Action needs to be taken to reduce demand for materials and cope with future environmental threats. In fashion, as in other sectors, such measures are challenging and uncomfortable for both the wearers of clothes and the billion-dollar industry that creates them. The environmental crisis requires that different choices are made about our lives and the role of fashion provision and expression in them. It is nothing short of profound systems level stuff; a new framework of concepts, results, and procedures in which all subsequent fashion work will be structured. It is built on a new set of values. It describes new purpose, new ways of distributing power and benefit, new economic models, a changing fashion culture, fewer pieces…
This framework is the future of fashion. It is the agenda of our times. I want to talk about it.
Yet many sustainability advocates in the fashion industry avoid addressing this new underlying framework or the systems shifts which such a change would trigger. They do lots of work, including many impressive projects, but never do these projects enter the territory of deep change. These advocates believe that solutions lie in retaining contemporary economic and technical practices, in making them a bit more responsive, more accountable. Their proposed remedy: the same, and more of it. Here additional economic growth, more sophisticated management techniques, enhanced technological innovation, greater material prosperity are put forward as the solutions to environmental problems. This perspective on implementing environmental action, often called technocentrism, embraces consumerist culture and the momentum of contemporary society and its values. It sees consumer culture as the way to move people towards effective action, by directing what is made and bought. The mantra goes that in letting human creativity loose, better design, government policies and market adjustments will make industry more efficient – and this is better for the planet. It says that if managed carefully, society can continue to make, buy and discard as much fashion as it likes; we just have to be cleverer about doing so.
The recent Pulse Report from the Global Fashion Agenda fits this category. Its objective, ‘to provide direction and guidance towards a better fashion industry’ seeks to create a fashion industry that fits the world around its priorities. Its problem definition and solutions are classic technocentric prescriptions: describing the fast fashion business model as environmentally non-threatening; promoting polyester as a fibre of choice; advocating the design of a specific materials system. The findings present economic and technical measures framed in ways that preserve the status quo – the same measures and strategies that have, in fact, prevailed for more than 25 years. This accounts in part for technocentrism’s popularity and the Pulse Report’s traction: they mesh with the priorities of consumerist societies; they allow those with power to keep it; they suggest there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the way we are doing things today. In short, they avoid the hard choices that have for decades been put forward by visionary leaders like Fritz Schumacher, Donella Meadows, Doug Tompkins. They fail to deal with the reality of biophysical limits and their incompatibility with the logic of growth. They fail to acknowledge that efficiency improvements lead to more, not less, resource use. They fail to recognise that beyond a very low level of consumption, material goods and materialistic attitudes actually damage, not improve, human well-being.
Technocentrism is a view, a voice. Granted it is loud, but then it is often championed by those who own the means of communication and set to benefit most from things staying as they are. Other voices exist; leaders and enablers of new visions based on fundamentally rethinking the whole system. These include those which probe more deeply into the root causes of the problems we face, and with imagination, not fantasy, engage with the disruptive, complicated reality of the changing world, including for fashion business-as-usual.
I call for a far-reaching, inclusive, cross-sector-and-beyond conversation about the rules and goals of the fashion sector. A conversation that questions intent, frameworks, values and action; and one that dares to deal in hard choices about an industry totally dependent on a selling more material goods at greater speeds and volumes than natural systems can support. It is a debate about the heart and soul of environmental action in the fashion sector. It asks: What is important? Who benefits? How do we want to live? Do our actions move us towards interdependence?
Who’s in? Register your support by leaving your name, adding a comment below or on twitter #newfashsystem
Short interview in November 17’s Marie Claire Spain. English translation below.
“Don’t associate fashion with shopping”
Q. Do you think we will see a significant change in the fashion industry in the next 20 years?
Will there see significant changes in the fashion industry in the next 20 years? Yes. Categorically yes. There is no culture, including fashion culture, without nature. And yet ‘nature’ – the ecological systems that support, underpin and enthuse our lives – is changing fast. Turn on the news and this change is everywhere: the shocking frequency of severe weather events; mass extinctions of biological species; the presence of tiny plastic particles in every aquatic environment, including the water we drink. Human activity is now the most powerful force shaping global natural systems and these ecological systems in turn govern human activity. Change to the fashion sector is underway because we are beginning to understand that the quality of our future lives is influenced by our current behaviours. Having more now will damage the security of our lives tomorrow. Industry will support such change because, after all, there is no business to be done on a dead planet. Change will be dramatic, wholesale and exciting. It will affect the size and scale of the industry and the very idea of fashion itself.
Q. How would your “true materialism” concept help that change?
True materialism is a wake-up call. We all have so many material things. New phones, cars, clothes… But even in the midst of so many material possessions, it seems that we are not materialistic enough! For we know very little about the stuff we have, where it came from, who made it, how to care for it, maintain it, live with it over time. True materialism is a movement that encourages a new and deeper reverence for material goods like clothing. It’s a shift towards a different relationship with fashion that is a delicate balance between the pleasure we get out of things and the pleasure we get out of freedom from things.
Q. How do you see us, the fashion consumers, in 20 or 25 years time?
In 20 years time I see all of us who wear clothes as being emancipated from the idea that fashion is shopping. Fashion is many things, not just buying new pieces. In two decades, we will have thrown off the idea that we are ‘consumers’, negotiating the world through money and the market place. Instead it will be as citizens in a changing world that we act and from there figure out where clothes fit into the mix and how money can be made from their creation and use.
Just announced: a call for contributions to a new edited book about design and nature! We welcome many types and formats of pieces and many different perspectives. More details below…
Why The context of this book is the threat to vital earth systems, as exemplified by climate change, ecological toxicity, and biodiversity loss. Human activities are driving the deterioration of natural systems. Technology, policy, new business models – even changed behaviours, are not enough to reverse the deterioration. Instead, new – or rediscovered old – relationships between humans and nature are required. Design, a powerful extension of humans, needs ecological insight. This book is being made, boldly and explicitly to create change.
What Organized as a dialogue between nature and design, this book explores design ideas, opportunities, visions and practices for relating and uncovering how design can engage with the natural world. Ideas and practices carving out the relational, context-rich territory of ‘design and nature’ are still at an embryonic stage. The book aims to sketch out–feel out a new discipline for design, a new way of designing, a new ethic and new ways of integrating design with nature. Ultimately, this book aims to offer new ways of seeing the sustainability imperative and thereby seeks to address a convergence of crises in ecological, socio-cultural, and economic systems while finding potential for design actions including those outside design’s traditional comfort zone. This includes challenging the complex relationships and narratives of our world, from economic growth imperatives to patriarchal worldviews.
How This edited work seeks to imaginatively build ways of knowing about design in relationship with others, including: scholars and practitioners outside of design, voices outside a dominant global North, the very young and old, and other-than-humans. It does this by presenting texts, visual essays and design responses from a wide variety of sources including natural science, visual arts, nature philosophy, poetry, design theory and practice. The contributions explore design engaging in the world, not standing apart from it and in so doing describe a deeply interconnected view of people and nature based on experience of participating in the world through life, responsibility and context. Each contributor is invited to be explicit about their own position, and to offer an agenda for work ahead.
For whom The primary audience for this book is design academics, and the secondary audience includes practicing designers and design managers, creative directors. Because of the general nature of some of the content, it will also be interesting to a lay audience that is curious about our human-made world and its relationship to nature. The book will be published in black and white. Full contributions will range from 1500-3500 words, depending on the type of contribution. We will invite all contributors to take part in activating the book, through its process of becoming, and when it has been published.
Kate Fletcher Professor of Sustainability, Design, Fashion, Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London.
Louise St Pierre Associate Professor of Design, Emily Carr University, Vancouver, Canada.
Mathilda Tham Professor of Design, Linnaeus University, Sweden.
Key dates and process
10 November, 2017 Deadline for submission of abstracts.
Please send us an abstract of 400-700 words, and include imagery as relevant. Please specify the type of contribution you are intending to make – i.e. case study, visual essay, poetry, as well as the perspectives you wish to take, and the geographical location from which you write. We ask contributors to explicitly position themselves in their narrative, and also to contribute to an agenda onwards for practice, education, research.
8 December, 2017 Authors are notified whether the contributions are selected for the book.
The selection of contributions is based on the quality of proposals, and arriving at a volume with diversity of themes and perspectives. For the period of writing the full submission, contributors will be invited to participate in small writing circles with other contributors. This is to support writers, create networks, and to foster cross-pollination between contributions.
20 March, 2018 Deadline for full submission of contributions.
Spring 2019 The book is published.
Please send abstract or questions to the editors. We look forward to hearing from you.
A new book, a veritable smorgasbord of research methods examining what happens to clothes after they have been bought, is fresh off the press! It is available to buy direct from the publisher Novus.
Comprising 50 methods created by 50 authors from four continents, this volume brings together for the first time different tools and approaches for enquiring into the ‘lifeworld’ of garments and the associated relationships.
Edited by myself and Ingun Grimstad Klepp, we see Opening Up the Wardrobe as a radical book, giving attention to the real world of clothing actions and a counter narrative to the dominant view of fashion and clothing where fashion is an economic process, clothing a commodity and the prevailing definition of fashion describes a narrow view of who and what is valuable.
We mark the publication of the book with a fortnight of events taking place around the world, including:
13th September 2017, 15:00-17:00 in Oslo, Ingun and I will be together and there will be live demonstrations of some of the methods. More details here.
14th September, 16:00 – 17:00 in Copenhagen. Book launch at the University of Copenhagen, South Campus (KUA3) room 4A.0.68. (This is at the end of an open seminar on Uniforms in Practice)
And on 20th September 2017, 16:00-20:30 in London as part of London Design Festival, methods will be demonstrated as part of the Laundry Pile event (organised by three contributors to the book: Emma Rigby, Lizzie Harrison and Jade Whitson-Smith) and at which I will be speaking. The event is free, but places are limited.
Love it or hate it, laundry is part of everyday life. Join us to rifle through the Laundry Pile on 20th September in a London launderette (where else?!) for an exhibition and panel discussion about laundry and its many implications.
The show will include some of the ‘Never Washed’ images and stories from the Local Wisdom project and if you feel like your threads need sprucing up, why not avail yourself of the in situ grooming service with tools gathered for Craft of Use? I’ll also be talking at the panel discussion.
The whole event is free, but places for the panel discussion are limited. Sign up now
Localism is a growing movement of place, community and nature. This special issue seeks to explore localism in the context of fashion, investigating the dynamic interconnections between specific places, people, ecological contexts, economies and the provision and expression of fashion clothes.
In localism, place matters. Local ecosystems provide both resources and constraints to an area’s activity. People and communities evolve within unique natural and social assets of where they are based. Ecosystem health is preserved through the local adaptation of knowledge, products, cultures and practices. This special issue contends that in fashion, place also matters. It explores fashion localism as a cornerstone principle and practice of sustainability where place-based and community values describe a fashion system reconceptualised by scale, stewardship and sufficiency.
The special issue will examine fashion localism from multiple perspectives. We welcome contributions that investigate (but are not limited to) the following topics:
Local or regional activity as part of self-reliant fashion communities;
The relationship between ecosystems, soil, watersheds (etc) and fashion production;
Explicit normative framework of localism in fashion;
Analytical paradigm of localism in the context of clothing and dress;
An exploration of the social nature of localism;
The role of consumption, consumers and non-market actors in localism in the fashion context;
The role of diversity, scale and resilience within fashion systems.
The role of legislation and marketing in leveraging a change from globalized to localized fashion systems.
Papers of between 6,000 and 8,000 words should be sent by the deadline: 1st June 2017 to the guest co-editors, earlier where possible. The guest editors invite would-be contributors to contact them to discuss potential submissions well in advance of the deadline and also welcome proposals about submissions in other formats.
Authors are advised to consult the Taylor and Francis website for author instructions and style guidelines.
Guest Editor: Kate Fletcher, Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London
Dartmoor, UK, 5-7 July 2017: a nature-immersed exploration of fashion sustainability with myself and Liz Parker.
Log off your email, shut down your laptop, and join us for a conference in and with nature to inquire into sustainability in fashion in a different way.
This conference in and with nature is an immersive enquiry into the natural world and questions and visions of sustainability of particular importance to the fashion sector. It will take place by the fire, among ancient beech trees and under the open sky. At the heart of this event is a belief that humanity can re-define its relationship with the natural world, and in doing so, can create the new systems – including new fashion systems – that operate within nature’s limits and support human flourishing.
The weekend engages a host of ‘ways of knowing’: experiential, sensory, intellectual, emotional and connects these to fashion and sustainability. There will be time for conversation, opportunities for individual reflection and plenty of space for playing in the woods. We aim to inspire you with new insights and strengthen your connection to a network of peers who have shared in this unique experience.
This event is for anyone active in fashion sustainability including fashion professionals, educators, activists and post-graduate students. You might work for a business, an NGO, a university or be based in the community. Find out more here.
We welcome proposals to contribute to the event. Presentations which involve story-telling, making, interaction or movement, and those which are the product of joint enquiry with peers are particularly encouraged.
The event is an initiative of By the Fire. It is hosted by Change in Nature, a leading social enterprise running nature-based experiences. More information on prices available here. Bursaries are available.
We anticipate that this will be an on-going opportunity and so please register your interest with us even if you are unable to attend on these dates.
The significance of craft is bound up in ideas and ideals of craft as skillfulness and the power of ingenuity, the transformative potential of pleasure in making and using things, and the desire and satisfaction associated with doing things well. Please join us and take part in the discussion. Details on the event can be found here.
With huge delight I can announce that the much anticipated book the Craft of Use: Post-Growth Fashion is now published! It features many of the stories of using clothes gathered as part of the Local Wisdom project along with work from seven international teams of designers and specially commissioned work from fashion photography Kerry Dean.