Swap-O-Rama! Meet Organiser Kate Harper

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We’re very excited to be collaborating with We Wear The Trousers on a new regular community event Swap-O-Rama! at Norwich Arts Centre!

Swap your unwanted clothes for new-to-you treasures and help us build the Slow Fashion community in Norwich, with talks and workshops championing DIY fashion. Learn new skills, meet like-minded folks, and more!

The first event on Sunday 27 November will offer a free, drop-in, ‘Make your own Fashion Zine’ activity, plus a short talk introducing We Wear The Trousers and how folks can get involved with the movement in Norfolk.

We caught up with Kate ahead of the event next week for a quick chat…

Hi Kate! Tell us a bit about you and your creative background?

My name is Kate Harper and I’m founder/director of We Wear The Trousers and a postgraduate researcher at UEA looking at community fashion practices.

I have been playing, experimenting, creating and dreaming of different ways of doing fashion for most of my life, but I didn’t start researching in earnest till about 10 years ago when I decided to go back to art school. I started my MA in Fashion in 2012, where I was looking at design solutions for sustainable fashion, and wound up thinking about ways to embed an emotional connection within a worn object at the design stage. After I finished I realised that I couldn’t really justify to myself bringing more ‘stuff’ into the world, so a career as a fashion designer- which was the plan- was out.

After a bit of faffing, I started my PhD at the University of East Anglia at the end of 2019, looking at how people engage with fashion in ways other than shopping- things like rewearing, repairing, swapping, sharing and refashioning the clothing resources that we, collectively, already have in our communities. It’s really important to me that the work of WWTT has a symbiotic relationship with academic research – it’s like two sides of a coin, and I want each side to continue revealing new knowledge and understanding of how we can do things differently.

What is We Wear The Trousers and why did you start it?

WWTT is a grassroots collective aimed at empowering citizens to keep our clothing in active use for longer. We run social clothing repair events, clothing swaps, and more, across Norfolk. The idea behind WWTT is from a statistic I read back in 2012 from a report by WRAP (government body) into consumer habits, which found that extending the life of a garment by just 9 months can decrease its overall ecological footprint by 20-30% (WRAP; 2012, 2017). I wanted to find ways for folks to participate in fashion more sustainably in a way that is accessible to everyone, and I thought that just finding ways of keeping our clothes in use for a bit longer is something pretty much anyone can do without any special skills or knowledge. It might be about just finding creative ways to style our clothes differently and enjoy them in our own wardrobes for longer, or learning to fix our clothes when they need it, maybe even visibly, so the repair is a badge of honour! Or perhaps it’s about passing our clothes on directly to someone else who will wear them, by coming to a clothes swap, or gifting things to friends.

WWTT is also all about trying to explore how fashion can empower people and bring us together in communities, which is why most of what we do is about gathering people together to share our skills, resources, and ideas. We think that participating in fashion outside of just buying more stuff offers boundless opportunities for creativity, wellbeing, learning new skills, and connecting with others. It’s way more exciting and stimulating to be active in the process of fashioning your own identity than it is to just pick something off a rack that’s been selected for you by a buyer, that’s essentially identical to the garment on a rack in any other high street shop in the country. It’s just better on so many levels, basically!
The WWTT team are people who are excited by all these ideas and want to support the vision for celebrating ways of doing fashion that are more fulfilling than just shopping. We’re a real mix of people, all different ages, with different types of jobs, and most of us don’t come from a fashion background at all. Our community is growing all the time- and we’d love you to join in!

How did the collaboration with NAC for Swap-O-Rama come about?

We’ve been wanting to find the right venue to hold a regular community swap event for over a year, now. We’ve done quite a few pop-up swaps in different places but it has been so tricky to find what we needed: a venue that’s the right size, accessible, central, and affordable- which is where NAC stepped in! I met some folks from NAC at an event about upcycling in Norwich, and just as we were all about to leave, they casually mentioned that they were interested in starting up a clothes swap event at NAC. I obviously got very excited, and we made a plan to discuss the possibilities… fast forward to now and we are all SO excited that this event is actually happening!

What are you MOST excited about with Swap-O-Rama?

I am most excited about the potential for the Swap-O-Rama to connect like-minded folks in Norwich and build a sustainable fashion movement. Basically, when people are able to gather together and do something cool, they start to get excited and share ideas, and that’s when more cool stuff starts happening!

We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to put on a pop-up exhibition and workshop space at last year’s Norwich Science Festival, and we met so many people who are involved with or passionate about sustainable fashion in Norfolk. My biggest takeaway from the pop-up was the need for a space in Norwich for like-minded folks to gather, kind of like a regular social, or a networking event, but more cool. It’s been something we’ve been really wanting to set up for the last year, and we really see the Swap-O-Rama event as serving that purpose. I mean yes, of course, it’s an opportunity to connect unworn clothes with folks who want to wear them, which is super fun and important, but it’s also a social event for people to meet, gather, learn and share. That’s we we called it Swap-O-Rama- it’s a swap, but with a bit extra!

Why do you think this type of event and a slow fashion community is important for Norwich?

All of us are currently living in a culture where we are conditioned from birth to consume *stuff*. WWTT celebrates doing things differently, but even with so many more people aware of the negative impacts of the fashion industry, we’re all still kind of swimming against the tide. We’re talking about alternative ways of doing fashion: instead of buying a new outfit for that event, swapping, sharing or borrowing. Instead of ‘retail therapy’, getting that dopamine fix from restyling or refashioning something you already own. Doing anything that isn’t the norm requires effort, so the alternatives need to add more value to people’s lives. Sure, you can buy something to feel good- I know, I’ve done it, and I still do it- way too often! But maybe, coming to a swap, connecting with friends, taking part on a creative workshop, and learning something new- maybe that feels better than buying something. And it costs the same!

Plus, we think that community is really important to help people change their behaviour in general. When we see what other people ar edoing, it influences us. The more people are doing fashion differently, the more normal and accessible in seems. Communities help and support each other, we share ideas and inspiration. And Norwich is such a creative, independent city, we’re the perfect place to build a dynamic, inclusive slow fashion movement!

What are your ongoing plans and dreams for Swap-O-Rama?

The next event will be in the new year and we’ll have different talks and workshops at each one. We haven’t nailed down the programme just yet but we really want to have a range of different practitioners showing what they do at each event, to inspire people and to give people the opportunity to share what they do with others. We’d love to involve people who are working in upcycling, visible mending, natural dyeing, slow spinning and weaving, anything like that. We also are planning to set up a slow fashion ‘consciousness raising’ group- sort of like a slow-fashion book club, but we appreciate not everyone has the capacity to read a whole book each time- so it will be a space for people to share the knowledge and wisdom they have on different topics related to slow fashion. We’ll have a different topic each time we meet- folks can find out a bit more about this at the event on Sunday!
In terms of further in the future, for a few years now, we’ve been wanting to work towards a larger scale sustainable fashion event in Norwich, over a few days, with talks, workshops, markets, social events, fashion presentations- almost like a festival. We have done a couple of pilots, at the Norwich Makers Festival and the Science Festival, too. Perhaps the Swap-O-Rama could grow over time to become something like that? NAC would certainly be the perfect venue 😉

What are your favourite local Norwich café or restuarants?

Ooooooh too many favourites!! But I’m going to say the itinerary of choice would be: Café 33 for breakfast (and cake!), Artel for coffee, Moorish for lunch, Tofurei for afternoon treats, Tipsy Vegan for dinner, and Gyre and Gimble for after-dinner upcycled cocktails 😉 but there are so many other great places!!!

What do you like to do in Norfolk on a ‘day off’?

Mostly just eat and drink stuff in all the cafes! I love Saturdays when we have our Mend with Friends at the Millennium library- start the day with a nice coffee and some slow stitching and connection with the beautiful folks who come along. Maybe visit the Norwich Zine library while I’m there… I also love all the creativity and culture in Norwich- so either I like to amble down the Norwich Lanes or St Augustines and pop into all the gorgeous independent shops, or visit the museums and galleries. The Singh Twins exhibition ‘Slaves to Fashion’ that’s currently on at Norwich Castle and East Gallery is super powerful and very topical. Plus going to gigs at NAC of course!

What’s the best thing about living in Norfolk?

We’re so lucky in Norfolk to have so much green space and so much coast. I live at the coast so I’m a bit spoilt for that. I love how much history there is in Norwich, particularly our rich textile heritage. I do think WWTT is really influenced by that. Plus all the creativity in the city- the literature, the independent music, I love the sort of DIY attitude, how many independent retailers there are, the museums, the arts and culture scene- there are so many arts festivals, basically I think Norfolk is just pretty great.

Thank you Kate!

Come down and say hi to Kate at our first Swap-O-Rama event on Sunday 27 November!
Tickets and full info HERE