Acting for a greener future: Tegan Gibaud's perspective on Sustainable Fashion
Meet Tegan Gibaud: The Climate Change Scientist Using Slow Fashion to Promote Sustainability
Working at the intersection of fashion and science, Tegan Gibaud’s Instagram bio reads “climate change scientist and slow fashion lover”. Bringing light and optimism to a decidedly heavy conversation, the Stellenbosch-based creator and environmental studies student exemplifies the ever-evolving nature of both fashion and sustainability discourses. Her work speaks of the several ways that professionals in fashion can be changemakers.
Equipped with a reading list and cute, quirky infographics, her slow fashion advocacy uses social media to bridge the informational divide between fashion and sustainability.
Following her first successful clothing-swap initiative, AFI spoke to Gibaud about her platform, global sustainability discourse, the South African fashion industry and more.
You recently hosted a clothes swap. What were the highlights and what would you like to see next time?
It’s safe to say it was a success! We had approximately 50-70 swappers. The highlight for me was seeing people be so enthusiastic to participate in this circular economy activity. Attendees were eager to learn more about swapping and to do it more often… It couldn’t have gone better!
What is the value of a clothing swap in changing how we think about consumption?
Clothing swaps help aid the mindset shift towards more sustainable consumption and, overall, encourage participating in a circular economy. There are many reasons for this, but the main aspects are:
- Reducing waste: [Clothing swaps] promote the reuse of clothing items, which helps reduce textile waste in landfills. By swapping clothes, people can give new life to items that might otherwise have been discarded, extending the lifespan of clothing and reducing the need for new production.
- Encouraging a sharing economy: These events promote the idea of sharing resources rather than buying new ones. This can lead to a sense of community and co-operation, rather than competition and consumption
- Encouraging mindful consumption: When participating in a clothing swap, people are encouraged to think more critically about their consumption habits. Rather than simply buying new clothes to keep up with the latest trends, they are forced to evaluate what they already have and what they need.
How would you explain the purpose of a swap shop to an older generation who are more inclined to think about production and consumption in more linear, capital-driven terms?
The first step is education and (creating) awareness – sharing the harms of the linear economy (make → consume → discard). Of course, that includes talking about things like overproduction, pollution, environmental degradation, emissions, etc.
The next step would be to provide them with the solution presented by the circular economy (make ↔ use ↔ reuse ↔ upcycle ↔ continue use) in which swap shops are relevant. A swap shop is a space whereby people can exchange items they no longer need or want for items that they do need or want. Swap shops ultimately reduce waste, encouraging the reuse of items while also providing an opportunity for people to connect and acquire new items they need without spending money.
Tegan Gibaud organized a clothing exchange event in Cape Town, which assists in decreasing fashion waste and promotes the development of a circular economy.
You mentioned in an earlier interview with Twyg Magazine, that climate action is currently being driven by Northern Hemisphere scientists. What’s one thing you can think of that is different in an African climate conversation?
I could go on about this topic for a hot minute! Global science is integrating more and more as we address the global issue of climate change, [but] there is still a disconnect between the Northern and Southern hemisphere in this science.
Africa as a continent is in a precarious situation. Studies have determined that it will be impacted the most by climate change – think agricultural impacts due to droughts, floods and more. However, Africa contributes the least as a continent to climate change. It’s an unfortunate situation, but it’s all the more reason for African science to be taken more seriously.
Copenhagen Fashion Week has instituted a sustainability mandate for prospective labels. What’s one thing that you would put on a sustainability mandate for an African fashion week?
Something that Copenhagen Fashion Week incorporates – that I think should be more widespread – is encouraging circularity. They do so by encouraging brands to use recycled materials, produce garments that can be easily repaired or recycled, and participate in clothing rental or swap initiatives.
What were you into first: Biology or Fashion?
Surprisingly, biology. Growing up, I was extremely insecure of my body, so I lived in black leggings and a black hoodie. As I entered university in 2020, and lockdown hit, I was able to explore fashion – something I’d always longed to be part of. It’s an ongoing journey and I often still struggle with body image issues, but I have found that fashion is a way to dress and feel confident, rather than hide.
Combining her interests in biology and fashion, Tegan Gibaud has successfully merged the two. Being an environmental advocate from a young age, she always had an idea of our impact as humans on the planet. As she approached the end of high school, she began educating herself about the effects of fast fashion.
When did you come to understand that the two could go together?
I was always an environmental advocate – long before high school, even. So, I had a general idea of the impact we have as humans on the earth. Nearing the end of high school, I started learning about the impacts of fast fashion. This really piqued my interest, especially as I was starting an environmental degree. It was only in the last year, however, that I realised I could marry my two passions (three if you count social media), and really work towards a more sustainable future in both climate change and fashion spaces.
People have limited understandings of what professional perspectives are possible in fashion, and your platform is so unique and kind of progressive for South African fashion and science discourses – where do you see your practice creating the most value in the fashion industry?
I consider myself to be early in my dual-career of science and social media, but I do hope to bring about a science-based perspective within the sustainable fashion space. At some point in my career, I’d love to conduct research that looks at the impacts of fast fashion on the environment and communities. I also have a goal of creating a podcast that provides accessible and relatable information about sustainable fashion, general sustainability and science.
In Cape Town, Tegan Gibaud organized a clothing exchange event that promotes the idea of a circular economy and tackles fashion waste. By facilitating swap shops, people can participate in environmentally friendly practices while also getting new clothes without spending money.
What is your philosophy on luxury?
This is an interesting one! It’s important to note that luxury brands are not free from fast fashion practices such as overproduction and poor sustainability practices just because of their high price tag. However, I do consider that if the clothing is of high quality, it may be better to invest in that clothing item that lasts so long that it can be passed down generations than to buy a cheaper, poor-quality alternative. My mindset is to reduce overall consumption the best [way] that one can. If that means buying a luxury item that you wear forever, I support it.
Luxury kind of relies on exclusivity, slowness, discernment and, on the side of the consumer, intention and investment. Considering these key themes, how do you view it fitting into sustainability and circularity conversations?
It really comes down to longevity. I briefly touched on this in my last answer, but when an item is of such good quality that it can be worn over and over [again], it reduces the need for consumption. It’s even better when that item can be passed down to the next generation, even further reducing consumption. This fits in perfectly with the idea of sustainable fashion and circularity and I think that luxury absolutely has a space in this discussion.
Tegan is currently enamoured with Mpumi Dhlamini's Ezokhetho designs, which have gained a loyal following including notable figures such as Yasmin Furmie and Loot Love. The House of Nala by AFI store in Sandton City stocks an attractive Ezokhetho skirt on the left for purchase.
Who is your favourite African designer now and why?
Ezokhetho. Their designs are so unique and interesting to the eye. Their work also holds so much weight and meaning, and truly highlights African culture in the meanings of their work.