SOCIAL CHANGE IN ACTION
Community Testimonials & Press Reviews
THE DAY THE UGLY DUCKLING OF FASHION BECAME A SWAN
By Ged Thompson
One of my pet hates is when people use the word ‘amazing’ all of the time, and the reason for that is when you do actually come across something that is truly ‘amazing’ you are left without a word that could describe its ‘amazingness’.
If you know me you’d know that one of the last places I’d ever be found is at a fashion show, for me Oscar Wilde pretty much summed up my own sentiments when he said that ‘Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months’. But it seems now that something may have changed, that something has maybe shifted, a pendulum has swung and the face of fashion has evolved into a semblance of form far removed from anything ugly.
Perhaps fashion has found its faith in people just as people have lost all faith in the superficiality of fashion. I went to a fashion show last night and the first words I would use to describe it would be ‘F*$!ing Amazing’. The alternative fashion festival sets out to break down barriers, to challenge social conditioning and stigmatization. Its message seemed very simple but tremendously powerful; its message was simply that whoever you are and whatever you look like, you are enough.
Last night I watched a little girl with Down’s syndrome in a beautiful dress take centre stage amongst fashion models, burlesque performers, fire breathers, drag acts, poets and dancers. She pirouetted to applause as the whole room filled with an almost tangible sentience of love and inclusion. The night was electric. Powerful choreography and drama hammering out an anti bullying message, a prayer for acceptance of all that is human, all that is vulnerable, all that is us. I and the rest of the audience felt we had followed Alice down the rabbit hole and gorged on magic mushrooms with her while watching Moulin Rouge.
Poetesses pulled their ribcages open to address the beautiful fragilities of their inner natures and children acted out their hopes dreams and fears in dance. I’m a great believer that artists being some of the most sensitive souls in creation, in a way can act as social barometers. They call for a climate change in attitudes and help bolster an awareness of where we as a society may be going wrong.
Some, as I witnessed last night, use their art and gifts to point a finger at injustice and abuse, exorcistically calling out the names of the demons that hurt people on the inside. The name calling, the insults, the peer pressures that make both schoolchildren and adults go home and cry into pillows.
Last night, to me at least, was about a beautiful bunch of artists screaming out ‘NO THIS JUST WON’T DO ANYMORE!’. They were asking the questions that as a society are imperative to our well being and ultimately our own and everyone else’s happiness. Have we not had enough suicides? Are we not mentally ill enough? Why are some of our children too scared to attend school? Why are some of our adults too scared to attend life? And when on earth is this going to stop and how can we make it better!?
The friend I was there with cried her eyes out, some tears are very beautiful. I doubt very much that anyone could walk away from such an event not in some way moved and/or inspired. They opened up a catwalk to children, middle aged men, trans, gay, straight, white, brown, black, yellow and created rainbows. They empowered them to be them and us to be us. I think what ‘Art and Soul Tribe’ are doing is not only honourable, but compassionately vital. We live in times where ‘something has to give’ and at last some people have created a movement that may be capable of giving it. For what it’s worth, I’m in.
By: Ged Thompson
Our Alternative Fashion Fest family
"Words are banded around words like retard, mong, spaz... Madison has grown up knowing that those words are said about her sister and her friends. Reagan doesn't know these words. Maddi and I have protected her. I'm thick skinned, I'm a mother of a disabled child...the thick skin grows fast. Maddi however, is a sensitive soul, and isn't thick skinned. Words hurt. All of her life she has suffered at the vicious mouths of bullies the nasty comments, the looks given, the jokes made.
Maddi always has her sister in her sights...and always is on edge waiting, waiting to protect her sister from comments that inevitably come. Maddi takes them, and locks them inside - she takes the hurt so that her sister doesn't have to.
Maddi is a clever girl who works hard in school, is singled out for being what they call a 'swot'-made to feel bad because she's clever and works hard!
Our first experience of AFF was a diversity fest in north wales...incredible bunch of people, Reagan even joined in. Second was Circo...and for the very first time outside of Foxfield school, Maddi didn't need one eye on her sister. Reagan was safe, and so was Maddi.
Watching the Sophie t shirts section of the AFF shows gives me goosebumps each time and I fill with tears. It's so powerful. Watching Maddi in that shows me how far she has come in such a short time.
Being bullied is nothing to be ashamed of, but being a bully is...
Maddi is finding herself and her own style and she's gaining the confidence to do it and that's thanks to AFF family.
My girls are both AFF models now....and for the first time Maddi is 'home' and for those of you who know Maddi well, know what I mean."
- MAKING A DIFFERENCE
How every single person gains positivity & support
"I needed something that I could feel I would be accepted in, where I belonged. Somewhere accepting of the fact I have long standing mental health issues. Somewhere that would be supportive of people in more than just talk but actually be pro-active and walk the walk.
It's surprising how many people/agencies simply give lip service to the notion of acceptance and diversity. When push comes to shove they stick to the status quo. AFF is different in that they do actually push the boundaries, they don't care if a model, performer or member is commercially viable, they accept everyone as equal and promote everyone equally.
It's a sad fact that there are so many companies that still promote a handful of people, and it's the same with photographers, designers and studios, if you don't fit the stereotype or meet certain levels you don't get selected. Having dealt with an eating disorder since very young I have always struggled with my outer appearance, AFF has helped find the courage to start to deal with my inner demons and this has started to have a positive effect on how I view myself. The Black Dog project, in particular, has been so beneficial to myself and others. Having people who share similar issues actively support others, sometimes complete strangers is inspiring. There's no judgement, no criticism, only support and understanding.
I'm not alternative enough for some, too alternative for others, too fat for some designers but too small for others, and my age has certainly been a factor, but not so for AFF. I am simply me, the rest isn't an issue. I guess I'm trying to say they make me feel safe. As a survivor of so many different things in my life feeling safe is massive for me, and now I've achieved that. Thank you AFF xx" - Viv
" I met the Alt Fest Family early on in its journey. Jane has always been an inspiration to me since the day I met her years ago. She's a goddess of business and mummy hood and is my aspiration. I keep looking at this word alternative which was not a word I'd have thought to associate myself with, it was a word I'd misinterpreted and associated solely with wearing black and dog collars and sitting in graveyards. (I'm afraid I was really that ignorant) That word however means so much more and represents so many more than I could have imagined. It represents everybody who doesn't fit the unrealistic ideals that are consciously and subconsciously rammed down our throats through every possible medium.
Even some of the mainstream fashion industry runway models themselves are our future alt fest family, they just don't know it yet! They too don't fit their own portrayals as their images are so heavily edited that they can never really be as confident as they are presumed to be as how could they be when the publications they're in tell them they're not good enough and have to be edited!
There's a reason so many of these poor lost souls end up with eating disorders, with drug habits or suffering from very poor mental health.
To EVERY ONE OF YOU in the alt fest family, I owe you so much more than I would ever be able to thank you for. It has honestly been only whilst on this journey with A&ST that I have finally realised my worth. I have met so many of you, all sorts of backgrounds, all shapes and sizes, every one different and unique and I can truly recognise inner beauty and it glows from every one of you and for the first time EVER and as a DIRECT RESULT of being involved in Art & Soul, I have body confidence! With a mummy tummy, aged nearly 31, after 4 kids, 1 broken boob, a bum that's disappeared and skin scarred with eczema. I DO NOT CARE! I am me, warts and all, I am happy with how I look and I am honoured to be on this journey with some of the most precious people. It's a privilege to know you and I thank you from the bottom of my heart!" - Katey
- A MODEL PERSPECTIVE
Learn to Move with Style and Grace
"I've known Jane for years, I've been on board since Alternative Fashion Fest was just an idea. I have supported this movement putting my time and money into it because I believe in it. In my late teens/early twenties I worked in the fashion industry as a catwalk and fashion model. It's a tough industry to be in, so much emphasis on looking a certain way, to be a certain body type that only a small amount of the population are naturally.
AFF was a breath of fresh air to me. A huge mix of body shapes and sizes and people of different genders coming together to celebrate diversity, to show that everyone is different and that's a good thing not something to hide.
I was severely bullied in primary school because I looked different. I still struggle with body image, self esteem and mental health because of it. But being part of AFF has helped me accept who I am and I'm learning to love myself and let go of all the negative I've been through."
- NURTURING CREATIVE TALENT
" Art & Soul Tribe and Alternative Fashion Fest are an amazing community with a very 'straight to the heart' mission, which is to impact social change through education, entertainment and fashion & community projects.
They have been very accepting of me as well as my artistic and social personality and have been able to help me with many aspects of my photographic passion.
I met the group in August 2016 at their 1 year anniversary show at Circo, Liverpool where I first witnessed their events in all of their glory (pardon my exuberant English!) - The performance was amazing and truly eye opening in some parts.
What the Tribe has done for me personally is that they have given me the opportunity to express myself artistically as well as allow me many, many opportunities for which I would not have been able to achieve due to a social disability that I have had since I was very young. They have accepted me with open arms and have allowed my creativity to flourish in a more natural way than any other community or organization would have.
They help me by making suggestions as to how my work can be modified and improved to look even better and by allowing me to work with some of the most talented men and women that would otherwise go un-noticed in modern society.
The people in this community are some of the most heartfelt and accepting people that you will ever meet and eccentric to boot!Always looking for new and innovative ideas as well as willing to listen to anyone who is having a really bad day, and always (and I mean ALWAYS) willing to help anyone that is crying out for support for any reason, whether it be body image, depression, anxiety, bullying or hate crime and can give both practical and emotional support.
Their projects cover a range of subjects that are very sensitive to a lot of people and many just ignore events that are happening such as the rise in homelessness, and increasing cases of bullying and discrimination. Art & Soul Tribe continue to make efforts to bring these issues to light and some of these projects have made it onto national news, one of which was aimed at male body image and how that can be very detrimental to confidence and mental health.
Art & Soul Tribe try to educate any and all people who are willing to listen, from school children to people in major businesses to raise awareness for all of the issues within society that in this day and age don't get addressed as much as they need to.
All in all they are a wonderful set of people and a tightly knit community and I am so proud to be a part of their 'family'."
- Sean Joseph Murray, Alternative Fashion Fest Photographer
Bringing communities together and collecting Tribe members
"So my mate Vicky, right.....she's been banging on about this AMAZING group of people that she's made friends with. She said they're all dead creative and arty and stuff and have a message or two to spread. She said I need to see them do their thing.
Ok, I'm interested.
So then she invites me to walk with them at Liverpool Pride. I did. With our Phoebs. I didn't take Isaac because I was afraid he'd react badly to the crowds and stuff. He's Autistic you see.
Felt a bit odd at first cos I didn't know anyone. That feeling didn't last long.
We had a great time ya know?!
I couldn't see the show on the steps of St George's Hall cos I had to go to my day job. Was gutted. Vic said it was INCREDIBLE.
Then she says our next PTA event at Foxfield will be AFF. Cool. I get to see it. She calmly slipped in "you're gonna do the LBD walk". On the catwalk. Looked at her like she's got 2 heads. But agreed anyway. You don't say no to her when she's on one!
She said my fella should have a press pass cos he's good with a camera He agreed cos he loves Foxfield too and likes the sound of AFF.
Found out that our Jenny is going to do hair and make-up with Jane. Ok, cool.
She can sort me out too. Small world isn't it?!
We prepare the tables, do PTA stuff, sell raffle tickets that kinda thing.
And then the show starts.
Proper emotions. I love these people. I feel the stories. I empathise and sympathise and feel empowered.
I was bullied. I was SPOTTY, FAT COW, WEIRDO, PIZZA FACE, GROCK, MEFF.
The names. The hatred. The shame. 30 or so years ago. It doesn't leave you. You learn to deal with it.
But I am more than that. I am a Mum warrior. I am a wife. I love and am loved. I am better than those bullies said I was.
How can this small group of people performing create such a powerful reaction? I don't know...but it works."