Geraldine Carton of The Useless Project: “The only way is up”

What began as a side project over a quiet pint in a Dublin pub is now celebrating its second year as a successful, thriving business, Geraldine Carton, co-founder of The Useless Project, tells The College View

Formerly known as Sustainable Fashion Dublin, Carton and her co-partner Taz Kelleher initially set up the initiative to organise clothing swap-shops and charity shop crawls across the city. Their aim was to build a collective movement against fast fashion and to raise awareness of its environmental costs.

A staff writer at IMAGE Publications at the time, Carton, 29, was due to leave her job just as the initiative was beginning to take flight – or rather, it was beginning to soar.

“The day I was due to leave my job I felt that it was so serendipitous…this was only meant to be a side passion project but it blew up and completely snowballed before our eyes,” Carton says, over a Zoom chat from her Dublin home, which is decorated with art and plant arrangements; a nod to her natural green fingers.

Why pinpoint fashion? “If you want to get involved in sustainability, looking at fashion is almost the gateway to the world of sustainability, because it’s so easy and accessible,” Carton says.

“Once you do one thing with your fashion choices and once you start making those small changes, it’s impossible not to look at your whole lifestyle and think of other ways to make changes.”

Fast forward two years, and their business model is living proof of that exact mantra. An initiative that set out to fight fast fashion now provides the ultimate “non-preachy, accessible and inclusive” sustainable living handbook.

From providing workshops in schools about correct waste management, to liaising with businesses such as Facebook and Innocent Fruits to incorporate ethical business practice, The Useless Project has a sustainable solution to every problem.

This defining ethos is what influenced the rebranding, Carton says: “With the name, we were touching on how sometimes as humans we feel useless [when it comes to climate change], and it’s so easy to feel useless.

“But if you look at the sustainability movement, it doesn’t have to be so elitist or purist, it’s really just a case of looking at your own habits and consumerism behaviour and just reducing and using less.. it’s the problem and the solution within the name.”

Sense of Humility

 We talk about the wave of climate awareness – Carton emphatically refers to it as a tsunami – that has garnered momentum over the past few years in Ireland.

From the rallying cries of Extinction Rebellion protesters to the enactment of the Climate Ambassador Programme, Carton feels we are a nation that has a propensity to do the right thing when it comes to climate action.

“I could never have expected this level of interest, engagement and willingness to change. I think there’s a sense of humility about it, people are open to saying: ‘You know what, I haven’t been great with this to date, but I’m willing to change,’” Carton says.

No conversation is complete as of late without addressing the elephant in the room, and Carton has some light to share on the subject. “We found that Covid-19 really forced people to open their eyes to their own behaviour with sustainability..people became more aware of their home waste and recycling. Or, people had the time to do a wardrobe clear-out, so they think, ‘where do I bring this clothing?’”

The Useless Project responded to this surge of interest by increasing their online content, tutorials and workshops.

One of their most popular online events is their monthly Virtual Flea Market. Here, they give small, ethically sourced Irish businesses some airtime by sharing their products and creations on their Instagram page for customers to purchase. Carton prides The Useless Project in enabling Irish businesses to “expand their scope of visibility”.

This extra engagement bolsters the virtual work of The Useless Project, yet Carton can’t help but reminisce over the in-person community they had gathered. Easy company, the interview culminates when I ask her about her most memorable moment over the last two years.

“It was our first road trip down to Cork, we had a charity shop crawl and a flea market planned,” Carton recalls.

“During our charity shop crawl, we went to the second shop and one of the members of staff came from behind the counter and asked if we were Sustainable Fashion Dublin. We said yes, we are, and they were like ‘oh my god we have been so excited for you to come, we have been waiting for you all day.’

“She beckoned us outside and they had a newspaper clipping that read ‘Sustainable Fashion Dublin comes to Cork’ with a photo of us, and they had stuck it on their window. I just thought ‘oh my god, we made it, this is it,” she jokes.

What does the future hold for climate action in Ireland? “The only way is up. I think people are only going to get more aware and more conscious, and join the dots between their behaviour and the world around them.”

And on that note, a knock at Carton’s front door ends our interview. Her parting words? “Watch this space”.

Author: Trudy Feenane

Image Credit: The Useless Project