Artist, journalist, activist and joy-bringer Taryn de Vere met with fashion editor Justine Lepage for a chat on all things sustainability, gender identity, Lidl uniforms, activism, and dream tv upcycling show.

If Taryn de Vere describes themselves as a “joy-bringer”, that is because that label succinctly encompasses the many occupations (about 39!) and passions they have gone through in their life. They try to bring joy to the people who are open to it, living as authentically and as fearlessly as possible. She is inspired by her work at a charity shop, saving things from the bins by using them in upcycling projects, “if it’s colourful, interesting, or if it has a nice shape, then I’ll be thinking “what can I do with that?”. I think I have a sustainable ethos around fashion. And in that, if I find something, I’ll try and figure out how I can use it in different ways. For example, I made plastic straw earrings, necklaces, head pieces and tried to use every bit of the straw so there wasn’t anything leftover.”

I asked Taryn for her advice on finding joy in your current wardrobe. “Go through your wardrobe and take out anything that doesn’t make you feel fabulous. Give it to a charity shop, give it to a friend. Never throw away textiles. It’s estimated in Ireland that 225,000 tons of textiles end up in landfill every year, which is shocking, because there’s just so much you can do to reuse things. Also, if you have a work uniform that doesn’t make you feel fabulous, chat to some of your workmates and ask them how it makes them feel. Then go to your boss and tell them the uniform is not helping you with your work because it doesn’t make you feel good. I just told this woman in Lidl yesterday that I would help her to try and campaign Lidl to get the uniforms in those nice little colours, because Lidl produced a lovely range of clothing, that was really fun. And it should at least be an option for their staff to wear those clothes.”

Taryn de Vere recently came out as genderqueer, so we moved on to chatting about whether this new label changed their relationship to fashion. “I guess this realisation just made me feel a greater sense of freedom, because I didn’t really realise how much I felt constrained by the concept of womanhood. I realised that I didn’t have to just agree with that, I could operate outside of that if I wanted to. It makes me feel freer. And it makes me feel more able to explore all of my style and identity through clothing and through how I self express. We’re still all getting over all the constraints that growing up in a binary gendered world has placed on us, and I’m still working through that stuff, too.”

As well as using fashion as a tool of gender expression, Taryn also uses it as a means of activism, especially through the use of statement headpieces carrying political messages. “With my activism headpieces, generally speaking, I try to create a message that is “for” something rather than “against” something, because there’s something very personal about wearing a message on yourself. I am not someone who has ever worn brand name clothing. To me, if I’m going to wear something with words on it, those words need to be words I really closely identify with because I’m branding myself with those words. And I’m a positive person, so, the idea of having words on myself that are negative isn’t really aligned with who I am. And then, you’re trying to create a positive statement that is short enough to fit onto a headpiece. I think the longest one I ever did was one that isn’t fully positive, but it’s a statement that I would have happily tweeted out. It was “women will never be free under the D.U.P.”, and that was quite long, so I had to make a really big headpiece for that. Smaller statements are stronger. I spend a lot of time coming up with the right messaging.” More thought goes then into the rest of the outfit and how everything comes together. Although Taryn says she started doing the headpieces because she is “lazy and doesn’t like holding signs”, she believes there is more to it as well. They describe their headpieces and colourful outfits as a way to stand out and make their statement stand apart from the crowd at protests. With a background in journalism, Taryn de Vere knows picture editors are looking for something colourful and different for their publications. After suggesting ideas to some organisers and seeing they weren’t receptive, Taryn took it upon herself to wear statements, and started getting double page spreads and front page covers of papers all over the world. “I didn’t do it for myself, I don’t care! It doesn’t have to be my face. It’s the cause that I want to get publicity for. I just understand the way that the media works and how to get their attention.”

Activism is a very important thing for Taryn de Vere, who grew up in a socially engaged family  and holds being an active citizen as a very strong value. “I mean, I literally have a piece of canvas and a black marker and my pen at all times in case I come across protests, which does happen.” Although they identify as an activist, feminism is a more contentious label to navigate. She spent most of her life defining herself as a feminist, and firmly believes in its values, but it has become more complicated. “I think the word itself has become polarised. It’s been appropriated by various groups, be they the TERFs or far right people, or whatever. So for me, it’s about what we are trying to achieve. Equality amongst all genders, and amongst all people, that’s the key goal for me. I don’t have a huge attachment to the word feminism, because if a word starts to change meaning in society -which I think feminism has- and it becomes not useful to our end goal, then I’m happy to let that go.”

Another cause that is particularly close to Taryn’s heart is defending the trans and nonbinary community. “I think that one of the groups that is most vulnerable and marginalised at the moment worldwide is the trans and non-binary community. And there are increasing legislation and laws to try and curb the rights of that community. It’s kind of terrifying, what’s happening even so close to us, literally 20 minutes from where I live. We have a shockingly bad trans healthcare system, it is even non existent for trans people under 18. I don’t actually understand how anybody is okay with that in 2023. I think we all have to go where the fight is for the most marginalised people. And I do think that that is where it is right now. I say that with the full understanding that, you know, systemic racism is still very much a present issue. Obviously, there’s lots of other really important issues that we all need to be working on, the homelessness crisis, supporting refugees, people who use drugs who need access to healthcare… Disability rights is another one that I am passionate about. We are a very neurodiverse family, I have an autistic child, and I’m autistic myself. But I do think if we look globally and locally, at what’s going on, the trans and non-binary community are the people who most need support right now. And I think that there’s a big piece of work to be done there.”

We finish off our interview with coming back to sustainable fashion. Taryn’s instagram has a lot of upcycling videos and tutorials. She confesses she would love to make her interest in sustainable fashion into a creative fashion tv show, where people would be challenged to transform things that would be getting thrown away into things that are interesting and wearable, “here is a yoghourt container, a pair of tights and pipe cleaners, now what do you make?”. RTE executives, take notes!