perma collective

Conversations with Suppliers

Written by Jessica Gage

We talked with Alice Timms about her approach to sustainability in styling.

We’ve been lucky enough to have stylist Alice as a long standing member of the Perma Collective team. Alice’s approach to sustainability is innovative and ambitious, looking beyond her own work and impact to develop new platforms that other stylists can use to improve and reduce theirs too. 

Here we talk to her about why she felt she needed to push for more sustainable working practises, how these have worked for her and her clients, and what’s coming next. 

How did you traditionally work before working with Perma? 

I work across both wardrobe and props so there has always been a lot of waste unfortunately that is generated after a shoot.

There are clothes that have been worn and are not returnable, which then either had to be donated to charity or find a new home, and there are currently few places to hire current high street style clothing. I have always stored any of the left over items from shoots that I could and then reuse them to cut down on new purchases. 

With props it is often cheaper to purchase new than to hire smaller items, or the props houses do not have what we need so I often have to purchase and then re-home or donate, I would offer furniture on gumtree or offer items to local schools, I once sent 5 bikes to Africa with a charity, and have found set swap groups on social media, it can take a bit of extra work to find the right place but it is worth it.

How aware were you / are you of our industry’s push to be more sustainable? 

There has been a significant push in recent years, which is brilliant, and I have been fortunate to work with some of the production companies who are leading the way with this and so was offered training with Albert 2 years ago to gain more insight and learn more about resources available to help me make the changes needed in my department to be more sustainable and less wasteful.

Had you given much thought in the past to how you could work differently? 

Yes I have always tried to be mindful of the amount of waste and to try to make sure items found a home afterwards, however there was always a limit to how much I could achieve. Recently this has become a lot easier to make these changes as producers and clients are more aware now so are more willing to enable more sustainable practices that weren’t considered or enabled before.

Why do you think it is important to find a more sustainable way of working? 

Climate change is very real and The film, T.V and Stills industries are incredibly wasteful, generating vast tons of CO2 contributing to the damage. We all as individuals need to initiate better more sustainable practices to make our industry greener as a whole. In every department there are changes and choices that can easily be made, which will make our industry more successful in the long term, In order to remain relevant and future proof ourselves to survive in a competitive market. 

What elements of styling need to become more sustainable? 

For advertising shoots we buy vast amounts of clothing each time we shoot and then return up to 80% of it, some of which goes into landfill & Shops do not make it easy to find out what happens to the clothes once they are posted back. We need to cut down on the amount purchased, reusing or hiring more clothes, using models own where possible, clothes that have had to be purchased should then be reused. This is not often possible when a client needs to see a mood-board pre-shoot with lots of options to understand what will be available on set, so I think having clients be more specific pre-shoot about what they want would help stylists to cut down on purchases, or giving stylists clear examples of what is required pre-shoot would help as well. Often the amount of waste is due to options being required by a client that would not be necessary if there was a clearer specific choices made pre-shoot. Another factor is time- if agencies allow more time pre-shoot for stylists to source the clothes then we can find greener options, rather than last minute panic buying en masse.

How have you changed the way you work? 

I have concentrated working with producers who share my sustainability ethics, and to try to guide those who are still learning in this direction. I have managed to make some recent shoots 100% zero waste using only hired wardrobe, or bought second hand and then repurposed with no new purchases. I am still working on this with props, as it depends on the budget I am given – for smalls it is often cheaper to buy new with free delivery as it is to visit props houses and book out and book courier, so I am working on budgeting for hire, or making sure that purchases are limited. I am also trying out new systems with linking stylists up to hire wardrobe items out to each other and have started my own wardrobe hire facility called the styling bank which aims to hire out current wardrobe basics to stylists to cut down on new purchases.

How did you find working in this way? What elements were easier and what needed more work? Did you need more prep time? Did this balance with a reduction of time spent post shoot? How did you find working with fewer options? 

Making our roles in the industry more sustainable is a work in progress. I think explaining to clients and agencies about the need to allow more time pre-shoot to enable sourcing items in a more sustainable way really helps, allowing time to visit and book out hired items, or scheduling in virtual fittings with models to view their own clothes, so we know what they can bring, what their body shape is, and the type of clothes that fit them. This allows stylists a clearer idea of what still needs to be sourced and what will fit them rather than having to bring different sizes in all the options in the hope that something fits, and does cut down on the amount of post production returns and waste. Encouraging more decisions to be made pre-shoot also really helps to cut down bringing to set what we don’t really need. When we have a clearer view pre shoot it makes the shoot day a lot smoother as there is less time spent making decisions.

Did working this way affect how you enjoyed your job as a stylist? 

This process makes our jobs a lot less stressful and a better working environment. A lot of stylists are at breaking point with the small prep time scales and amount of indecision or lack of information pre shoot that we have to cover for at short notice, which is unsustainable from a mental health point of view. We are often considered to be magicians with the whole look of the shoot resting on our shoulders to ensure the right clothes and props are provided with options on the day with minimal prep time or lack of sizes until the last minute. This also impacts on our ability to maintain eco standards, as when you are rushed and exhausted, panic buying, makes it harder to source from places that are eco friendly and also makes trying to re-home all the waste post shoot harder.

Having trialled this, will you continue to work in this way? 

I will continue to push towards working this way, and encouraging this way of working, and also continue to trial other more sustainable options as we find them.

What will your next steps be?

I am currently setting up a hire facility called the Styling Bank to enable stylists to hire everyday generic wardrobe basics in a variety of common sizes, and would like to expand that so that stylists can hire to each other their own wardrobe stocks setting up a network so that stylists work together to help cut down on purchases. I am also trying to work directly with retailers to gain more insight into their returns practices to learn more about how stylists can return the items they do need to buy in a less damaging way through an initiative called Stylist Card. I would also like to expand on the brilliant Bafta Albert resources to make them more easily accessible to stylists with the latest ideas and resources to enable our department to be more sustainable, hopefully to expand the styling bank into a hub of information, connecting people and ideas to work together in the styling community to cut waste and enable more sustainable practices going forward.

What would your advice be to someone working in styling and wondering how to begin to work more sustainably? 

The AdGreen website has great resources and ideas and Albert has free training with wardrobe and props specific suppliers and guides on sustainable production. Also small changes such as renting props and wardrobe, or if purchasing then choose shops that have good eco credentials, pay their workers fairly and use recycled or sustainably produced materials whenever possible. Buy in shops rather than online whenever you can and then return the stock to that shop to make sure it goes back on the shop floor, rather than online returns and it ending in landfill. Use well made reusable wardrobe bags for transport that will last rather than cheap plastic or laundry bags that break and need to be thrown away, I use Tripp wheeled large Duffles that are light hardwearing and have lasted me 10 years, or the costumier make good strong bags as well, but there are more sustainable options available now. Choose electric vehicles when transporting, bring a re-useable water bottle & keep cup for coffee to set. There are lots of social media groups such as set, swap, cycle that help to recycle sets and props, but there are also lots of places listed on Albert, or use olio or next door apps to offer for free to local people.

There are also great online courses available on Future Learn Teaching about how to be more aware and sustainable in the fashion industry. Above all this is a work in progress and I am not able to apply all of this on every shoot due to time or budget constraints, but being mindful of it and doing what you can, when you can, all helps in the long run and we tend to learn through mistakes, so think about what you can do better each time you shoot to make differences and cut down on waste.

Alice has acknowledged the level of impact the industry is having on the environment and has put her drive and creativity to use learning, questioning, developing and paving the way for other stylists. She continues to inspire us and others to find better ways to work and to do this collaboratively to help others on their journey too.

Alice Timms
Fashion, Interior & Props Stylist
Designer & Art Director
Founder of The Styling Bank