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Pretty Little Protest: Environmental Protest Sparks Controversy From Within Student Union Ranks

On Wednesday October 2nd, UCD Students’ Union held a collaboration event with fashion chain Pretty Little Thing with proceeds being donated to charity. This event was overshadowed by controversy surrounding a protest of the event. The event was protested by members of the Green Party, Extinction Rebellion and UCDSU’s Environmental Campaigns Coordinator. The protesters held a “clothes swap” event and called on students and the SU to “stop supporting fast fashion.”

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UCDSU held their Pretty Little Thing event in the Student Centre’s Astra Hall, while UCDSU’s Environmental Campaigns Coordinator Lisa Frank Murnane led the event scheduled for the Quad Room, in protest of the existing UCDSU event.

The Pretty Little Thing “Student Sample Sale” cost €2 at the door, followed by €2 for every item up to five items. Large cardboard boxes dotted about the room were surrounded by piles of clothes and frantic shoppers racing to get the best deal. The charities chosen for this event were Enable Ireland, Rape Crisis Network Ireland and Young Minds. The turnout for the event was in the hundreds, with many students saying they waited over two and half hours to get in.

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SU President Joanna Siewierska said in response to the clothes swap event and protest: “We’ve been supporting clothes swaps since we started as a Union, so we’re happy to facilitate the event,” indicating that the SU was happy to go ahead with facilitating future clothes swap events. Last year’s Pretty Little Thing sale raised over €7000 for various charities, and the Union has stated that they are hopeful to make even more this year.

The clothes swap was planned by the Greens and Extinction Rebellion, with Murnane of the SU requesting SU Campaigns and Engagement Officer Katie O’Dea to book the Quad room to facilitate this. This room was booked under the plan for a clothes swap and not for what later turned out to be a protest. After many grievances from the groups over the SU’s decision to go ahead and run the Pretty Little Thing event, the groups were allegedly unable to contact the SU, resorting to commenting on the Facebook event page. These comments were later deleted.

Paula Martinez of the protest group said: “We [tried to] talk with some people in the SU, they never answered us. So, we started commenting on the [Facebook] page, and they deleted all of our comments. It was like: ‘Oh O.K there is no freedom of speech now in the university.’”

The SU has said that if the Union held a mandate to combat fast fashion then events like this would not happen, but such a mandate is currently not held.

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After it became clear that the clothes swap was a definitive protest, sources say that a message was sent from the SU to Student Centre services at approximately 2am the night before, informing them of the protest booked into the Quad Room. On arrival to the Quad that morning, they were unable to gain entry, due to apparent “health and safety reasons.” The protesters set up their clothes swap at the steps by the Quad room, SU Offices and Pretty Little Thing event.

UCDSU President Joanna Siewierska and Campaigns and Engagement Officer Katie O’Dea later dismantled and removed a clothes rale in use for the clothes swap, citing “health and safety reasons” for which it could not be on those steps.

Sadbh Shanahan of UCD Young Greens said: “It’s a massive conflict of interest… they [UCDSU] have a massive big poster at the climate strike being like “UCD Students’ Union” and then any attempt of ours to actually highlight the disastrous effects that fast fashion has on the planet is just completely shut down in really petty, bureaucratic ways.”

Sonia Lynch said: “It’s been a rather pathetic show of the SU if you ask me, especially having our comments on Facebook removed from the page. That to me was a good insight for what was about to come. We should have been more prepared, and we shouldn’t have trusted the SU as much as we did, looking back on it, and we won’t in the future.”

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Jason Masterson, Manager of the Student Centre showed up to talk with the group on the situation. After a lengthy discussion with Murnane, a compromise was reached. Masterson said: “What seems to be occurring is that the Students’ Union made a booking that is not actually supported by the Students’ Union. We are allowing the protest material to remain on the steps, but the clothes swap location is currently unsafe. So, we are now facilitating the clothes swap in the quad room.”

The event moved into its original planned location, with protesters moving outside to the lengthy queue into the Pretty Little Thing event. The protesters held up signs saying, “Fashion Shouldn’t Cost The Earth”, with other signs citing statistics about the environmental harm the “Fast Fashion” industry does, and regarding the negative working conditions of those making the clothes. Previously, a Pulse security employee told the protesters they were unable to protest so close to the building outside due to health and safety reasons, this seemed to no longer be the case. Songs were sung with passion, with curious onlookers from the line talking to each other about the scenes unfolding. This, however, did not deter the crowds who went ahead into the Astra Hall.

UCDSU Environment Campaigns Coordinator Lisa Murnane commented on the situation: “I really think the UCD community need to work together, figure out what we need, what we want. I want to get as many people involved in our campaign against fast fashion together. I think what’s really important is we need to educate people and work together on matters like this. […] I’m also going to be working with the Students’ Union to figure out some kind of mandate or motion in regards to what companies we should and should not work with.”

 

Conor Capplis – Editor

 

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