Yesterday I took the phone-call, but it has been requested that I do not record any of that conversation. If all goes to plan I will be travelling tomorrow, and whatever follows will be recorded, although some specifics may have to be excluded to protect any sensitive material.
I would like to note here that I am feeling more than a little apprehensive at this time, but I am trying to keep an open mind.
I walk past the queue for the lift and head right, towards the stairs. Instead of going down I take a small door off to one side, which had gone entirely unnoticed the times I had been here before. Through it there is an almost identical staircase to that on the other side, only they ascend. There is the same sign (wrongly) announcing 124 steps. As I reach the top of the stairs there is another door. Through I go and I’m seemingly back where I had only moments ago started. The space is recognisable, but feels different. It is abuzz with people, a continuous low hum of chatter. There are no gates to pass through or card readers to touch out on. I search around for a free paper looking for the date, to no avail. When exactly am I? I exit onto the street outside and take in my surroundings. The buildings I know are all there, but again there is a different feel to them. Everything seems brighter. There is less tarmac and more greenery. Spaces between buildings, previously pavements and alleyways now had the lushest grass and trees. Flora filling in the gaps in the middle of London. The fresh air, like a crisp countryside morning, fills my lungs. There are cars, but they are near silent, few and far between. People are gathered together in groups, walking leisurely, animatedly nattering to one another. For the most part I don’t think I can spot a sombre expression on any of these strangers faces.
I head to the bench where I am to meet Sara. I spot her waiting there. She has a petite frame, engulfed in stylishly mismatched garments, the exaggerated silhouette of which makes her appear even smaller. Her cats eye glasses and statement red painted lips, bleached out brows and long dark hair all present, as expected. She wears an impressively voluminous cropped navy jacket in a lightweight repurposed fabric – made by Patrick McDowell. Underneath she wears an Honest By (a 'transparent' fashion brand) blazer, arms and chest emblazoned in capital letters with its textile make-up, black lettering across a white background like a newspaper headline; the main body a multi-coloured tapestry with the same bold lettering weaved into the material. Her legs swathed in Issey Miyake cocoon pants in a buttery caramel hue; pleated and billowing but tapered at the ankle, making her lower half almost spherical. Orange loafers finish the look, thoughtfully posited like a bright full stop as the end of the exclamation mark that is her outfit. Sara quite clearly cares about the clothes she wears. Every piece is made through repurposing of old materials, sustainably sourced or vintage.
Sara tells me about her company – a fashion hire service called Higher Studio. She works closely with designers who retain the ownership of their garments but lend them to Sara, who gives a percentage of the hire fee back to the designer. By retaining ownership the garments are made to last and be repaired by the designer, so they can always be in circulation. Garments can be swapped continuously so you can have an endless wardrobe accessible all the time, without the need to buy or store items; meaning there is much less production and waste involved, more choice for the wearer, with responsibility on the designer to make sustainable products that last. Sara explains that this performance economy model is the basis for most businesses across all marketplaces now, so even technological and household products have decreased in production, with an emphasis on longevity.
Performance based renting or borrowing has now replaced traditional shopping, both online and in brick and mortar spaces. Shops where you actually buy non-consumable items are near extinct, and those that do exist have strict rules and regulations placed on them by governmental bodies. Within the fashion industry production of garments from new materials is banned, therefore the production of new materials has effectually stopped. For a ‘new’ item to be produced it must have come from existing materials broken down into raw materials mechanically or chemically, and turned into something else, or are re-purposed from existing items. Sara explains that many people own very little of what they actually use. Most people still have a few special items passed down to them through family, and generally items such as underwear are bought and kept but are always made from recycled materials, and only when they are too old or worn to be repaired will go back into the cycle to be made into something else.
I talk in depth with Sara about the systemic changes that have taken place. She speaks of the historical fall of Brexit and the following reconstitution of the European Union, having been pressured by joint efforts of political activist groups Europe-wide. Governments were forced by their citizens to declare Climate Emergency; it started here in England within the universities, spreading to local councils and then eventually to the government. This led to newly formed democracies which decided on direct actions to pull us back in line with targets set out in the seminal IPCC SR15 report. By no means is the world perfect, but a significant halt has been put on climate change and harmful emissions are at an all-time low, almost equivalent to pre-industrial standards. It would seem that the citizens (as Sara calls them) have come together to make a stand, and in doing so pushed governments to make positive changes to industry worldwide.
After hearing from Sara how this future functions I realise why I was instructed under no circumstances to stay. I was warned that if I start to feel like I don’t want to leave, I must leave immediately. I ask Sara to accompany me back to the station.
I say my goodbyes and thank Sara for her time. I head back to the small door to find my way out, taking the same stairs I came in on. However, when I get to the bottom there is no door. No visible way out. And it’s dark. I have a momentary panic and plonk myself on the last step, waiting for my eyes to adjust. Eventually when they do, I search again for an exit. There isn’t one. Where the door once stood there is now just an extension of the wall, tiled in ugly beige and dirty green. I’m in an enclosed space with nowhere to go and no instructions on what to do in this situation. Not ideal. I have no means to contact the outside world, and cannot travel back up as I have no clue where I might come out. There is a tiny space behind the spiral staircase, which I squeeze into. There is a very small grate I manage to wiggle loose and squish myself through.
Out the other side is equally dark and eerily quiet. I hear distant rumbles and follow the noise down an abandoned tunnel out into a very old looking underground station. Despite the huge crowds there is no discernible noise. There is a distinct rustle of clothing, but not one word. Silence. Huge iron gates encircle the station, with queues and queues of darkly clad people silently ushered in and out through monstrous turnstiles. Enormous CCTV cameras loom in every nook of the stations crumbling ceiling. I feel entirely out of place. I slip to the back of a queue trudging its way out onto the street. A heavy fog lays thick in the air. I don’t recognise the buildings and can’t see their height due to the fog. Everything is grey. My heart feels heavy and my lungs clogged, as if I had smoked non-stop for the entirety of four lifetimes. Yet I don’t see any cars.
What the fuck happened?
I spot what looks like the remains of the Michael Faraday Memorial, opposite where the bench used to be. I head over, careful not to make eye contact with any of the sullen looking humans in the dimly lit square. Every person is wearing an identical uniform of charcoal grey, or maybe navy? I am not. In army green jeans with a navy roll neck, white trainers and a black beanie hat I look veritably non-descript in normal terms, but here I look conspicuous to say the least. People glance menacingly my way as they shuffle past in all directions. I see only one static person. Silver haired and dressed in matching grey, she stares at me. Before I say anything she tugs me by the arm into a nearby alley. She throws a dust bag at me and tells me to put them on. I open the bag and inside I find my very own uniform. I do as she says and put my clothes into the bag. For the first time I get a good look at her face. I am in disbelief, but it is without a doubt Sara. I want to ask her a million questions but quickly check myself as I realise this particular Sara and I have never met.
She moves, I follow. We must have walked a kilometre in silence when she suddenly bobs off the pavement down some concrete stair and into a tiny kitchen space. She ushers me to take a seat and warns that we don’t have a lot of time. I ask her what happened.
After a long and drawn out exit from the EU things got progressively worse. Small businesses closed rapidly and prices of everything skyrocketed. Efforts by radical activist groups failed miserably and resulted in huge fines which most couldn’t pay, leading to extended prison sentences - an example to others tempted to rebel. The government came down hard on anybody with views not in line with theirs.
I cautiously ask her about the fashion industry. She pointedly says it hasn’t existed for as long as she can remember. Fashion is for the wealthy. In order to survive, any luxuries were sold off to buy unaffordable necessities, like food and water. The government issued cheap uniforms to keep the country clothed. Creative jobs ceased to exist as all efforts were put into last-ditch attempts at saving the planet. All industries deemed unnecessary were shut down as the climate crisis peaked. Sea levels rose resulting in widespread migration to areas already overpopulated. Housing got smaller whilst prices increased tenfold. Mass species extinction and water shortages led to the inevitable failure of agriculture. Combined with the pressure on relations with non-EU countries with their own struggles due to the climate crisis, food became even scarcer. Increasingly ill health and strict laws requiring licences to reproduce are now leading to an elderly and waning population. Education is restricted to the upper echelons that can afford to have children.
A long silence follows.
Sara politely informs me that our time is up and insists on returning me to the station. We walk back side by side and very quietly discuss her life.
“I cannot change what has been, but maybe you will.“