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.
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.