When Poetry Meets Fast Fashion

— by Nilgin Yusuf

Leah Thorn

If anyone took the time to closely examine fast fashion, how it’s made and what it involves, it could really take the fun out of shopping. Contrary to popular opinion, cheap thrills come at a price and these are not always apparent to the eye. The knowledge for instance, that a cheap cotton T-shirt was made by a child living in poverty or our favourite denim jeans helped pollute the single river in a Chinese village could be a real passion killer.

For artist, activist and spoken word poet, Leah Thorn, these unpalatable truths are a focus for her work. Combining dress with fact-based, political poetry, she combines documentary truth with poetic lyricism. Through her readings and Subversive Catwalks, Thorn aims to enlighten audiences and invites them to re-examine their choices. At the joyful catwalk events, women of all shapes, sizes, ages and colours parade garments bearing lines or messages from the poems around fashion addiction, waste, mistreatment of workers and sartorial “eco-cide”.

“I’d like people to be aghast and moved about how our consumer habits in the global north impact on the planet. The amount of water used to make a pair of jeans is shocking. I don’t use anger to fuel my work because that would alienate some of the audience. I hope to tackle painful subjects with warmth and lightness of touch. Although the issues are horrific, I like to think my work has kindness.”

Denim jeans photo: Smithsonian

As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, politics and social issues are close to Leah Thorn’s heart. Women’s issues and liberation have always underpinned her work including running creative workshops in women’s prisons and psychiatric institutions. As Artist-in-Residence at Kent University, she looked at sexism and ageism with her project, Older Women Rock which combined performance, poetry, film and retro dress. Working with a female collective of designers, textile artists, film-makers and activists, there is a strong participatory and co-creative strand to her work.

A stylishly dressed woman who recently celebrated her seventieth year, Thorn shops almost entirely from charity shops, mainly in Folkestone and admits she has a “great eye” for a bargain with a particular fondness for hand knitted pieces and well-structured jackets. Brought up in London’s East End, where her father, Manny was a tailor and her “meticulously dressed” mother, Laura, had a separates shop, “dress and style were a form of survival, something that could keep you safe.”

Her current interest in fast fashion is a departure point for discussions around climate catastrophe and justice.  “I guess if I could say one thing to women, it’s Don’t Keep Buying. We have our own value and don’t need to keep consuming to be acceptable as women. Lots of us are addicted to fashion. The idea that buying new clothes will always make us feel better supports the over-production and over-consumption of fashion which is a problem – but we can do something about it. “

This week, Thorn is directing a:dress festival – an online online and Folkestone-based project of activism and informal education designed to raise awareness, and to challenge the devastating impact of fast fashion on the environment. Its focus is on female consumers, as women are disproportionately affected by both fast fashion and climate crisis. The festival program will ask ‘What is fast fashion?’ ‘What can we do to slow down fast fashion?’, ‘Why is fast fashion bad for the planet?’ and ‘How are women targeted by fast fashion and the climate crisis?’ Watch her brilliant film HERE and if you can, sign up to the below free online events, including one on fashion psychology with friend of That’s Not My Age Professor Carolyn Mair:



Wednesday 11th November – Live at 7:00pm 

‘Girl Talk: In Conversation with Josie Carter, Nico Dunsbee and guests’. The fashion industry wants young women and girls to be addicted to buying clothes! What can we do about it?

Thursday 12th November – Live at 7:30pm 

’Why Psychology in Fashion Matters: in conversation with Professor Carolyn Mair.’ The importance of understanding behaviour and how psychology can be applied in the fashion industry to make it a force for good.

Friday 13th November – Live at 7:30pm

‘Becoming a Fashion Activist: In conversation with Bel Jacobs.’ Find out about the connections between fast fashion, climate justice and social justice; about XR and what women can do individually to slow down fast fashion.

Saturday 14th November – Live at 1:30pm 

‘Subversive Catwalk: ‘Women, Fast Fashion & Climate Justice.’ An introductory workshop for Climate Justice.


To book your FREE place at these events: DM on Facebook or email [email protected] Please include- your name, which event(s) you’re interested in and your email address to receive the Zoom link to attend.


If you happen to be near Folkestone, most of the festival displays will be situated in shop windows for the month  – more details HERE.

a:dress : Fashion to Die For



Nilgin Yusuf is a freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter @Nilgin and Instagram @nilgin_yusuf

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If anyone took the time to closely examine fast fashion, how it’s made and what it involves, it could really take the fun out of shopping. Contrary to popular opinion, cheap thrills come at a price …