mills and factories – tracing the shift in Scottish fashion and textiles from large-scale industry to a more dispersed pattern of freelancers and sole traders.
Tilda has ensured that women’s experiences are brought to the fore – uncovering the ways in which their histories and stories – “herstories” – are translated and interpreted, forgotten and remembered.
“Within the exhibition space, there are pieces of the past, the present and our own future histories,” she adds.
“My practice explores the symbiotic space where dream recollection and lived memory meet: a state of confusion and of grief for our lost experiences.
“As we attempt to preserve what is both beyond and within us, we are caught in a never-ending cycle of forgetting and remembering.”
Leonie Bell, director of V&A Dundee, says the design museum recognises the “vital role” the festival plays in supporting Scotland’s fashion community and industry.
“We’re delighted to be hosting the festival’s opening event on November 15 which will see many of Scotland’s most exciting fashion designers and design studios reveal their latest collections at a sensational fashion show inside the museum,” she says.
“The evening is set to be a wonderful celebration of fashion in and from Scotland and a great opportunity to champion and show support for design talent from Scotland.”
Jute may have been the beginning of the fashion journey in Dundee, even earning the city the name ‘Juteopolis’ in the 1900s. The burgeoning British Empire brought the trade of flax, which began the development of jute.
It was a coarse material initially, only used for packaging and burlap sacks.
Many years of refining the process in the city’s mills, however, transformed it into something coveted in couture brands the world over, with major fashion houses such as Balmain and Donna Karan known to use the ‘golden fibre’ on the catwalk.
After cotton, it’s the cheapest fibre to use but more importantly is sustainable and eco-friendly.
Meanwhile Dundee-born designer Hayley Scanlan won the coveted ‘Young Scottish Designer of the Year’ accolade in 2012 at the Scottish Fashion Awards and successfully set up a design studio in the city.
She’s since dressed pop culture queens such as Little Mix, Pixie Lott, Jessie J and went on to win the award again in 2014, making her the only designer to win the title twice.
Many other designers have emerged on catwalks from Dundee including Dreamland clothing whose line was requested exclusively by online fashion giants ASOS and Forever 21.
In 2018, Dundee hosted its own fashion week, celebrating up-and-coming designers. It championed the city’s artists, fashion designers, bloggers and jewellery designers.
The V&A often honours the city’s fashion heritage by hosting workshops and exhibitions – the Nicholas Daley show in 2019 explored how the designer’s Scottish-Jamaican heritage influenced his work, and a major retrospective on fashion queen Mary Quant in 2020 was a huge draw.
- Social enterprise Scotland Re:Design is based in Newport-on Tay and supported by EventScotland, along with partners including Shelter Scotland, V&A Dundee, UNESCO City of Design Dundee, Scottish Textiles Showcase, Halley Stevensons, McIntyres, Overgate & Museums Galleries Scotland.
- Director of Shelter Scotland, Alison Watson, says: “Our network of community charity shops are known for offering high quality, pre-loved, vintage and designer clothes. These shops generate vital funds which are used to support our fight for home. So, we’re delighted to have been able to partner with Scotland Re:Design to celebrate sustainable fashion while also shining a light on the injustice visited upon communities because of the housing emergency. In Scotland today there are more than 8,600 children trapped in temporary accommodation, without somewhere permanent to call home. The housing emergency is pervasive and touches communities across the country. We believe that everyone should have the right to a safe, secure, home and we won’t stop fighting until that becomes a reality.”
- Scotland Re:Design runs from November 15 to 20. For tickets and more information see redesign.scot