Meet Twyg Changemaker Award winner Cleo Droomer

Cleo Droomer design. Picture: Supplied

Cleo Droomer design. Picture: Supplied

Published Dec 4, 2022


Over the past weekend, designer Cleo Droomer was announced as the 2022 Twyg Changemaker Award winner.

Annually, the Twyg Changemaker Award recognises a designer whose career has embraced responsible and circular design practices. The recipient’s collection helps raise awareness of environmental and social issues.

For the third consecutive year, Country Road is once again a key partner for the 2022 awards.

When deliberating the winner of the Changemaker Award, judges together with Fabia Pryor, Country Road brand sustainability manager, paid special attention to environmental, social and economic integrity, putting the lens on the responsible choice of fabric, use of non-toxic dyes, ethical labour practice, upcycling and waste reduction.

“At Country Road, our vision is to be a world-leading responsible lifestyle brand. We recognise our role to push the boundaries and drive positive change. It’s an honour to acknowledge Cleo as this year’s Changemaker Award winner, recognising his work driving innovation in the fashion industry. The fashion industry has a key role to play in shaping a better future and we look forward to seeing what Cleo achieves next,” says Pryor.

We managed to get in touch with the award-winning designer, who is currently travelling through Egypt, to share his thoughts on the current state of sustainable fashion and winning the Twyg Changemaker Award.

Designer Cleo Droomer. Picture: Supplied

What does winning this award mean to you?

After working in corporate fashion for eight years, I’ve come to understand just how unsustainable and wasteful the fashion industry can be, and I seriously considered my part in it. It took a great leap of faith, and it was scary to step out on my own and create something completely new, something that pushed sustainability even further. It feels incredible to be met with such warm and enthusiastic affirmation, in the form of the Twyg Changemaker Award.

Much of this journey has become deeply personal, working with not only the discarded materials from fashion, but I have been working with those aspects of my heritage and history that have also been discarded, and so to be honoured with such an award is deeply humbling and also nourishing and personally meaningful.

I am so humbled and grateful to Tywg, Country Road and Fabia Pryor – along with the Sustainable Fashion Awards judges for acknowledging this work, this dreaming – and I hope to use the status of this award to help slow things down.

How would you describe your designs?

My surname is Droomer, it means dreamer. What I have been delving into with ‘Droomer’ is not a brand – but a space to dream, a place to rethink, reimagine and shift our practices towards new ways of being and doing fashion.

My designs have become a space for experiments in social sculpture, public storytelling and collaborative meaning-making.

When I design or make anything, I dive into the possibilities of imbuing each garment with meaning, magic, history, and the sacred. My designs are wearable stories, and my partner Dylan reminded me recently that I am a “Story-tailor” – this feels like a more accurate identifier than ‘designer’. For me, the designs are made to connect to a story, resurface a forgotten history, or create a connective aesthetic that brings people closer to the sacred.

Cleo Droomer design. Picture: Supplied

How are your garments sustainable?

My approach to sustainability has become very nuanced and rich for me and is still evolving. Central to my practice of making is experimenting with methodologies of mending, that are resonant with philosophical understandings of decoloniality, queering and working with the discards and remnants of the system, and from our lives (such as off-cuts from fashion waste, old heirloom fabrics and/or sentimental objects).

I have learned that if we are able to mend, restore and tend to that which has been forgotten, the potential for sustainability moves beyond the technical framings of making circular systems or economic models.

Rather, it can become something living, tactile, spiritual and emotional. In a nutshell, sustainability should be about building relationships, it needs to be ecological. I think the word sustainability has run its course, I prefer words like thrive, or regenerate – or even queer – queering is a much more useful word in these times… stepping out of the capitalist ‘known’ world into all the possibilities that exist in the queer realm – which is so rich with potential, and gives us more than just sustaining, more than just surviving.

What do you think of the current state of sustainable fashion in South Africa?

The current state of sustainable fashion in South Africa is at a crossroads and has some big decisions to make. I feel that currently the weight and burden are carried by young people, small businesses, and entrepreneurs and that more could be done by big industry.

While there are some shifts happening, such as improving sustainable textiles sources, and reducing waste and packaging, there need to be more robust and proactive measures to steer the trajectory of fashion entirely.

For example, there is little awareness of post-consumer waste in South Africa or measures to deal with it – and what is really disturbing is the significant investments in fossil-fuelled sourced textiles like polyester by many retailers – bearing in mind that over 80% of the world raw material used in the production of fashion ends up in a landfill.

Yet, this is not my main concern. What keeps me up at night is the speed of these systems.

Fashion is moving at a breakneck speed, accelerating every season. As opposed to having four, there are basically 52 seasons in the fashion industry calendar; almost a new season every week – new looks and ranges are dropping constantly, almost as fast as we can scroll down our Instagram feed.

What is terrifying is that this rush occurs with little reflection, almost no self-awareness or collaborative dialogue – fashion has become a sleepwalking giant, an unconscious juggernaut rushing towards our demise. No matter how ‘sustainable’ these companies become, the speed and scale will drive us all into extinction.