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Our First Assembly on a Fashion Commons: "Fashion Commoners, what do you need to flourish?"

On the 14th March 2024, OurCommon.Market hosted a online People's Assembly to discuss what community-based fashion systems need to be able to flourish. 3 speakers presented evidence to the participants: Nadia Bunyan, founder of Growing Arc, a seed-to-closed playground in Montreal; Alice Holloway, founder of the London Urban Textile Commons, a space for common pool resources for textile practitioners; and last but not least, Dorine van der Beukel, founder of Pleed, which works to promote the production and use of wool local to the Netherlands.



You can find the video recording of the speakers below including an introduction to OurCommon.Market by Sara Arnold and Zoe Gilbertson and a closing statement from Sandra Niessen.



After the speakers presented their motivations, visions, needs and challenges for a fashion commons, all assembly participants, speakers and hosts were split into groups (in breakout rooms) of 4-5 people and further discussed and deliberated the assembly topic and after points were fed back to the whole assembly by one member of the group. We did not record this part of the assembly but you can find a summary of the discussion in the breakout rooms here:


  • Growing the commons, its networks, diversity and solidarity

The conversation emphasised the need for collaboration over competition. Let's stop squabbling over scarce resources and work together. We need to come together and make people see the benefits of the commons! Sharing and co-creating in this way is inspiring, leading to yet more ideas and more action. The need for a platform that helps create and connect communities was made very apparent. This will help communities to find people with common interests, fostering local collaboration and face-to-face activities, as well as connection on a broader scale.


We need to meet our global aspiration towards regional and cultural diversity. How global can we be? Who is at the table? It can be disheartening to see that it is not ethnically diverse. There have to be different regional landscapes. To interconnect globally, we need to consider minorities and cultural diversity. This assembly has been very well attended but still has a distinctly Northern European focus.


Many assembly participants expressed the wish for a fashion commons conference, more online meet-ups and for folks to meet in person. How can we make in-person events happen while meeting our aspiration for global diversity?


Is it easier to withdraw from extractive, capitalist systems if you live rurally? Is it more difficult as a city dweller? We need to learn from each other and in this regard build connections between urban and rural commoners.


  • Visibility & Engagement

We need to grow the movement and its impact. We hear so many people say they lack the capacity to deliver on very worthy projects or that they face burnout. However, it can be hard to engage with people in the surrounding community andlocal people may not be aware of groups and organisations in their community. How can we reach the people who slipped through the net so far? How can we introduce our local community to the concept of the commons?


Further, the need to engage with and connect with local actors like farmers, older generations that bear the knowledge of lost skills, and youths too. They are essential for a transformation towards a regenerative clothing system but may not be reached online so local engagement and visibility is key.


However, we also discussed that we should stay optimistic and do what we do for the audiences we already have. We shouldn’t be paralysed by the size of our audience and underestimate our impact. Let’s be grateful for the (small) communities we already have and build from there!


  • Accessibility

Our communities continuously raised the need for access to resources, studios and green spaces, both in the countryside and urban settings. This links back to the commons:how do we have our say on the way green spaces are used and gain access to community spaces within the context of privatisation and exorbitantly high rent? Further, building a commons seed bank was suggested as a solution to limited access to patented fibre and dye seeds.


  • Education & Knowledge Exchange 

Nadia, one of the assembly speakers, highlighted that knowledge is created in community: we learn through trial and error and engaging with each other. 


We’ve lost knowledge on how to grow, process, and construct garments - old cultural practices that further emotional and cultural connections to our clothes. The speakers and many assembly participants mentioned how they need to start from scratch and first reclaim knowledge that has been lost through the industrialisation of fashion.


Accessing knowledge through exchange between communities is essential to reclaim and relearn these practices, from flax farming, over spinning to mending. The clothing commons would benefit immensely from a platform and in person meet ups that enable this knowledge exchange, where communities can give each other advice on sharing their experiences: construction and natural dye techniques, which flax seeds to plant and how to fix an ancient spinning wheel as well as sharing open-source plans for low-tech and mid-tech machinery needed for turning plants into textiles.


Clothing communities need to connect to young people and students through youth groups, playful learning and also in more formal education settings, with a particular focus on degrowth economics and the commons. Engagement with and integration of students who are worried about job security outside the capitalist Big-F Fashion Industry. 


How can we learn from other practices? Some of the assembly attendees are working on how to bring the sustainable practices that are used in local food sharing initiatives into clothing.


  • Funding

Most clothing communities making for community and not for profit struggle with funding. How do we keep the price of participation low but still pay the ones doing the prep work fairly?


The implementation of Universal Basic Income would be beneficial in helping make a lot of our goals achievable. Can we use the OurCommon.Market platform to share funding opportunities and to crowdfund in the absence of a universal basic income? There’s much more to be discussed about microfinance, finding philanthropists and alternative commoning finance structures. 


  • Action 

And finally, the need to come together, organise and lobby governments for a fashion commons and against fast fashion and greenwashing was expressed. Activism and fashion commoning requires balanced decision making that ensures inclusivity but also brings actions forward: activism organisation models that enable this are key.


With OurCommon.Market we (FAN team) aim to create a space for learning and solidarity between different clothing communities and cultures. Our aspirations for the OurCommon.Market are to build an online platform that enables a digital fashion commons: to contribute to the visibility and viability of alternative clothing systems. On OurCommon.Market communities and individuals can create a profile to connect, support and learn from each other, as well as getting involved in events, workshops and meetups. With OCM we want to encourage participation in local community-based clothing practices by increasing communities visibility. It was encouraging to see an appetite for this in the assembly.


OurCommon.Market is intended to be co-owned and co-created, a space made by the communities it serves. We hope you will join us. Together we can action the points discussed in the assembly.If you would like to get involved, please reach out at: hello@ourcommon.market 




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