Bradford theatre company Common Wealth's latest show Fast, Fast, Slow
Fast, Fast, Slow, which comes to Bradford this weekend, focusses on our complex relationship with fashion, fast fashion and waste. Every show the company makes is a collaboration and for this one they have been working with people in Blackburn and Burnley in East Lancashire, an area which was once a powerhouse for a now almost disappeared textile industry, and with the Revival in Accra, Ghana, a community-led sustainable design and campaigning organisation.
Commissioned by British Textile Biennial 2023 (BTB23), which highlights creativity, innovation and expression in textiles, Fast, Fast, Slow is a multi-media show, performed on a catwalk made from used clothing bales. Directed by Evie Manning, co-artistic director of Common Wealth, it features video art, cinematic lighting, bold choreography and a specially commissioned electronic score. The audience will be seated on either side of the catwalk, like VIPs at a high-end designer fashion event.
The theme of the third edition of BTB is the environmental and human costs of the textile industry and also looks at possible solutions. “We were delighted to be approached by the British Textile Biennial and they have been great collaborators,” says Manning. “Most of their work is more visual art than performance and they got in touch with us because they were interested in introducing a live performance element.”
The company began working with community members in Blackburn and Burnley, listening to their stories about their relationship with clothes. “It has been so interesting,” says Manning. “These are personal experiences that we have been talking about in a judgement-free way. Some of our contributors had difficult relationships with clothes and their bodies, and for others clothes are a joy.”
The production is both local and global, personal and political and looks at the bigger picture of the lasting impact on the environment of fast fashion and the wide-ranging and damaging dynamics of place and power. “Working on this has been a process of unpacking the guilt, shame and anger surrounding the fast fashion industry,” says Manning. “We all have a connection to clothes and in the Global North our relationship to fashion is so wrapped up in a relentless hunger for more, driven by clever marketing that always makes us feel like we are less.”
As part of the research for the show, Manning and the creative team went to Accra in Ghana. The country is the world’s biggest importer of second-hand clothes and Accra has the largest second-hand clothing market in West Africa. “The clothes come from the Global North and are items that charity shops can’t sell,” says Manning. “So, the market traders in Ghana can only sell about 50 percent of the clothes they receive. Alongside the miles of clothes rails in the market there are people fixing – there is a whole industry that is about mending and upcycling the clothes. People are working so hard to keep it from going into landfill. They have to buy the clothes bales at £100 each and then they not only don’t necessarily get that money back, they pay for people to fix it, then pay to send it to landfill. They are doing everything they can to clear up after our waste.”
Working with The Revival has been, says Manning, “so inspiring”. As an organisation they have been trying to find practical, sustainable solutions to the issues and Fast, Fast, Slow will also include footage from Ghana highlighting some of The Revival’s work. “They are activists and fashion designers and because they are so solution-focussed, their involvement actually brings a real sense of optimism to the show,” says Manning. “One of their projects we are highlighting is jumpsuits for pineapple farm workers. There is so much denim waste, and denim is a big polluter; they have used it to make the jumpsuits.”
Manning would like the show to raise awareness of waste and sustainability, not only in fashion but more generally too. “Fashion is a way in,” she says. “We hope the piece gives audiences the space to reflect on their own personal relationship with clothes and fashion, but also the wider issues too, and think about what they can do or what they might change.”
Fast, Fast, Slow is being performed at the David Hockney Building, Bradford College as part of BD is Lit Festival on November 3 & 4 at 8pm. Tickets pay as you feel.