Interview with Thekla Wilkening

Germany's sustainable fashion scene would be unthinkable without Thekla. In 2012, together with Pola Fendel, she founded the “Clothing Shop”, the first lending library for fashion. Today, the 31-year-old campaigns for sustainable consumption and "slow fashion". On April 27th she initiates the first 'Fashion Revolution – The Move' in downtown Hamburg. We met the likeable activist for an interview.

What was the last piece of clothing you bought? 

A vintage silk blouse. It was love at first sight, even if it was rather unusual by my standards. Usually you see me in jeans and a white t-shirt. 

What does sustainable consumption mean to you and in which areas is it particularly important to you? 

On the one hand, conscious use of resources, but also social interaction with one another. I think you have to look at the issue holistically. I try to live consciously in every area - but it is also important to me to be a good role model, also for my son, and not to be too dogmatic. For me, sustainability also includes the social responsibility of good cooperation. I firmly believe that the consumption we have indulged in for so long is built on a feeling of not being good enough. That's what the industry consistently drummed into us. Finding yourself, your love, your friends and good work makes it much easier to take responsibility for the world.   

In 2012 you founded the clothing store. What was your goal and your driving force? 

We wanted to make sustainable clothing consumption possible - but not difficult and full of responsibility, but easy and fun. Fashion also always has a lot to do with intuition – renting clothes is all about trying things out, reinventing them. I'm now doing business development for STAY AWHILE, a new rental concept. Here I go into more detail about offering labels the opportunity to take the first steps towards a circular economy. In addition to customer needs, the other pillar of the concept is to increase the useful life of clothing - after all, clothing is elaborately produced and there is so much energy and love in a collection. In my opinion, it cannot be that these then disappear again after a very short time. 

On April 27th you organize the first 'Fashion Revolution – The Move' in Hamburg. How did you come up with the idea to initiate the demo? 

Since the collapse of the Rana Plaza textile factory in Bangladesh in 2013, in which 1135 seamstresses lost their lives and another 2438 were injured, there has been the 'Fashion Revolution' - a global initiative that wants to draw attention to the abuses in the industry. A few weeks ago I was asked if I could organize the Move for Hamburg. A challenge - but a great project as it brought together so many people with the help of which we were able to get a lot done in a very short time. The special thing about the move is that we don't just show what's bad, but also deliberately want to show alternative courses of action, i.e. places and companies in Hamburg that are already doing a lot right. 

Why does the fashion industry even need a revolution? Are there other industries that need a "change"? 

YES! I see the topic globally, and in my opinion not only all textile companies, but all companies that produce a lot in the global South, but also here in Europe, have to sit down together at one table. Fair wages, for example, is an issue that affects the social and political structures in production countries - it's not enough if only the textile companies fight. The food, automotive and electronics industries must also follow suit. Otherwise new injustices will arise, which will also result in (sexual) violence and unrest. Every worker should be paid fairly, no matter what they produce. And every producer and their client must also ensure that the factory does not cause any environmental pollution in the form of chemicals or waste for the local environment. 

The fashion industry is considered to be one of the dirtiest sectors - also with regard to our valuable water resource (e.g. water consumption, pollution, etc.). What does water mean to you and how do you try to protect it? 

I actually moved to Hamburg because of the proximity to the water! Many people do not even realize that there is so much water - and yet so little drinking water and so many places where there is no supply at all. Often also because we use lakes to irrigate cotton fields and at some point they lie fallow - and we leave them that way. I not only rearranged my wardrobe, I also rearranged the bathroom, for example to your products. This saves water, since the products are much more effective (there was even a water refund) and, above all, hardly any chemicals and microplastics get into the groundwater, which still happens here despite very good filter systems. The same applies in the kitchen and when washing. There are so many areas and everyone can start small.   

You know the industry like the (sustainable) pocket of your hand - who do you think are the most important pioneers when it comes to sustainability? 

My friend Lavinia who works in sustainability at ARMEDANGELS and Hannah who is building sustainability for a large conventional company. Both because they keep questioning sustainability, are never satisfied with simple solutions and put so much energy into it. Otherwise, I'm also a big fan of Viva Con Agua, who successfully show that sustainability, social justice, community and a big vision are possible - and also that pop culture can have a big influence when it comes to achieving sustainable goals . 

Today you are working on a completely new project - can you tell us something about it? 

We are developing the "Let's Start Saturday" initiative, which brings together Hamburg-based companies and entrepreneurs who implement social and ecological standards in their daily business and share the vision of a more sustainable future. The aim is to bring the network together, to exchange knowledge and, more specifically, to develop events and concepts together in order to achieve the greatest possible impact and to give Hamburg more power as a location for conscious consumption. 

"Change" means for you... 

Courage! Desire for life with the thought of taking on responsibility. Changes are often necessary to maintain a good status quo. In my opinion, many people do not realize that we have to change so that life as we know it can remain the same to some extent. But it takes courage to acknowledge this and of course you have to leave your comfort zone to do so. 

The (most sustainable) tip that changed your life... 

A few years ago we sat on a podium in Düsseldorf, mainly with representatives of politics. The discussion itself was rather frustrating, a lot of responsibility was pushed aside and hardly any positive prospects were shown. But then a gentleman came to us and said: “I think what you are doing is right. And you will make a difference. McDonald's didn't expect that the biggest competition would come from lots and lots of small places that also offer quick but good food.” Since then, I believe more than ever that many small actions can have a big impact. 

 Which headline would you like to read in the future? 

Unfortunately, no child in the world goes hungry. I think social justice is the basis for ecological responsibility. The fact that I can deal with these issues on a daily basis is a certain luxury, a privilege. We should all be aware of this: we are doing far too well. And that's why we have this responsibility and we have to accept it. 

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