“WE’RE THE LUCKY ONES”
Saint Patrick’s Day, the European Championships, Glastonbury, what do they all have in common? Well, in 2020 Covid 19 showed up and decided they – and countless other events, large and small – wouldn’t happen. Among them, LORRAINE KEANE and Oxfam’s FASHION RELIEF. BUT…while Saint Patrick’s Day may have come and gone, and the Euros and Glastonbury will have to wait another year for their time in the sun, Fashion Relief, which was due to take place in Dublin’s RDS at the end of this month, will now happen at the end of September instead.
Although it’s only been up and running for a couple of years so far, the fashion fundraiser has already become an unmissable ‘date-for-the -diary’, for so many reasons. One of those is that the event offers up the opportunity for fashion lovers to get their hands on any number of pre-loved designer items for what, in other circumstances, would literally be called crazy prices. And, in other circumstances, that would be the only selling-point or highlight anyone would need to hear. But with Fashion Relief, that side of things is almost just a by-the-way. Because what’s far more important than any big-name designer bag, or dress or such that may once have been owned by this celebrity or that, is the fact that every cent raised from Fashion Relief goes to the people who need it most. People who, by no more than a simple twist of fate, find themselves living in some of the world’s most challenged developing countries.
Indeed, as events around the world right now are ramming home, we all – but for the grace of God (however you may choose to define or identify such a being) – stand ever at the mercy of sudden twists of fate of all kinds. Something, perhaps, more of us would do well to remember when these dark skies clear again.
Before the first of this year’s Fashion Relief events, which took place at the Galmont Hotel in Galway on March 1st, I had the pleasure of catching up again with the woman who is the inspirational figure-head of Fashion Relief, Lorraine Keane.
Because Lorraine has seen with her own eyes – and indeed, as with Nalia (whom Lorraine spoke about in Part 1 of our interview) and so many others, has actually seen eye-to-eye, too – what is happening in countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Haiti, Guatemala, and Somalia, the situations that actually create refugees and asylum seekers, how does it make her feel when there can be so much negativity towards those same refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland sometimes?
“I think it’s inhumane, I really think it’s disgusting. I understand when people say we need to look after out own, of course we do. But our own will always be looked after. But refugees and people who are escaping genocide, that’s an entirely different level of desperation. We have supports here, and all sorts of networks that can help our homeless or our poor. Anybody that’s struggling in this country, they can reach out and there is help there. There always is. Whereas in the developing world, it’s a matter of life and death, ya know. Without people like Oxfam, and Fashion Relief helping to fund that, I’d hate to think what would happen to people in those parts of the world. That’s what makes me so sad. When you see countries like Bangladesh opening up their boarders to a million people, when their own resources are so strained, I just don’t see how WE can’t help. We’re a country that can be so generous, but we can’t be generous at arms length. We need to welcome people in, and give them chances and opportunities. Irish people, don’t forget, and not too long ago, were welcomed across the globe. But I also think that when they’re here [refugees/asylum seekers], they need to be given the same rights in as far as they should be allowed to work, for example. Because there’s a lot of educated people there. People shouldn’t think that they’re just going to be a strain on our resources, they can actually be a very welcome addition to our resources.”
As much as Fashion Relief is focused on a very serious cause, the event itself is very much a fun, exciting, day-out type occasion. And that’s something that’s very much by design rather than any kind of lucky accident, because Lorraine has always wanted this to be a win-win all round, for those who are helped by it, but also for those who help to make it possible…
“Exactly. And with Oxfam, they have been a solution to throwaway fashion, and sustainable fashion forever, through their regional shops. And Fashion Relief is now a part of that. We’re all talking about our climate and saving our planet, and trying to avoid sending so many textiles…I mean, five tonnes forty-ton trucks worth of textiles go into landfill in Ireland alone! So it’s a win that we’re doing second-hand and pre-loved, that whole message is there. That’s a box that we tick. And then for people who are there, what I wanted is for it to be an event that I would want to go to, and enjoy, and have fun at. The bargains are incredible, everything is sold at a rock-bottom price because essentially even twenty-euro will feed a family somewhere for a week in the developing world. So every single cent counts. That’s why we also put on the free fashion show, with the likes of Catherine Condell, and Mandy Maher’s Catwalk Models, and models like Sarah McGovern, and Sarah Morrissey, some of Ireland’s top models from across the country have offered to take part and volunteer. And that’s their weekend [they’re giving up]. And most of them are mums too, and working mums. In Galway we’ll have Barry’s Hair and in Dublin we’ll have Dylan Bradshaw. We’ll have make-up artists in both locations as well, and they’ll all be there to give people tips, advice, and also to do some styling for us. Like for ten-euro you can get your make-up done, and for the same again you can get your hair styled. And in doing all of that, you’ll know that you’re not just saving the planet, you’re saving lives, too. It’s a win-win all round, and there’s a lovely atmosphere in the room, it’s great craic. It’s turned into something much bigger than I ever expected, thank God.”
Lorraine has often mentioned that her trips abroad don’t get any easier, but in fact, if anything, are actually getting harder. I wondered if she ever wondered about any possible long-time toll they might take, almost like post-traumatic stress?
“No. No. I’m as soft and as emotional as anybody else. I mean, people do say to me from time to time, ‘Oh, I don’t know how you do it, I never could’, but that kind of makes me a little bit…a little bit annoyed. Because everybody can do it. I mean, it’s not easy to do, absolutely not. I’m not saying that everybody needs to go over and do these trips, I feel very privileged that I have access to those opportunities and that I can use the profile I gained from my day job to do some good work. But I honestly think that if everybody just did what they could…and I think everybody can probably do a little bit more. It’s too easy sometimes to make excuses. I’ve shown that one person can make a difference. And that applies to charity at home and abroad. One person can definitely make a difference. I don’t worry because I keep reminding myself that the trips are positive, because I see the difference they’re making. I’ll be brought into a community where Oxfam have yet to start, I’ll be talking to those communities about the fact that Oxfam will be setting up projects, maybe building a school, shelter, or sanitation facilities, whatever it is. So I’ll see that community before Oxfam start their work there. Then down the road, I’ll visit another community where Oxfam have been working for a couple of years and are now ready to move on, because they’ve set that community up and they’re now self-sufficient and managing really well with their micro-businesses and farms. So that’s what I keep reminding myself about, that the help we can give does make a difference.”
I wondered if Lorraine knew when or to where her next trip for Oxfam would be?
“No, I don’t, and the reason we don’t decide until the very last minute – probably two or three weeks before – is that in all of these countries where there’s poverty, there’s also corruption. And those countries can be very volatile. So for safety’s sake, from my own point of view, I always insist that we go to the lowest risk place possible. Because there’s always a risk with these trips, which is another thing that scares me before I go out. I’ll be saying my prayers every night, please don’t let anything happen over there, ya know! [laughs]. Even natural disasters. I mean, ten years ago, when I did my first trip, these countries, because of their extreme climates – and again, that’s no fault of their own, it’s just where they were born – but because of that, they would tend to have a serious natural disaster every decade. A tsunami, or an earthquake, a hurricane or something like that, which would cause absolute devastation and wipe out an area. There could be death-tolls of thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands. So one of those once every ten years. And it would take them, with the help of NGOs like Oxfam, about two years to get out of it, to get back on their feet and start building themselves back up again. But now, because of climate change, those natural disasters ate happening every two years! Not every ten years…every two. So they’re never out of a disaster. And like I say, it’s not their fault where they were born, it’s just bad luck that it was that part of our planet. We’re so lucky to have been born where we are. Therefore, I just don’t think we have any choice…but to help. We should be helping these people. And we should be doing more. For the most part, they can’t leave. And even if they could, they can’t afford to. And when they can, we’ve seen how the rest of the world has treated them. We should be helping them, because listen, we’re the lucky ones.”
~ Fashion Relief at the RDS in Dublin will now take place on the weekend of September 26th and 27th.