Coffee with Rommy: Philippa Norman

Coffee with Rommy: Philippa Norman

With a new year comes exciting new interviews for Coffee with Rommy. Throughout 2021, I'll be inviting sustainable fashion enthusiasts to share their stories and thoughts with us. First up is Philippa Norman, an advocate for all things sustainable and a thrifted fashion icon in her own right. Her answers have left me feeling super inspired, I hope after reading it you will too!


Hey Philippa! Tell us a little bit about you


I’m a 23 year old lover of all things thrifting, art and musical theatre. I currently work for a charity in Cambridge and I run the Instagram account @thriftedphil. I also love tea (basic I know) and seeing and trying new things, next week I am going paddle boarding for the first time and as someone with a track record of bad balance I am both excited and a little scared! 


Describe your style in one sentence

This is a hard one! I always find it hard to describe my style in any coherent way as I like so many different influences and styles. But if I would have to I’d say, vintage styles, print and lots of colour.

What is your relationship like with your wardrobe?

Considering I have just got a second hand flat pack wardrobe with dodgy drawers, at the moment- fraught! In terms of clothes, I am trying to make a real effort to only thrift or buy things I really love which is great but also can be hard as style tends to change and then you can end up not loving something as much as you first thought you did. In general though, I love and cherish my clothes and I like to think what exists in my wardrobe now is quite curated and will be there for a long time to come. I try to do ‘clear outs’ every so often to make sure I am wearing everything but I am also conscious to only donate things that are good quality, and I make sure not to buy things with the attitude of ‘well I could just donate later’ as we all know that charity shops are not our dumping grounds!

What first sparked your interest in thrifted fashion?

I think my love of thrifting really kicked off in my second and third year of university, when I would get off the bus after a voluntary placement to visit the streets of charity shops in Newcastle. I think what drew me to it was a boredom of the clothing found in typical fast fashion stores, where all the mannequins always looked the same from store to store. To me, charity shops were like a treasure trove of opportunities to try different styles and clothing from different eras- it was a way for me to try and cultivate a bit of a different style for myself and find things I knew no one else would have. I still see excited when I see the crowded displays in charity shop windows and I find it an all-round better shopping experience, its quieter, more freeing and way more fun.

Tell us about being a Big Sister Swap Ambassador

Being a Big Sister Swap ambassador is great as I really believe in the work that they are doing to make swapping more mainstream and cool. I  think we are moving away from the attitude that we can simply buy clothes, wear them a few times and donate them to charity, especially after being exposed to the scenes from second-hand clothing markets and landfills in countries such as Ghana. Therefore, I think swapping interjects that process by adding another layer of story into the clothes you receive as someone is actively picking them out for you, it’s like having a personal swap shopper! By knowing that someone has donated those clothing within the same system you will be receiving them, you feel that you are part of a circular system and a community of sorts. It’s nice to have friends from university message me about them on Instagram and then receive a swap that they love a few weeks later. I truly think swapping and renting are the future of how we will enjoy and use clothing.

What do you think is currently missing in the world of sustainable fashion?

At the moment, along with the zero waste movement I think sustainable fashion is seen as a very exclusive middle class ‘hobby’ of sorts. Of course we all have to wear clothing as part of our daily lives but not everyone has the time, energy or resources to seek out sustainable or ethical alternatives or to actively pursue a more sustainable lifestyle. I think there needs to be more focus on sustainability through longevity so that it is not deemed bad to shop at cheaper places but more focus is put on how those garments are then cared for to ensure longevity and that we view our clothes as having inherent value rather than just as disposables.

I feel that some people think being sustainable means to swap out all of the ‘bad’ old stuff and buy new good stuff, when in reality it’s about changing the attitudes around what we already own to cherish it and look after it for longer. There needs to be teaching in schools for all students on basic clothing repairs and how to wash clothes properly alongside other things such as food waste recipes and different kinds of plastic and how to dispose of them. I believe a lot of things we do in life stem from our education and I think if I had been taught more about the impact of clothing then I probably would’ve spent less time buying things I didn’t need in the New Look sale at the age of 13.

Where do you see the future of fashion going?

I have recently finished reading Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas and I see the future of fashion being in innovation. The book is really inspiring as unlike some other books on the fashion industry it not only address some of the dire situations in the fashion industry but also centres around hope and what can be done to actually help. Although there are enough clothes on earth at the moment to sustain many future generations and we probably don’t need to make any more at all for a very long time, Dana stresses that humans like to design and create and fashion is a huge part of that, so therefore we still need to create but by using better methods. She follows local makers and artisans who are returning to cleaner and more stripped back ways of doing things and looks at innovational techniques such as growing leather in a lab. The book has really posited for me where the future lies for fashion, in inherent artisanship, innovation and a scaled back local approach. I think to counteract the huge scale of the fashion industry we need to start thinking more creatively and locally. Whether that be through simply getting something tailored locally, attending local clothing markets or buying some fabric pens and upcycling something. We need to reinvest in the beauty of creating, refining and redesigning clothing to add back the value and to trace more easily who made and designed what.

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