Just completed: the Fashion Ecologies research project involving three years of research about localism and sustainability change in fashion. As the funded research draws to a close, a new project website has been built offering findings, research methods, research papers and micro design projects, including a ‘haberdashemergency‘ sewing repair kit and a Pocket Guide to Fashion Ecology, amongst others. The project conducted extensive fieldwork in the town of Macclesfield in the North of England and sought to develop new knowledge based on a dynamic mix of resources and interactions in an area, the sum of what a place can offer. Let us know what you think…
My recent TED talk, recorded at the TEDx event in Macclesfield in April this year, is now online. Look out for hands behind back (I had been told to stop using the clicker like a baton) and the wayward fringe. In Usership: Fashion Beyond Consumerism I give a whistlestop tour of some of the key ideas involved in the Craft of Use and the start of a new set of experiences of fashion not only shaped by shopping for new pieces.
It was recorded alongside seven other talks linked in some way to the town of Macc in the North of England. The were many threads of connection between them – I saw them joined by a shared practice of fostering change including through: localism, nature connection, holding corporate giants to account, better communication, citizen science and greater collective care of those with mental health issues. I encourage you to browse the full Macclesfield menu. They are wonderful.
Following on from the groundswell of support for a new framework for fashion, we have now taken the conversation off-line and into the physical world with the publication of a Zine: “The Way of Rebellion”. In it we say that it’s time for change. And we call for change that both removes problematic aspects of the current system while also celebrating what is worthwhile in culture, the environment and each other, and building the fashion sector from there.
We have fifty copies of “The Way of Rebellion” to give away for free. Email me your postal address and I’ll organise for one to be posted to you.
Contributors: Kate Fletcher, Anna Fitzpatrick, Rene Cuoco, Timo Rissanen, Laura Sansone, Danai Tsouloufa.
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