By Sophia Hadef
Maura Duffy is an ambitious 23 year-old fashion student. She was born in Boston, to two Irish parents. She moved to Ireland when she was six years old, and Cork later became her home.
Throughout school, she always had an interest in the arts but decided that studying a commerce degree would be the stereotypical safe option. She completed one year in Waterford Institute of Technology before transferring to NUI Galway in 2018.
Galway became her second home and she could not have been happier studying there. She completed her Bachelor of Commerce in May 2020 and later decided, due to Covid-19, to stay in Galway another year.
Throughout her time in NUI Galway she was the Public Relations Officer for the Style Society. An inspiring role which reignited her love for fashion. She also worked part-time in Brown Thomas, where she learnt a lot about sales and luxury fashion. She decided to explore this sector and study a broad fashion degree—the right thing to pursue her fashion career.
Hi Maura, thank you so much for accepting this interview. Tell me more about your background, and what made you interested in sustainable fashion?
Hi Sophia, thank you so much for asking me. I’m delighted to be speaking about sustainable fashion, a topic I’m very passionate about. I’m currently a fashion buying, styling and visual merchandising student at the Galway Technical Institute.
I have been shopping consciously since I was about 17 years old. I believe we were shown a film similar to The True Cost in secondary school which completely changed my outlook on the fashion industry. Growing up, I always shopped in charity shops and vintage stores because I loved the clothes you could find there. I love having unique and one-off pieces. However, when I learned more about the impacts of fast fashion on our world throughout college, I began making a conscious effort to only shop sustainably.
As a young woman, What is your relationship with sustainable fashion?
As a young woman in Ireland, I believe it’s very easy to fall into fashion trends. There is a lot of pressure to have the nicest jeans and the perfect Pretty Little Thing dress. I learnt pretty quickly that these trends don’t suit me. I believe having your own style and following what suits you keeps you from falling into these trends and therefore prevents you from having a high clothes turnover.
I follow a sustainable fashion lifestyle because I cannot support companies that exploit workers and neglect their fundamental human rights. I would rather pay €25 for a basic white t-shirt if I knew it was coming from a factory with safe working conditions, decent pay for its workers, and using recycled materials. Fast fashion companies are completely exploiting their workers for the western world profit. It is so corrupt and unfair.
How has the fashion industry changed during the past decade?
Over the past decade, the fashion industry’s most significant change would have to be the introduction of online shopping. It has created a massive increase in fashion turnover. Clothes are now accessible to far more people. Pretty Little Thing has grown 238% between 2015-2019. The number of shoppers hit 5 million during this time – that’s a 70% increase.
Companies having such a large market of repeat customers allows them to sell their clothes for cheap. Most recently, Pretty Little Thing offered deals of up to 99% off, with high-heeled shoes on sale for 25 cent and dresses for 8p. The whole fast fashion value chain is corrupt. There is no way a garment worker is getting a fair wage when a dress is 8 cent. Between delivery, marketing, sales/ distribution, materials and logistics, it simply cannot happen. Companies are getting away with doing this because customers have become accustomed to this quick and easy service which is provided to them from their own bed.
What are the main problems you see in the fashion sector today?
According to clothes waste charity TRAID, the average garment is only worn ten times before it is thrown away. Water usage is a big problem in the fashion industry. A by-product from textile factories in countries that produce fast fashion items is untreated toxic wastewater. It contains substances like lead, mercury and arsenic that are incredibly harmful to aquatic and human life.
Another is microfibres — microfibres come away from synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon, every time you wash your clothes. Each wash sheds around 700,000 microfibres. These microfibres are consumed by aquatic organisms which are eaten by fish and then later eaten by us.
Experts estimate that the fast fashion industry is responsible for nearly 10 per cent of annual global emissions. The synthetic fibres that most of our clothes are made of are generated from fossil fuels.
If the demand for fast fashion continues to grow at its current rate, we could see the total carbon footprint of our clothing reach 26% by 2050. I am most passionate about the human rights problem.
The 2013 Rana Plaza disaster is just one example of how unsafe it is to work in this industry. The collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which housed five garment factories killed at least 1,132 people and injured more than 2,500. This awoke the world to the poor labour conditions faced by workers in the ready-made garment sector in Bangladesh.
Millions of people, most of them girls and women, are exposed every day to an unsafe work environment, and most of the factories do not meet standards required by building and construction legislation.
Why did you choose to study fashion in Galway, and can you tell us more about your studies?
I choose to study fashion in Galway because GTI offered a very broad fashion course. I take modules in fashion buying, styling and design. I have had the opportunity to explore my art/design level again while applying my commerce knowledge to buying and leadership modules.
I also love Galway and believe there are some creative and fashionable people here. Just walking along Shop Street you can see it, there are so many unique and amazing characters here.
Why is sustainability so important for you?
Sustainability is so important to me because I believe we have gone too far already. Our ecosystems are affected by our selfish consumer behaviours and garment workers are dying. I know I’m only one person among many but if I can make the smallest difference, and hopefully influence others to do the same, we can stop the problem from getting worse.
What trends are inspiring you, and what are the essential pieces to have in our wardrobe?
A current trend that has inspired me is the boyfriend blazer. I adore loose silhouettes with a sophisticated touch. I have recently gotten two amazing blazers that are such statement pieces. One is from Spice Vintage, and the other is from Gort Community Aid Thrift Shop. I shop mainly vintage, so I look for the small details – golden hardware, a strong shoulder pad and a double-breasted front. I style them with jeans or dress trousers, regardless of how your feeling on the inside, you always look put together on the outside. Definitely my most recent wardrobe essential.
What is the revolution you are hoping for in the fashion industry?
I want to see more brands making a conscious effort to source sustainably driven materials. A brand like ‘nu-in’ uses all recycled materials and is sold at a fair price, so it can be done. I want to see companies having laws in place before entering an agreement with factories to ensure their workers are getting a fair wage and a safe working environment. I also hope to see consumer approach fashion with a more resourceful mindset. Questioning, do I really need this piece? Do I already have something like it? Is it on Depop? Can I upcycle a piece I already have?
What are your projects for 2021?
I have been fortunate to have some exciting projects this year. Most recently, I styled a ‘60s photoshoot and I designed a knitted t-shirt. I was commissioned yesterday to design another one for a guy in Galway. It is an exciting project, and I am delighted to have his input on colour palettes and style. Next week I am also hosting a sustainable fashion talk in my secondary school to about 80 Transition year students. I am excited about this and currently working on my presentation for it.
Any places in Galway and websites to recommend?
I highly recommend Saint Vincent De Paul on Merchants Road. I always find some amazing pieces there and at a fair price too. They have recently set up a retro vintage corner in the store which always has some gems. Gort Community Aid Thrift Shop has been one of my favourites recently. They are a small vintage/second-hand store in Gort. I visited their store in December after hearing about it, and I was blown away by how amazing it was. They have a website too, which I have been using throughout lockdown. Also, I’m a big fan of Depop. I think it’s a great place to get some bargains and to make some cash too. It’s excellent for finding branded goods for half the price.
You can find Maura Duffy on her Instagram: @maura_duff