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Meet Activist Oileán from Ireland

Climate Change

“You can’t have climate action without community.”

The climate crisis is an issue that Oileán feels strongly about, so much so she noticed it was weighing heavily on her. She recognised the need to turn this frustration into action, by making a tangible impact in a fun way and including her local community. That was the motivation for the start of Change Clothes Crumlin (CCC), a community-based clothing reuse hub founded by her friend Mary, which Oileán helps to run.

Locals can go and swap their clothes with other people, saving money themselves and reducing their carbon footprint, providing a cost-effective alternative to unsustainable fashion. So far, they have saved over 6,000 pieces of clothing from landfill in under a year and provided a space for the Crumlin community to come together and contribute to climate action in an enjoyable way.

“Crumlin is a working-class area in the south of Dublin, Ireland, and I think that quite often working-class people are the subset of people that are left out of the conversation. Working class people don’t generally have great representation when it comes to politics because of how unequal it is. Myself and Mary, who run CCC together, both have a background in climate and climate activism and the circular economy.  

We’ve experienced how climate anxiety can affect your mental health. It can be hard to engage in when it makes you feel like that. So, what we wanted to do was kind of two-fold in that we tackle the problem while providing something new for the community. We want people to feel connected to the problem so that they feel good about the change that they can make about it.

And it’s not even climate that’s the first and foremost thing that we tell people, it’s definitely something that they pick up by themselves when they walk into a room and there’s hundreds of items of clothing there in front of them and they realise this was all going to go in the bin, and now it’s not, which is great.

“The idea is to have a bit of fun, so what we do is we try to tackle textile waste at all stages of its life cycles. So, with new stuff, we run one for one swap shops where new stuff can be redistributed. Items that need a bit of mending we try to fill generational gaps by teaching sewing workshops.”

Oileán at Change Clothes Crumlin

At the age of 23 Oileán has a degree in Politics, Geography and International Relations and currently works for a research charity. On top of helping to run Change Clothes Crumlin, she is the first Irish Climate Youth Delegate and attended COP 26 and COP 27. She is also a Youth Advisory Panel member for Plan International.

Oileán says she has learnt from CCC. The sewing and mending workshops gave her a better idea of the amount of work that goes into creating clothes. “There are huge human rights abuses when it comes to clothing and the production of clothing. I think that when you learn how to do these things and when you learn the skills that are involved in creating clothes, you have a new value for them,” she explains.

Oileán has also collaborated with other organisations, one example being ‘Cooking For Freedom.’ Together they designed a workshop to raise money for refugees in Ireland and invited people to attend a workshop where they would upcycle old material into aprons, giving participants a recipe card from Cooking for Freedom to take home with them.

The local community supported her with a friend offering their wine bar as a venue and a local upholsterer providing left over materials for the workshop. They raised money for refugees, taught people about upcycling and built relationships with the community in the process.

Recognising that there is not always a huge amount of knowledge about sustainable fashion practices from consumers Oileán has engaged with a local youth group, who were initially sceptical of the idea of second-hand clothing. She didn’t realise her advocacy had made an impression until a couple of days later when some of the group contacted her to say how much they had enjoyed the swap shop and how many items they had swapped and come home with.

“Their land is underwater, or their homes had been directly affected or they’ve had a family member who’s died from a natural disaster.”

Oileán says the swap shops are a lot of fun and attract people of all ages. The initiative has ambitions to make the Dublin site a permanent retail space that people can go to any day of the week, to swap clothes or fix them with a sewing machine. She cites her experiences at COP as a pivotal moment that brought home the reality people around the world are facing as a result of climate change.

“Being involved in both grassroots activism and high-level discussions is a privilege. I do think that individual actions are really important, but systemic change needs to occur because people are happy to do it, but they don’t always have the access or the resources to do it.

“You can’t have climate action without community.”