Tips from ethical style maven and actress Aoibheann McCann
Avoiding fast fashion: ‘There is a massive emphasis on global warming’
Blue shirt and pinafore from Penneys bought four years ago. “I don’t buy from Penneys any more” Pic Ste Murray
She has starring roles in Rough Magic’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Kilkenny Arts Festival, but actor Aoibheann McCann also leads the way in another area – in her fight against waste and fast fashion.
“One of the most ethical things you can do is to buy vintage”, she says when we meet in Dublin at a break in rehearsals.
Tall and athletic, she is dressed in a black jumpsuit which was a high street buy in London eight years ago. “It has been repaired five times but it fits in with my ethics in that I try to wear everything that I have well.”
The leather belt is from a charity shop in Dublin and “has been sitting in my wardrobe for four years. I tend to accentuate my waist because I don’t have an hourglass shape”.
McCann is from a farming family in Carlingford and one of eight. She credits her parents for a grounded background and for “teaching us respect for people. My mother Marion, who trained as a nurse in Liverpool, is a recycler but still struggles with the whole concept and thinks that we don’t do enough to reuse. My sister Helen makes cakes in her Primrose Lane Bakery in Dundalk and is very aware of her role as an environmentalist baker and is also trying to cut her waste. There is so much plastic coming from suppliers all over the country.”
She describes her family as a “making family and quite crafty” – one brother is a carpenter, two others are mechanics, one wants to train as an architect and another designs websites. Her own interest in fashion stems from her grandmother Philomena McAteer, a tailor in Newry who was the centre for all weddings, confirmations and furnishings. “She was a very determined woman who learned how to drive at 52,” recalls McCann. “She made structured, tailored clothes, well fitting suits and I have inherited that love of structure too.”
McCann used to buy a lot of fast fashion online “not to be stuck in shops”. But when her sister Niamh, a trainee vet, pointed out the economic cost and energy involved in online shopping, “I looked into it and I just had to stop”, she says. “I started to try and understand what we are wasting and I have not bought anything on the high street for six months.”
She has also managed not to use plastic single-use coffee cups for two years and feels strongly that people should ask for crockery in cafes. “And cafe owners should offer customers the choice – they have a responsibility too.”
Like Aisling Bea, another wellknown campaigner against fast fashion, McCann’s stand does not prevent her looking stylish, helped by her height and striking good looks.
“My own style is not girly. I have quite an athletic shape, so I go for strong lines, I am quite an active person and veer between a muscular body and a super slim one,” she says, adding that sculpture has always been a passion and that sensibility to shape “has always been with me. Irish people are very hard on themselves and I spent a lot of time like that instead of celebrating what I have and being at peace with my shape.”
Acting has affected what she wears off stage. “I remember playing the role of Klara in 2012 in Stars in the Morning Sky about the 1980s Olympics – it was my first big professional job and they put me into bright pink high waisted skintight disco pants with a purple one shouldered sequin top and strong make up. It made me feel quite empowered and I discovered that high waists were good for my body type.”
The bias cut silk dress and underwear in The Great Gatsby production at the Gate where she played Myrtle (Tom Buchanan’s mistress) was another revelation.
“It was wonderful to have a dress tailored for you and the underwear of that era, the 20s, is exciting because it is high waisted. Myrtle is much more overtly sexual than I am in public, she is naughty and sexy. But we were so fit after 75 performances of that show that I started to wear cropped tops and high waisted trousers. Myrtle helped me get better at being myself”.
So what’s in her wardrobe these days? There is a blue shirt and pinafore from Penneys bought four years ago reduced from €30 to €5 “but I don’t buy from Penneys any more”, a printed dress from Lyon Loring’s second-hand boutique in Stoneybatter; a blue trench coat which was a gift from a German actress friend, a black sleeveless jumpsuit bought from Asos Tall ages ago and tailored to fit by Aoife Eustace Doyle in the Gate and which she now wears all the time, a red jumper from a charity shop in Capel Street, vintage finds from Oxfam in Edinburgh and a caped jacket, a present from her sister-in-law who used to run a boutique in Carlingford.
Her views on fast fashion chime with Lynne Parker’s new production of the Shakespeare comedy which tackles themes of the recklessness of mankind in the face of the global ecosystem and how thoughtless waste is killing the planet.
“There is a massive emphasis on global warming and costume designer Katie Davenport is trying to source costumes from charity shops as much as she can as well as recycling costumes from other productions. Titania and Oberon have been messing with the world and all this magic is us having this party at the expense of the earth” explains McCann.
After every show, she heads back home to her parents and the countryside, to hike, climb the mountains and visit friends and relatives.
“I feel growing up as a child I was always in awe of sea and mountains and I remember with my brother Brendan looking out the window and feeling so lucky. Fast fashion comes at a huge cost to the environment as it affects water pollution, involves toxic chemical use and textile waste, so now I am determined not to buy anything new unless it is secondhand, sustainable or vintage because you vote with your euros. It is my personal challenge. And a tough one.”
Rough Magic’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place in an outdoor staging at the Kilkenny Arts Festival from 9-18 August.