Categories
Wellbeing

‘Conversations can change people’s lives’

We all have mental health, and – according to OurWorldinData – just over 10 percent of all people, or 792 million people deal with a mental health disorder.

While many places around the word have access to support – such as education, therapy, or even medications – not everywhere has that luxury. This is something that Vedica Podar, the founder of Kangaroo Minds, took to heart. 

Vedica has previously worked in schools in India. “One thing I noticed was the lack of awareness around mental health,” she tells Smiley News. “The stigma might be different between living in urban settings versus in rural settings but both have a lack in understanding.” 

This is where Kangaroo Minds comes in.

The name was inspired by kangaroos in the wild, jumping from one spot to another, much like the mind jumps from idea to idea, and also how they leap forward, hopefully to brighter pastures. Vedica founded it to offer people mental health support in the form of education. To do this they developed a technique called the A.S.K. model.

The A.S.K. model is broken up into three parts: Awareness, Support, and Knowledge. The first centers on spreading awareness of mental health disorders, helping people understand that anyone around them might be going through something. The second focuses on offering a helping hand when and where people need it. The third is about helping people learn how to help themselves and those around them. 

“I used to get from the students I spoke to,” Vedica says. “‘This is the first time I’ve felt seen and heard,’ or ‘this is the first time someone has had this conversation with me,’ and that is something that’s gonna stay with me that, you know, I actually feel more of a person.’”

To meet their ends, Kangaroo Minds employs just about every means of communication on the internet: educational videos, conversations with experts, social media campaigns, a collection of mental health hotlines for countries all over the world, and much more. 

They serve all over the world but with a particular focus on South Asian countries. While they started with small meet and greets early on, they moved to a primarily online model after the pandemic threw everyone online.

“I really believe in the power of conversation,” Vedica says. “Conversations can change people’s lives, and sometimes you just need to reach out and check in on someone.”

“There are gonna be people along the way who are still struggling, so just holding that kind of space, I think makes a huge difference.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.

Categories
Planet

The TikTok group with one goal: to save the planet

18 creators. 18 different backgrounds. 1 goal: to save the planet.

Let’s be honest, your thoughts about TikTok are most likely to be about the collective hours you’ve wasted, rather than about how you could potentially use it to change the world. 

But Sabrina Pare, 29, a founding member of EcoTok, wants to prove otherwise. 

Cast your minds back to March 2020, when Covid took hold. With a lot of free time, Sabrina, from Detroit, started to get into sustainable living, sharing her finds on TikTok. “I made videos on sustainable swaps, living more sustainably, and people seemed to like them,” she tells us. “A couple went viral, so I continued, and really enjoyed making them.”

There were only a handful of environmentalists on TikTok at the time, says Sabrina, and they all knew each other, forming a group chat.

In June of the same year, the group – Abbie Richards, Alaina Wood, Alex Silva, and Sabrina Pare – came up with the idea of starting a group page on TikTok  The name? EcoTok.

EcoTok is a collective of environmental educators and activists who use TikTok as a platform for good. They see climate change for what it is, a crisis, and they hope to empower younger generations to do something about it by teaching them about science, activism, and ways to make changes in their life.

At the time, there were 10 members. Now, there’s 18. Among them, you’ll find scientists, students, activists, environmental educators, and civil servants. 

The group has gained traction on the platform, garnering nearly 120,000 followers and having more than two million likes on their videos. They range from anecdotal stories, responses to the news, life hacks to live better, the science behind the climate, and shine a light on the optimism we can hope for. 

“In the last couple of years, there has been a lot of climate doom and people putting out negative, fear-driven messages,” says Sabrina, speaking about the need for EcoTok. “We are passionate about being more positive, spreading climate optimism. 

“We tell people there is still hope and time to combat climate change – and I think that’s why people resonate with us.”

Their mission, she says, is quite simple: to educate and inspire people to take climate action.

More than just a platform to share ways people can take action, EcoTok has created real, in-person friendships.

“We’re all good friends!” says Sabrina, beaming. A lot of us met this summer, at the Hollywood Climate Summit – it was really cool to finally meet in person after two years. We’ve become really close, and we FaceTime each other!”

For the majority of the content creators, EcoTok is a passion project. A side hustle they do because they love inspiring the next generation. While some are still students in college, others – like Sabrina – do it alongside full-time jobs. 

“It’s a lot of work,” she says, “making videos, doing emails, having meetings. It’s another 10 hours a week on top of my full-time role.” Outside of TikTok, Sabrina works as a benefits and wellness specialist. 

But there are big plans for EcoTok. They currently have an executive board of four members, and are working on transforming it into a nonprofit. The extra workload is worth it, says Sabrina.

“Being a part of this, it’s really boosted my mood around the planet,” she says. “A lot of our members come from a science background, and I find it so helpful to get information from them. It’s a super helpful support group, and I’m so focused on being climate positive.”

Sabrina’s advice for those suffering from climate anxiety – something increasing numbers of Gen-Zers are feeling – is to follow more positive accounts. “Don’t get stuck doom scrolling,” she says, “seek out more positive information instead.

“Also, getting involved in your community and seeing how you can support it can really help. There are so many great organisations out there putting in the work that you can join. 

“We all have what it takes to make real change.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.

Categories
Wellbeing

This orchestra aims to reduce the stigma of mental illness

Music is an art. It brings people together.

From concert halls, to crowded living rooms or outdoor venues, people often bond through the music surrounding them. Yet still, there are barriers to entry. Classical music, in particular, is populated by elitism that makes it hard to break into and enjoy for the layman, even more if you’re in society’s margins. 

That’s where an orchestra like Me2 comes in.

Me2 started with one goal in mind: making classical music accessible, primarily by opening it up to people who are struggling with mental illness. The first conductor and co-founder, Ronald Braunstein, lost his previous role due to a bipolar episode he was experiencing.

“[Ronald] came to me one day and said, ‘I’m not going back into this the same old rat race, I’m not going to put myself in a position where I can be stigmatized and discriminated against because people expect me to fit into a certain mold as a conductor,’” the Executive Director and co-founder of Me2, Caroline Whiddon, tells Smiley News.

“‘My brain obviously doesn’t work that way. I need a safe space. So I want to create an orchestra for people like me.’”

Caroline and Ronald founded Me2 in 2011. “I started to Google and of course realized very quickly that there was no such thing like us, especially in the classical music world, it’s kind of like the antithesis of the way that we’re trained,” Caroline says.

“Ronald went to Julliard, I went to the Eastman School of Music. Any of these schools, they train you to show up, be prepared, play the notes, do your job, and it’s really stressful.

“[So he said]… I want to get together with people like me who may not be quite as consistent, who may need a little extra help getting to rehearsal functioning within the group.”

Attempting to break the formality that they were used to in the classical music world, Caroline and Ronald wanted to make Me2 – a registered nonprofit – accessible in ways that no other orchestra was. 

They started off by adopting basic rules that have been maintained until today. The first is that there are no auditions, if someone is willing and able to play in the orchestra they are allowed to join. Next, there are no fees involved since they “didn’t want socio-economics to play into it.” And finally, no stigma is allowed.

“We’re just really trying to set the example, through our words, but also through our actions from the very beginning that everybody is welcome,” Caroline says, “and that if somebody’s having a bad day, that’s cool. That’s okay. We’re there for you.”

Beyond the acceptance that they wanted to foster, Me2 quickly became a safe place for a lot of the people in it. Whether struggling with incarceration, drug addiction, or many of life’s other maladies, Me2 stood available. 

“We’re a once-a-week orchestra, and we’re a safe place and a place for people to be,” Caroline says. “We’re not therapists, and we’re not caretakers but what I’ve started to focus more on is making sure that we’re a safe place for people to land. So if somebody needs that time off, if somebody’s in the hospital or they are wrapped up.”

To join, support, or find out more about Me2, visit their website.

Categories
Planet

These reusable crackers support charity, too

There’s no denying the festive season is full of products and single-use buys that aren’t exactly great for the planet… but the magic these bring can sometimes be hard to resist.

Take crackers, for example. The gorgeous-looking table decoration, the joy when you pull it alongside your loved ones, wearing the paper hats… it’s a staple festive tradition.

Lucy Ewles wanted to keep that tradition alive – but make it better for the planet. In 2020, she created Kaneo: beautiful, eco, reusable crackers for Christmas.

Named after the village she married her husband, Lucy came up with the business idea after Christmas 2019. “I had a big do and did fill-your-own crackers,” she says. “We had 22 people, I personalised them all and it was such a hit, but after, I felt awful.

“We had nearly 3 bin bags full of this rubbish. I wanted something that looks lovely on the table, but for it to go straight in the bin or recycling felt a bit wrong.”

Lucy started searching for reusable crackers that still had that “snap”, but couldn’t find any. So she tried herself. “I’m a crafty person, so I do enjoy things like that,” she says.

Working full-time as a teacher, she spent her evenings and weekends with her sewing machine and making prototypes. She managed to create crackers that were reusable, could “snap” when pulled, and looked good, too. Her friends loved them – and it spiralled from there.

Lucy found a manufacturer and decided to turn her reusable crafty crackers into a business, with 2021 being her first year of trading. She did a Hatch Enterprise cause that year for entrepreneurs who are looking to give back through their business idea – because she wanted to make sure they were crackers who did more. 

“I always wanted to do something good with these,” says Lucy, “giving back is the side that is really interesting to me. 

“I wanted it to be embedded within what the crackers were about. When I was looking at charities, the most iconic Christmas charity is the Salvation Army – they do so much around helping people with homelessness, providing hot dinners and places for people to stay.”

Lucy approached them and they agreed to be a partner. Now, 10% of all sales go to the charity. 

You can buy a box of six crackers, which come with 18 sticky snap sticks for three parties – and refills are sold, too. “These are special snap sticks I invented,” says Lucy. “They’ve got a sticky bit at both ends, the cracker has got two tubes, and they slide apart when you pull. The snap goes around the outside once you’ve put gifts in.”

Find out more.

This article aligns with the UN Responsible Consumption and Production.

Categories
Equality

These businesses take Pride beyond Pride month

We all know the feeling – a brand you love goes all out for Pride month, with new social media graphics and a long, mushy Instagram post about how much they appreciate their LGBTQIA+ employees. Then, at 00:00 1 July, boom. It’s gone.

But never fear, there are businesses out there doing their bit to support the LGBTQIA+ community, whether it’s June or December.

We’ve scoured through Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers list, which is compiled from the Workplace Equality Index – the UK’s leading benchmarking tool for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace, to take our pick of businesses doing their bit.

Coca-Cola

You heard right – the fizzy-pop giant is one of the most inclusive employers in the world. With a 100% rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, a way of measuring equality and inclusion of American businesses, Coca-Cola is doing their part.

Based in the USA, the business has a history of supporting local and national policies that benefit the LGBTQIA+ community and was one of the first corporations to publicly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. They have since launched the ‘Next Generation LGBTQ Leaders’ Initiative’ – a program designed to connect, educate and inspire young LGBTQ leaders.

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service

Not what you were expecting, right? Yes, the Fire and Rescue Service in Cheshire specifically is hugely supportive of LGBTQIA+ employees, and members of the local community.

They have an online guide for employees on how to be better allies to their LGBTQIA+ colleagues and engage in Pride events across their local communities – complete with a rainbow fire engine.

Sky

The media giant is number nine on Stonewall’s top 100 employers of 2022, and for good reason.

The company has committed itself to engaging with minorities of all kinds and has invested in several programmes to encourage diversity in its workplace. This includes their Graduate Inclusion Week and the MAMA Youth Project, both of which take applications from young people who are from diverse backgrounds. They also mark and celebrate key LGBTQIA+ events throughout the year, and describe their policies as ‘fully inclusive’.

Tesco

Tesco is hugely supportive of their LGBTQIA+ employees, earning them Network Group of the Year 2022 from Stonewall UK.

They have a network available for their LGBTQIA+ employees, as well as year-round, confidential support. They also continuously encourage other employees to step up as allies with content like a video series, for LGBTQIA+ History Month, informative blogs for awareness days throughout the year, and events exploring the history of Pride, asexuality and ace spectrum identities, LGBTQIA+ people’s experiences of HIV/AIDS, and non-binary equality.

Network Rail

Network Rail also has an LGBTQIA+ network for their employees to access, called Archway. Archway is run entirely by volunteers, provides confidential support to colleagues, reviews policies and practices with an LGBTQIA+ lens, and runs awareness-raising events throughout the year.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, Archway made sure to reach out to members of their community and encourage them to attend ‘InclusiviTea’ virtual coffee events to provide support and connection.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Reduced Inequalities.

Categories
Planet

How the world is future-proofing fashion

From luxury threads to the cheap and cheerful, fast fashion has taken the world by storm, becoming a billion-dollar industry that stretches across the globe. Full of cheap, trendy clothing with a quick turnover, fast fashion makes once expensive styles affordable for everyone.

But fashion isn’t all exciting sales and affordable prices. The industry generates more CO2 than the aviation and shipping industries put together, contributing to 10% of global pollution per year. Not only that, more than $500 billion of clothing is lost every year due to a lack of recycling and clothing being thrown away.

Let’s be honest; Elle Woods would not approve. And like the blonde bombshell we all love so much, there are those who have decided enough is enough – something has to change. These people, organisations, and businesses are putting planet before profit to focus on what the world actually needs.

So, who’s doing their bit?

Loanhood is a clothing rental app that allows consumers to rent out clothing from their own wardrobe. Set up by three friends determined to make an impact on the world, it hopes to end the overconsumption of clothing, and the prevalence of fast fashion in our world. 

Renting clothing is becoming more popular as an alternative, not only to making purchases at a high price point but to over-consuming clothing. By renting clothes instead of purchasing new ones, you’re preventing the need for new fashion pieces to be created, and all the environmental pitfalls that come along with that.

“For so many people, [fashion] is their form of creativity and self-expression,” explains Loanhood founder, Jen Charon. “It helps them feel that they belong with their friends. It helps them express who they are in society… it’s a big ask say ‘stop’.

“I think fashion rental is a great alternative for fashion lovers, who still care about the environment. And I think it’s going to change all of our experiences of fashion. It opens up your options, and not just the high street or the big e-commerce retailers; you get to access individuals like making really cool clothes. I think that’s super exciting.”

What about pre-loved?

A tried and tested alternative to fast fashion, which is increasing in popularity, is buying second-hand – or thrifting, whether it’s charity shops or using online stores like Vinted and Depop.

“Wearing secondhand is a joyful way to express individual style and wear unique items that no one else has,” says Traid Chief Executive, Maria Chenoweth. “From Alexander McQueen to Oscar De La Renta and Selfridges, at last secondhand has become socially acceptable, with everybody wanting a piece of that preloved action.”

A 2022 survey found that four in 10 consumers purchased secondhand goods, while one-third said that they sold their own items on the secondhand market. Buying secondhand clothing is just one piece of the puzzle – there is so much more that goes into being more sustainable with your clothing.

“It’s really important to keep clothes in circulation, so buy good quality, only buy what you know you will wear, repair and if you have clothes that you no longer wear and someone else could, then donate them to charity,” explains Maria. 

Giulia Alvarez-Katz, a self-described ‘Zilennial’, almost exclusively buys secondhand – from kitting out her wardrobe to furnishing her apartment, it’s all pre-loved.

“The more globally-minded importance of buying secondhand only became clear to me in adulthood as I learned about the waste involved in fast fashion; how much fabric is disposed of and never used again,” explains Giulia.

“Some people are disillusioned by fast fashion or actively want to boycott it. I’ve noticed there’s a growing sense among fashionistas that older garments are made with more care and attention to detail.”

So that’s the tea. The fashion industry still needs to undergo some major changes to make it sustainable, but there is hope – and there are people out there making changes.

There are so many people out there fighting to make a difference and to make sustainable fashion the norm.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Responsible Consumption and Production.

Categories
Wellbeing

MusicTalkz supports wellbeing through music

“I thought of my life as a teenager … how listening to music had a big impact on how I felt and how I expressed myself. Because I was never one for talking.”

Aged 27, Huma Malik has spent a lot of time giving back to those less fortunate. From her work as a volunteer and, later, an employee at the children’s charity Barnardos, to her own social enterprise MusicTalkz, she has dedicated her life to helping others.

“I’ve generally always, someway or another, volunteered for charity since I was a teenager, but throughout the pandemic in particular, volunteering was one of the key things for me,” says Huma. “It was a highlight that kept me going.”

As a teenager, Huma – who volunteers for Leaders Unlocked, is a trained WRAP facilitator – struggled to open up about her own mental health problems and found solace and self-expression through music – something she now helps other young people to do, today.

“Through music, I realised I was able to talk about things that I wouldn’t have been able to necessarily have a conversation with someone about,” she says. “I was able to express myself and get things off my chest in a way that was safe and comfortable.”

As Huma worked with young people, she noticed other people could benefit from the connection between music, mood and mental health. “It’s just a good, useful skill to have,” she says. “It’s a different way than expressing yourself if you ever need to.”

This is why she set up MusicTalkz, a social enterprise, engineered and run entirely by herself, where she helps young people open up about their mental health needs by getting in touch with their creative side.

The non-profit organisation consists of three-week courses, where Huma leads young people through learning about how music can have an impact on their moods, and how they can use music to help their mental health. The course includes some basic lyric writing and helps young people learn how to navigate their emotions.

Though it’s currently based online, Huma hopes to soon begin running the courses in person, and for longer periods of time.

“The aim is to allow young people to express themselves through different creative art forms, allowing and supporting their self expression in order to support there mental health in a fun way,” adds Huma.

Because of her work supporting young people, in 2021, Huma won the 2nd annual Yorkshire Asian Young Achiever Awards, aimed at any young person between the ages of 18-30 of South Asian heritage who was born in, or lives and works in, Yorkshire.

These awards promote the achievements of young people who have been socially mobile and worked against disadvantages, broken through barriers, and could act as role models to other young people. A true inspiration.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.

Categories
Equality

More than just pretty metals, this jewellery gives back

Pivot is a jewellery shop with a difference.

Much more than just pretty metals, Pivot works with people who are experiencing homelessness and living in hostels, providing them with training on how to make, and sell, jewellery.

“I always say to people, jewellery is really just the pilot,” explains Alice Moxley, founder and CEO. “You could apply this theory to so many different types of products.”

Pivot truly began when Alice spent five months working in a YMCA in North London. Her experiences opened her eyes to the issues facing people experiencing homelessness, including the barriers to employment that exist when living in temporary housing. From not having a permanent address, to having to work in specific, restrictive hours, it isn’t easy to get a job – and without a job, there’s no money for food or housing… and so the cycle continues.

“You get into these really vicious cycles and people get so demotivated – I’m being very general here,” she says. “It’s very hard to get out of this rut. And so the idea was, if you can’t leave the hostel, how about I bring work to you?”

Many people experiencing homelessness also suffer with mental health issues; it becomes a vicious cycle that can prevent many people from finding a job, or leaving temporary accommodation. A 2014 study by the Mental Health Foundation found 80% of homeless people in England reported that they had mental health issues, with 45% having been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

By bringing work to the hostel, Alice and her colleagues at Pivot give people experiencing homelessness the opportunity to engage with other people, and provide them with a creative outlet that is not only fulfilling, but provides them with a usable, profitable skill.

Over the course of 12 weeks, Pivot holds weekly, four-hour sessions in hostels that consist of training people to make jewellery. Pivot provides financial support for these individuals over the course of the 12 weeks, gives them one-to-one coaching and support, and provides them with the information and tools they need to design, market and sell their creations.

“We create jewellery that we can make in a safe way, a hostel environment. So it’s very specifically designed to be made by people who don’t have any prior skill,” says Alice. “It’s quite simple, but it’s not over simplistic. You get … satisfaction from making it.”

At the end of the 12-week course, the participants are taken to a market where they can sell what they have made for a profit – all done with the intention of offering them employment at Pivot afterwards.

“On our payroll, two out of five of our employees have come out of the hostel,” explains Alice. Even those who don’t go on to be employed by Pivot, who are still a small company, now have new skills that they can take elsewhere.

Trained as an architect, Alice initially used jewellery making as a creative outlet in her own life, before coming up with the concept for Pivot. Getting off the ground just 49 days before the first UK COVID-19 lockdown, it truly has been a trial by fire.

Today, Pivot sells the jewellery made by employees who were in temporary accommodation on their website and at market stalls across London. 

By providing training and one-to-one support for those experiencing homelessness and living in temporary accommodation, they are giving people the tools that they need to move forward – one step at a time.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Reduced Inequalities and No Poverty.

Categories
Planet

These two friends created paint banks to give back

“There’s a lot of unused paint out there that could be put to good use.”

Nearly 100 million gallons of paint is wasted each year. Not only that, but leftover paint is considered hazardous waste because it contains chemicals that can harm human health and the environment. If paint ends up in a landfill, it can leak hard metals and toxic chemicals into the surrounding soil and water sources.

And that’s how Cat Hyde and Kate Moree’s blossoming passion for the planet really started making a difference. 

The pair, from Leeds, met in 2000. Knowing their values aligned, they wanted to do something to give back: to recycle, to create jobs for themselves and others in need, and to treasure our environment. “One man’s rubbish is another’s gold, we felt,” Cat tells Smiley News.

The pair spent time talking to the council waste department, and looking at how they could help, when someone suggested they recycle paint. “We thought, why not?” says Cat, 43. “The rest is history.” Seagulls Reuse was born.

Starting with paint banks

Cat and Kate have paint banks: big shipping containers on council sites across Leeds, where people can go with their paint to dispose of, rather than chucking it in the general waste bin.

They collect it all, bring it back to their base, open every single tin to see if it’s “good” or “bad” paint, and go from there. “We collect, on average, 300 tonnes per year – and out of that, 60% is reusable and 40% not,” says Cat.

Bad paint is paint that simply has been sat around for too long – it may change composition, or get bits in it, says Cat. It’s unusable. If the paint is bad, it’s disposed of in the right way and the tins are correctly recycled. 

If it’s good, they remix it and reblend it with other similar paints, then put the full tins on their shelves – for a fraction of the price you’d find in a shop. For example, says Cat, if you were to buy 2.5L of emulsion, it’ll be just over a fiver. In shops, you could pay up to £80. 

“We’ve diverted 4 million litres of paint away from landfill since we started,” Cat tells me. “This would’ve caused 11.4 million tonnes of carbon – and you would need to plant 68 million trees to offset that amount of carbon.”

To make it a success, the pair knew they needed to make it as easy as possible for people to buy it. “We needed to give people what they wanted,” says Cat, “so we learned how to blend and mix paint together to make certain colours – we do all that by eye with our expert team.”

But the friends always had a dual mission with Seagulls: social and environmental. The environmental mission was easy – but it went hand-in-hand with social justice.

“We both volunteered when we were setting it up,” says Cat. “Historically, our team is made up of people who come and volunteer, come from open prison on day release, or perhaps they’re socially isolated. It could be someone who has been long-term unemployed, or lives with poor mental health.”

Ultimately, as a social enterprise, they want to support those from minority backgrounds. “Any profits we make goe straight back into our volunteer programme and social aims,” says Cat.

“We get a lot of customers,” says Cat, “and all our business has been built on word of mouth. We’d love to take it further afield.”

So what can you do? If you live nearby, donate paint. If you want to know more, get in touch. “The more people talking about paint the better,” says Cat, “it’s such a waste of a really valuable, useful resource.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Responsible Consumption and Production.

Categories
Equality

It’s time to celebrate gender diversity through self-expression

For many of us, fashion is self-expression. It’s a way to show people who we are and what we care about before we open our mouths. 

For others, however, fashion can be difficult to navigate – especially for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The world has come a long way in supporting them, but mainstream fashion brands often feel inaccessible to trans and gender-non-conforming people. Changing rooms and clothing ranges have strict gender labels and, in any case, buying an entirely new wardrobe is incredibly expensive.

“It’s difficult to shop for clothes if there’s no information available on how to select your personalised style in a gender expression that is new to you,” says Santi Sorrenti, the founder of G(end)er Swap CIC, who struggled with that exact issue when they were first experimenting with their gender expression. 

G(end)er Swap is the first LGBTQIA+ clothing outreach organisation based in the UK, which supports trans and gender non-conforming people and gives them access to, not just clothing that better reflects their identities, but also a supportive community. 

“When I was questioning my gender and wanted to experiment with my expression, I turned to charity shops to find my clothes,” explains Santi. “High street shops often barred me from using the men’s changing room. I started looking for queer clothes swaps or organisations at a time when I felt a lot of gender confusion, and needed a space to meet like-minded individuals.”

Santi couldn’t find much, besides one-off clothing swap events at universities. “So, I decided to combine my style experiences, creative expertise and my need for more gender-affirming spaces to create G(end)er Swap.”

The organisation means a lot to them. “Its existence is very much a product of my own journey with self-expression.

“In as much as it has helped people discover their sense of style and learn more about assembling their own wardrobe, it’s also been a space where I can experiment with my style at events and have the opportunity to share alternative looks that otherwise aren’t recognised by mainstream fashion spaces.”

G(end)er Swap puts on in-person events such as binder fittings and style workshops. Research has found that LGBTQIA+ young people are twice as likely to feel lonely and isolated compared to their peers, making organisations like G(end)er Swap so important for fostering relationships.

“We mainly focus on trans and gender non-conforming folk who struggle with how to shop for/find clothes during a transition in expressions,” says Santi, who has a Master’s in Women’s Studies from Oxford University, where they conducted research exploring trans and gender non-conforming fashion activism. “G(end)er Swap means freedom of self-expression for anyone and everyone. It hopefully inspires folks to step outside of societal norms and to create their own fashion choices and rules.”

In 2021, G(end)er Swap was shortlisted for the National Diversity Awards, and was featured on the Social Enterprise UK Honour Roll in 2020.

“G(end)er Swap, in a sense, is anti-fashion. We work to defy societal expectations of what one should dress like, according to your gender identity. Instead, we celebrate all forms of expression that are unique to every individual.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Reduced Inequalities.