welcome 2017!

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As fashion and textiles gains momentum in the field of sustainability, I think back to a real highlight of 2016 – the Circular Transitions conference at Chelsea college, University of the Arts London. One realisation that really stood out for me in particular (inspired by Jade Whitson-Smith’s paper, “A Dematerialised Approach to Sustainable Fashion Design”) was that no matter how many sustainable fabrics and garment-making methods we come up with, there is  still that niggling question hanging over us all – should we be designing and making anything in the first place? Surely all design thinking should be put towards dealing with the waste we have; the fabrics already littering our wardrobes, second-hand shops and last-season stock piles? We do not need any more, that’s for sure. We could clothe the world a thousand fold over with what already exists. So is it just to satisfy this urge we have to make? The unwarranted hunger to consume more than we can digest, just because we can, and our capitalistic, fashion-obsessed society demands it? Or is it the high one gets from the creative process that is the driving force behind overproduction? Were this the case, we would do better to do like Freitag, who are making the only European virgin fabric at scale that will compost back into its natural state without damaging the environment or standing the test of time. The term “dematerlisation” came up with regards to fashion education, and reminded me of the making ethic behind the masters in sustainable design I did a couple years ago.

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Largely speaking, we do not need any more products – especially ones which repeat the use of objects we already have in our lives – such as chairs. Instead, the approach of designers should be within services, within systems – changing the ways we do things, rather than presenting new opportunities to fill our lives with stuff. Out of this was born the concept of design for social innovation, which is design that impacts society in a positive way – often without the need for a product or physical object. This is catching fire in the textile and fashion field after making the rounds within the likes of product and industrial design.

I am very much looking forward to the future of the repercussions of all these threads – what will 2017 bring? 2016 felt tough in many ways – I experienced the anguish of a lot of people who discovered the hugely destructive industry that looms behind the clothes they love to design and wear. We can only strive to educate and provide alternatives and/or precarious solutions as connoisseurs. I wish you the very best in this endeavour.

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PhD application excerpt: A New Literacy for Sustainable Textiles

The sustainability agenda is becoming evermore widely discussed as more and more people realise their part in returning to nature and having a less harmful impact on the world they live in. Books such as The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy (eds. Stibbe and Villiers-Stuart, 2009) and the more recent How to Thrive in the Next Economy (Thackara, 2015) are examples of this discourse within further education. This comes from a long history of the environmentalist movement, of which sustainability is the frontier as an anti-growth, anti-capitalist future where we will think of the needs of coming generations, both human and environment wise, and strive to design accordingly to improve current threats to these systems.

Questions around what we have the power to change, where to improve and how exactly to achieve this are circulating widely within the world of fashion and textiles; through online articles and forums such as Ecouterre and Sustainable Human, with long debates in the form of comments; and have perhaps been theorised upon the most in academia, as illustrated by the hefty volume recently published of such papers by Fletcher and Tham, which strive to prove that sustainable fashion is not an oxymoron. However, the appearance of this theoretical debate amongst those who should perhaps be the best informed, that is, the young designers shaping the future of this system, is somewhat lacking. This is something that has been addressed by the research group Textiles Environment Design (TED) at Chelsea, UAL, with whom my research would be most fitting. Prof. Kay Politowicz in particular was instrumental in TED’s TEN, a learning pack in the form of information cards for designers to think about how they could reduce their environmental impact before making design decisions for a new garment. I would argue, however, that it is not only the barrier of eco-literacy within this field which needs to be increasingly addressed with tools such as TED’s TEN, but the barriers such as governing laws that are apparent once one tries to move forward with this newfound theoretical literacy.