Fashion essay writer wins coveted prize
Caitlin Rajan, a Human, Social, and Political Sciences undergraduate at Trinity Hall, won the Peter Peckard Memorial Prize 2023 this term. Her essay ‘Shouldering Bales, Shouldering Burdens: Unpacking Fashion’s Global Waste Crisis’ impressed the judging panel with its academic rigor, decolonial argument, and focus on human exploitation in the fashion industry. The 21-year-old spoke to us this week about the prize and her life at Trinity Hall.
“ I feel unbelievably lucky to have ended up at Trinity Hall. It truly has all the features I personally want from a college. From how beautiful Central Site is, to how friendly the entire body of staff are, to just the size of the cohort each year: I feel like it’s just so perfectly suited to everything I want. ”
— Caitlin, undergraduate in Human, Social & Political Sciences
Why did you enter the prize and what’s your essay about?
My essay focused on the egregious exploitation involved in fashion’s global waste crisis. Truthfully, I wrote the essay as I was grappling with the horrifying realisation that this issue had been rendered so invisible despite the fact that many of us have contributed and continue to contribute to it. Our consumption and disposal of clothing is quite literally killing planet and people. I tied together how global power dynamics, colonial legacies, racism, sexism, and capitalism are just a few factors that are enabling this crisis and furthering climate breakdown. What was most important to me though was to underscore the deeply neglected human cost to this system. Most climate narratives, particularly in the Western world, focus on climate change in terms of profit and material, and I wanted to invert this and put forth a narrative that centred people before anything else. I hope I was successful in doing so, not just to make readers aware of the pertinence of this issue, but also to do justice to the amazing people in Kantamanto (in Ghana), particularly the kayayei, that I focused on as the central subjects of my essay.
What is it about your subject that you love?
I love how transformative it has been for the way I think about and see the world. I feel it’s given me such a great number of tools that allow me to both interrogate what I see before me, yet still be curious and hopeful about what that means for the future, inclusive of whatever role I have in that process.
I think a lot of us turn up at Cambridge with a very limited idea of how to apply our subject and what career we might go into. I originally thought I would get a job in the UN or Government but now I think I might actually get a job challenging them because of the experience I have had here. Cambridge emphasises that we have more power than we think we do. Being here you’re encouraged to use your voice.
What is the best part of College life for you?
It’s a hard choice for me between how lovely the people are, the view from the Jerwood, and Silly the Cat (editor’s note: Caitlin is pictured with Silly above). Too hard to choose just one thing, I think.
What attracted you to Trinity Hall?
I actually was one of those strange people that went for an open application and so I feel unbelievably lucky to have ended up at Trinity Hall. It truly has all the features I personally want from a college. From how beautiful central site is, to how friendly the entire body of staff are, to just the size of the cohort each year, I feel like it’s just so perfectly suited to everything I want! I choose to believe it’s some kind of fate I ended up at to Trinity Hall.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of your studies?
I’ve always loved crafty and creative stuff which has varied in its form. I did quite a bit of short story writing but most recently I’ve gotten into knitting, though I can’t say I’m very good – it’ll be a while before I make someone a fully functional jumper. Also, in the past year or so I’ve become something of a yoga enthusiast and, while I still feel a beginner very much, I’m always trying to try new variations and embark on new classes. In the same vein, I’ve started to get into hiking which I feel I’m very much suited to given I am slightly notorious among my friends for traversing distances they think ought not to be walked.
What’s your favourite film/book/ cultural phenomenon?
Maybe a slight cheat of an answer but Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels make up my favourite book series of all times. If I’m having to choose a specific favourite book, I’d choose the second from that collection – The Story of a New Name – but the entire series is a true feat in literary fiction that pulls together themes of class, academia, womanhood, and friendship among many others. I’ve still not found a person I recommended it to that didn’t love it!
How do you balance academic life with personal commitments?
For me, people are my grounding force. When I make a concerted effort to schedule in time to be with people – whether it’s going for dinner, attending society events, going on nights out, or even just studying with someone – I find I’m so much more likely to strike a good balance. Other people always remind me of what’s important and encourage me to see the fun in the Cambridge experience because it really should be fun!
Read Caitlin’s essay and more about the prize on the Magdalene College website.