Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Fashion style.

Andy Adams 2018 Edited 400

Aug 8, 2023

I recently saw a dramatic, super-wide-angle photo of a brightly coloured landscape that turned out to be a virtual ocean of discarded clothing. We have all heard about the plastic in the oceans and that the plastic degrades down to ever-smaller little bits, but that it never goes away. Natural materials like wool or cotton do eventually go away but increasingly, new clothing is synthetic. As I write this in my super-cool, wicking synthetic shirt and shorts, I wonder what will become of these clothes when I discard them.

As a thought-provoking exercise, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) has a new exhibit on this very subject. The exhibit explores the impact of textiles and fashion on the planet’s water quality — and what we can do about it — in a powerful, new, ROM-organized art installation by Canadian visual artist, Noelle Hamlyn. What is amazing is that she expresses the subject through a series of over twenty repurposed and retailored life jackets, hand-crafted by the artist from reclaimed and discarded garments.

The colourful and fanciful life jackets present a striking visual metaphor to draw attention to the current environmental crisis in the textiles and fashion industries. Each life jacket (or “lifer”) tells a unique story, encouraging us to take a closer look at our own fashion consumption behaviours, and how they have the power to affect the health of water resources worldwide.

Stunning, large-format photography by Canadian photographer, Geoff Coombs, accompanies the installation, creating an immersive experience that pulls us into the narrative as we consider our legacy of clothing consumption and our ongoing relationship with the fashion industry.

Noelle Hamlyn: “Lifers opens a complex and important conversation about climate change, and how fast fashion and rampant overconsumption are accelerating the crisis with each new season.”

For those living in or visiting the Greater Toronto Area, a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum at Bloor Street and University Avenue is an enjoyable and thought-provoking way to spend an afternoon. The “Lifers” exhibit is on now until February, 2024. For information visit:

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