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Katya Jones talks sustainability, Strictly, and Amy Dowden's cancer diagnosis

katya jones interview
Katya Jones talks sustainability, Strictly and AmyCourtesy of Cancer Research UK

My advice for solving a shopping addiction? Work in fashion. A potentially surprising answer (and admittedly not the easiest solution for the average person to implement), but being surrounded by clothes and learning the industry’s secrets has been a great motivator to ditching fast fashion and taking advantage of the number of more sustainable shopping options out there.

It was a similar situation for Katya Jones. As a professional dancer on Strictly Come Dancing, getting dressed in a shiny new costume week after week is enough to tire anyone of the sense of new. And having sworn off buying anything new in 2019, it’s a practice Katya has kept up with ever since. Even joining forces with Cancer Research UK on the charity’s pre-loved campaign and roping in BFF and Olympic snowboarder Aimee Fuller to encourage the UK to donate pre-loved items to their local charity shops and online marketplaces.

katya jones interview
Courtesy of Cancer Research UK

The pair sat down with Women’s Health to chat all things sustainable fashion and how Katya’s fellow professional dancer Amy Dowden’s recent cancer diagnosis has made this campaign more personal than she could have initially imagined.

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Katya, what made you first swear off fast fashion?

K: I honestly cannot think of the exact point that spurred me to do it, I just decided to [stop buying anything new for a year]. I think it started off more from [my sense of] competitiveness. I was like, ‘Ah, let's see, if I can do it.’

What were your shopping habits like before? How does your approach to shopping differ now?

K: I was one of those people who just kept buying and ordering things online. It's exciting, it's a really quick fix and mood booster. And it's ridiculously convenient the way it works nowadays, you could be buying [something] at two AM in the morning just through tapping a button on your phone, and then it turns up at your door at nine AM. I thought, ‘this is getting out of hand, I’m spending way too much money, let's see if I can complete this pledge.’

Then I started learning the effects [the fashion industry] has on the environment and climate change, and I just couldn't believe what I was learning. I went on for much longer, about 18 or 19 months, without buying a single thing. But it didn't matter anymore how long I went on for or why I was doing the pledge, because my mindset shifted completely. My shopping became more mindful. I hardly buy brand new stuff, it's all about secondhand shopping, charity shopping, Vinted, Depop.

Aimee, what made you decide to give pre-loved fashion a go after being a fast fashion lover for so long?

A: It is just incredible how Katya has opened my eyes as to how you can find not only some incredible bargains, but also just some amazing pieces of clothing that can be repurposed and reused. I think that's the incredible thing about our friendship… I think through our passions and our skill sets, without even really realising, we are sharing so much knowledge both physically and mentally.

K: I never do shout about or scream about it. It's got to be a personal decision for everyone. But I feel like just by living that lifestyle, you naturally have an impact on people. [If someone asks] ‘where did you get that from?’ and you go ‘oh that’s from a charity shop, or Vinted, or donated’ people sort of take it on board whether they want to or not.

Tell us about your experience of not buying new clothes for two years. What did you find the most difficult about it? How did you find alternative ways of scratching the “I need a new xxx” itch?

K: What I found that’s really important is why people often say they have nothing to wear, yet their wardrobes are full is because we actually don't know what's in our wardrobe. So doing seasonals clear outs are really important. Yes, you get rid of stuff you don't want, but also you’re actually aware of what you do have.

There was a stigma of you can't wear the same outfit twice, like it's something to be frowned upon. I genuinely do not understand why. I used to be affected by it but now I'm proud to wear literally the same outfit.

A: Yes, it’s actually like you can wear the same jacket but just wear different trousers and put a belt on. It’s where your creative nature really comes through, thinking ‘how can we repurpose this to make it work three times?’

K: There are pieces that I've worn before but with different accessories or with a different jacket or shoes. Or there’s so many rental applications and companies now. And I think that's really useful, especially for people that have a lot of appearances. I think that's really, really helpful.

How has ditching fast fashion affected other areas of your life?

K: It’s not just clothing, I don't need to buy any more new makeup until you run out. Your mentality just changes, you just go ‘I don't need it. I have it.’ Why do I need to buy more?

A: I think just having the awareness now that actually you can get some really quality pieces secondhand, and you're then not contributing to this addictive, fast fashion nature that there is. And I think that's where wellness also spans into it – you are a product of the people you surround yourself by. I've been introduced to this so organically. And I think with our friendship as well, we love working out. And that also has such a positive mental impact on the decisions you make. It makes you more aware, more mentally conscious of, I think everything you do, if you're mentally and physically stimulated.

Katya, have you ever re-worn or upcycled any of your Strictly costumes?

K: We don't get to keep them, but within the Strictly costume department, honestly, they are the best with upcycling, reusing, repurposing. I wore a dress that was someone's Waltz dress [and they turned it into] my Samba outfit. They find ways to reuse it and give them new flair and style, it’s unreal. I take my hat off to them. If you can't find me during Strcitly filming, I am in the wardrobe department. That’s my second home.

Why did you want to team up with Cancer Research on a pre-loved campaign?

K: With the recent news of my fellow dancer, Amy Dowden, being diagnosed with cancer and then [Cancer Research UK] approached us about the campaign, I just thought it couldn't be better timing for me. My ethos met its purpose, you know, I wasn't just now [practicising sustainable fashion practices] because it's fun and because it's good to do. Now there is a bigger, bigger, bigger reason to do this, a bigger purpose.

At the start of my yoga class, [we’re told to] dedicate the practice to someone or to something. Every time now I’m dedicating to Amy. It’s the same with this process and with this campaign. It's definitely got a solid purpose and a reason. We are helping people with cancer, and it might save lives.

A: Cancer is something that's affected my family on both sides. I think that the main messaging for me is that we're all so used to and it's normal to say, ‘my nan died of cancer’ or ‘my granddad died of cancer’. I think it doesn't matter what age you are, nobody should die of cancer. So for me to be involved in this campaign after what we've been through as a family the last year and a half, it's something that I wanted to support and moving forward, I think we both will be doing more with Cancer Research.

As Katya said, the timing of this – both in our friendship and with the current climate and environmental concerns globally – I think it's just such a wholesome project to be a part of. And to do it with my best mate who's introduced me to this style of shopping, it's just incredible and I’m proud of us.

What is the best item you’ve ever found in a charity shop?

A: I'm obsessed with leopard print. Katya had this leopard print bomber jacket on that somebody gave to her 10 years ago, from H&M or something like that. So I was like, ‘Oh, man, I'm never gonna be able to get my hands on that.’ And literally three days later, we're walking past Cancer Research UK – the same leopard print bomber jacket is in the window.

K: I have almost too many to mention. Because often I buy things not to wear but for example to upcycle. But in terms of not using fast fashion… My nan's dress, which is over 50 years old, is in the most beautiful condition because it was made properly back in the day, it was tailor made for her. It's still in exquisite condition and when I wear it, I feel like a million dollars because it's got history, it's sustainably-friendly. I feel like I'm paying tribute to my nan and it's stunning and classy. It's one of my favourite, favourite pieces in the wardrobe, definitely. It’s beautiful.

Have you ever donated a piece of clothing you’ve later regretted letting go of?

K: I’ve walked past the shop and gone, ‘Oh, that's my shoes. That’s my top.’ And one time, I'm not even joking, I went ‘Oh my God, I love that, I’m going to get it.’ But it was mine! Not once have I regretted or even remembered that I got rid of certain items. I never regret it because it's a constant cycle, isn't it? By giving, you’re receiving. So that's why we’re encouraging people for this campaign, and in general, to donate their clothing because you might have lost love for it now, but somebody else will give it a second life.

How do you decide what to keep, donate and throw away?

K: Organise a giant party with your girlfriends. Get the paddles – keep or get rid. Try it all on. You have to make a thing of it.

Do you have any advice to those looking to ditch fast fashion once and for all?

A: If you're working towards a wellness goal, your wardrobe can be a really good place to motivate you. If you have a pair of jeans that are maybe a little bit tight around the waist but you want to wear them in three weeks time, you can actually use your wardrobe as inspiration.

K: Be light about it. It's not just clothing, iIt's everything within your life. The clearer your wardrobe, the clearer your mind, the lighter you will feel. Don't overthink it. Because the more you start that cycle going, the more new things will come into your life. I honestly believe in that.

It's not about making anyone feel bad or guilty, and we can all be hypocrites in one way or another, but it's a question of what are you doing? So as long as we are aware of it and doing little things, that's already good enough for me. Together we can be the force to change the world.

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