“I was brought up in a household in 80s recession Dublin, where buying second-hand was very much the norm – you would really value things”
An unmistakable landmark encroached by a mishmash of Celtic Tiger builds, the Boiler House has been a solid fixture on Ballymun’s cityscape for nearly six decades. Supplying the surrounding neighbourhood with invaluable heat and water sources, the first inklings of its demise surfaced as demolition schemes began sweeping through the city. Come 2012, rumours had turned into reality: a demolition date was finally set, with word reaching the still-budding Rediscovery Centre, a social enterprise scattered across different Dublin-based locations. Once the team discovered this last remaining relic of Old Ballymun was in jeopardy, they sprung into action: “We immediately made a play for it,” recalls the centre’s CEO, Dr. Sarah Miller. “We made a visit to the corresponding department and the Dublin City Council and said, ‘if you’ll give us the money that you’d spend knocking it down, we’ll go to Europe and get the rest that we need.’” Devising a groundbreaking blueprint that saw the Boiler House refitted as an education and skills-development centre, demonstrating the benefits of resource, reuse and recovery, the project was green-lighted by the EU’s Life+ environment programme in 2014; a staggering €3.6 million was received to fund its construction.
The Boiler House’s second incarnation – its red-striped chimney mercifully intact – has broken the mould for construction across Europe, let alone Dublin itself. Blending old and new features played a pivotal role: every pre-existent feature was salvaged where possible, from the durable steel girders to the indestructible concrete flooring – which has also minimised its carbon footprint – while reused sheep wool and hemp provide wall insulation, to name but a few up-cycled features. The Rediscovery Centre triumphantly moved into their new space in 2017, finally uniting their four-pronged enterprise under the one (hemp-concrete-cladded) roof. The space is the first of its kind on European shores to configure a “3D textbook” model, which shuns conventional classrooms in favour of more collaborative spaces for scientists and creative trailblazers. Student workshops and teacher-training programmes spearhead a fresh, engaging genre of sustainable education, the contents of which are adapted by the day. And while the first three facets of this social enterprise – Rediscover Furniture, Rediscover Cycling and Rediscover Painting – boast inventive ways to embrace ethical consumerism, its Rediscover Fashion section, led by the barnstorming Carrie Ann Moran, especially shines.
Moran’s magical touch – and insatiable thirst for self-improvement – plays no small part in this. Her enthusiasm for style and sustainability (albeit a more jaded term in sartorial contexts, now frequently replaced by ‘circular fashion’) has always been equally matched, testified by her inaugural treks to vintage shops and far-flung recycling centres. “I was brought up in a household in ‘80s recession Dublin, where buying second-hand was very much the norm – you would really value things. I’d get my pocket money and go into Temple Bar where, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there were loads of deadly second-hand and vintage places. I’d spend my pocket money there because I always wanted to have something that was a little bit different. And I’ve always been an environmentalist: I’ll always remember making my dad bring me to a recycling centre when we didn’t have those facilities nearby since, back in the ‘90s, we only had black bins. So it was always in me to be very conscious.”
Starting out in law led Moran to study environmental policy and legislation, the knowledge from which she took with her when she traded the role of solicitor for fashion school. While sustainability simply wasn’t present in third-level programmes, she took the initiative to ask questions – “Where is all this stuff going to? Is it going in the bin? 10% of all textile waste takes place on the cutting room floor: that equates to a vast amount. So that was my initial entry. I investigated further and had this moment of feeling that if I was going to [go into fashion], I was going to do it right. There wasn’t really anything happening in Ireland at the time [regarding sustainability], but my collections were all made from recycled textiles – I graduated with 80/90% of my designs made from repurposed, second-hand fabrics.” Her ties to the Rediscovery Centre naturally transpired when she applied to work on a fashion show there with other designers, the core theme concerning textile waste. Rediscover Furniture had been established at this stage (Miller commenced operations in 2004) and in 2008, Moran was asked to move Rediscover Fashion from initial concept to “creative, re-use social enterprise model… I’ve been trucking away at that ever since”.
Setting up Rediscover Fashion at the dawn of a recession was a bold move, but once which has paid off in droves – the Centre hasn’t just survived in the decade that has followed, but veritably thrived. On a day-to-day basis, Moran juggles all manner of biodegradable hats: a small fashion label within the social enterprise, for one, whose collections have revolutionised zero-waste Irish Design. Their textiles derive from donations to the Centre, all done as gestures of goodwill – one clothing company in the south of Ireland wanted to save their out-of-season stock from landfilling, so they sourced and paid a van to drive their garments up to Dublin. The finished designs are sold at the in-house Eco Store that Moran manages, which “has been a phenomenal success. Alongside the Rediscover Fashion line we have over 40 Irish brands stocked – some are independent, some are young start-ups, some are a little more established. They’ll work with everything from soap, to furniture, to a light fitting made from recycled copper”. Coupled with each collection’s traceable materials is an additional, altruistic layer: “We work with our trainees that have been unemployed on a long-term basis, displaced from the work force for a number of years,” Moran explains. “Through a bespoke training programme that spans 1-3 years, [during which] they create fashion pieces, homewares and accessories, the trainees learn from what they’re doing in a safe, comfortable environment. There’s no pressure on quantity production – it’s always about quality for quantity. I’d rather have one thing done that that they’ll be proud of, that we can put in the store, than ten things that are done wrong.”
These tailor-made training programmes place as much emphasis on personal development as they do practical skills, shining a particular spotlight on confidence- and communication-building. “We’ve seen huge success in that people will progress overnight, either going into education or employment. Last year we won the Inner City Enterprise Social Entrepreneurs Fund, awarded for the work that we do in a social enterprise model, which was really exciting.”
Moran’s position as a living, breathing encyclopedia for the Irish sustainability sector has been proven time and again, so it comes as little surprise she has taken the reigns of Fashion Revolution Ireland. While Veronika Kisela oversees operations from the West Coast, Moran will spearhead the country’s first Circular Fashion Conference on the 26th of April, during Fashion Revolution Week. It’s a seamless fit, considering the Rediscovery Centre doubles as National Centre for the Circular Economy, so Miller snapped up the idea to host right away. Moran has tee-d up quite the accomplished set of speakers, with Safia Rinney of People Tree, Dorothy Maxwell of Brown Thomas/Arnotts and Vikki Brennan of Proudly Made of Africa among the women poised to instigate dialogue on the day. Their collective approach is positive and eager to unearth problems all at once. “We’re hosting the conference as an information platform to educate and inspire, showing the need to move towards circularity in Ireland,” Moran affirms. “Consumers, designers, suppliers, retailers, material innovators – everyone will be catered to.” The Q&A sessions will funnel into a side project Moran has been developing, “identifying gap markets: where are the issues for new designers in Ireland? What’s stopping them from moving forward, what areas seem too challenging – is it their manufacturing? Their materials? Workforce? I want people to feel like they can stand up and say, ‘You know, I’d really love to be a fantastic, sustainable brand, but I can’t get organic cotton in this country without buying 10,000 metres of it.’”
As for where Moran would love to see Ireland in ten years? The answer is simple: “circular fashion and sustainability as the norm. All brands having to be compliant with circular-fashion policies, ethically and sustainability sourcing. I’d love for that to not be boxed off into a particular category. Once sustainable habits form, and once you have access to eye-opening resources, it becomes part of your conscience – and that’s at the core of our Fashion Revolution platform, or what we at the Rediscovery Centre do. We’re exposing the information, putting it out there for people to make their minds up – then it’s up to them to decide what route they want to choose”.
The Rediscovery Centre, the National Centre for the Circular Economy, will host Ireland’s first Circular Fashion Conference on Friday April 26, during Fashion Revolution Week (April 22-28; follow @fashrevireland to explore their scheduled events). Full details can be found at rediscoverycentre.ie/rediscover-fashion/circular-fashion-conference/
Words: Amelia O’Mahony-Brady