A massive thank you to all those who shared stories of how they use their garments in Wellington and Melbourne over the last few weeks as part of the Local Wisdom project. And of course huge appreciation to the teams working at Massey in New Zealand led by Holly McQuillan and Jen Whitty and at RMIT in Australia co-ordinated by Jo Cramer. Photos and stories from both places available on the Local Wisdom website within the month… here’s a taster of some of the Wellington images, photography by Aliscia Young.
After weeks of feeling personally devastated about the factory collapse of the Dhaka Rana Plaza in Bangladesh; of witnessing the pain of the lives, families and communities lost and shattered (the death toll now exceeds 1100 and is still climbing); of feeling a deep sense of shame that I am part of an industry that seems to design for inhuman working conditions through economic priorities that chase low cost garments above all else; and of feeling building anger that the fashion retail sector has failed to take responsibility for its own role in this; it seems now that we are on the cusp of change. As an industry, our collective disgrace is that this has taken so long to come and so many people have died. And that the normal conversations and taken-for-granted beliefs that guide everyday business decisions in the fashion sector are so skewed, so hopelessly warped and broken, that this situation happened at all.
In an excellent piece by Andrew North for the BBC today, he reports on the retailers and governments now bowing to pressure to change things in the light of Rana Plaza disaster. He names the big brands who have a signed up to a legally-binding code requiring them not just to meet minimum fire and building safety standards but to pay for them, including Sweden’s H&M, the UK’s Primark and Tesco and the Netherlands’ C&A. According to the BBC, other brands have proved unwilling to sign the code, including unnamed British retailers and US brands Gap and Walmart, the latter’s products also being produced in a different supplier factory also in Bangladesh last November where 100 died.
So the wind of change is blowing. And workers must and will experience different conditions, the right to join a union and earn a living wage as they create super cheap clothes for the insatiable Western consumer. But this same Western consumer and the consumer culture he/she perpetuates and is dependent on, must also take responsibility for its part in this horrific disaster. Whether the wind of change can blow hard and long enough to change this culture and for us to recover a more meaningful sense of ourselves and our way of living in the world is unclear. But what we do see with crystal clarity at moments like this is that superficial solutions will do nothing to change the foundational structures of society. And it is in the foundations of a sector geared towards growth that the roots of the Rana Plaza disaster are found.
The knowledge, skills and ideas of the Craft of Use have a new platform on the web!
The Craft of Use explores resourceful garment use practices as one way to challenge the dependency of the fashion industry on increasing material throughput. Its proposition is that sustained attention to tending and using garments, we can create an alternative set of experiences of fashion provision and consumption.
They are the spiritual and intellectual home – the ‘mothership’ – of some of my other work in design for sustainability, most notably the Local Wisdom project.
Let us know what you think…
I recently received a copy of Dear Fashion through the post… a gorgeous little publication put together in The Netherlands which charts the adventures of some of the folk involved in a year of living without buying fashion, the Free Fashion Challenge. What follows below is my contribution to the journal – a prologue – a stage-setter for what is playfully shoehorned into the pages that follow. Dear Fashion is in essence a love letter to fashion, but one penned from different starting points and experiences. Read on…
“I love a vexing, thorny question. And perhaps there is no question in fashion today more troublesome – and overdue – than that of what fashion would be like outside an endless cycle of consumption. Let’s face it; our experience of fashion today is so dominated by buying stuff that it’s almost impossible to imagine fashion in any other format. Fashion is buying high street and high end. It is watching, shopping, purchasing. In the consumer society we organize our ideas about fashion around commerce and consumerism and end up becoming dependent on them. And yet this incessant cycle of consumption is not all that fashion is, was, or can be. We are, so to speak, shopping ourselves short. By elevating the power of what we buy to be the ultimate arbiter of fashion innovation; we are missing out on fashion’s other-than-market potential; on the multitude of fashion moments that flow from who we are, not from just from what we buy again and again. With consumerist fashion’s emphasis on looking from a distance, we are also straying even further from fashion’s original meaning – as a group activity of making and doing. And what is more, it seems that consumerism is creating an anachronistic form of fashion itself. For we know that fashion always reflects its context; and today its context includes sustainability. So when we see fashion as achievable only through ever-greater consumption; this blinkered ‘performance’ is quite simply, no longer fashion.
So much can be said about the detrimental effect of consumerist fashion on our society. Indeed these arguments need to be rehearsed and restated the world over: its contribution to the drawing down of resources and associated creation of waste; its promotion of short-term thinking and passive engagement with material goods; the psychological anxiety and stress linked to fashion’s instability, and so on. But what do we know about the effects of living without the consumer-based version of fashion? What experiences can we draw upon from other than this one-trick pony view of clothes-on-the-body? The answer begins to unfold inside the pages of this bookazine. With illustration, with words, with passion and a smile, so many possibilities are explored. Dear Fashion is an ode to what can be, to creation, expression, caring, repairing… so much more than consumerism’s ‘have it all’ culture.
I applaud all the Free Fashion Challenge volunteers who signed up to a year without shopping – you now have skills of the future, honed and perfected today. The ceaseless cycle of fashion consumption is ailing. Long live fashion.”
Over the last couple of weeks the Local Wisdom project team has been travelling to Vancouver and NYC to gather more stories of the doings and saying associated with garment use. We wanted to extend a huge THANK YOU to all of you who participated in the project and our fabulous teams in both of these great cities for their work on the ground, on the day and in the lead up. The images and stories will be online in the next few weeks
The Local Wisdom project returns to London on 5th December 2012 to take photographs and gather more stories of the ‘craft of use’ of the general public. We’ll be at the Carnaby Book Exchange in Kingly Court (between Regent Street and Carnaby Street) between midday and 7pm. Please come along and share with us how you use clothes and get your portait taken in your piece! More on the London photoshoot including exact location and categories listing the sort of things we are looking for can be found here.
In sustainability there is no such thing as a mass answer, but instead a mass of appropriately scaled, creative, dynamic, emerging and engaging answers. A new video from the Puma Sustainable Design Collective held earlier this year collates a series of evening talks (including one by me!) which shows this diversity. Called ’50 Ways of Working Sustainably’ the video aims to generate a deeper understanding of the relationships between the products and systems we design – their social, ecological and economic impacts. Hosted by Dr Jonathan Chapman (Reader in Sustainable Design at the University of Brighton), with key speakers including Dr Kate Fletcher (Reader in Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion), Fiona Bennie (Dragon Rouge) and Nick Gant (University of Brighton).
The 50 WAYS OF WORKING icons representing the creation of products, their processes and thinking. Progressive and inspiring, these talks acknowledge the enormity of the challenges surrounding sustainability with energy and positivity.
Click here to link to the video on vimeo. Use the password: md101
Local Wisdom, the ongoing fashion research project exploring the ‘craft of use’ has added more tales of stories and images of resourceful and satisfying use of garments spread across twenty two categories… with more to come over the next year.
The project is now in a new phase of work with the first of seven international design projects looking to amplify the craft of use to increase its take up beginning today.
The project’s international network is made up of:
London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London, UK
California College of the Arts, San Francisco, USA
Parsons The New School, New York City, USA
Kolding Design School, Kolding, Denmark
Emily Carr University, Vancouver, Canada
Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
RMIT, Melbourne, Australia
On Thursday 11th October at 6pm, I’m giving a presentation at Parsons the New School of Design on Alternative Fashion Systems.
I’m going to explore the effects of consumerism and economic growth on our fashion systems and investigate ways to value a broader range of fashion activity than is currently recognized, drawing upon examples of the ”craft of use” in my project Local Wisdom. I’ll touch on alternative ways to organize traffic in order to promote awareness, attentiveness and mobility, and will reflect on what this may mean for fashion, proposing alternative ideas around a new sort of fashion-ability.
The last ten years has seen a burgeoning of the Slow Movement in all aspects of life from management, travel and education to science and work.
The RSA brings together a group of thinkers and practitioners who have each been exploring ways to bring the principles of ‘slow’ to their life and work – whether in finance, culture or fashion. As well as sharing lessons from their own fields, they will discuss how more of us can deal with the addictive nature of speed, apply the brakes and improve our quality of life, creativity and well-being.
Speakers: Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slow; Kate Fletcher, Reader in Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion; Deepa Patel, co-director, Slow Down London; Gervais Williams, award-winning fund manager and author of Slow Finance.