Great Idea, Grrl: Saving Mother Earth By Recycling To Make Party Dresses For The Underprivileged
Self-described "eco-feminist", fashion blogger, and aspiring designer Penelope Haughty-Gloaterson, a Girton College, Cambridge student recently came to know firsthand the burden of unchecked privilege. "I thought it was something only white lads had," she begins. "Imagine my distress when I was accused of having it too. It's like having an STI, but everyone knows."
Whilst preparing for one of many social engagements Penelope learnt that several of her residence hall mates didn't have the vast wealth needed to purchase elegant designer dresses for the events. They wouldn't be attending. And they were quite vocal in their criticism of those who would.
"Who are these people? Where are these places without money they come from? Didn't they know about my concern about ecology? I'm certain I told everyone. It seemed so unfair. This criticism of me. Was there was no government agency to contact to provide dresses for them? Like the NHS, but for party dresses."
Maggie Thatcher had seen to that in 1982.
"For several months I suffered from depression. I'd go to the pub but the drinks and camaraderie didn't bring me the same happiness as before being outed. I found shopping much less pleasurable. I had to start using cocaine and ecstasy to feel good about myself, to give myself a boost to attend class and meet friends for lunch. But then my dad saw the sums I was withdrawing and put me on a restricted allowance. Tight bastard. I needed help, but to help myself I had to help others."
Penelope's epiphany came whilst watching a documentary in class on the export of medical waste to the Philippines and other third-world countries.
"The children were playing with syringes and Ringer's solution bags. All kinds of lovely playthings they created. Very imaginative. Did I as woman have an imagination? And if so, how could I find it?"
Everyday, women concerned about ecology go off half cocked, buy menstrual cups, and give them a crack. Much to their chagrin they experience one of many problems. The cups overflow. Removing them is literally a bloody mess. Removing them also makes an embarrassingly loud noise described by many as "popping a Dom Pérignon cork." In a public lavatory it's even more traumatic: a woman must exit the stall, wash the cup and her hands in a sink, re-enter the stall, and then re-insert the cup.
"Try doing this in the bedlam of the Women's World Cup Football finals or a Beyoncé concert," says feminist writer Charlotte Proudman.
Humiliated women soon toss the bleedin' things into the rubbish where they make their way to landfills to sit for thousands of years. Two more failures to make women feel bad about themselves.
"I saw the Filipino children with the menstrual cups, spinning them like tops. It seemed like such a waste to use them as simple playthings. Then I found my imagination."
Penelope chatted with her academic advisor and mates and discovered they had dozens of these unwanted cups. But two dozen wasn't enough. She decided to launch an appeal to the wider university community.
"I launched an appeal."
Soon her post box was filled with menstrual cups. And word of her appeal went viral.
"Now I had thousands of the things. Even a parcel with a Philippine postmark was delivered."
She contacted local fashion designer Julian Talbot-Hague, well known for his latex bondage suits favoured by Cambridge dons, and together they sketched a few designs and cut the patterns.
"Julian is brilliant," says Penelope.
And Julian is equally complimentary: "She's brilliant. A real inspiration. I'm inspired thinking about Penelope's brilliance presently. Who else but Penelope would have seen that menstrual cups are an excellent material for party dresses?"
Girton College's underprivileged and also its disadvantaged queued up, measurements were taken, and Penelope supervised a team comprised of her parents' house staff who sewed together the 32 party dresses for her schoolmates.
"My parents were overseas on holiday," Penelope explains, "So I was able to marshall their staff's talents and labour to make the dreams of the underprivileged and also the disadvantaged come true. Like a lovely fairy tale, only better because a more inclusive and just society makes space for them too. It's about women helping women and women helping our Earth Mother."