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Why we need Sustainability in Fashion!

Updated: Mar 28, 2020


[Director of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion]

We live in times of unprecedented change. Each era is completely different from the era that goes before. But the era that we live in right now is different for a very profound and significant reason.

We've had 12,000 years of a stable climate, 4.5 billion years of the earth actually changing itself. We're now in an era where we're creating man made change to nature. It's commonly termed the Anthropocene. This really changes our own perception of who we are in the world and what we're doing. Nature is our only home, we can't live anywhere else. And we're messing it up. This man made construct of climate change is also put against the man made construct of human inequality. Both of these issues are part of fashion. We're all conceived equal and yet, we are the only species that have really created an inequality amongst us that we perpetuate through our cultures, habits, economies and lifestyles.

So, if we're thinking about what it means to be doing good design, if we're really thinking about what a fashion designer actually intends to do, then maybe we need to really consider the kind of premise of our work. Other disciplines do it. Doctors take the Hippocratic Oath. We haven't before really considered what it is that fashion professionals should have as an underlying principle to their work. That's why we hope to find ways to construct fashion guidelines that can help create good design on many different levels.

This draws on all of the aspects of fashion design that we already know, looking at the aesthetics, looking at colour, looking at shape and style. But it also equally looks at nature systems, looks at principles of equality, looks at how we can create balance both between ourselves and nature, and ourselves and each other. So this widens the scope of what fashion is about.

It also involves doing things with others, and thinking about how we collaborate. The ideas around design involve collaboration, cooperation, the ability to negotiate and deal with the ambiguities of our changing times. It means that we've got to find ways to be able to really learn from each other. Drawing on new ideas, looking at ways in which you'll be able to apply them, think about your roles in society, and also about your own livelihoods.

Some of the biggest changes taking place in the world is looking at population growth. There are more of us, and over the next few years, it's expected that population in the world will grow quite significantly. Alongside that, lifestyle changes, are meaning that we are eating more food, we are using more energy, potentially, we're making more fashion. So we've really got to think about that in terms of what's important to us, and how we can make sure that people have access to fashion without using up really important resources that we need for food and other things. Alongside that, something that is maybe particularly interesting for fashion is the growth in urbanisation.

Fashion and cities have got a very strong connection. And it's the biggest migration in history. Over 100 years ago, 80% of us were living in rural environments. Now over 50% of the world's population lives in n urban environment. And it's estimated that within the next 50 years, up to 75% of the world's population will live in a city. This can be good or bad. Potentially, it means we've got greater opportunities for efficiency, we've got greater opportunities for connection. And yet, at the moment, urban environments are the places where social inequity is at it's worst. Levels of poverty, levels of destitution, and actually disconnection between people in all urban environments.

The digital revolution has really transformed the way that we buy and sell clothes. But the next phase of that will include artificial intelligence. It will include automation in some of the main processes that are currently undertaken by hand. Now we've got to really consider the intention of this change. What will it mean to livelihoods? What will it mean to our ways of thinking about how we value fashion. SO the technology that is involved in thinking about fashion needs a really deep consideration too.

Something else to consider is the amount of fashion that us being produced, and the amount that we're buying and selling. We're buying more right now than ever before. Still one body, still the same number of days in the week, and yet we are creating this habit of using up more stuff. Buying it, wearing it for a short time, and then discarding it. What does this say about the value of fashion? What does this say as a designer about what we're doing? So while we're making more and more fashion, there's a fundamental flaw in the accounting system.

We're not actually accounting for nature. We're not accounting for the cost to society in these garments that we're all wearing. We need to reconsider this notion of the accountability in financial terms. We're already finding in luxury fashion that some of the most precious resources that we draw on for making beautiful clothes are no longer available, or the quality isn't as high. Some of the skills, some of the precious animal products are no longer going to be available to us. What's going to happen in the future?

If we want to maintain fashion s a beautiful artefact, we need to really consider how our resources are deployed. Alongside that, the acceleration in climate change is really something that none of us can absolutely predict. We know that it is rising exponentially, and we know that all of the implications of this wound up with all these other elements of the numbers of people and the ways in which we are living, are all creating potentially a perfect storm. Fashion's practices are a part of that. And yet, if we think differently, we could potentially be a part of a solution that could rebalance the ways we are living. It's incredibly important for us to be able to consider this both in our practices as designers, and also when we're thinking about how people are wearing and looking after their clothes.

So alongside all of these things taking place, we're also seeing a huge awakening. There's a big shift just kind of brewing up. The young population overall are starting to say that they need to see the evidence of the integrity in what they are buying and wearing. We see it amongst the student population, there's a huge uprising in thinking about environmental and social justice. We're also seeing a transformation in education. Fashion design for sustainability is becoming a discipline in it's own right.

We are seeing that there's research really taking place that shows us that not only from a perspective of looking at the processes of making our own clothes, but looking at that whole societal infrastructure around fashion. It's creating a new kind of knowledge and understanding. Industry is expecting graduates to really have an understanding of sustainability. Education is starting to explore and offer sustainability. And we're finding from these new students, that there is a new kind of energy around thinking differently about design.

We're in a really important position. In the words of Barack Obama, ''We are actually the first generation to understand climate change, and the last generation to do something about it.''

FINAL NOTE: My own sustainable designs are included, these are not my words, but its a very interesting read and covers topics KODA in Crimson stands by completely.








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