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F a s h i o n

&

s u s t a i n a b i l i t y

Published in 2012 by Laurence King Publishing Ltd 361–373 City Road London EC1V 1LR e-mail: enquiries@laurenceking.com

Published in 2012 by Laurence King Publishing Ltd 361–373 City Road London EC1V 1LR e-mail: enquiries@laurenceking.com www.laurenceking.com

Copyright © Text 2011 Kate Fletcher & Lynda Grose

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978 1 85669 754 5

Project Editor: Gaynor Sermon Copy Editor: Kirsty Seymour-Ure

Designed by Jon Allan Picture research by Katelyn Toth-Fejel

Cover photograph by Sean Michael; courtesy of London College of Fashion

Printed in China

Authors’ dedications:

For Daniella, Matt and Betty (LG) For Jude and Cole (KF)

Published in 2012 by Laurence King Publishing Ltd 361–373 City Road London EC1V 1LR e-mail: enquiries@laurenceking.com

K at e

F l e t c h e r

&

l y n d a

G r o s e

F a s h i o n

&

s u s t a i n a b i l i t y

d e s i G n

F o r

c h a n G e

Laurence King Publishing

4

Foreword: To be Clad

Although few doubt that the fate of the environment has become a major issue, there is no consensus on the nature, seriousness, or timing of the risks involved. Most of us believe that other people, experts hopefully, will solve the problems and we can go on living our lives. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of scientists and researchers are studying the earth and its systems to determine what effects industrial civilization is having and what the limits of human activity are with respect to the capacity of the environment. These studies include the effect of acid rain on forests, lakes and crops, the build-up of heavy metals in soils and animals, the increase of greenhouse gases and their effect on climate and incoming radiation, the loss of biodiversity including the world’s fisheries, and human and animal tolerance to the thousands of synthetic chemical compounds that are used every day in manufacturing, products and food. As critically important as these studies are, the work of transformation will need to commence everywhere by people engaged in what they do and know best. It will depend on shared knowledge, networks, and guidebooks that call upon the innate instinct of human beings to protect and nurture life. This is the book you hold. Lynda Grose and Kate Fletcher pose a critical question: Are there principles and metrics we can agree upon that are key to a world that is not only sustained, but also actually restored? Second, with these shared principles, can we create a framework for change that guides business activities in the fashion industry, a framework that is practical, scientific, and economic? There is no product category that elicits more press and scrutiny, or has more magazines devoted to it than fashion. Our voluntary attire has intrigued us since the day we became bipeds, as we are the only animal that changes its skin every day. We clad ourselves to be warm, cool, beautiful, functional, professional, or alluring. Many a woman and no small number of men sweat every day about what they will wear and how they appear, and for good reason. We consciously and unconsciously give great weight to others’ appearance. Clothing, shoes, handbags and hats are telltale as to taste, income, class, upbringing, and attitude. Three-sizes-too-big ‘gangsta’ shorts and opening night designer gowns are both chosen carefully to signal one’s tribe. Hyperawareness of style, cut, fabric, color, and design is intense and universal, but it has not included the world behind the rack, the technology behind the cut, the fiber behind the fabric, the land behind the fiber, or the person on the land. In short, the true impact of our clothing choices is barely examined or noticed. In their book, Lynda and Kate have taken a complex industrial sector and reimagined it as an ecological system, and have done so employing two lifetimes of applied knowledge and experience. To do so, they have stepped back from the exigencies of delivering the fall line and

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have delivered a masterpiece of systems redesign. In all economic sectors, the initial conversations around sustainability brought forth a sense of constraint, a foreclosure of material freedom that was to be replaced by adherence to rigid standards. The idea that sustainability augurs a lesser world is true in the sense that it calls for less waste, pollution, harm, devastation, depleted soils, poisoned workers, dying bodies of water, etc. But it does not portend a monochromatic world of brown smocks and rice. Sustainability is the forerunner of greater diversity and choice, not less. It offers meaningful work, greater multiplicity of livelihoods, the reinstitution of local production, a safer world, and lives worth living. Truly, the worlds of biomimicry and ecological design presage transformation and innovation on an order we have not seen since the Industrial Revolution, and it is the responsibility of those who understand the metes and bounds of natural systems, both scientifically and economically, to lead the way and elucidate these possibilities. This is what Lynda and Kate have done so elegantly. This is not a tome or diktat. It is a carefully researched description of a system of production being created by designers, textile companies, manufacturers, and farmers. Call it ethical, sustainable, green, or whatever- you-wish fashion, it is in the end a call to come home, a description of how we can come together in a movement to consecrate the habitats and resources we share and depend on. There are three things we touch upon every day that greatly impact the world around us: fuel (energy), food, and fashion. The first two are now wholeheartedly studied and worked upon. It is now fashion’s turn to inform and dazzle us with what is possible, to provide the moral imperative to change every aspect of producing and purchasing our second skin. I ardently believe that humanity knows what to do once it knows the task at hand. One couldn’t ask for a better description of what is happening and what needs to be done in order for fashion to support life on earth.

Paul Hawken

Contents

Foreword by Paul Hawken

 

4

Pref ace

8

Part 1: TRANSFORMING FASHION PRODUCTS

Chapter

1:

Mater ials

12

Chapter 2:

Processes

33

Chapter 3:

Distribution

54

Chapter 4:

Consumer care

60

Chapter 5:

Disposal

63

Part 2: TRANSFORMING FASHION SYSTEMS

Chapter 6:

Adaptability

76

Chapter 7:

Optimized lifetimes

85

Chapter 8:

Low-impact use

92

Chapter

9:

Services and

shar ing

100

Chapter 10:

Local

106

Chapter

11:

Biomimicr y

114

Chapter 12:

Speed

124

Chapter 13:

Needs

132

Chapter 14:

Engaged

143

Part 3: TRANSFORMING FASHION DESIGN PRACTICE

Chapter 15:

Designer as communicator-educator

157

Chapter 16:

Designer

as f acilitator

162

Chapter 17:

Designer as activist

168

Chapter 18:

Designer as entrepreneur

174

Glossary

183

Endnotes

184

Index

188

Picture credits

 

191

8

Preface

This book embodies around 40 years of our combined experience working with sustainability issues in the fashion sector. In that time we have worked in the fashion industry, as consultants, in design research, in various teaching posts at universities and with non-profit organizations. We have interacted with many groups, from farmers to politicians, artisans to academics, chemists to fashion business people. Working across these groups has exposed us to many perspectives on sustainability, fashion and commerce, all of which have helped form our own philosophies. Fashion and Sustainability attempts to bring together some of these perspectives and learning with the aim of igniting action and change. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one definition of fashion is that activity that forms, moulds or shapes either material or immaterial objects. Yet this doesn’t explain all that fashion is. Fashion brings together creative authorship, technological production and cultural dissemination associated with dress, 1 drawing together designers, producers, retailers and all of us who wear garments. At its creative best, fashion helps us to reflect who we are as individuals, while connecting us to wider social groups, providing a sense both of individuality and of belonging. Fashion is a connector, linking people across demographics, socio-economic groups and nationalities; and an attractor, drawing people into a movement for change. Yet fashion also has a complex relationship with larger systems; with economics, ecology and society. The repercussions of the sector’s activities are becoming better understood; and in this book we explore the potential of leveraging the fashion sector’s relationship with these larger systems for sustainability advantage. Our approach to fashion and sustainability throughout this book is opportunistic. We started writing with David Orr’s question at the forefront of our minds: ‘What would sustainability have us do?’ 2 and set out to explore how fashion might be practised in a world of natural integrity and human flourishing; and what roles for designers might emerge to help the sector make that shift. Arguably, sustainability offers the biggest critique the fashion sector has ever had. It challenges fashion at the level of detail (fibre and process) and also at the level of the whole (economic models, goals, rules, values and belief systems). As such, it has the potential to transform the fashion sector at root, influencing everyone working within it and everyone who touches fashion and textiles on a daily basis, though too often the system-transforming nature of sustainability for fashion is ignored in favour of making more straightforward adjustments to operational details. This book aims to offer a coherent view of fashion and sustainability thinking, and as such references some ideas and working examples that have been presented before. This is deliberate, for it helps show the trajectory of development in this nascent field, or in some cases the lack of development or change. The book is divided into three parts, each of

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which focuses on modifying and renewing the ‘fashion industry system’ sector at different points or places. Each progressively explores and expands the ideas and innovation opportunities more deeply and broadly than those that are seen in the industry today. We see each section as part of a continuum of change offering many opportunities for designer-led intervention. We favour a multifarious approach to sustainability in fashion, working both inside and outside the sector and across all parts of the economy, for there are many points where change can be fostered, and through collective effort, each change will affect the whole. Part One begins in a familiar place, exploring the favourable conditions for transforming fashion products via fibre selection, processing routes, use behaviours and reuse strategies; and setting out ways in which the impact of garments can be reduced and their resourcefulness increased. It often places these actions in context with natural systems, to give a sense of the complexities at play even as designers make seemingly simple decisions. Part Two widens this focus further to take in the design of the structures and the economic and business models that shape the fashion industry as a whole and starts to define broader opportunities to transform fashion systems through, for example, adaptability, localism, speed, biomimicry and co-design. Here the ideas are less familiar, more challenging and daring, for they often fall outside the current commercial fashion perspective. Part Three shifts the focus again, to transforming fashion design practice, this time exploring a new set of roles in which designers can be cast in a fashion sector allied with sustainability ideas. Understanding the different skills necessary for designers to contribute actively to ‘The Great Transition’ 3 makes the process of improving the whole an outcome of individual practice. This part is shorter than the first two, and deliberately so, for new roles for designers are emerging all the time and we wanted to hint at their beginnings while allowing space for additional roles to surface. In the coming years, we imagine all sectors of the economy becoming rapidly populated by informed and empowered designers, bringing forth innovations not yet possible even to conceive.

Lynda Grose and Kate Fletcher

San Francisco and London

TRANSFORMING

FASHION

PRODUCTS

The process of sustainability impels the fashion sector to change. To change towards something less polluting, more effi cient and more respectful than exists today; to change the scale and speed of underpinning structures and to infuse them with a sense of interconnectedness. Such change can happen in lots of situations and in surprising and even confounding ways. Sometimes, for example, the biggest change comes from a series of small, individual actions rather than from big international declarations – a realization that brings change within the reach of us all.

1

11

Experience teaches us that most people start to change their practice by altering those things that they have most control over. For fashion designers and clothing brands this tends to be their product and supply chain and very often their choice of materials. To that end, the fi rst part of this book is dedicated to sustainability-focused innovation in fashion products. It focuses on opportunities to infl uence the environmental and social impact of garments in their design and development across the entire product life cycle – that is, from fi bre to factory and onwards to consumer, point of disposal and potential reuse. The importance of taking this complete view of all aspects of the cycle of production and consumption cannot be overstated. It refl ects a way of thinking that sees each part of a system – in our case the fashion industry system – as linked to every other; and one that recognizes that in order to move towards sustainability long-term, it is the whole fashion cycle that has to undergo improvement and not just a few isolated parts. Much of the terminology we use to describe the complete or life-cycle view of resource fl ows associated with creating, using, discarding and reusing fashion products is borrowed directly from ecology. The language of natural systems, of cycles, fl ows, webs and interconnectedness, is a marked contrast to the language of industrial production normally reserved for manufacturing and retail sectors such as fashion. Yet it is not only a different vocabulary that sustainability ideas bring to bear on fashion, but a different way of thinking about the world in which our businesses operate and in which we practise design. This way of thinking transcends the binary (i.e. either/or) perspective that frames production and consumption activities as separate and consecutive and the linear view of how resources fl ow through the supply chain, sometimes described as ‘take, make, waste’. In stark contrast, sustainability thinking is based on reciprocity and complexity and a deep understanding of the patterns, networks, balances and cycles at play in the fashion system. So as we look to make improvements to fashion products to enhance their sustainability characteristics, it is vital that we employ both broad and deep thinking when making decisions. Yet – and this is equally vital – we also need to focus on the here and now and take pragmatic, practical decisions about, say, fi bre choices, supplier factories and fabric fi nishes. Arriving at a point where these two things happen simultaneously requires that we develop applied knowledge, or practical wisdom. Aristotle described this as a ‘combination of moral will and moral skill’ 1 ; that is, a fusion of experience built up over time, knowledge of the systems in place and a fi nely tuned ability to improvise. It requires us to learn when to make the exception to the rule and how to reinvent a solution to be appropriate to a given situation and the people at hand. Yet before we work to reshape or revolutionize solutions, we have to get to grips with what they are already and, indeed, what they could be. With that aim in mind, Part One of this book is dedicated to exploring opportunities for improving fashion products largely in terms of resource effi ciency, improved workers’ rights, reduced chemicals use and reduced pollution. Part One builds a base of knowledge from which change at other scales and in other places is possible.

12

Part 1: transforming fashion P ro ducts

Chapter 1: Materials

Ours is a material world, and materials are essential to sustainability ideas; materials are the tangible synthesis of resource flows, energy use and labour. They visibly connect us to many of the big issues of our times: climate change, waste creation and water poverty can all be traced back somehow to the use and processing of and demand for materials. Besides being essential to sustainability, materials are critical to fashion: they make fashion’s symbolic production real and provide us with the physical means with which to form identity and to act as social beings and as individuals. Not all fashion expression takes fibre form, but when it does, it is subject to the same laws of physics and finite natural limits as everything else. Diminishing oil reserves influence price and availability of petrochemical fibres. Insufficient supplies of fresh water change agricultural practices. Rising world temperatures redraw the map of global fibre production (see fig. 1). To date, exploration of materials has been the starting point for the lion’s share of sustainability innovation in fashion. There are many reasons for this, including the obvious – almost iconic – role played by choice of materials in commonly held views about what makes fashion ‘eco’, ‘green’, or ‘ethical’. Received wisdom suggests that if we substitute materials we alleviate impacts: job done. In reality, however, the issues are far more complex than this suggests. One reason for the dominance of material-led innovation is its status as a quick fix. Substituting materials leads to benefits that are felt fairly rapidly, introduced into products in months and showing up in sales figures soon after. Further, material-led sustainability innovation

fig. 1 sustainabilica:

a new continent of fibres.

n L o W - c h E m i c a L W E P
n
L o W - c h E m i c a L
W
E
P
T
T
c o t t o n
s
o r g a n i c
c o t t o n
W
O
O
L
r E c Y c L E d
a n d
r E c Y c L a B L E
L o W - W at E r
c o t t o n
N
Y
L
O
N
S
I
L
K
L
Y
O
C
E
L
L
S O Y A
B E A N
H
E
M
P
SUSTAINABILICA
A
N E W
C O N T I N E N T
O F
F I B R E S
P
L
A
F L A X
r E c Y c L E d a n d r E c Y c L a B L E
P
O
L
Y
E
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r c a o i n t t - f o E n d
C
O
T
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N

cha P t E r

1:

m at E ri a L s

13

tends to fall within the control of most designers and buyers, slotting effortlessly into established working practices and the industry status quo (more of the same, but ‘greener’) without demanding ground-shaking business reform. Although the benefits of choosing ‘more advanced’ materials are always going to be limited by the businesses and supply chain of which they are part, they are of consequence nonetheless, and not just for the agricultural workers or resource levels that different material choices directly affect, but because they demonstrate to us that change is possible.

The sustainability impacts of fibres

The sustainability issues influenced by a garment’s material include the full gamut of impacts: climate change; adverse effects on water and its cycles; chemical pollution; loss of biodiversity; overuse and misuse of non- renewable resources; waste production; negative impacts on human health; and damaging social effects on producer communities. All materials impact ecological and social systems in some way, but these impacts differ in scale and type between fibres. The result is a complex set of trade-offs between particular material characteristics and specific sustainability issues that have

to be negotiated for each fibre type. In the case of textile materials, most areas of sustainability-led innovation can be roughly divided into four interconnected areas:

• increased interest in renewable source mater ials leading, for example,

to developments in rapidly renewable fibres;

• materials with reduced levels of processing ‘inputs’ such as water,

energy and chemicals, resulting in low-energy (sometimes described as low-carbon) processing techniques for synthetic fibres; and organic natural fibre cultivation, for example;

• fibres produced under improved working conditions for g rowers and

processor s as exemplified by producer codes of conduct and fully certified Fairtrade fibres;

• materials produced with reduced waste, spawning interest in, among

others, biodegradable and recyclable fibres from both consumer and industry waste streams.

The relevance of these areas of innovation is in constant flux, for they are subject to a continually evolving base of scientific research, which in turn influences social and ethical concerns. Carbon emissions, for example, have become a prominent issue over the past decade, linked to recent scientific revelations on climate change; this has led all industries, including fashion, to search for ways to respond. Other concerns, such as high levels of pesticide use, particularly in cotton cultivation, have precipitated expansion of the market for organically grown fibre (grown without restricted synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, growth regulators or defoliants). This market has also benefited from the widespread public mistrust, especially in Europe, of genetic modification (GM) technology, which can

14

Part 1: transforming fashion P ro ducts

now be found in almost 50 per cent of global conventional cotton production but is prohibited in organic agriculture. 2 At the same time, ethical scrutiny of fibre-production processes has led to the development of a Fairtrade mark for seed cotton (the raw cotton, before ginning) that guarantees a minimum fibre price to cotton growers and a further premium to be used for community development projects. The key to innovating with materials is to ask questions – of suppliers, of clients, of buyers – about the appropriateness of a particular fibre for a specific end use and about whether alternatives exist. This detailed research is made more powerful if it is accompanied by a willingness to look at and engage with the big picture – the overall garment life cycle and the fashion system of which the garment is a part. Connecting a fibre with a garment and its user is a springboard from which small changes made at the level of materials can translate into big effects in products and user behaviour.

Renewable fibres

The Earth’s natural resources are limited by the planet’s capability to renew them. Forests and harvested products are renewable over a number of years or months, provided that exploitation does not exceed regeneration. Fibre crops such as cotton and hemp and those based on cellulose from trees, such as lyocell, have the potential to strike the critical balance between speed of harvesting and speed of replenishment and to be renewable. In contrast, for fibres based on minerals and oil, there is a gross imbalance between rate of extraction and speed of regeneration (which for oil is around a million years); hence they are described as non-renewable. Classifying fibres by the renewability of their source material is quick and easy, and divides those based on plant or animal polymers (cotton, wool, silk, viscose and PLA, a biodegradable polymer derived from corn starch) and those based on non-renewable fibres (polyester, nylon and acrylic) – see fig. 2. Such simple categorizations often reaffirm preconceived notions of which fibres are ‘good’ in sustainability terms (assumed to be natural and renewable) and those that are ‘bad’ (manufactured and non-renewable). However, raw-material renewability alone does not guarantee sustainability, for a material’s ability to regenerate quickly tells us very little about the sorts of conditions in which it is created – the energy, water and chemical inputs it requires in the field or factory; the impact it has on ecosystems and workers; or its potential for a long, useful life. Bamboo is a case in point. Recent claims about the sustainability of bamboo fabrics have been based entirely on the vigorous growth of bamboo grass and its rapid and constant renewability. But the subsequent processing into viscose of cellulose sourced from bamboo has high-impact waste emissions to both air and water. 3 Truly enhancing environmental and social quality involves a more complex, extended view of responsibility, one where rapid regeneration of a fibre’s source material is pursued not in isolation, but as part of a bigger strategy of safe and resourceful production in appropriate garments with coherent plans for eventual reuse.

chaPtEr 1: matEriaLs

15

FIG. 2 TEXTILE FIBRE TYPES

T E X T I L E F I B R E S
T E X T I L E
F I B R E S
chaPtEr 1: matEriaLs 15 FIG. 2 TEXTILE FIBRE TYPES T E X T I L E
NATURAL FIBRES
NATURAL FIBRES
chaPtEr 1: matEriaLs 15 FIG. 2 TEXTILE FIBRE TYPES T E X T I L E

animaL fiBrEs

MANUFACTURED FIBRES
MANUFACTURED FIBRES
chaPtEr 1: matEriaLs 15 FIG. 2 TEXTILE FIBRE TYPES T E X T I L E
VEgEtaBLE fiBrEs
VEgEtaBLE fiBrEs
Vegetable hair cotton Bast Fibres fl ax, hemp, jute, ramie, ‘natural’ bamboo
Vegetable
hair
cotton
Bast Fibres
fl ax, hemp,
jute, ramie,
‘natural’
bamboo

minEraL fiBrEs

Asbestos
Asbestos
(including bamboo Fibres viscose lyocell Cellulosic viscose),
(including
bamboo
Fibres
viscose
lyocell
Cellulosic
viscose),
sYnthEtic PoLYmErs
sYnthEtic PoLYmErs
chaPtEr 1: matEriaLs 15 FIG. 2 TEXTILE FIBRE TYPES T E X T I L E
chaPtEr 1: matEriaLs 15 FIG. 2 TEXTILE FIBRE TYPES T E X T I L E
Wool & Hair wool, mohair, alpaca, cashmere Silks
Wool & Hair
wool, mohair,
alpaca,
cashmere
Silks
Hard Fibres e.g. coconut
Hard Fibres
e.g. coconut
chaPtEr 1: matEriaLs 15 FIG. 2 TEXTILE FIBRE TYPES T E X T I L E
Elastodiene (rubber)
Elastodiene
(rubber)
VEGETABLE ANIMAL ORIGIN ORIGIN
VEGETABLE
ANIMAL ORIGIN
ORIGIN
Triexta Fibre polytrimethylene teraphthalate (Ptt)
Triexta Fibre
polytrimethylene
teraphthalate
(Ptt)
  • tussah silk

natural silk,

Polycondensate Fibre polyamide, polyester
Polycondensate
Fibre
polyamide,
polyester
chaPtEr 1: matEriaLs 15 FIG. 2 TEXTILE FIBRE TYPES T E X T I L E
  • Sucrose-based

Polyesters

polylactic acid

Alginate Fibres acetate
Alginate
Fibres
acetate

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Part 1: transforming fashion P ro ducts

Renewability: a route to extended responsibility Within this bigger picture of extended responsibility, there are two key priorities. First, to develop strategies to use and reuse those fibres that are already in our wardrobes. That is, to find ways to recycle in perpetuity existing fibres, whether renewable or non-renewable, in order to extend a fibre’s use for as close to its regeneration time as possible. Second, to pursue low-impact renewable fibres as a preference to virgin non-renewable ones. This could, for example, involve specifying fibres that are rapidly renewable (regenerating within three years) and annually renewable (grown in a single year). Indeed, a substantial amount of research and development has been done to bring to market new classes of synthetic fibres that are based at least partly on renewable polymers. DuPont’s Sorona® (polytrimethylene teraphthalate, or PTT), for example, was recently designated as a new category of polyester fibre (and given a new generic name – triexta) by the US Federal Trade Commission. It combines source material produced by fermentation of dextrose – up to around 37 per cent by weight – with traditional petroleum-based feedstock. 4 And a biomass alternative to nylon 6 produced by Japanese manufacturer Kuraray is based on castor oil. 5 A now well-established low-impact renewable fibre is lyocell – a regenerated cellulose fibre made from wood pulp. Lyocell differs from viscose (also a regenerated cellulose fibre made from wood pulp) in that the raw cellulose is dissolved directly in an amine oxide solvent without needing to be first converted into an intermediate compound – a development that substantially reduces pollution levels to water and air. The cellulose/solvent solution is then extruded to form fibres and the solvent extracted when the fibres are washed. In this process, more than 99.5 per cent of the solvent is recovered, purified and reused 6 , and since amine oxide is non-toxic, what little effluent remains is considered to be non-hazardous. Since lyocell fibres are pure and bright in their raw state, they require no bleaching prior to dyeing and can be successfully coloured with low-chemical, -water and -energy techniques. Some branded forms of lyocell, such as Tencel®, source wood pulp from trees (normally eucalyptus, which reach full maturity in approximately seven years) that are grown in fully accredited sustainably managed forests and some producers are even exploring options to become organically certified. This would guarantee that cellulose was not sourced from GM eucalyptus trees, which are currently being trialled in the US, modified to withstand frost. 7 Research and development work is on-going to explore non-tree-based sources of cellulose, though at present such options as bamboo cannot be processed in the lyocell manufacturing chain owing to their subtly different chemistry. In its low-impact-focused 2010 Garden Collection, Swedish brand H&M featured pieces in Tencel alongside other materials including recycled polyester, organic cotton and organic linen.

Jacket in lyocell from h&m’s garden collection, 2010.

Biodegradable fibres

cha P t E r

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17

Designing garments with the potential to biodegrade harmlessly at the end of their lives is a proactive and ecosystem-inspired response to the rising levels of textile and garment waste, overflowing landfill sites and increasingly proscriptive legislation controlling the ways in which clothes can be discarded.

Biodegradation processes

The process of biodegradation involves a fibre (or garment) being broken down into simpler substances by micro-organisms, light, air or water in a process that must be non-toxic and that occurs over a relatively short period of time. 8 Not all fibres biodegrade. Synthetic fibres, for example, are from a carbon-based chemical feedstock and are considered non- biodegradable. They persist and accumulate in the environment because micro-organisms lack the enzymes necessary to break the fibre down. In contrast, plant- and animal-based fibres degrade into simpler particles fairly readily. 9 Yet garments are often made from fibre blends, and if synthetic and natural fibres are combined together (as in a wool–acrylic blend), decomposition is inhibited. Further, garments comprise more than fibre. Facings (including fusing adhesive), thread, buttons and zips all break down at varying speeds, in particular conditions and with different effects. Using polyester thread and labels or facing with synthetic fusing in a cotton shirt inevitably slows complete decomposition. Biodegradation is therefore possible only when it is designed and planned for in advance, so that fibre blends, non-biodegradable thread and garment trims are avoided at the outset. This being said, from an energy perspective, electing to compost a garment rather than to recycle it or, say, incinerate it with energy recovery, actually wastes the majority of energy embodied in the garment (i.e. the energy needed to grow and process fibre, manufacture a product, distribute it, and so on), for it converts a complex, high-energy product (a garment)

directly into a low-energy product (compost) without attempting to extract higher value first. 10 In their book Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough and Michael Braungart see composting as one of two cycles acceptable in a sustainable industrial economy. 11 They argue that through composting, waste (such as clothing) from one part of the economy becomes the raw material for another (production of organic matter for agriculture, for example), effectively following a natural cycle of growth and decay. The other cycle described by the authors is an industrial recycling loop, where materials (termed ‘industrial nutrients’) are perpetually reused. In McDonough and Braungart’s vision of a sustainable economy, there is no place for products that fail to fit into either of these categories.

New-generation biodegradable fibres

Increasing interest in waste issues and opportunities for closing natural and industrial loops has catalysed the development of a new class of polyester

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Part 1: transforming fashion P ro ducts

fibres that biodegrade (sometimes called biopolymers), which include fibres made from polylactic acid (PLA). PLA fibres (such as Ingeo™ from NatureWorks) are made from sugars derived from agricultural crops, normally corn, and are melt-spun in a similar process to that of conventional oil-based polyester. These fibres hold promise, but are also associated with a number of concerns. Corn-based polyesters have restricted processing temperatures on account of the low melting point of the fibre (170°C/ 338°F), which can cause problems in dyeing and pressing, although recent developments have seen this increase to 210°C (410°F). 12 PLA fibres are renewable and biodegradable, but decompose only in the optimum conditions provided by an industrial composting facility. This is a rarely acknowledged critical factor limiting the success of biodegradable synthetic fibres, for the near-ambient conditions found in home compost heaps do not provide the required combination of temperature and humidity to trigger fibre decomposition, and when the right infrastructure of industrial compost schemes and a collection system to control and channel waste materials to them is lacking, these fibres can never return to the soil and close a loop. In fact, evidence suggests that in landfill conditions biodegradable synthetics produce very high levels of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. 13 Clearly, the issues associated with fibre biodegradability are far from straightforward. Indeed, an extra layer of complexity has recently been added by the marketing of some polyester fibres as ‘degradable’ (as distinct to non- or bio-degradable). For example, DuPont’s degradable polymer Apexa ® (made from polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, resin – like conventional polyester), apparently decomposes in as little as 45 days, albeit in rigidly controlled conditions (high temperature, humidity and pH). 14 This now makes for three classes of fibre degradability for synthetics:

biodegradable, degradable and non-degradable.

Biodegradable t-shirt from trigema, cradle to cradle ® certified.

  • 1. Biodegradable synthetic fibres (such as the biopolymers described above) replace fossil-fuel ingredients with plant-based materials and meet minimum standards for decomposition.

  • 2. Non-degradable fibres are based on synthetic polymers from oil and do not break down.

  • 3. Degradable fibres are based on synthetic polymers from oil but do decompose, though this process typically take several years.

It should be noted that within each class there is variability of speed of decomposition and composting conditions.

Barriers to the introduction of biodegradable polymers

In addition to the scope for confusion around terminology associated with synthetic fibre degradability, there are further hurdles to these fibres successfully delivering on their sustainability promise, in that they increase the potential for cross-contamination of different waste streams with fibre of different

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classes of degradability and can compromise the quality of the final product. Innovating around a fibre’s biodegradability, therefore, has a number of significant challenges, including:

  • 1. Design of completely biodegradable garments where all fibres and component parts compost fully and safely.

  • 2. Development of suitable infrastructure to collect and process compostable fibres.

  • 3. Better information and labelling for biodeg radable fibres, specifying composting routes and differences from oil-based degradable or non-degradable synthetics.

Working in the first area of challenge highlighted above, a collaboration between Cradle to Cradle authors’ consultancy MBDC and German casual-wear brand Trigema has produced a cotton T-shirt designed to be fully biodegradable. 15 Aiming for rapid and non-toxic biodegradability impacts through choice of fibre and processing chemicals, the concept also places restrictions on sewing thread, labels, zips, fastenings and elastomeric yarn. The piece is created from 100 per cent cotton, chosen specifically to be free of pesticide and fertilizer residues, is dyed with chemicals that have passed the Cradle to Cradle ® (proprietary) screening and is constructed with 100 per cent cotton sewing thread. It should be recognized, however, that while the Trigema T-shirt answers certain questions about fibre reuse, it leaves many others unanswered, such as: does conventional cotton fibre already biodegrade safely? Are Cradle to Cradle ® recommended processes reflective of best practice (water and energy use in dyeing, for example)? And what is the optimum amount of wear before composting? For all this, it seems that its main contribution is less in the irreproachable application of Cradle to Cradle ® philosophy in practice, and more in the realization that entirely new types of thinking need to be developed if we are to bring change on a scale necessitated by sustainability.

People-friendly fibres

Innovating around human health and workers’ issues in order to improve the sustainability of fibres used in fashion comprises changes, on the one hand, to specific issues such as health and safety practices, better working conditions, access to unions and living wages; and, on the other, to larger questions about business models and domestic and global trading practices that respect workers and give back to producer communities. The many issues that influence workers’ lives are brought to light most frequently in cut-and-sew factories, where garments are assembled. Attention tends to be focused here because cut and sew is an extremely labour-intensive part of the supply chain, and the concentration of workers in one place acts as a flashpoint for labour abuses such as low pay, lack of contracts, no access to collective bargaining, occurrences of physical or sexual abuse, and so on. Yet labour issues are also prevalent in other parts of

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the fashion supply chain. Farm workers in cotton fields, for example, report widespread health problems following exposure to acutely toxic pesticides. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that there are approximately three million pesticide poisonings a year, resulting in 20,000 deaths, largely among the rural poor in developing countries. 16 In addition, the use of child labour in cotton picking is commonplace in countries such as Uzbekistan, where the government routinely mobilizes children to ensure that state cotton quotas are met. 17 Other pervasive issues for farm workers include low pay and itinerant work; and for small farm owners, fluctuating commodity prices, which result in squeezed profits and a struggle to stay on the land.

The influence of trading and business systems

Other issues that influence labour communities are linked to overarching rules and values of the system of trade and business. Textile fibres such as cotton are cash crops and, when sold in the global market, are an important source of foreign currency for a producer country. In some places, the political pressure to turn productive land over to cash crops has led to countries that were once self-sufficient in food terms now having to import produce, making their population vulnerable to rising global food prices. One well-known response to these vulnerabilities is Fairtrade, the

purpose of which is ‘to create opportunities for producers and workers who have been economically disadvantaged or marginalized by the conventional trading system’. 18 Fairtrade farmers receive a minimum price for their product, covering the cost of production, with a Fairtrade premium paid in addition for investment in social, environmental or economic development projects. Yet the fact that Fairtrade certification exists at all is an indicator of an economic and trade system that is essentially off-track: a system that is so large that connections within supply chains have been lost; where a designer or company no longer knows the maker. In effect, Fairtrade is a market-based response that has emerged from the need to maintain industrial production (including fashion production) within safe (people- friendly) limits; an organizational fix for the deeper problem of eroded trust in the system. The real challenge for designers is to develop these relationships ourselves; to know our makers and to understand the scale at which personal connections work and the point at which they break down. For when we build an industry around different scales, relationships and values, then certification may no longer need to be the main focus. The Fairtrade mark was introduced in 2005 to ensure that farmers receive a minimum price for seed cotton along with a premium for community investment. In order to meet certification standards, Fairtrade- mark cotton farmers are also required to wear protective clothing when spraying pesticides, to reduce the risk of poisoning. 19 Yet the speed at which Fairtrade has been accepted by the market has in some cases outpaced the ability of education programmes to induct all farmers in best

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practices for growing cotton. Furthermore, ensuring a fair price to the farmer does not necessarily guarantee the same to the farm worker. Balancing market demand with the natural time it takes to conduct training around cultivation and understanding the limits of existing market mechanisms to deliver on the broad goals of sustainability in cotton are critical and point to the complexities that designers, companies (and consumers) must consider. The European-based high-street clothing retailer C&A has partnered with the Textile Exchange and the Shell Foundation to establish a new entity named Cotton Connect, whose aim is to transform cotton supply chains by addressing sustainability issues from farm to finished garment. As part of its original organic cotton strategy, C&A joined with selected agricultural enterprises, asking their suppliers of organic cotton fabric and products to purchase yarn from spinning mills that were themselves buying from these selected farm groups. The company communicated information on its expansion plans and expectations through a series of conferences, which brought together suppliers, business partners and farmer partners, working with Textile Exchange to identify key progress indicators, such as critical food situations, shortage of water, and training in farm practices, as well as to build awareness of necessary social practices. Cotton Connect now plans to partner with other brands and retailers in order to enable scalability, building on the learning of the original partnerships. In this way, by engaging partners throughout the whole supply chain, market growth and demand is synchronized with the ability of producers to supply fibre in a manner that is economically, socially and ecologically viable over the long term.

Low-chemical-use fibres For certain fibres – most notably cotton – reducing the amount of chemicals applied to the fields during cultivation would bring substantial positive effects to both the lives of workers and the levels of toxicity in soil and water. Currently, US$2 billion’s worth of chemicals are sprayed on the world’s cotton crop every year, almost half of which is considered toxic enough to be classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization. Cotton is responsible for the use of 16 per cent of global insecticides – more than any other single crop. In total, almost 1 kilogram (2.2lb) of hazardous pesticides is applied for every hectare of global cropland under cotton. 20

Options for reducing chemical use in cotton growing

There are many routes to reducing the chemical load in cotton growing.

Perhaps the best known is organic agriculture, which has been popularized over the last two decades by Katherine Hamnett and scores of others. However, additional routes include biological IPM (integrated pest management) systems, where farmers use biological means to control pests and pathogens; and those including GM (genetically modified) fibres that

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use biotechnology to resist pest infestations and make weed management simpler. The fact that these options exist at all is due to cotton’s commercial value and its status as the most scrutinized fibre in the world. Cotton has become a lens through which to examine all other fibres; and its issues – including high levels of chemicals use – are a microcosm of the debates played out in practices of fashion and sustainability as a whole. Cotton is grown in more than a hundred countries, each with its own unique biological conditions and challenges. Not all of those challenges are linked to use of chemicals. Water resources are of major concern in Central Asia, for example, where the Aral Sea has been depleted to a fraction of its former size because of water from inflowing rivers being diverted to use for the irrigation of nearby cotton crops. However, in West Africa, where rainfall is high, it is the use of chemicals rather than diversion of water that is the sustainability priority (though water contamination from chemical run-off is still an issue). Such differences have led to the development of regional cotton strategies that address the needs of a specific area and acknowledge that very few of the issues we face can be solved by a one-size-fits-all ‘universal’ solution. Yet in spite of this certain knowledge, current economic models favour grand universal solutions over small-scale regional ones because they are easier to roll out. In the case of cotton, this is exemplified in extremis by the rapid growth of GM technology in cotton cultivation. Introduced for the first time in 1996, GM now accounts for almost 50 per cent of all conventional cotton produced in the world 21 and 88 per cent of the US crop. 22

Genetically modified cotton

Peer-reviewed scientific papers suggest that the most successful variety of GM cotton for achieving chemical reduction is Bt. 23 Bt cotton has been engineered so that the genetic code of the plant includes a bacterial toxin (Bacillus thuringiensis, hence Bt) that is poisonous to pests, meaning that the crop comes under attack less often and therefore requires fewer pesticide sprays. Although the biotech industry claims that this saves the farmer money (owing to less outlay on pesticides and on crop management/ labour costs) and maintains fibre yields and quality, 24 there are many questions of GM technology that remain unanswered – not least regarding its safety and its effectiveness to reduce chemical use over the long term, as well as the likelihood of genetic resistance developing in the pests exposed to Bt toxin, which then allows them to thrive and reinfest the GM crop as well as crops on neighbouring farms. 25 Interestingly, however, questions can also be raised about the organic approach, specifically in highly efficient growing regions. Organic yields can be as small as 60 per cent of those of conventionally grown cotton, and (depending on the usual volume of fibre harvested per hectare) such reductions can represent significant financial losses for the farmer, especially if the market does not support the necessary increase in price. This and other challenges have fostered scepticism within the cotton industry about the viability of organic

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methods as the key tool to reduce chemical use in cultivation. Indeed, organic cotton currently represents just 0.24 per cent 26 to 0.74 per cent 27 of global cotton production. Innovating around reduced levels of chemical use in fi bres is almost impossible without being drawn into the many commercial and philosophical points of difference between GM on the one hand and biological IPM and organic methods on the other. Achieving clarity on these issues is complicated by the lack of independent scientifi c research into the effectiveness of the various approaches: currently, most published research in this area is funded by the biotech industry into its own GM products. The sheer volume of papers that exist about GM fi bres tends to give an impression of biotechnology as ‘scientifi c’ and ‘verifi able’; by contrast, the lack of peer-reviewed studies into organic and other similar

FIG. 3 EXPANDED OPTIONS FOR ‘SUSTAINABLE’ COTTON

‘sustainaBLE’ human needs, other species’ needs, maintaining ecosphere
‘sustainaBLE’
human needs, other species’ needs, maintaining ecosphere
6
6
1
1
5
5
24 Part 1: transforming fashion Products methods as the key tool to reduce chemical use in
4
4
24 Part 1: transforming fashion Products methods as the key tool to reduce chemical use in
3
3
24 Part 1: transforming fashion Products methods as the key tool to reduce chemical use in
2
2
24 Part 1: transforming fashion Products methods as the key tool to reduce chemical use in
24 Part 1: transforming fashion Products methods as the key tool to reduce chemical use in
Wat E r + E n E r g Y + L a B o u
Wat E r
+
E n E r g Y
+
L a B o u r
organic
organic
24 Part 1: transforming fashion Products methods as the key tool to reduce chemical use in
transitionaL
transitionaL
24 Part 1: transforming fashion Products methods as the key tool to reduce chemical use in
BioLogicaL iPm (non-gm)
BioLogicaL iPm (non-gm)
24 Part 1: transforming fashion Products methods as the key tool to reduce chemical use in
intEgratEd PEst managEmEnt
intEgratEd PEst managEmEnt
*gEnEticaLLY modifiEd ( GM )
*gEnEticaLLY modifiEd
( GM )
high VoLumE LoW VoLumE ‘conVEntionaL’ + toXicitY + toXicitY
high VoLumE
LoW VoLumE
‘conVEntionaL’
+ toXicitY
+ toXicitY
 

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methods can make them appear ‘ideological’ and ‘unproven’. Yet this is a false deduction; both camps bring with them a set of values through which scientific data is interpreted. For proponents of GM, these values are based on a faith in technology to solve problems. For representatives of the organic movement, faith is instead placed in nature-based, co-operative solutions. The former group tends to work within the status quo, accepting the conditions that created the problem (in the case of cotton, existing agricultural practices) and acting to reduce its adverse effects (by, for example, developing a new, more pest-resistant and herbicide-resistant seed). The latter group, in contrast, attempts to transform the problem system (industrial agricultural practices), so that the problem itself disappears. Thus the seemingly simple act of selecting one fibre over another is in fact intimately connected to global questions and personal values; to whether we prefer deep, slow change over fast-acting process improvements; and to which sorts of interventions and scales we think are necessary in order to make sustainability happen.

Non-genetically modified cotton

The Home Grown T-shirt by Prana was the first item to be made using California-grown Cleaner Cotton™, fibre grown with significantly reduced toxicity. Cleaner Cotton has similar goals and rules to those of organic agriculture (see fig. 3): both approaches aim to reduce chemical use in the field, require seed to be non-GM, and make use of biological farming systems, such as the release of beneficial insects to control pest populations and trap crops to draw pests out of the field. Cleaner Cotton methods disallow the 13 most toxic pesticides used on conventional cotton. If, when faced with an economically damaging pest infestation, farmers use the more toxic materials on the ‘do not use’ list, the fibre is no longer eligible as Cleaner Cotton and goes into the conventional market. This ‘safety net’, combined with the fact that the system maintains fibre yields, makes Cleaner Cotton scalable at the farm level. The programme has reduced chemical use on Californian cotton by several thousand kilograms and provides a viable alternative to GM crops.

home grown t-shirt by Prana (2006), the first gar ment made in cleaner cotton™.

 

Low-energy-use fibres

Energy use is a key issue for fibre choice in fashion. It is, of course, closely

tied in with prominent global issues such as climate change and a host of contributing factors including carbon emissions and the use of petrochemicals. The burning of fossil fuels to generate energy is ‘carbon positive’, in that it moves carbon stored deep in the Earth (in the form of coal, natural gas or oil) and releases it into the air as carbon dioxide, a

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principal greenhouse gas. Using less fossil-fuel energy in fi bre production and so reducing the amount of carbon dioxide produced is both environmentally and economically compelling as we experience such phenomena as peak oil. The term ‘peak oil’ refl ects the fact that any fi nite resource will at some point reach a level of optimum output (the ‘peak’), 31 after which the oil, in this case, becomes more risky, diffi cult and expensive to extract as oil fi elds age and become less productive. The twin challenges of climate change and the rising price of oil, which reached a record high of US $147 a barrel in 2008, have converged to drive energy-saving practices in fi bre production, to increase interest in alternative energy sources such as wind and solar, and also to bring a new focus on low- energy, and in some cases, low-carbon fi bres. A much overlooked though signifi cant low-energy route to fi bre production is recycling. Estimates suggest that even the most energy- intensive forms of synthetic fi bre recycling, where polyester or nylon is taken back to polymer and then re-extruded into a new product, is around 80 per cent less energy-intensive than the manufacturing of virgin fi bre. 32 For those fi bres that are recycled using traditional mechanical methods – shredding fabric and then re-spinning fi bres into a new yarn – the savings are also substantial. If virgin fi bres are selected based on the energy profi le of their production alone, natural fi bres are generally considered lower in energy consumption than regenerated ones such as viscose or lyocell, which in turn are less energy-intensive than synthetics such as polyester and acrylic (see fi g. 4). 33

Opposite: magenta

dress by Bird textiles, australia’s fi rst carbon- neutral business.

Carbon footprinting

Recent popular interest in carbon dioxide as a key indicator of sustainability activity in fashion has been catalysed by the analysis of a standard garment’s carbon footprint. The UK-based organization the Carbon Trust measured the carbon footprint of a large unisex cotton T-shirt as 6.5 kilos. 35 Corporate-wear brand Cotton Roots, working in a pilot project with the Carbon Trust, claims to have reduced this value by

FIG. 4 ENERGY CONSUMPTION OF FIBRES 34

Energy (mJ/kg)

cotton rain-fed cotton irrigated flax hemp Wool Lyocell Viscose acrylic nylon PEt PLa Ptt 0 20
cotton rain-fed
cotton irrigated
flax
hemp
Wool
Lyocell
Viscose
acrylic
nylon
PEt
PLa
Ptt
0
20
40
60
80
100
120
140

160

180

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  • 90 per cent, to approximately 0.7 kilos per T-shirt, by switching to organic

farming methods in developing countries (which make use of hand-picking rather than energy-intensive machine-picking and avoid petroleum-based pesticide sprays), by utilizing wind- and solar-powered manufacturing and by distributing through carbon-neutral warehouses in London. 36 While these savings represent an impressive factor 10 reduction in carbon dioxide, it is vital that we do not confuse measures of low carbon dioxide specifically, or reduced energy use more generally, as proxies for good sustainability practice in fashion, for they reflect impacts as measured along a single scale. The challenge is to use innovation around energy as a gateway to a greater understanding of interconnected sustainability issues and influences. Bird Textiles, Australia’s first carbon-neutral business, started out producing its fashion and homewares lines ‘off the grid’ using renewable sources of energy. 37 This meant hand-printing fabric and having seamstresses work on foot-powered treadle machines or those powered by electricity from photovoltaic cells and wind turbines. With the advent of publicly available ‘green’ electricity through the conventional power grid, Bird Textiles’ network broadened to include suppliers buying green power from utility companies as well as those with autonomous energy supplies. The result is a fusion of low- and high-tech responses to energy use and carbon emissions.

Low-water-use fibres

Water moves in a continuous cycle, above and below ground, but its

volume is fixed. The demand for this finite resource is growing and as industrialization spreads and populations expand, pressure on limited water resources increases. According to figures produced by UNEP, over the next

  • 20 years humans will use 40 per cent more water than they do now, if

current trends continue. 38 And yet even as demand for water is increasing, we face the prospect of reduced supply of clean water, thanks to growing levels of pollution. The result is that water, or lack of it, will soon become the headline geopolitical issue around the world. According to both UNESCO and the World Economic Forum, we are facing ‘water bankruptcy’, which will likely have even greater global effects than the financial meltdown now destabilizing the global economy. 39

Water: a major issue for fashion

Water is a key issue for fibres and therefore for fashion. However, levels of

water use vary widely from fibre to fibre and from one growing region to the next. For example, globally, 50 per cent of the land under cotton cultivation is artificially irrigated, with a wide-ranging set of practices and efficiencies. In Israel, where water is scarce and expensive, highly efficient irrigation equipment is used to deliver water to the plant at specific times and in controlled quantities as needed; whereas in Uzbekistan, where the cost of water is low, over-irrigation is common. 40 The remaining 50 per cent of the global cotton crop is rain-fed, and fluctuating rain cycles result in variable fibre yield and quality. Since the world’s water circulates in a

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FIG. 5 WATER USE IN FIBRES 42 Water (l/kg) cotton rain-fed cotton irrigated flax hemp Wool
FIG. 5 WATER USE IN FIBRES 42
Water (l/kg)
cotton rain-fed
cotton irrigated
flax
hemp
Wool
Lyocell
Viscose
acrylic
nylon
PEt
PLa
Ptt
0
500
1000
1500
2000
2500
3000
3500
4000
4500

closed system (known as the hydrological cycle), its use on cotton affects access to water for other purposes (such as drinking, food-crop irrigation or industry), and contamination of water from fertilizers and pesticides makes it unfi t for other uses. Cotton is not the only thirsty textile fi bre; the production of viscose, for example, draws on approximately 500 litres per kilogram of fi bre produced. 41 In contrast, many synthetic fi bres (most notably polyester) use fairly low levels of water in their production. Likewise, some other natural fi bres grown in areas of high rainfall, such as wool, hemp and linen (fl ax), require no artifi cial irrigation (see fi g. 5). Innovating to reduce water use in fi bres is an inescapable part of fashion’s future. Water scarcity will drive up the cost of water resources, making safeguarding water as much of an economic imperative as a sustainability one. Commentators predict a similar scenario for water as has been described for oil (sometimes dubbed ‘peak water’), namely that from now on water will become increasingly diffi cult and more expensive to access. The implications of peak water for a sector like fashion, whose products rely on a cheap and plentiful supply of water to grow, produce, process and then launder them, cannot be exaggerated. As UNESCO states, ‘confl icts about water can occur at all scales’. For fashion, these scales are both micro and macro and refl ect individual decisions about fi bre cultivation, processing and laundry routes that cumulatively confl ict with the water needs of producer countries and continents. US outdoor sportswear brand and sustainability pioneer Patagonia has acted on the broader business trend towards greater transparency of supply chains by publishing online the ‘footprint’, including the water footprint, of a small

nano Puff Pullover by Patagonia, with a water footprint of 69 litres from raw material to distribution.

chaPtEr 1: matEriaLs 29 FIG. 5 WATER USE IN FIBRES 42 Water (l/kg) cotton rain-fed cotton

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but growing number of its products from design to delivery. 43 This action both exposes the problems that exist in manufacturing chains and gives Patagonia the opportunity to demonstrate its response to them. Measurements of water consumption vary substantially between garments. For example, to get a cotton/Tencel-blend women’s top to the point of purchase takes 379 litres of water, compared to 206 litres for a men’s nylon waterproof jacket and 135 litres for a polyester fleece top. Yet there seems to be a trade-off here, as products that draw upon relatively small amounts of water in production are often energy-intensive, reinforcing the need once more for these issues to be seen in the round. Interestingly, of all the garments that Patagonia has assessed on water use, the ones that we are likely to own the most number of – cotton or cotton-blend T-shirts – are the most water-consumptive. This illuminates both our past attitude when resource intensiveness of a particular fibre or garment was no barrier to its production, and also the scale of the challenges we face as we look to sustainability and the future: that our most ubiquitous garments and widely consumed items are also the most thirsty.

Predator-friendly fibres

‘ In wilderness, ecology in action can be seen in a naked and overwhelming way. Many people have ecstatic experiences in wilderness. They come away changed… Wildness can inspire us to live from nature’s bounty without destroying it.’

Ernest callenbach 44

While such farming practices as organic have been highly successful in helping designers to connect fabric choices and purchases to land cultivation and rural economies, they have done little to explain the relationship of our practice to the larger landscape around the farm – to wild and uncultivated areas. As Fred Kirschenmann notes in the introduction to Dan Imhoff’s book Farming With the Wild, organic farms remain isolated ‘pristine areas of production’. 45 But land-use practices by humans disrupt ecology far beyond the farm gates. Land that is segmented to facilitate ownership by humans for residential, industrial or agricultural use fragments the migration paths and territories of other species. This is especially critical in the case of large carnivores, such as wolves, mountain lions and bears, which need ‘freedom to roam’, to hunt and to breed. 46 Although the link between large predators and our design choices may seem tenuous, predators directly relate to one of our best-known fibres, wool. The US’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reports that up to a quarter of a million lambs and sheep fall victim to predators each year. 47 And just as conventional cotton farmers defend their fibre crop by using chemicals on insect infestations in their fields without considering the wider ecology that causes the imbalance to begin with, so sheep ranchers defend their stock from predator species without necessarily

considering the impact elsewhere. Indeed, with an increasing human population and already declining resources, it is inevitable that competition for land between humans and other species, including large predators, will intensify. Reports already indicate, for example, that 80,000 coyotes are killed by Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services per year, at a cost of US $10 million. 48 In recent years, environmentalists and a federal recovery effort have helped re-establish wolves in such areas as the Northern Rockies. While it is widely recognized that re-establishing predator species in wild areas benefits biodiversity in the regional ecology, including holding prey populations in check, ranchers’ flock losses to predators are reportedly high, and with ranch finances already barely manageable, a contentious battle between wolf advocates and ranchers is inevitable. On the one hand, flock losses to predators clearly reduce income for commercial sheep operations, and it is understandable that ranchers act to protect their already tenuous finances. Yet the circumstances that contribute to the economic pressures on sheep ranchers are complex, and include low commodity prices for fibre, market competition from strong wool-producing nations such as New Zealand and Australia, and competition from synthetic fibres such as polyester as well as other meat industries including pork, beef and poultry.

‘guard llama’ on thirteen mile far m, montana, used to protect sheep from large predators.

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Integrating fibre-growing areas with surrounding ecosystems

Recognizing these and other complexities, a nationwide movement has formed in the US that aims to integrate farming and ranching more thoroughly into surrounding ecosystems. This effort involves co-operative range management, which links cultivated land to national parks and privately held areas to create wildlife corridors, thereby expanding habitats for larger predators and better ensuring their connectivity and genetic diversity. It also involves the planting of habitats to invite wildlife on to the ranch and better integrate cultivated fields with surrounding wild land. Parallel to these efforts, ‘predator-friendly’ ranchers are working to maintain economic viability without killing predators. Instead, ranchers employ deterrents such as electric fences or conventional fencing in good condition, keeping such animals as burros (donkeys) and guard dogs present on the ranch, and even the selection of ‘savvier’ livestock! Complementing these ranch efforts, government incentives to offset financial losses are also being negotiated. And on the marketing side, Predator Friendly® certification is now available to generate a small premium, which offsets the economic risks of farming with sensitivity to the wild. Combined

efforts such as these are helping ranchers and wildlife to co-exist. Thirteen Mile Farm is a 65-hectare piece of land located in Montana that was placed in a permanent conservation easement by owners Becky Weed and Mike Tyler. This arrangement ensures that the land is protected from development in perpetuity. Two adjoining properties are similarly protected; together they form a 160-hectare space that links into and expands a wildlife corridor. 49 Predators around the ranch are controlled with guard dogs, guard llamas and electric fences. Sheep losses are higher than they would be if the predators were killed, but the couple devised some innovative routes to offset this economic challenge. Rather than selling their lambs at auction, they sell organic grass-finished lamb direct to consumers. And rather than selling their wool fibre into the commodity pool, the couple helped establish a niche market for predator-friendly wool fibre. They also invested in a small wool spinnery and identified a network of local women adept on domestic knitting machines, and so are now able to provide predator-friendly yarn and finished sweaters, thereby adding further value to their fibre. These combined efforts enable them to piece together a decent farm income that so far works both for the ranchers and the wildlife alike. Since they first began ranching, Weed and Tyler have expanded from having just 12 ewes to a flock of 250 and have doubled their land area.

Chapter 2: Processes

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‘ The longer the chain of our tec hnologies, the more distant we are from nature and her capacities and our effect on them.’

david Brower

Processing is an essential part of converting raw fibre to fabric to fashion garment, and a key contributor in sustainability impact. Many fashion designers find the technical complexity of textile processing bewildering and struggle to understand what goes into achieving the look or hand of a given fabric. Sustainability issues have added an extra layer of complexity to this situation. As designers, we simply specify the feel we want or respond to the latest developments that a mill offers and leave the technical decisions – and their implications for watercourses, air quality, soil toxicity and human and ecosystem health – in the hands of textile scientists. Perhaps this is because the technical aspects of fibre and fabric processing intimidate designers or because we simply feel less qualified than the ‘experts’. This ‘intellectual timidity’ 50 widens the knowledge gap and hinders our taking responsibility, further marginalizing the role of designers in developing solutions. Here environmental legislation remains someone else’s problem. And government intervention and industry standards – rather than design- led innovation – become the primary tools for taking forward ecological advances. Yet standards and legislation tend to be punitive and create a negative feedback loop to industry, resulting in a restricted and narrow approach to sustainability. Design, by contrast, is an affirmative approach that can create positive feedback loops, and because of its position at the front end of the manufacturing chain can dramatically influence subsequent processing steps and even prevent impact from occurring in the first place.

Working closer to nature

Although a nature-based approach to fashion and sustainability is most commonly expressed through a clichéd ‘natural’ look in unbleached and undyed fabrics made from natural materials, ironically it is precisely by designers becoming more engaged in the industrial and technical processes that we can actually move closer to nature. Direct experience raises our awareness in an immediate and visceral way and starts to build a reference or framework for assessing future decisions. Furthermore, when designers are actively involved in the technical aspects of processing, it prompts further questioning of technicians, leading to wider disclosure of ecological impacts. The more clearly our questions and goals are articulated, the more serious the response and the more quickly they are met; and since designers are the market for the industry, we can be the catalysts for completely new developments. It is this creative and scientific symbiosis

that ignites the capacity to define new landscapes for action in sustainable textile processing. Together the technical and creative functions start to transform the supply chain from one of segmented specialists operating with

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negative feedback loops and restrictive action, to one of collaboration, positive feedback and expansive opportunities. In concert, the technician (or scientist) and designer develop approaches to processes that bring us closer into balance with the natural systems on which our industry depends.

Broad principles to support best practice

The specific sustainability impacts of textile and garment processing vary from one fibre type to the next and depend on fabric specifications and garment design. Yet within the inevitable complexity of processing impacts, there are some broad principles that can be applied to guide design decisions to support best practice. The general intention from an environmental perspective is to specify processing routes that cumulatively use fewest resources and cause least impact. Sometimes this may mean electing not to have a certain finish so as to completely prevent impacts from a particular processing step. However, not all processes or chemical treatments can be avoided; indeed, many are essential to the production of useful and wearable fashion products. The broad principles for best practice are:

 

goaL

action

Make wise use of natural resources.

• Minimize the number of processing steps.

Reduce the risk of pollution.

Minimize the number and the toxicity of chemicals

 

used and eliminate harmful processes.

Minimize energy consumption.

• Combine processes, or use low-temperature processes.

Minimize water consumption.

Eliminate water-intensive processes.

• Reduce load on landfill.

• Minimize waste generation at all stages.

In the following pages, we examine a select number of processing and manufacturing steps, setting out best practice and exploring design opportunities to enhance the sustainability profile of garments. Those included were chosen to reflect the scope and the challenging nature of environmental and social issues for the sector, rather than to offer a comprehensive review of impacts associated with processing. They frame the resource-, waste-, pollution- and worker-related challenges of fibre, fabric and garment processing in the context of a specific part of the manufacturing chain in order to generate insight into innovative practices in these areas and beyond. They include: issues arising from bleaching and dyeing fabric, both of which are archetypal high-impact processes that consume copious amounts of water, energy and chemicals and that are often the focus of environmental scrutiny; the waste that arises from pattern-cutting; the intricate challenges of labour issues and workers’ rights in garment assembly; and the impact of garment hardware and trims; with associated design opportunities offered for each.

Low-chemical bleaching

‘Unbleached and undyed’ was one of the mantras in ‘eco’ fashion in the

early nineties, influenced by the well-publicized campaigns against chlorine

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bleach in paper production. Chlorine-based compounds, such as sodium hypochlorite and sodium chlorite, can form halogenated organic compounds in waste water, which have been shown to bioaccumulate in humans and wildlife, are linked to abnormalities in physiological development and are suspected human carcinogens. 51 In the fashion industry, bleach is employed in the prepare-for-dye stage of textile processing and is critical to achieving a uniform white-colour fabric that can then be dyed evenly and with high repeatability. Bleaching is therefore crucial for achieving sustainability goals, for it ensures right-first-time dyeing and avoids highly resource-intensive and potentially polluting reworks – stripping, shade adjustments, and so on. Bleaching also influences the long-term durability of a garment: an item that is poorly dyed as a result of inadequate pre-treatment may fade through washing and be discarded more quickly. The ‘cost’ of bleaching as measured in resource-consumption and pollution-generation terms clearly has to be balanced against visual desirability and long-term durability in the hands of the wearer.

Alternatives to chlorine Chlorine has not been commonly used in textile processing for about 20 years, 52 and most textile facilities in the EU and the US now use hydrogen peroxide to prepare fabrics for dyeing. Hydrogen peroxide is a readily available and economically feasible bleaching agent, but it is active only at temperatures above 60°C (140°F), which results in a relatively energy- intensive bleaching process. Moreover, chemical additives, including sequestering agents, are required to stabilize hydrogen peroxide and optimize the bleaching process; these are highly polluting if left untreated in the discharge water. Ozone is a newer bleaching option that can be used without using any water at all; in highly processed products such as denim finishing it is claimed that the technology can save up to 80 per cent of the chemicals normally used. 53 Ozone is, however, relatively expensive and the equipment is not yet widely available. Although alternative bleaching processes may be more expensive, the reduced cost of cleaning waste water often offsets up-front costs. Further savings are made by combining several processing stages into one, thereby eliminating in-between washes, energy and water use. 54

Enzyme technology

With the evident balances and trade-offs between available bleaches and bleaching systems, renewed attention has been given to enzyme technology. Enzymes are proteins that are able to catalyse specific reactions, and have been used for some time in the textile industry to aid in a number of textile processing stages, including defibrillation or ‘biopolishing’ fabric surfaces, as well as in waste-water clean-up. Enzymes can be used in tiny quantities and act in a very narrow range of conditions, and are therefore relatively easy to control by changing pH or heat or both. In the bleaching process, peroxidase enzymes can be used to kill the action of peroxide

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shirt and trousers by the north face in fabric processed in a Bluesign-accredited factory.

bleaching and have a much lower pollution index than typical reducing agents. However, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) prohibits the use of enzyme treatments because they are derived by genetic modification. The long-term consequences of GM both in processing technologies such as enzymes and in such crops as cotton must undergo further public scrutiny before they are fully accepted. The contribution these new processes bring to sustainability extends beyond substituting one chemical for another less benign alternative. They start to bridge segments of the supply chain, requiring co-operation between each stage of textile development and creating fertile ground for additional ‘collective intelligence’. Designers need not remain in isolation from this new way of working, for our knowledge of colour theory can help adjust shades and colour combinations to be desirable against the softer white hydrogen peroxide base. Our understanding of what appeals to the consumer can help target more expensive ozone bleaching for products with greater visual value and price elasticity at retail. And perhaps we could even help speed wider industry integration of new technologies like ozone by collectively promoting a new ‘high-tech white’ T-shirt, thereby reinvigorating the ubiquitous white ‘T’ – this time into an icon for sustainability.

Processing standards and accreditation Over the past few decades, a number of ‘eco textile’ standards have been developed. These standards ensure a certain level of environmental and social quality and are valuable in that they identify sincere efforts towards sustainability. When set at a high level, they can also prompt innovation and new technological developments. However, standards can just as easily be used to drive ‘exclusivity’ and effectively block market access. When used in this way, niche industries result and the cumulative ecological gains that could be made through scalability are lost. The ‘sweet spot’ where integrity and innovation come into balance with pragmatism and scalability is an on-going point of active debate, and demands trust across the industry to maintain both consistency and progressive improvement. In recent years third-party assessors have emerged to help traverse this terrain, some of which analyse and assess processing facilities in the supply chain supporting better practices. One such third-party assessor, Bluesign, 55 has developed a standard

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built around five principles: resource productivity, consumer safety, air emissions, water emissions, and occupational health and safety. The standard is designed to provide solutions concerning environment, health and safety (EHS) issues along the entire textile manufacturing chain using a solid methodology for documenting a facility’s current activities and measuring progress. Through an established screening process, the organization looks at all the chemical raw materials that are in a textile mill, rating them into three categories. Raw materials passing the screening are labelled blue and are good to use. Raw materials that have moderate impacts and are considered less than the ‘best available technology’ are labelled grey. Those that cannot be handled cleanly are labelled black; their use is forbidden under the Bluesign standard. 56 In bleaching, chlorine is disallowed, hydrogen peroxide is allowed, enzymes are considered best available technology and are allowed, and since ozone equipment is not readily available in the industry, ozone bleaching is not a requirement of the Bluesign standard. Yet even when a third-party assessor takes the load of technical decisions in processing, relationships are still key, for, as Bluesign acknowledges, it is the continued dialogue between supplier and retailer that ensures that the changes implemented remain in place long-term. 57 Moreover, designers tend to be proactive and concerned about ‘what ought to be’ and are therefore valuable in the continual improvement of best practices. Bluesign’s standard and methodology have recently been opened up to the industry at large, allowing for widespread use and greater cumulative gains, as well as allowing space for critique and for open debate on how to ensure the standard is progressive over the long term. This approach builds a web of positive competition and co-operation across all fashion industry sectors. Many brands have signed up to work with Bluesign-accredited processes, The North Face being one of them – their products are made from fabric developed in a Bluesign-certified facility.

Low-chemical dyeing

Colour is one of the single most important factors in the commercial appeal of apparel products and is a primary focus of short-term fashion trends as it is the quickest, cheapest and surest way to change appearance, attract a customer and ensure an additional purchase. There are many factors that influence the sustainability profile of a particular colour choice. These include: fibre type, dyestuff, auxiliary chemicals, method of application, type and age of machinery, and hardness of water, among many others. Ultimately, though, it is nature that determines whether or not our colour choices are ‘sustainable’, for nature both supports the resources going into the mill, and carries and processes the effluent coming out. Understanding the tolerances and limits of natural water cycles and their relationship to industrial applications such as dyeing helps build a touchstone for our decisions on colouring cloth. Globally the textile industry is estimated to use 378 billion litres of water each year 58 , and while surface water may be renewed by rainfall, underground aquifers take hundreds or

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thousands of years to refill once they have been drained; if water is pumped from ‘ossified’ aquifers, which have solid tops, the water is in fact non- renewable. 59 Both redirecting water for textile industry use and contaminating local water bodies with processing waste deny fresh water to other species in the ‘watershed’ where the dye house is situated, threatening diversity and the ecological robustness of the region overall. Following, then, is a series of contextual lenses through which to observe sustainability and dyeing.

Ecology of a dye bath

Over the past decade, no class of dyestuff or single colour has emerged to be singled out as having a greater or lesser impact on the environment – with the exception of turquoise, bright blues and kelly greens, which require copper, a heavy metal that is associated with the production of toxic effluent, to achieve commercial colour-fastness; and darker colours in general, which have lower exhaustion rates. 60 Exhaustion is important because the higher the fixation rate, the less dye remaining in the dye bath, the lower the level of dye chemicals emitted to waste water and the lower the risk of pollution. In conventional dye systems, reactive dyes, which are the most common dye for cellulosic fibres such as cotton, have the lowest fixation rates:

approximately 65 per cent, with the remaining 35 per cent of dye flushed away after dyeing. New developments in dyeing techniques and dye chemistry have reduced these inefficiencies; bi-functional reactive dyestuffs achieve as high as 95 per cent fixation to the cloth. Besides the use of dye chemicals in the dye bath, auxiliary chemicals are also needed to facilitate the dyeing process, which can further increase the risk of pollution. When dyeing cellulosic fibres with reactive dyes, for example, salt is used in large quantities to achieve greater exhaustion. And for polyester fibres dyed with disperse dyes, auxiliaries include dispersing agents and carriers. Low-salt reactive dyes are now readily available for use on cotton; and some dye systems for polyester, such as supercritical carbon dioxide, eliminate the need for carriers, though they require much higher

temperatures, increasing energy use overall, and are not yet widely available. 61 Since chemical dyes and additives are used in solution, their volume is calculated in relation to the volume of water used and the mass of material to be dyed. The ratio of water volume to material is known as the liquor ratio and can vary widely depending on the dyeing equipment used. Some equipment requires as high as a 20:1 liquor ratio, though the industry standard is 12:1 and the most water-efficient systems require as little as 5:1 liquor ratio. 62 The use of low liquor ratio techniques reduces both the volume of water diverted from nature and the volume of potentially toxic waste dispelled into streams after dyeing. A low liquor ratio also minimizes the energy use required for heating the dye bath (since there is less water volume), and associated carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change and further water scarcity are also reduced. Some dye systems, such as cold pad-batch, operate at room temperature and eliminate the need for heating altogether.

Ecology of a dye house

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Although careful choice of dyestuffs, auxiliary chemicals and low liquor ratios helps to slow the flow of inputs and outputs in dyeing, still the dye process itself remains a linear system: resources enter, are processed and are dispelled. In contrast, dye bath reuse and reconstitution (where chemicals are added to refresh the bath at the end of the dye cycle) enable the dye bath to be cycled as many as six times before contaminants in the process solution interfere with the quality of the dyeing operation. 63 In most facilities, wet-finishing is complex, with a variety of shades, dye classes and fibre types being handled at any one time, so opportunities for reusing the dye bath may be limited. Still, for those mills using repeat colours, such as in denims, chinos, hosiery or uniforms, dye-water reuse is a relatively simple procedure, since incompatible dyes and chemicals are not mixed in the recycle system. Research is now under way to develop ‘universal’ dyes that can be used over a variety of fibre types, thereby simplifying wet- processing and accommodating dye bath reuse across a range of facilities. In the meantime, seeking out these dye bath reuse systems and using them for large-volume, repeat fabrics and colours or designing with tonal colour palettes can help influence the expansion of this technology in the industry.

Ecology of the region (or watershed)

Shifting focus from dyes to dye baths to dye houses greatly expands the design perspective on the sustainability of colouring cloth. But the fact that the process of dyeing textiles is both supported and limited by the natural world is perhaps most clearly seen in the environment where the dye house is situated. For this is where industrial systems and natural systems interface directly. Region-wide zero-waste textile systems have the greatest potential for harmonizing industrial dyeing with ecosystems and can reportedly reduce water drawdown by as much as 80 to 90 per cent. 64 Whereas individual facilities may use standard water-cleaning treatments such as flocculation and biological digestion, region-wide collaborations can augment these actions with advanced systems such as ultrafiltration, nanofiltration and reverse osmosis (which removes salt from the waste water), with the financial burden often shared between private entities and the local municipality. In this way, treated water is recycled back into the mill in a closed cycle with zero external contamination. Although this type of complex treatment is beyond the typical scope of influence of fashion designers, being aware of technological developments and percolating future marketing ideas around their use can have an active and positive influence. ‘Low-impact dyes’, then, present designers with a Rubik’s cube of considerations. Some of these complex choices are evident in the low- chemical cotton yarn produced by Tuscarora Yarns, 65 which is coloured in a process that involves a pre-treatment with cationizing chemical agents. This acts to make cotton more reactive and easier to dye. Yarns are pre-treated to varying degrees, knitted into stripes and then dyed in a simple garment- dye process to produce complex surface effects. When dyeing with

reactives, the cationic pre-treatment completely eliminates the need for salt, reportedly using 50 per cent less energy than dyeing with reactives on untreated cotton. These savings are due to reduced dyeing time, increased dye fixation and reduced effluent. However, cationizing agents are in themselves often moderately toxic and carry a medium pollution risk, a factor that needs to be traded off against their positive effects in subsequent processing. It is recommended that cationizing treatments be amalgamated with scouring into a one-step process to further reduce resource use. 66 But besides mitigating materials and energy use, cationization reduces the need to stock multiple colours of yarn, for the yarns remain in ‘greige’ form until orders of specific colours are made, and the garment-dye process accommodates a quick turnaround on delivery, so inventory is vastly reduced. This technology illustrates the innovation that can arise from fusing an intimate knowledge of the industry with customer expectations, technical know-how, aesthetics and sustainability goals.

t-shirt made from ‘cationic cotton’ yarn by tuscarora Yarns.

Colour without dyeing

Colour is one of the most visually stimulating and vital aspects of fashion. Each season, designers begin development with a piece of inspiration and start to spin a colour palette from it, pondering slight variations of tone and hue to balance a print or yarn dye pattern. Achieving colour in a

fabric or garment without dyes forces deeper creative explorations; over the long term naturally existing fibre colours contribute much more than a lower-impact choice over dyes. Engag ing in the process of selecting only those fibres with naturally occurring colour draws us all the way up the supply chain to plant fibre cultivation and animal husbandry and

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reconnects us directly with all that nature has to offer us. Designing into and around these limits and capacities can easily be achieved within the current fashion-design skill set, and each point in the supply chain provides an opportunity for creative innovation and connecting the wearer to natural systems.

Regional colour variations

In order to provide a consistent range of synthetic colours, the textile industry strips out all the unique character of the fibre and in so doing also erases its particular narrative or history, thereby contributing to the ubiquitous aesthetic of commodity clothing and the surface relationship we have with garments. In contrast, natural colour is as much an indicator of place as it is of fibre; its character, like that of a good wine, is influenced by the naturally occurring minerals in the local soil and water, and even by the diet of the animal (in the case of protein fibres). Natural fibre colours also reflect the weather patterns in a given year or season – as in the darker natural tones of linen, for example, caused by rains and additional moisture during growing and retting – and more readily reveal the techniques of

traditional processing in a particular region of production. Just as a designer’s trained eye swiftly recognizes the historical reference or period expressed in the particular shape or nuance of a collar, so over time the eye becomes intimately familiar with and appreciative of the subtleties and reasons for natural colour variations. Natural colour connects us more closely to people, their local economies and the land. Ardalanish is a textile manufacturer based in the Scottish Highlands, specializing in tweed fabrics with a unique regional character. The wool is sourced from local breeds of sheep – Hebridean, Shetland and Manx Loaghtan – and supplied by a number of farms across the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Much of the processing, from fibre sorting, grading, spinning and weaving, is carried out locally, providing work for the surrounding community, and a company-supported weaving apprenticeship programme provides opportunities for the next generation to make a decent living while also continuing the local textile traditions. Using mostly undyed wool, with the occasional addition of madder and woad, Ardalanish’s distinctive fabrics are created in subtly beautiful patterns and shades. Colours range from black and charcoal-brown, through fawn and silver-grey to a rich creamy white. Fashion designer Eloise Grey uses Ardalanish fabric in her clothing collections and notes that the natural colours have the broadest appeal among her clients. Since each colour is comprised of hundreds of different natural hues, Grey notes that they light up people’s skin tone much more than the flat neutrals provided by synthetically dyed fibres, and that people recognize that the garments feel very different from most other garments. For older people in particular, touching the fabric triggers a memory of how tweed used to feel. It is these tactile and visual character istics in the fabric that Grey’s customers find most appealing, rather than the eco credentials or the origin of the cloth. This illustrates how a sustainability

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de Beauvoir coat in naturally coloured wool by Eloise grey.

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naturally dyed yarns by sasha duer r. colours are made from food waste including onion skins, avocado rinds, carrot tops, coffee grounds, blackberries and turmeric, and require no toxic mordants.

aesthetic can achieve a universal resonance and bypass the need for overt communication – a task that is infinitely more difficult with an industrially produced product where the ‘green’ benefit is invisible to the wearer and has to be much more actively promoted to justify its price and value.

Natural dyes

Natural dyes are most often criticized by industry for their limited supply of raw material and corresponding questionable repeatability and scalability. Colour-fastness over the long term, especially on cellulosic fibres, is also an expressed concern. Yet for many natural dyers these objections miss the point. Their purpose in using natural dyes is often not to meet self-imposed industry standards, but first and foremost to work within the limits of nature and then adapt creativity and practice accordingly. Planning around seasonally available materials, using scraps or fallen leaves as colour sources, relishing the variations and character of the uneven dyeing: all challenge our modern perceptions of what an acceptable colour is, and reveal how influenced we are by what commerce communicates as desirable. The explorations of these natural dye practitioners are more directed to a deep connection with the land, often also twinned with a sense of community. They are part of the ‘slow’ movement (see page 128) and resist being scaled up, speeded up and packaged to industry ‘standards’. In fact, they intentionally provide a tonic to this industrial paradigm.

A changing cultural landscape for natural dyes

Natural dyes have passed by the mass-market textile industry, mostly unappreciated, for decades. But with increasing interest in sustainability, new technical innovations are now being applied and are starting to blur the lines between industrial and artisanal objectives, and between what is a natural dyestuff and what is a synthetic one. Higher yields of plants per hectare, and higher yields of extract per plant, begin once again to impose human-centred industrial goals on to nature. Acceptance of new technical development in natural dyes will demand our sharpened cognitive skills to assess their sustain-

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ability profiles along measures that account for far more than their ‘naturalness’. The following questions give examples of a new range of considerations that we might take into account when reviewing new dye technologies:

• Are there new technologies for applying colour? • If so, what indicator s do they improve?

• What are their water, energy and chemical use in cultivating,

processing and implementation?

• Do they speed up or slow/stop the flow of natural resources into

industry?

• Do they slow or stop the flow of industr ial or biological waste into

natural systems?

• Do they shift flows to cycles? • Whom do they benefit? • Do they work within or beyond the boundar ies of natural systems? • Could there be unforeseen consequences? • Are any identifiable r isks reversible?

Sasha Duerr’s work epitomizes a slow textile approach to colour. Foraging for materials in her neighbourhood and using plants directly rather than extracts, Duerr is directly engaged with plants’ life cycles, seasonal availability and colour potential. Duerr keeps a calendar on what plants are available and when, and plans projects and commissions around this to ensure that projects can be completed, much like an organic chef plans a menu around locally and seasonally available food.

Minimum waste in cut and sew

Fashion designers approach their practice in a variety of ways. Some develop first prototypes in 3D and use draping as the primary method of arriving at a final design. Others work with flat patterns, and are able to predict the silhouette and details of the final garment through the 2D

shapes on the paper. In industry, the design and development system is set up for industrial ‘efficiency’ and to maximize idea throughput. Designers working for medium to large companies therefore almost always create in sketch form, delivered with specifications to a pattern-maker who then makes the first prototype for review. With a great number of styles to design and develop each season, the designer has little time to pay attention to issues beyond styling; fabric-cutting efficiencies are the speciality of the technical support team. And suggestions to amend designs to accommodate waste reduction are rarely made by the technicians, for that would encroach on the expertise (and ego) of design! Often, then, final cutting efficiencies are calculated and set by the supplier’s computer-aided design (CAD) software, which is now prevalent throughout the fashion industry. As Timo Rissanen, an early pioneer in minimum-waste garments, points out, these systems can reduce cutting-waste by as much as 10–20 per cent in most cases. 67 Although this amount may seem minimal, these scraps

Opposite top: sam

for no’s Low to no Waste jacket, made by morphing pattern pieces into the negative space on the fabric layout.

Opposite below: Low to

no Waste jacket pattern layout.

Left : Endurance shirt by timo rissanen

featuring zero-waste

pattern-cutting

techniques.

Below: Endurance

shirt layout.

Opposite: dress by

matEriaLBYProduct designed with reduced waste using a novel system of cutting, marking and joining cloth.

Left : Endurance shirt by timo rissanen featuring zero-waste pattern-cutting techniques. Below: Endurance shirt layout. Opposite:

a: Body B: sleeve (including top sleeve lining) c: Yoke d: cuff E: collar & stand f: Elbow patch g: sleeve placket h: internal waist stay i: internal back pleat stay J: cB Yoke appliqué

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are more than just a physical manifestation of our segmented development chain and pattern-cutting method. In fact, they comprise a ‘hidden history’ of industrial processes that mine, divert, extract, shovel, waste, pump and dispose of billions of kilos of natural resources in order to produce and deliver the fabric that is destined to fall to the cutting-room floor. 68 Further, the efficacy of CAD systems is restricted by the original logic of their programming: CAD programs work on efficiencies within the set parameters of an existing industrial pattern-cutting system. They do not have the capacity to accommodate completely new concepts for building clothing and they can therefore stifle the emergence of new innovations around reducing waste and the corresponding new aesthetic that these might reveal. Moreover, any reduced cutting-waste achieved with CAD systems is invisible in the final garment, so the designer and wearer develop no awareness about ecological impacts or savings. Sustainability improvements remain ‘captive’ as abstract calculations or data somewhere in the industrial supply chain.

New concepts in waste reduction

In recent years, a number of design-for-sustainability concepts around cutting- waste have emerged, from utilizing scraps in patchworked garments to recycling them into new yarns. Such ideas are helping to slow the flow of waste in the fashion industry, and hold much promise. But emergent design ideas can build further on these advances by developing altogether new ways of conceiving clothing construction. These techniques remind us that it is in the designers’ skills and craft of practice within the context of sustainability where the real promise and drivers of change lie. Technology may provide us with new tools, but it is the creative design mind that informs and directs their effectiveness. And it is the designer’s creativity and ability to make quantum leaps of imagination that holds the potential to transform not just the way we make things, but also the way we think. Sam Forno’s Low to No Waste jacket resulted from melding design and pattern-making processes together and allowing the pattern pieces to be shaped by the negative space (the space between the pattern pieces) on the fabric layout. This process generated a garment with a unique aesthetic where the intimately interlocked pattern pieces formed design lines and directed the mode of fastening at centre front – a process that reduced the quantity of fabric usually required for a jacket by more than 25 per cent. Here, rather than imposing a preconceived garment design and its pattern on to the fabric, the designer becomes a facilitator, allowing the form to emerge and guiding its evolution: as Sam realized, ‘the jacket designed itself’. Timo Rissanen uses what he describes as a ‘jigsaw puzzle’ approach to design and pattern-cutting that involves remodelling the shape and size of pattern pieces so they adjoin each other. His flat patterns and the resulting garments have slightly altered forms because the fabric cut loss that would ordinarily be wasted is instead an integral part of the garment. Effectively this approach increases material input at garment design, without increasing cost.

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Rissanen describes his work as attempting to ‘simultaneously design a set of garment pieces that take up a given length of fabric in two dimensions… and the garment in three dimensions’. 69 Australian fashion design house MATERIALBYPRODUCT works with a novel system of cutting, marking and joining cloth that uses both the positive and negative spaces of a pattern to create a garment, poetically described as ‘cutting with both sides of the scissors’. 70 The company has developed a unique layout programme that uses grading and sizing lines as integral parts of the garment’s shape and surface pattern. Vertical folds replace cut lines and give the garments a new silhouette that uses all fabric from one selvedge to the other. Each garment is made to measure and finished by hand with a signature ribbon binding that loops through the piece, creating a blouson effect.

Just and fair labour issues in cut and sew

‘ What is work? In whose interest is it done? How well and to what end is it done? In whose company is it done? How long does it last?’

Wendell Berry

Over the past two centuries, the industrialization of the textiles and clothing supply chain has led to economic independence for a number of countries. From the UK and the US to Japan and Hong Kong among many others, this innovation combined with the globalization of trade has been critical to growth and development. Labour-intensive industries such as fashion and textiles are particularly effective at lifting people out of poverty, bringing income gains for women in particular. 71 But while they have brought major opportunities for the working poor, they also bring huge threats, for the sheer scale and power of the trading system can simply run over individuals. This is especially true in the cut, make and trim (CMT) sector of the textile and clothing industry, which generally employs women aged around 16–25, often migrants from rural areas, who are unaware of their rights, seldom have the courage to speak up, and are therefore easily exploited. 72 Although consumer purchases in richer nations may help provide jobs with a ‘living wage’, markets alone are not sufficient to guarantee worker welfare. Several forces have created a global textile industry rife with opportunities for worker abuse. The fashion industry is particularly fluid and mobile and over the past 40 years, as wages in developed nations increased, apparel companies moved their manufacturing facilities from industrialized countries to lower-wage countries overseas – resulting in an enormously complex supply chain with hundreds of facilities spread across scores of countries. As a result, much of the responsibility for worker welfare has fallen upon suppliers – and beyond the immediate influence of

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brands. Tracking and monitoring are therefore easily subject to corruption and manipulation, with greatly increased opportunities for human rights abuses: for what we cannot see, we cannot know or monitor.

The role of NGOs and labour movements Just as the deprived conditions of workers in the ‘dark satanic mills’ of 18th-century England spawned the global labour movement, so today, exposure of human rights violations in the textile industry is bringing positive changes to the mainstream. Since the early nineties, NGOs and public sector interest groups have used ‘name and shame’ techniques in the press to demand supply-chain transparency and accountability of apparel brands. 73 Consumer boycotting initiatives such as those spearheaded by Oxfam, the Clean Clothes Campaign and other NGOs have been important drivers in the development of corporate codes of conduct, which are now commonplace in modern apparel businesses. 74 Yet these practices are only a partial solution to labour abuses. Despite the goal of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to eliminate child labour, violations remain endemic in the fashion industry, especially among subcontractors and home workers. And factories routinely keep double and triple books in order to ensure successful inspections. 75 Even the most responsible companies may inadvertently perpetuate poor working conditions, for deep tensions still prevail between corporate social responsibility departments that demand higher compensation for workers and production departments that demand lower prices for products. 76 Designers are also culpable, for specifying elaborate styling within set target price-points forces factory owners to accept tighter margins; and late production approvals squeeze factory schedules for meeting fixed retail deliveries. Both pass pressure on to workers to labour faster, for longer hours, at reduced pay, and chronically undermine the efforts of NGOs for worker protection. In 2008, Hennes and Mauritz (H&M), despite having one of the most robust corporate social responsibility programmes in the industry, reported that 73 per cent of their new supplier production units had compliance violations of legal monthly overtime hours, and 49 per cent had compliance violations of legal overtime compensation. 77

NGO partnerships with corporations While direct action campaigns or boycotts organized by NGOs have been an effective strategy and have resulted in strengthened corporate terms of engagement, ironically it is the partnerships between private companies and NGOs that have guided standards being written into law, harmonized the industry as a whole, and driven the most effective changes at the factory level. An unscrupulous factory owner, for example, may reject the high standards demanded by an ethical brand and favour working with a less demanding client. But if several brands collaborate to adopt the same policies, perhaps supported by an NGO, their combined purchasing power leverages factory owners to comply with requests. 78 Moreover, given the complexities

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of the supply chain, individual companies can realistically inspect supplier factories only a few times a year. But when brands sourcing from the same factories work together, they can, in effect, expand their in-factory presence, with local NGOs supplementing inspections on an as-needed basis. In spite of the advances in textile workers’ health and safety that these partnerships have accomplished, studies reveal that salary levels for workers in the fashion industry remain low. 79 Legal minimum wage in developing countries is often below living wage, sewers frequently work with temporary contracts or no contract at all and delayed payments are common practice. 80 These conditions in the fashion industry represent a microcosm of globalized industry as a whole. Oxfam International reports that while 400 million people have moved out of poverty since the mid-seventies, still 1.1 billion people are reportedly struggling on less than US $1 a day, the same number as in the mid-eighties. 81 A critical part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) then, is to ensure not only that codes of conduct are in place and enforced, but also that financial gains are distributed to workers. This realization is now leading to the expansion of Fairtrade programmes in the fashion industry – for whole garments and not just fibre (see page 21 for more on Fairtrade cotton fibre). Fair Trade USA, the US Fair Trade Labelling Initiative and members of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), are now testing a Fair Trade approach for apparel assembly. Though still quite new, the programme aims to build on tested models of CSR collaboration and multi-stakeholder initiatives to improve labour conditions, working with local NGOs to provide factory support through training, grievance channels and monitoring. The standard is based on core principles of Fair Trade agricultural products, such as empowering workers to have a voice in the workplace through democratic structures, and bringing economic and social benefits to workers, families and communities through a Fair Trade premium.

Design strategies for just and fair labour conditions

Designers can help build momentum in this effort. For example, developing awareness of the effects that design decisions have on speed and costing in the supply chain, ensuring timely sign-off, and developing innovative ideas to add value to the garment with little cost can all ease the financial pressure on factory workers and buffer supplier profit margins. Designing with non-commodity fibres and steering away from product

categories with low to zero price elasticity at retail can also help bring higher margins into the supply chain. But ensuring that this extra income finds its way into the hands of the working poor requires additional strategies beyond the product itself. Choosing Fair Trade suppliers or working with vertically integrated or local companies where employee conditions can be easily observed and monitored are viable options, while trading directly with artisans and worker-owned co-operatives to spawn small-scale production structures demands more direct and personal engagement, which we explore in more detail later (see page 110).

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Low-impact hardware and trims

Hardware and trims punctuate our designs, bringing a crispness to the whole garment. Trims are a tiny percentage of the product, and it is perhaps precisely because they are small that they are often overlooked. Yet trims contribute a significant ecological impact to the garment, drawing on the mining industry (in the case of metals for zips and snaps) and the oil industry (in the case of raw material for plastic buttons), with all their associated impacts on global warming, land degradation, human health, air emissions and toxic contamination of water bodies. And it is not only at the beginning of the garment’s life cycle that trims have an effect, for they directly influence the longevity of clothing and can hinder its ultimate recyclability. Buttons, for example, usually last a long time and even when they fall off the garment, they can be stitched back on with relative ease and few skills. Zips, on the other hand, break more easily and require machine-sewing abilities and special zip foot attachments in order to be replaced. Consequently, articles of clothing with failed zips are much more likely to be discarded sooner than those featuring simpler closures. And at the end of a garment’s life cycle, in large-scale textile recycling plants, items

must be free of all trims to facilitate efficient processing. But since trims are often difficult and labour-intensive to detach, they often remain on the garments, meaning that articles of clothing that would otherwise be recycled into new yarns and fabrics are passed by and sent to landfill or baled for shipment overseas.

Electroplating

Although trims remain largely under the designer’s sustainability radar, clearly they do warrant more of our attention. A key sustainability challenge for metal hardware is electroplating, a process that prevents rusting in a base metal by coating it with another, non-corroding metal. Typically, the process involves dipping the items to be plated into a series of tanks containing metal salts in solution. An electrical current is then passed through the solution so that

metallic ions are deposited on the trims. Rigorous washing removes excess processing chemicals after each stage of processing and produces copious amounts of water that contains such contaminants as acids, bases, cyanide, metals, brighteners, cleaners, oils and dirt. The waste water from this process can destroy biological actions in sewage plants, and is toxic to aquatic species. It has been estimated that 500 grams of hazardous sludge is produced for every 3,300 metal buttons produced. This sludge must then be treated before disposal in a specially lined landfill. 82

Alternatives to electroplating

There are viable alternatives to electroplating. Several non-corroding metal alloys combining copper, zinc, nickel and iron in percentage are readily available in sheet metal form and can provide a variety of colours to meet designers’ needs. Each metal has particular physical properties and a specific

appearance: copper is soft and moulds with little difficulty, but may also be easily scratched or dented; J brass has a warm pink-yellow cast; H brass has a cooler brilliant yellow hue; alloy 752 has a warm silver tone; stainless steel is a cooler grey and is strong and resilient, but also brittle and resistant to bending. All options provide a means to eliminate waste at the source rather than cleaning up contaminants at the end of the electroplating process. Although further life cycle interrogations of metals and alloys are warranted – investigating how much energy and resources each embodies from extraction to final finishing – still, non-electroplated hardware provides a first step to achieving significant reductions in ecological impact for metal trims. In this case, the fashion designer’s role is transformed from making simple aesthetic choices and delivering specifications to one of engaging with professionals of many backgrounds – collaborating with engineers, metallurgists and suppliers to develop products balancing ecological goals with commercial requirements. The stainless steel buttons that Levi Strauss and Co uses on its jeans represent no compromise on aesthetics or quality for the designer. The main challenge is in meeting production requirements for volume, for each snap or button is punched from a standard piece of sheet metal using cutting tools that are already set to a standard sheet size. As a consequence, for the more unusual alloys, inventory in the supply chain may not be readily available without a consistent demand from the market (designers); consequently, minimums required will reflect the number of buttons punched per sheet. The Global Organic Textile Standard already accepts non-electroplated metal hardware and this option seems set eventually to become standard industry practice. In the meantime, by specifying non-electroplated trims, designers can help foster collaborations and commitments between companies to better ensure that inventory in a variety of alloys is readily available for supplying quick turnaround and small to medium-sized orders.

stainless steel buttons by Levi strauss, which avoid electroplating.

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Chapter 3: Distribution

A world map, tracing the shipping routes of any garment and its components through sourcing and production, reveals an astonishing mass of intersecting transportation lines, each generating a calculable number of carbon emissions. These can be offset by various means, including switching from air and truck to rail and sea transportation as the preferred mode of transport; converting vehicles to biofuel, gas power or electric power; and carbon offset programmes. But studies suggest that transport accounts for only 1 per cent of carbon in the life cycle of a product. 83 Though this revelation might seem to redirect design efforts on sustainability to other areas of greater impact, further scrutiny shows that distribution consists of several specializations, with materials acquisition, forecasting and production management in addition to delivery. These specialities manage the flow and volume of materials into and around the distribution system and present several opportunities for intervention. Material volumes and flows in the fashion industry are designated by projected retail sales. Mill set-up for fabric, machinery allocation, orders for trims and notions, organization and hiring of workforces, training, engineering of production systems – all are orchestrated by sales forecasts. And more: fibre is grown, compacted and baled; oil is extracted; mines shift into operation and metals are gleaned from ore for trims; wild water is diverted for processing; coal is mined and burned for the production of electricity. This massive infrastructure of resources circulates from one part of the planet to another, and all of it moves into place under the direction of ‘pencil-meeting-paper’ on a purchase order.

Efficient distribution and retailing

In recent years, ‘lean retailing’ has effectively passed the risks inherent in this system of forecasting from the retailer to the manufacturer, who now has to carry large inventories for indefinite periods of time to ensure fulfilment of rapid replenishment requests. High-tech information collectors, such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, are placed on every product, and analytical systems have been developed to optimize the flow of garments through the supply chain. Together, these technologies provide data for producers and retailers to track, analyse and redirect material stocks to match product sales, thereby reducing excess inventory and production. 84 At first glance, optimization of inventory flows is a winning situation for both business and the environment, since reduced volume of excess goods at any point in the fashion system benefits both. Yet these technologies effectively ‘grease’ the distribution system, enabling greater numbers of items at ever-increasing speeds to be pushed through to the consumer, often resulting in post-season discards at retail. There is still waste: it is simply located at a different point in the system. Indeed, as Hardin Tibbs, specialist in futures analysis, strategy and scenario planning, notes, the overall flow of materials through the industrial system has doubled every 20 years. 85 It could in fact be argued that RFID technologies optimize the flow of goods only for commercial gain and often at the expense of sustainability. For they abstract transactions of trade: sales are simply expressed as sets of

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data to inform analysis; humans become mere enablers of material flows; the items of clothing we design, make and sell are reduced to anonymous units, their value judged solely on volume of throughput. While analysis and data feed our intellect and undoubtedly build our knowledge of industrial flows, they do little to address – and in fact they inhibit – our ability to link to natural, social and cultural conditions.

Managing supply chain information

This disconnect between commerce on the one hand and nature and social considerations on the other has combined with increased awareness of sustainability to prompt evolutions in tracking technology that start to reconnect people and place in the supply chain. String technology, for example, developed by Historic Futures, is a software tool that enables companies to collate and centralize information at each point in a garment’s manufacture. Suppliers upload information about the material inputs and processing that go into making a garment, providing specific supply chain data to brands that they can then choose to disclose to customers, normally through a Web interface. Product information provided by companies is so far brief and limited. Nonetheless, tools that facilitate this level of transparency, where previously there was none, fundamentally change the supply chain culture. Indeed, when Walmart announced in 2009 that it would open up its supply chain it sent a ripple through the ‘big box’ store industry. For transparency means that things can be seen and therefore regulated, and by extension that retailers will be more easily held to account. Consequently, such tools as String technology start to influence the industrial environment, which in turn governs the flow of goods. Yet though they begin to unmask and reveal the system, they fail to change it at root. They help to shift the supply chain to a ‘value’ chain, but it is nonetheless still a chain. The challenge ahead is that we not only change the products and the information we provide to the customer and supply chains, but that we also redefine the means of supply from chains and flows to loops; and that we change our businesses from managing products to managing cycles – of materials and of innovation.

Carbon offsets

Over the last few decades, the looming threat of global warming and rising oil prices has prompted responses from a range of industries, including fashion. Tools such as carbon and energy footprint analysis and life-cycle assessment (LCA) have been developed to help companies capture environmental inputs and outputs of entire value chains from raw material supply to product use and disposal, and to identify sources of wasted energy. Once the collected data is ‘normalized’, it is used to develop energy-use improvement strategies and to guide the amount of carbon offsets needed in order to mitigate the company’s own greenhouse gas emissions and achieve ‘carbon neutrality’. While LCAs are very effective at providing a comprehensive view of impacts, they are enormously difficult to build and apply in practice, for they require actual data, which the apparel supply chain structure does not make

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readily available or accessible. Energy is viewed by the industry as part of general overhead expenses – and never specifically calculated per garment. Besides, since the common practice of retailers is to purchase apparel as complete packages, often through an agent, they rarely, if ever, interact with individual producers who could supply the data. Moreover, company supply chains are most often erratic, flexing primarily to accommodate fluctuating market demand and last-minute orders, with no time or incentive to conduct the slow and careful data collection necessary for carbon calculations.

Cultural barriers to carbon measurement

As with many sustainability challenges, developing carbon footprints and offsets is as much cultural as it is scientific and data-based. In many cases, simply knowing the producers in the supply chain is a significant first step. 86 This is especially true for large companies with a low-cost, fast-to- market fashion business, where the supply chain is most elastic. Companies with slower product lines are more likely to have long-standing relationships with established suppliers, which can be more easily leveraged. Nonetheless, the harvesting of information can take several seasons and even years to complete. Even for the outdoor company Patagonia, a leader in sustainability, carbon footprinting began modestly, with information on just five garments provided to customers in 2007. Once its ‘Footprint Chronicles’ mini-site was launched, additional suppliers were persuaded to participate; now information on three to five products is added every six months. Designers are accustomed to accessing generic physical and functional attributes across all fabrics and expect the same for energy performance. But there is no generic energy profile for fabrics and fibres. Energy consumption is directed by a complex of production and processing circumstances including the provenance of the fibre (see page 14), where it was made and how far it travelled, the energy efficiency of the factory, the dye process used (see page 37), the weight and colour of the fabric and even consumer care (see page 60). But by starting simply, perhaps by asking for carbon footprint information when viewing fabric lines, suppliers can be encouraged to participate in data collection. Carbon calculation for trend-driven fast fashion items, with their volatile and unpredictable business, will remain a challenge to document, and this might suggest alternative design strategies for reducing energy, such as closed-loop recycling (see page 17) or design for adaptability (see page 76). All these strategies require that designers step back from the usual styling and drive-to-market imperatives and view carbon reductions as the result of changing the way we design and produce clothing, rather than a target in itself. Clothing and footwear brand Timberland has taken a multilevel approach to addressing carbon dioxide emissions from its business activities. By pursuing energy efficiency and renewable energy procurement in all its owned and operated facilities, the company has reached its 2010 targets for CO2 reduction. Now looking to address the large portion of greenhouse gas emissions that come from within the supply chain that it does not control,

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Timberland has provided design teams with a materials rating system in order to support the selection of less carbon-intensive materials from the outset, a strategy that has potential to leverage change up and down the supply chain.

Transportation systems and logistics

‘ Most of the time we live our lives within these invisible systems, blissfully unaware of the artificial life, the intensely designed infrastructures that support them.’

Bruce mau et al 87

The size and global reach of the fashion industry requires numerous means of transport in various parts of the world arranged into a complex network to move product inventory from fibre through processing to final garments and to retail. As stated earlier, some reports indicate that transportation represents just 1 per cent 88 of a product’s carbon footprint, but others suggest that shipping of goods can account for as much as 55 per cent 89 of company carbon emissions. The discrepancy between the two lies in the ‘scoping’ of each study: when the lens of scrutiny is made wide enough to accommodate consumer behaviour, then garment care, rather than transportation, often accounts for the greatest energy use in the total life cycle of the garment. But when narrowed to focus solely on company activities, transport and energy use in stores are the highest contributors. Thus it is critical for designers to be aware of the benefits and limits of establishing research boundaries, for they direct the feedback that the research provides, which in turn influences design strategy and action. Without understanding the shifting contexts, action can be misplaced.

The limits of manageable parameters

Action to reduce energy use in distribution is best directed by gathering information from the specific supply chain of a given company. But this requires the co-operation of numerous suppliers and interpreting data comparisons from a variety of factory circumstances, types of equipment and shipping companies. Energy consumption and associated carbon emissions by necessity, then, tend to be calculated within a narrow scope. Energy use in retail stores and distribution centres, total miles travelled by employees, and product distribution routes are typical first-tier investigations. British retailer Marks and Spencer, for example, conducted an investigation that revealed that aerodynamics can account for up to 50 per cent of a delivery truck’s fuel consumption. This is largely influenced by the vehicle’s shape and profile, which can cause resistant drag and turbulence, reducing its fuel efficiency. The company’s redesigned truck takes a streamlined teardrop form with a continuous full-length curve on the roof, which reduces turbulence and drag by approximately 35 per cent

in comparison with a standard trailer. Besides cutting the M&S fleet’s overall fuel consumption by 10 per cent, the redesign also increased the truck’s stock- carrying capacity, accommodating as much as 16 per cent greater loads and thereby potentially decreasing the number of trips needed to make deliveries. 90

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Renewable fuels

Conversion to renewable fuels is another strategy that may seem simple to adopt – a new fleet of biodiesel delivery trucks, and the job is done. Yet this too demands a consideration of the context when applied in practice, for renewable fuels themselves are not necessarily a benign technology. Although they may be manufactured from fast-growing or rapidly renewable crops that burn more cleanly than fossil fuels, renewables are linked to a complex of cultivation, extraction and processing systems, each of which is itself dependent upon petroleum. Corn, for example, one of the main sources for liquid biofuel exploration to date, is grown as a vast, intensive monocrop and as such requires large volumes of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. Much of the processing required to refine corn into fuel is also powered by coal-fired electricity plants or gas reserves. All told, it is estimated that one gallon of biofuel requires two-thirds of a gallon of gasoline to produce – achieving only a one-third gain in reducing fossil-fuel dependency. 91 Furthermore, arable land is a commodity in chronically short supply, and under increasing pressure as rising human population and per capita wealth push global energy and food needs upwards. In 2007–8, world food prices soared to all-time highs, partly because the use of land for fuel crops drove global food stocks down. Every hectare planted to produce biofuel means another acre is taken out of food production. 92 All in all, grain-based ethanol is considered a stepping stone to other crops such as sugar cane, switchgrass and Chinese myscanthus, which promise to yield higher efficiencies; and most agree that biofuels can be only a part of a comprehensive energy strategy.

Creative opportunities provided by a comprehensive energy policy

These deliberations on distribution, energy and fuel draw us far beyond the physical parameters of the textile and fashion distribution chain. They also direct responses away from a surface checklist of sustainability considerations and make obvious the need to develop integrated and diverse energy strategies for fashion. Thinking critically about distribution systems, inventory management, transport and energy use in stores, as a whole, can lead to innovative carbon reduction strategies. Clothing company Nau, for example, developed small retail stores and stocked them with sample garments primarily for the customer to see styling options and assess fit. The company provided 10 per cent discounts to consumers who ordered products online for door-to-door home shipment. Although this delivery option may seem counter to reducing CO2 emissions, the company’s own research indicated that the combination of minimal retail footage and simplified inventory management for restocking shelves and clearing unsold items had knock-on effects: simpler transport logistics greatly reduced the company’s carbon footprint overall. When reflected upon in a particular context, then, ‘end goals’, such as local production, installation of solar panels, and the use of biodiesel fuel, each become simply one possible element in a comprehensive energy policy that evolves best from analysing a particular set of circumstances.

Opposite: nau store

including ordering point for home delivery to reduce carbon footprint.

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Chapter 4: Consumer care

Designing to reduce the impact of the laundering or consumer-care phase of the life cycle has the potential to bring great benefits with some clothes. For many frequently washed garments, the resource consumption associated with use patterns dominates all other life-cycle stages; the energy needed to launder a polyester garment over the course of its life is around four times the energy needed to make it. Of course, this is not the case for all garments – coats, for instance, are rarely cleaned and so the impacts of laundering are small relative to the impacts of production. But for those items that are washed frequently, laundering is likely to be the most major source of resource use and pollution across the garment’s life – so much so that the United Nations Environment Programme has launched a campaign specifically targeting the jeans-laundering habits of young people as a way to reduce energy consumption. 93 The knowledge that washing and drying clothes creates considerably more impact than growing fibre, processing yarn and garment cut and sew perhaps feels counterintuitive, for the impact of clothes care is largely invisible and widely distributed – in every home in every land – rather than concentrated in the archetypal resource-consuming, polluting mill or factory. But when recent figures from the UK are put into the mix, the extent and potential impact of home laundering is made more real: 21 million washing machines (in a population of 60 million), 11.5 million tumble dryers, and between 274 and 343 loads of washing per household per annum. 94 Collectively, UK washing machines consume 4.5 TWh (terawatt hours) of energy every year (roughly equivalent to the annual energy output of an average power plant): clearly a substantial value. The realization that most impacts associated with a garment occur in the laundry suggests that one of the most influential sustainability strategies would be to change how people wear, wash and dry clothes. Even a small change here could have a big effect, and might include changing garment labels to encourage lower-temperature cleaning, specifying particular colours that tend to be laundered less frequently and on cooler temperatures, and designing with quick-drying fabrics.

Care labels

Some cultures (notably Japan) wash most of their clothes in water at room

temperature (around 20ºC/68ºF); however, elsewhere most domestic washing machines have programmes that wash clothes at temperatures between 30°C (86ºF) and 90°C (194ºF). The lower the temperature at which clothes are washed, the less energy is consumed; though this is sometimes disputed, since detergents are sometimes seen to be less effective at lower temperatures with the result that more frequent washing of garments is needed in order to get clothes clean. 95 Care labels in garments set out the maximum washing temperature a garment can withstand to avoid damage. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester have a lower recommended washing temperature than cotton fabrics. Recently a number of brands and retailers have started using care labels to

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Levi’s 501 jeans care label.

advise consumers to use lower washing temperatures: in the UK, for example, Marks and Spencer uses the slogan ‘Think Climate, Wash at 30°C’ in its labels in an attempt to influence the environmental impact of consumer behaviour. Statistics suggest that in the UK, the effect of a shift to washing at 30°C (86ºF) rather than 40°C (104ºF) and a move away from tumble dryers to line drying would reduce the energy burden of today’s domestic washing by a third. 96 Levi Strauss’s recent evaluation of the life-cycle impacts of its design classic – the 501 jean – revealed that for a single pair of jeans, 60 per cent of the total CO2 emissions (32.3 kilos) was attributed to consumer care/ washing and 80 per cent of that attributed to the energy-intensive method chosen for drying. 97 And of a total of 3,480.5 litres of water used during its life cycle, home washing accounted for 2,000 litres. 98 These findings prompted Levi’s to launch a company-sponsored campaign to educate consumers about the benefits of shifting washing habits, including a low-temperature wash label for all garments. Levi’s has also collaborated with Tide washing powders (marketed as effective at low temperatures) and Walmart, to display Levi’s Signature brand products and Tide laundry detergents on the same pallets in Walmart stores, to make clear the connection between CO2 and garment-washing and to enable consumer action at the point of cognizance.

Low-energy wash and dry

Perhaps the most obvious drive to save resources in laundering is to improve the efficiency of laundering hardware (machines) and other inputs (such as detergent). A new generation of washing detergents has now made it possible for effective cleaning of clothes even at low temperatures (down to 15°C/59ºF). However, the limiting factor for most people is the functionality of their washing machine, as many current machines do not have the capability to reduce temperatures below 30°C (86ºF). Enhanced machine functionality could also help reduce the energy intensity of washing in other ways. Washing machines are most efficient when fully loaded, yet most studies show that consumers only half-fill their machines; so a ‘smart’ interface that weighs the load and adjusts water volume and washing time accordingly could deliver benefits. Perhaps if this were coupled with new emerging technologies such as RFID tags embedded into clothing, which could ‘communicate’ directly with the machine, the resource efficiency of laundering could be improved even further.

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New technologies

In 15 prison laundries in the American state of Missouri, a different sort of technology – ozone – has been installed as a part of a push to cut water and energy consumption and to lessen the load on the municipal sewer system. 99 A typical Missouri prison processes around 16,000 kilograms of laundry each day, much of which is heavily soiled and requires intensive cleaning. Ozone gas (created by passing high electrical voltage through oxygen molecules) is a powerful cleaning agent that breaks down organic material such as soil, bacteria, mould and grease. Once broken down, these particles are removed from the fabric by detergent in the wash cycle. Ozone works best in cold water, thereby negating the need for water heating. It requires less chemistry to remove stains: fewer detergents, bleaches and softeners. It also reduces the need for pre- and post-wash rinses and so shortens wash time, saving both water and energy – and because the garments undergo less mechanical agitation, wear is significantly less and longevity is increased. The drying of clothes involves behaviours equally as involved as washing. Tumble-drying is a convenient solution for many people, but it is extremely energy-intensive. A zero-energy option is outside line-drying; however, not everyone has access to outdoor space suitable for clothes drying and in some countries bad weather is a key limiting factor. Access to safe space in order to line-dry is also important, while in some

neighbourhoods, clothes lines are considered unsightly. Such organizations as Project Laundry List in New Hampshire are working to make air-drying and cold-water washing both desirable and acceptable, by combining education, lobbying and a line-drying products shop. 100

Ozone gas equipment

at missouri prison laundries, using cold water and fewer chemicals.

Chapter 5: Disposal

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Disposal – into first a rubbish bin and then a landfill site – is the end point for many clothes. In the UK, statistics reveal that almost three-quarters of textile products (garments, furnishings, household textiles, carpets and so on) end up in landfill after being used 101 and this is a pattern repeated in many Western countries. Yet the resources that go into making garments (otherwise known as the ‘embodied energy’ of the garment, or any other product) are rarely fully epitomized before we part ways with them. The materials, energy and labour that comprise a garment have the potential to meet our creative and business needs several times over – even, in some cases, an infinite number of times. Effectively, it is not just physical garments that are deposited in landfill: design and business opportunities also end up buried beyond reach in a hole in the ground. Designing clothes with future lives requires a radical overhaul of the way we currently deal with waste. This is a revamp that has implications for design decisions, waste collection strategies, and even business engineering. At its core is an attempt to redefine our notions of value and to make best use of the resources inherent in garments either as items of clothing, as fabric or as fibre, before finally throwing them away. This aim has given rise to clusters of activity in fashion sometimes loosely described as recycling, such as around reuse of garments, reconditioning of worn or dated clothes, remaking of items from old garment pieces, and recycling of raw materials.

Slowing the flow of materials

Reuse, reconditioning and recycling slow the linear flow of materials through the industrial system by intercepting and diverting used resources away from landfill sites and back into the industrial process for use as raw materials. The energy and materials needed to make reuse, reconditioning and recycling happen vary and have given rise to a hierarchy of strategies for managing waste. The least resource-intensive option is reuse, since it generally involves collection and resale of garments ‘as is’. More resource- intensive is reconditioning, which requires labour and energy to rework old fabric or garments into new pieces. More resource-intensive still is recycling, where garments are shredded and fibres extracted either in mechanical processes or chemically. It is worth emphasizing, however, that even this most resource-intensive of the strategies is ‘resource-light’ when compared with virgin fibre production. All these strategies are influenced by a larger trend of downcycling – that is, a downgrading of the quality of reclaimed materials into cheap, low-value end uses. Yet while the benefits of reuse, reconditioning and recycling are positive and enjoy an easy popularity in today’s increasingly sustainability- conscious fashion sector, it is important to place these activities within a broader context. Although they help treat waste and contain its negative

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effects, reuse and recycling do not prevent waste from being produced in the first place. They do not address the root cause of the waste problem in fashion or change the fundamentally inefficient industrial model – they simply minimize its ill effects. In short, reuse and recycling processes call for very little in the way of more profound change in buying habits or production goals. Yet in their favour, they are strategies that work well in the short term and help build confidence to work with sustainability ideas; a confidence that when fused with different ways of thinking and action may begin to transform the fashion sector. Indeed, the conventional sets of relationships involved in making fashion goods available for reuse and recycling rather than disposal are given extra impetus by (and have themselves influenced) end-of-life ‘take-back’ schemes, developed out of ideas of extended producer responsibility, life-cycle thinking and chains of accountability.

Take-back schemes

Take-back schemes oblige those who make a product to accept it back for possible remanufacturing, reuse or disposal once the user has finished with it. Philosophically and practically, making the designer or retailer accountable for the future disposal of products completely changes the logic of clothing production, distribution and sales. It actively, and legally, extends the activity focus of producers beyond the upstream manufacturing chain to include downstream actions, resource flows and future consumer behaviour. It draws the work of previously unconnected organizations such as textile recyclers and public bodies such as those dealing with waste disposal into the production decisions and balance sheets of brands and retailers. The actual implications of take-back schemes for distribution practices are yet to be worked out in the fashion sector. In the product grouping of electronic goods, producer responsibility legislation has been on the statute book in Europe since 2001, requiring manufacturers to recover and recycle 90 per cent of large household appliances and 70 per cent of all other electrical and electronic products. 102 On the ground this is organized by a third-party organization, funded by the manufacturers. It is likely that if such legislation is enforced in other product sectors, such as fashion, that a similar third-party scheme would deal with recovery and recycling. While not a formal take-back scheme, a partnership launched in 2008 between the aid and development charity Oxfam – which runs the UK’s biggest charity shop network – and the giant British retailer Marks and Spencer to promote increased rates of clothing recycling demonstrates producer responsibility in practice. The Clothes Exchange rewards shoppers for recycling clothing by remunerating them for their donations of unwanted M&S clothing to Oxfam with a £5 money-off voucher to spend at M&S. According to the partnership, more than half a million shoppers are now recycling their clothes in this scheme and have raised an extra £2 million for Oxfam. In 2009, the scheme was extended to include soft furnishings, such as cushions, curtains, throws and bed linen. 103 Also in 2008, Filippa K, a Swedish producer of mid-priced mens- and womenswear, opened a second-hand store in Stockholm stocked entirely with Filippa K pieces no longer wanted by their owners. The store,

Opposite: alternative strategies for keeping resources in use.

repurpose

high-end thrift

Broker

matEriaLs

& EnErgY

individual

disPosaL

REUSE AND RECYCLING

matEriaLs

& EnErgY

matEriaLs

& EnErgY

 

matEriaLs

& EnErgY

disPosaL

SHARING

 

matEriaLs

& EnErgY

disPosaL

INDUSTRIAL ECOLOGY

matEriaLs

& EnErgY

 

disPosaL

VINTAGE

 

disPosaL

MODUL AR

 

disPosaL

EMOTIONAL AT TACHMENT

matEriaLs

& EnErgY

CLOSED LOOP

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run as a not-for-profit enterprise by the company, gives consumers a chance to resell their no-longer-wanted Filippa K items, for a commission. The company is selective about what it takes, and what does not sell is returned to the owner. In bringing an individual company’s second-hand garments back into the stable of that same company’s brand, both its new collections and its second-hand offers appear to benefit. The existence of the Filippa K Second Hand store makes a powerful statement about the lasting value of its new products. And the cachet of its new range increases interest in its second-hand pieces.

66 Part 1: transforming fashion P ro ducts run as a not-for-profit enterprise by the company,

the filippa K second hand store in stockholm, which sells on used filippa K gar ments for a commission.

Reuse

Sustainability ideas are strongly rooted in careful use of resources, and few ideas demonstrate this assiduousness in fashion as much as reuse of clothes ‘as is’. According to some figures, clothing reuse activities conserve between 90 and 95 per cent of the energy needed to make new items. 104 The reuse cycle is long established – and is as old as the textile production industry itself – yet the dynamics of clothing reuse are changing in the face of rising levels of consumption and disposal and the predominance of the cheap – sometimes called ‘value’ – market. Establishing a cycle where unwanted, old or worn clothes are channelled back into the fashion and textile system for sorting, redistribution and resale has for many decades been facilitated by voluntary and charitable organizations, including Oxfam and the Salvation Army in the UK and Goodwill in the US. Within the broad category of reuse, there are various levels of activity; each offers different opportunities for innovation. The most obvious is direct reuse, which involves quality pieces being sorted and redirected to high-end second-hand and vintage stores and the remainder bought up by dealers for the less specialist second-hand market. Both of these routes generate employment and keep garments in use for longer – thereby saving resources. However, only around 10 per cent of

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clothes are reused in this way; the remainder are baled up for shipping to used-clothing markets abroad. 105 For US-based clothes-reclamation charity Goodwill, the largest percentage of items in clothing bales is chinos, followed by logo/printed T-shirts and men’s jackets. 106 This suggests that a point of innovation could be to target reconditioning strategies at those particular garment categories, since these represent the biggest problem.

Reactive position

These organizations can only sort and resell what is donated to them. From this reactive position, they can do little to influence consumers’ disposal habits or the quality of product designed and sold. The recent retail trend of lowering prices and quality to increase profit margins has led to a rapid rise in what is bought and discarded and is hitting reuse organizations hard. Simultaneously overwhelmed with volume and underwhelmed with markets for poor-quality second-hand clothes, reuse systems, already bursting at the seams, will collapse unless the fashion and textile industry radically revises its view on waste and the value placed on all materials, both virgin and used. It will take nothing less than the reframing of reclamation charities as fully integrated and proactive partners in fashion production to change this bleak outlook. At Goodwill San Francisco, garment donations arrive on a daily basis and feed a constant stream of variety into their retail store. Yet lower-value items often remain unsold on the shop floor for more than a month, after which time they need to be channelled to alternative routes to make room for the steady flow of new donations. The company’s ‘As Is’ store provides one such outlet for unsorted items selling for as little as 15 cents a piece, and attracts a cross-section of regular buyers from street sellers to international jobbers. But even these rock-bottom prices fail to catch all left-over goods. More than 130 bales of unsold clothing a week still make their way to rag merchants, overseas markets, incineration or landfill. Though these bales represent only 0.3 per cent of Goodwill’s total recycling stream (which includes furniture and electronic goods), they total approximately 30,000 kilograms of clothing a year and illustrate the cognitive dissonance of consumers dropping purged closet contents at the local thrift store. Effective recycling requires that consumers close the loop. In other words, that they not only deposit garments at but also buy from thrift stores. Designing for resale suggests that items should be made to as high a quality as possible the better to ensure that garments will hold their value and be re-bought many times over.

Reconditioning

Breathing new life into discarded, torn or stained garments diverts, or delays, waste from being sent to landfill. The techniques involved in bringing a disused garment back to pristine condition are many and varied and have become the specialist territory of a growing body of designers

who fuse thrift with creativity and embellishment. Such techniques as

reshaping, re-cutting and re-stitching entire garments or panels of garments together with off-cuts, vintage fabrics and trims are used to produce unique pieces, crafted sometimes by hand and sometimes involving the latest technology. These pieces defy the general trend of downgrading the value placed on already-used materials, and are evidence that ‘upcycling’ – that is, adding value through thoughtful reclamation – is possible. The resource benefits of reconditioning are obvious: new garments are made from old or used ones, so that each unit of resource that goes into making a fibre or fabric is more fully optimized before it is discarded. Reconditioning does require inputs: maintaining or restyling garments needs a reliable source of waste materials, parts (everything from thread to inks if over-printing) and labour. Indeed, job creation is an important boon of activities like reconditioning, and one that could be given added impetus by forward-thinking legislation, such as tax breaks to reduce the cost of labour for reuse and repair. Another important part of reconditioning is the development of business models that make its activities profitable. Reconditioning, by its very nature, is labour-intensive and based on a non-standard, unpredictable source of raw materials (particularly when using post-consumer waste). While many companies have used these features successfully as a point of difference to create unique, hand-crafted and bespoke collections, a major challenge is how to scale up operations to a point at which more significant volumes of waste can be reused. In the UK, for example, the well-established reconditioning brand From Somewhere has overcome sourcing issues by buying post- industrial waste material from the cutting-room floor of high-end Italian mills, which gives them a more predictable raw product than post- consumer waste streams; and reconditioning supremo Junky Styling no longer simply trawls charity shops looking for second-hand suits, but also buys seconds straight from manufacturers. The other key challenge for reconditioning business models is how to use hand labour to maximum effect and, where appropriate, integrate technology into key parts of garment assembly. Goodwill San Francisco’s ‘William Good’ line made use of laser-cutting to create modern-looking appliqué details. More recently, designers have begun to see old clothes less as a ready-made garment to be reshaped and updated and more as a source of fabric from which to create new garments. This has allowed brands to evolve more standardized patterns made up of panel pieces cut from old clothes and has potential to allow technology to ease the burden on hand-work. The signature garment of UK-based reconditioned fashion brand Goodone is made from a patchwork of around ten pattern pieces, designed to minimize cutting loss and yet still be economical to produce. By using many small panels, every scrap of rag that constitutes the raw material for the company’s operations is used to its maximum potential. Goodone’s pieces are made from ‘the best rag possible’, carefully sourced and hand- picked from textile recyclers trading in post-consumer waste. Regardless of how carefully rag is sorted, colour consistency is difficult to achieve and so

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Opposite: dress from goodwill pictured on bales of unsold garments.

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when the right colour is found for a design, it is used sparingly as an accent. New collaborations have enabled Goodone to scale up operations – a project between Goodone and House of Cashmere, for example, involves reworking faulty stock (pre-consumer waste); and an initiative with Britain’s biggest retailer, Tesco, initially uses obsolete (pre-consumer) stock and then, over the longer term, will combine post-consumer waste with virgin organic or Fairtrade fabric. Economics are the driving force of many decisions around reuse; in the Tesco project, combining virgin fabric with post-consumer fabric removes from the garment production equation the cost of hand-cutting rag to create new pattern pieces. Like other waste-management strategies, reconditioning occurs downstream of mainstream fashion production operations and has limited influence over upstream priorities or values. It exists as an after-the-fact ‘mopping-up’ operation, dealing with some of the waste (or inefficiencies) of the industrial fashion production model; yet these same skills and techniques and the inventiveness that drives them will likely be central to fundamentally more sustainable business models for fashion in general.

Recycling

The actual process of recycling involves reclaiming fibres from existing fabrics using either mechanical or chemical methods. Chemical methods are suited only to synthetic fibres, whereas all fibre types can be recycled mechanically. Mechanically ‘opening’ a fabric using garneting machines does not just break down the fabric structure but also tears the individual fibres, making them shorter and suitable only for reprocessing into lower-quality bulky yarns. The general trend towards deteriorating material quality in recycling (sometimes called downcycling) is compounded by the lack of research and development in mechanical recycling methods, which have used unchanged technology for 250 years. Recycled materials that used to be converted into woollen blankets and overcoats are nowadays more likely to find their way into insulation materials and mattress stuffing. In resource terms, mechanical recycling provides significant savings over virgin material production. It uses less energy and, if waste raw materials are sorted by colour and then processed in colour-specific batches (as they are in Italy’s Prato region), the need for re-dyeing, with all its associated water and energy impacts, is also eliminated.

Recycling synthetic fibres

A largely mechanical approach is also used to recycle some polyester fibre.

Here the fibre can be recovered from a mixture of post-industrial fibre waste and post-consumer plastic (the most ubiquitous being the PET drinks bottle). These materials are chopped, ground and melted to reform polyester chip, which is then extruded, processed and textured just like virgin polyester. More recent polyester recycling technologies are based on chemical breakdown of the polyester polymer into monomers, the building blocks of polyester. The feedstock is then repolymerized to produce a

recycled material that is purer and of a more consistent quality than that produced by the mechanical method, although it is far more energy- intensive. The significance of recycled polyester (in both forms) is growing rapidly. Recent figures suggest that more than half of all staple polyester fibre in Europe is now made from recycled materials, 107 while innovations such as Japanese company Tejin’s Eco Circle technology, enabling material quality to be maintained through the polyester recycling process, may signal the end of the inevitable downgrading of material quality in recycling. Like polyester, nylon 6 is recyclable using techniques that break down the polymer chemically. Recent developments have overcome a challenging repolymerization process, and recycled nylon 6 yarns are now available made from post-industrial waste such as substandard yarns rejected as part of manufacturing. The claims made for the energy savings

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Bodice dress made from post-consumer waste by goodone.

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of recycled polyester and nylon material over virgin material are fairly similar: both fibres demand around 80 per cent less energy to recycle than to make virgin intermediate chemicals from oil and convert them to fibre. 108

Redesign production models based on cycles

Opposite: reverse

appliqué jacket and skirt made from factory waste, by Karina michel.

As the statistics show, innovating around fibre recycling delivers measurable resource savings, often in a way that consumers understand. Yet it should be remembered that recycling is a short-term answer to problems of waste, not a long-term preventative solution. For this to begin to change, perhaps the first thing to be implemented should be a new channel of communication between designers, producers and textile recyclers, the latter of whom have, until now, operated as an industrial segment separate from and sequential to textile production. The result of this disconnect means that recyclers have been slow to ask for changes to be made to upstream design and production decisions that would make recycling easier and more profitable, and design and production, by turn, have been slow to develop products that ease recycling; a general lack of holistic thinking from all players across the sector is thus reflected. The challenge is not just to use recycled materials in a wide range of products, but also to understand the potential of production models based on cycles and joint responsibility for the whole product system: to use recycling as a catalyst for much deeper behavioural change. Designer Karina Michel has been working to utilize waste generated

by garment production at Pratibha Syntex, a knitted apparel manufacturer in India. Assigned to reduce Pratibha’s waste, which currently runs at 30 per cent (including ends of runs and rejects), Michel uses a reverse appliqué technique, sandwiching several knit fabrics together with machine- and hand-stitching, and then cutting sections away to reveal the many levels of colours beneath. The transformation of factory waste into exquisitely crafted garments exemplifies the power of design to innovate around issues of sustainability.

TRANSFORMING

FASHION

SYSTEMS

However much we innovate and act to improve the sustainability credentials of a piece of clothing, the benefi ts brought by these changes are always restricted by the production systems and business models that market and sell the garment and by the behaviour of the person who buys it. Producing a garment with lower-impact fi bre or better labour conditions, while important, changes the overall system very little, for these ‘better’ fi bres and pieces are made into the same sorts of garments, sold by the same retailers and then worn and washed in the same way as before. Part Two of this book explores new ways of engaging with the process of sustainability in fashion, starting at a point that acknowledges the profound and multiple challenges inherent in bringing together sustainability, the fashion industry and our economic system based on growth.

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As we work to foster and cultivate sustainability benefits in fashion, it makes sense to broaden our scrutiny from a close focus on products to a focus also on the business models and the economic goals and rules that shape the sector today – otherwise we will always be limiting our possible actions and their potential effects. Many of these goals and rules and the mindsets that give rise to them remain unacknowledged and unquestioned in the principal industry circles, quietly validating the current way of doing things. Yet, to many sustainability advocates, it is these modes of doing that are the root problem of unsustainability. For without a process of scrutiny of the established structures, motivations and business practices, the pursuit of environmental and social quality will remain at a superficial level and will never transition to a point of flourishing (that is, of sustainability) for human and non-human systems alike. World Bank economist Herman Daly puts it like this: ‘To do more efficiently something that shouldn’t be done in the first place is no cause for rejoicing.’ 1 This is not to suggest that the many important developments that have taken place thus far in the name of sustainability innovation are of no value – far from it – only that they are not all that needs to be done. We have to recognize that, although it goes against the grain of much modern thinking, many environmental and social problems in the fashion sector have no purely technical or market-based solution: rather, their solutions are moral and ethical (values that are not captured by business and the market) and require us to take a step back from business-as-usual and look at what shapes, directs and motivates the bigger systems. Environmental philosopher Kate Rawles has acknowledged the immense difficulties in offering a serious challenge to dominant thinking from within the mainstream, since ‘people cling to the status quo’. 2 Yet if we are to begin to resolve some of the environmental and social problems of the fashion sector, we need to realize where the roots of these problems lie. On this point, eminent industrial ecologist John Ehrenfeld counsels:

‘Discipline yourself to live inside the questions…, then you will slowly be able to discard the old tried, but no longer true, answers and replace them with new, effective ways of building a sustainable future.’ 3 To this end, Part Two comprises a set of innovation opportunities that lay the foundations of a different set of practices for the sector at large and designers in particular, in the light of revised economic relationships, different values and an ecological (i.e. nature-inspired) world view. Some of these ideas are familiar, while others require us to stretch our minds to imagine their full potential, and still others seem out of time or place. Yet they are all built upon sound sustainability principles from people we all consider to be cultural leaders or are from reasoned logic based on empirical data from well-respected sources. The innovation opportunities detailed in the pages that follow often involve slower, more complex and more strategic work than that which fashion designers and the fashion industry are used to. Yet it is by engaging with this process that we can improve current practices and also build a vision of an alternative future.

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Chapter 6: Adaptability

ADAPT:

1. To make fit or suitable by changing or adjusting. 2. To adjust (oneself) to new or changed circumstances; vi to adjust oneself 4

In design for sustainability, adaptability in product, process or system is most often a response to inefficient use of resources in the commercial fashion industry. Strategies of adaptability seek to intensify use so as to increase the efficiency with which each garment is worn – to get more output from the same input. Taken individually, this can allow us to do more with a single garment, though it is also part of a bigger body of work that begins to interrupt the larger cycles of purchase and discard, ultimately to slow consumption overall, and to challenge prevailing business models that depend on producing and selling large volumes of garments in order to benefit from large economies of scale that maximize profits. In nature, the adaptability of life to its environment is the primary driver for the evolutionary process by which new biological species arise, and is the foundation from which all life flows. Adaptability allows certain species to occupy specific niches within the habitat, each with a unique opportunity for interaction with other species, resources and processes. 5 The openness and readiness of a species to adapt enables it to flex and shift continually in response to changing conditions and to survive in hostile environments. This continual change on a micro scale is underpinned by the stability and resilience of an ecosystem on a macro scale, enabling it to respond and remodel itself in the face of crisis in one area while remaining steady in others.

Adaptability in a business context

For industries, corporations and large businesses, adapting is a cumbersome and slow process – sheer inertia inhibits their ability to flex and change. People working to implement sustainability-focused practices in the current fashion industry often feel the weight of this immobility on a daily basis, and the inability of the fashion industry to adapt is one of the key reasons that sustainability in fashion has remained in roughly the same

territory (of product and process improvement) for the past 20 years. As sustainable-design thinker Jonathan Chapman states: ‘The system itself tends to edit out innovation in favour of ideas that are useful and convenient to the established mode of operation.’ 6 What innovative thinking is edited out in industry and in product development is also edited out in the designer, the wearer and the market. For all have themselves adapted to the prevailing pattern of operation: large volumes and homogenous products rolled out and available across global markets. It follows then that variety and pluralism in the form of adaptable fashion products are not only challenging for industry, but also for designers and consumers, transforming the way all stakeholders create and experience fashion. For industry, and particularly that segment used to designing large volumes of similar products for mass-manufacture, the challenge of adaptability is to foster heterogeneity in thinking and garment design that accommodates varying

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circumstances. For wearers, adaptability often necessitates a more hands-on role in morphing a piece from one form to another. And for designers, adaptability brings a change of focus from designing a finished garment to creating a work in progress, a changing, growing, transforming piece. Just as niches in nature have a symbiotic relationship with the larger ecosystem, so this incubation of alternative industrial, consumer and design behaviours influences the metabolism of our industry as a whole. Adaptability can be seen to provide a means to fulfil the end user’s desire for variety and to optimize material productivity. But through its focus on transformation and flexibility, adaptability also has the potential to increase the industry’s resilience over the long term and to better prepare us for a time when change and heightened risk – physical, economic, ecological and social – is the order of the day.

Trans- and multiple functions

Adaptability can manifest itself in many forms, for there are multiple attributes that comprise a product. Colour, silhouette, texture, pattern, function and detail all offer opportunities for manipulation and transformation. And each challenges the status quo of industrial fashion to a greater or lesser degree. Transfunctional adaptability is fully embedded within the materiality of the product and is often inspired by ideas of biomimicry (see Chapter 11), where nature’s efficiencies provide complex yet elegant solutions or accommodate the stacking of one function within another. Because transfunctional attributes are usually invisible, the garments suit our modern lifestyle well, for when speed and convenience are paramount, invisible qualities easily accommodate swift movement from one social setting or environmental condition to another, and make few demands on the wearer to slow down or stop to adjust a garment physically. What transfunctional items provide in convenience, then, they lack in engagement, for the invisible attributes remain unexperienced in any overt or even covert form; transfunctional garments do not ask us to question or change our behaviour. And it is precisely because they are not challenging on this level that transfunctional items are the most commercially accepted form of adaptability.

Transfunctional garments

When one transfunctional garment replaces several other garments, as is the intention, with items made from, say, waterproof, insulating yet breathable fabrics, the concept offers high potential to dematerialize our wardrobes and increase the number of wearing hours per item of clothing. However, if the end user’s behaviour remains unstudied, there is no guarantee that the sustainability savings made on a single transfunctional product will not be lost on an additional purchase. So, though transfunctional items bring promise for reduction in resource and energy use, still, influencing consumer behaviour and the growth model of commerce remain the key challenges. US outdoor sportswear company

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rEi’s jacket combines the functions of insulation, windproofing and waterproofing in one.

REI has developed a jacket that provides warmth, water protection and breathability. The high-tech fabric attributes mean that it can replace three layers of clothing (insulating layer, wind barrier and waterproof layer) with one and still meet the needs of the wearer in all three function categories. The garment illustrates how a strategy of transfunction expressed in fabric or garment form can potentially influence larger scales, affecting the choices in a whole outfit and even a complete wardrobe.

Multifunctional garments

Humans are moody and emotional, fickle and erratic, and live in a society

that has shifting values and evolving beliefs. Though fashion itself evolves over the long term to reflect society and culture, industrially produced products, even when they are transfunctional, are physically static. Multifunction garments go some way towards addressing this inertia by building a more robust and resilient relationship between product and wearer courtesy of multiple levels of engagement. This holds the promise of increasing the number of wearing hours per garment. However, designers are notoriously delighted with their own inventions and the

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ability to create functions can frequently override the need for them in the first place! Moreover, an arbitrary excess of features can create confusion in the end user and intimidate to the point where functions beyond basic utility are seldom used. ‘Rigors of restraint’ 7 in design are therefore essential and are particularly important when multifunction is employed as a strategy to reduce environmental impact, for when each additional feature requires more natural resources, or when wearer consternation results in a discarded garment, the actual outcome is the antithesis of sustainability. Multifunction as an end in itself, then, can completely miss the point of sustainability – especially when features can and often do become novelties or lures to purchase more. But when multifunction is handled well, when the intended use of each feature is clear and the desired behavioural outcome is effectively afforded through well-designed mapping and clues, it has the potential to transform a static product into one that engages the wearer through a number of moods and physical needs. Well-designed mechanisms for multifunctional use can intercept the familiar, repetitive act of getting dressed and start to shape the mind to new ideas, laying the groundwork from which greater changes can be generated. The reversible Cambia T-shirt made by Páramo, for example, is designed to wick away moisture and has two fabric faces, each of which can be worn inside or out depending on external factors and the needs of the wearer. When worn next to the skin, the smooth fabric face keeps moisture close to the body, helping to keep it cool in warm conditions. When reversed, the honeycomb face directs water away from the skin, keeping the body drier and warmer. While each function is continuously present in the fabric, the fact that wearers have to stop, consider the conditions, weigh their own needs, and turn the T-shirt one way or the other, subtly engages them beyond surface styling and starts to cut new grooves of behavioural change towards sustainability.

Trans-seasonal

Fashion thrives on change and speed and the cycling of garments through an individual’s wardrobe. To ensure product turnover and additional purchases, the fashion industry has manufactured artificial retail ‘seasons’ that require new looks and styles. Participation in these man-made seasons carries a social coding, a sense of doing well, being able to stay up on the latest trends and afford frequent purchases: Back to School, Transition, Cruise and Holiday are just a few of the calls to lure consumers to shopping malls. All are designed to tempt a change in wardrobe components and to ensure the continuous flow of goods through the industrial fashion system.

Trans-seasonal garments

Trans-seasonal garments have the potential to intercept this dominant industry logic. Rather than developing new colour palettes and silhouettes

every few weeks, designers identify colours that will work across different seasons and wardrobe combinations. Trans-seasonal concepts start to engage designers and wearers too on levels extending beyond the material aspects of fashion and into the immaterial – connecting both to the rhythms of natural seasons, and demanding that each consider what degree of change is necessary and for what reasons. This will include, from the perspective of the wearer, which parts of the body need protection and warmth and when; and from a designer’s standpoint, what degree of adaptation will engage the consumer to slow or intercept additional purchases. The organic shapes in Emily Melville’s coat were inspired by researching which areas of the body most needed warmth. The under-jacket wraps around the core of the body, where functional warmth is most critical, yet it is also integrated with the sleeves to form an interestingly shaped design in itself. The long, sleeveless waistcoat is designed to be worn alone or layered over the jacket. Equally strong together or apart, the items can be worn in combination in cooler weather conditions and separately in warmer seasons.

Emily melville’s coat combines an under-jacket and a waistcoat that can be wor n together or separately to serve in different seasons.

Modular

Modular garments allow for the playful and creative engagement of the wearer and have the potential to bring a long-lasting sense of delight by being adaptable to personal preference and needs. Designing modular garments for adaptable assembly and use demands more of the designer, for he or she has to accommodate and facilitate the individual expression of the wearer. The designer’s intent shifts from developing a resolved product

to developing a resolved concept, and the design genius becomes the

system or mechanism of assembly and disassembly as much as the product itself. Modular garments therefore broaden the design lens beyond a garment to include consumer behaviour, purchasing habits, social coding and signals and help us to treat complex sustainability problems with complex solutions. Modular garments not only offer alternative ways to consume, but also demand new business models, where pieces of garments are made as readily available as full garments or collections; these models are built less upon volume of material throughput and more on services, cycles and underlying human needs (see Chapter 13). DePLOY’s approach to modularity considers the whole outfit. Aiming to ‘fit the largest wardrobe into the smallest suitcase’, each piece in DePLOY’s collection is adaptable and open to personalization – a dress becomes a skirt, or a coat becomes a dress – through old-school clever tailoring and the snap of an imperceptible fastening. A single outfit thereby offers numerous possibilities, enabling customers to make more out of less by replacing new fashion garment ‘parts’ each season. Designing to dematerialize a wardrobe while at the same time fulfilling the social needs of busy, active, modern women means that the function of the outfit across a variety of social contexts has to be considered from the outset. The style of DePLOY’s garments spans from the office to dinner and onwards, with the innovation being in the transformational properties of the outfits achieved with as few parts as possible. DePLOY’s business model is reflected in its philosophy – ‘a place to create, not just to consume’ – and in its description of its modular line as ‘demi-couture’. Besides requiring us as designers to re-examine modes of practice

dePloY’s approach to modularity is based on traditional tailoring and convertible outfits.

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and business, modularity in clothing also offers us a means to reflect on how we as wearers refresh our wardrobes and, in a way, refresh ourselves. It asks if we can fulfil our desire for something new by adapting an existing garment and how radical such changes need to be to satisfy the basic human need for cyclical variety. Responding to this line of enquiry, Crystal Titus designed a modular dress around a system of snaps, which enables panels to be easily disconnected and reconnected. This flexible construction allows sections to be replaced with other colours, fabrics and prints and also to be moved vertically against each other to vary the neckline shape. Manon Flener’s jacket follows a similar train of thought, yet results in a different look. With metal studs as the means of attachment, the removable garment pieces are comprised of durable fabric squares, resulting in a much more ornamented final product. Each of these modular concepts could be developed further. Research tracking the patterns of use and degrees of boredom within various product categories and types could yield a collection of items exhibiting various levels of modularity, reflecting the appropriate need for and speed of cyclical variety in each item. These ruminations illustrate the way in which, once the design mind has adapted to a way of thinking that flows from a starting point based on sustainability principles, ideas will self-generate and build upon each other, forming various paths for fashion and clothing development.

Above: modular dress by crystal t itus allows panels to be removed and replaced using a snapping system.

Opposite: modular

jacket by manon flener created from square sections attached by studs.

Changing shapes

Of all the adaptability concepts presented in these pages, changing the silhouette or shape of a garment is perhaps the most challenging on all levels, for shape literally forms the physical parameters and boundaries within which fashion designers work and defines the space in which the wearer moves. Yet designing to accommodate changes in product shape is a concept that has been successfully applied to children’s toys such as Lego, Meccano and Tinker Toys for many years. What these games have in common is a simple and specific system for fastening components together that, once learned, can be manipulated into various levels of complexity. They allow for individual interpretation, and leave space for intuition and for the continuous integration of skill-building, aesthetic enchantment and playfulness. What’s more, they provide the means for players to explore and to build for themselves.

Garments that change shape

Designing for changing shapes demands a completely different logic across all sectors of the fashion industry. The designer has to acquire knowledge of radically different construction and pattern-making techniques and recognize the creative abilities and limits of the end wearer. The wearer in turn has to be confident enough to involve herself in the continuing evolution of the product and be prepared to embrace a completely new approach to clothing the body. Changing shapes also reshapes the

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relationship between the designer and the wearer: both become actively responsive to the other, in a markedly different way than when focused solely on the sale and the purchase of a static piece of clothing. Ironically, as both designer and wearer become more engaged with each other, they also become less attached – the designer less attached to his or her own ideas, allowing the final form of the garment to emerge in the hands of the wearer, and the wearer less attached to things, for as a new shape is built the previous one disappears. In this way, designing for evolving shapes provides another means by which to bring products from flows into cycles. It helps us appreciate a wider set of values beyond the physical artefact and to style and clothe ourselves in ways that most closely mimic natural systems such as growth and decay, and expansion and contraction.

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84 Part 2: transforming fashion s Y st E m s Conceptual fashion designer Galya Rosenfeld

Conceptual fashion designer Galya Rosenfeld develops and builds shape-shifting garments and bags as a series of ‘pixels’ or squares that interlock on all four sides. Die-cut from felt, these self-finished sections allow for easy assembly by hand, with no refined skills, special equipment or energy sources required. Overall, the concept provides an almost infinite variety of construction possibilities and a means for the wearer to fulfil the emotional desire for variety and change, and even accommodates complete disassembly and reassembly into entirely new products. Changing shapes is the ultimate challenge for industrial fashion, for how might it adapt to accommodate garments that disappear and reappear in the hands of the wearer?

Left and above: the

interlocking die-cut felt squares in galya rosenfeld’s pieces provide many possibilities to create different forms.

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Chapter 7: Optimized lifetimes

The speed and volume with which industrially produced products flow through the fashion system has resulted in their depersonalization. We no longer know the makers, or the source of the materials; they no longer speak of our myths, communities or societies. Our garments have become inanimate objects, mainly providing a means for delivering on commercial goals. Poetic meaning has been reduced in importance in favour of efficiencies of production, and a garment’s aesthetic reflects a bare minimum appeal, developed primarily to secure the initial sale. They are, as Jonathan Chapman calls them, ‘aesthetically impoverished’. 8 The limited presence of meaning and empathy in so many commodity fashion products, combined with their low cost and ease of purchase, is a key factor in their being discarded long before they are worn out. To change this requires work on a number of fronts – critically around what influences the lifespan of a garment in material, fashion and emotional terms. Lifespan, or durability, is frequently understood first and foremost as a physical phenomenon: resilient materials and robust construction. But physical durability is a flawed solution in sustainability terms. Often in the fashion sector, a discarded product is not an indicator of poor product quality, but rather of a failed relationship between the product and the wearer. 9 And though it may be true that the lack of physical durability in a functional item such as a zip may result in a discarded garment, studies show that 90 per cent of clothing is thrown away long before the end of its useful life. Physically durable products still remain subject to the logic of cyclical consumption directed by ‘Western’ society and culture. And as Jonathan Chapman also notes, ‘when physical materials grossly outlive our desire for them, the result is waste’; 10 physical durability becomes a liability rather than an asset when the product is in landfill.

Empathy

True measures of a ‘durable’ product lifetime are best found along emotional and cultural indices – what meaning the garment carries, how it is used, and the behaviour, lifestyle, desires and personal values of the wearer. These empathetic connections are already well explored and understood by companies, since they form the very basis for marketing strategies to sell more product. Using this information not only for financial gain, but also to direct design for emotional attachment to optimize product life for sustainability gains, is quite unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. It challenges the very core of existing business models. How we enable products to evoke empathy in an overdeveloped and overabundant material world is a formidable challenge. The fast-paced and visually noisy marketplace depletes the psychic attention of the shopper; elements that might signal emotional attachment to a garment, as quiet as they often are, can easily be drowned out by the competition for a shopper’s attention. Indeed, designer Christina Kim of Dosa acknowledges and circumvents this problem by showing her ‘slow fashion’ line in her

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own gallery space in downtown Los Angeles, by appointment only. Here, viewers can take time to savour the unique qualities of each piece and absorb the whole philosophy of the designer in her space (see page 177). Moreover, empathy often evolves through reflection and acquired narratives, which build slowly and over time, after the initial purchase is secured – that is, beyond the designer’s direct influence. Enabling these narratives to be captured is therefore a delicate dance, for intent and meaning are subject to countless personal interpretations based on both past associations and the experiences of the wearer – a memory, a significant event or a rite of passage – and as such, responses can be quite unpredictable from person to person.

Durability’s physical and emotional attributes

Yet there are some well-accepted physical product attributes that consistently delight our sensibilities. The ‘faded bloom’ of denim, for example, acquires an increasingly desirable character over time, capturing the user’s particular patterns of wear and tear and continuously building on its emotional content. And the feel of cashmere never fails to deliver and redeliver a comforting and warm sense of well-being to any wearer. Besides these tactile routes, emotional content can also be achieved through the skilful treatment of something as simple as a label. The Californian company ZoZa, for example, sewed thoughtful messages such as ‘Don’t be tense. Be present’ in unusual places inside their garments, which created immediate delight upon discovery, and a lasting appreciation that the designer was emotionally engaged when creating. Additional examples, where the emotional engagement of the designer is apparent and the same is enabled in the user, could be explored by exploiting the varying light- and wash-fastness properties of natural dyes and layering the fabrics accordingly in a garment so that patterns are revealed and evolve over years of use; conversely, over-printing the same garment while integrating resist areas to provide a ‘window’ on its previous state would capture the past while creating a new pattern and allowing more complex patterning to evolve into the future. These poetic touches create space for moments of clarity and shed a slanted light on different ways to create and experience fashion. Understanding the various aspects of durability – emotional, trend- based and physical – in the context of an individual wearer of clothes generates a place at which resources and meaning can be optimally satisfied. Yet, if the ultimate goal of optimized lifetimes is to slow the flow of natural resources through the fashion system, then designing more emotionally durable products may be as limited a strategy as physical durability. For the fastest-growing real-estate sector in the US is self- storage, now a $50 billion industry, and the majority of items contained in these units is middle-class ‘stuff’. This state of affairs exists even though families in the US are half the size they were in the 1950s, and houses twice as large. Just as reducing the embodied energy in one garment does

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not guarantee absolute energy reductions as the overall business grows in size, so optimizing the lifetime of one item alone does not necessarily guarantee net reductions in resource consumption. Achieving ‘absolute optimized lifetimes’ through fundamental shifts in culture, social behaviour and business practice remains the imperative. But despite their limitations, what all of the above concepts do provide is an emotional feedback loop for the wearer, where we can reassess our relationship to each piece, contemplate notions of use, ownership and need, and take account of the stocks and flows of things passing through our lives and recalibrate the metabolism of our wardrobes.

Optimized lifetimes

The notion of optimized lifetimes as a category of sustainability in fashion has invited a number of approaches and explorations, each iteration reflecting deeper knowledge and more integrated responses to sustainability. We have seen optimized lifetimes evolve from simple beginnings expressed in the materiality of the product (as physically robust fabric and construction; and in Cradle-to-Cradle-inspired recycled and biodegradable fabrics). We have seen concepts outperform industry’s ability to change (as with Patagonia’s ‘Sugar and Spice’ shoe, designed to be disassembled and recycled, which fell short of its goal because of a lack of industry infrastructure), and conversely we have seen concepts hit the mark (as in Avelle’s bag-leasing service, see page 103), where product characteristics imbue both a short-term emotional quality to one consumer, and a long- lasting physical quality to support continuous recirculation and extended use by many. A growing number of research projects are contributing to our understanding of how to make garments appropriately durable. The ToTEM (Tales of Things and Electronic Memory) project investigates the potential to associate people’s personal stories with specific objects through the use of Quick Response (QR) codes and RFID tags, thereby enabling others to read them and gain an insight into an item’s significance. And the clothing-specific project WORN_RELICS© provides a unique space where the lifetime history and future of clothing can be collected and archived. Participants apply for a password provided by a coded label that allows them to register an item and create a profile of it on the Worn Relics web site. Entries may be updated and many of them follow the continuing life or journey of the garment. The archives not only reveal the attachment between the product and the wearer, but a whole web of associated relationships, uses, feelings and memories that inevitably become linked with an often-worn garment.

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Multiple approaches to durability

One means of imagining beyond existing frameworks is through ‘future scenarios’, where explorations are carried out along a given set of criteria based on well-researched socio-cultural and ethnographic tendencies, and pushed as far as possible to gain insights into what might happen decades in the future. The 2004 Lifetimes project by Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham presents a nuanced exploration of clothing and the potential for designing more resourceful garments by considering speed and time. This involved researching products across a number of indices including extended life, durability, materials, use and services. The goal of the project was to create scenarios for more resourceful consumption for specific garments, as summarized in the table on pages 90–91.

Metabolism of a wardrobe

Scenarios such as those developed in the Lifetimes project help us imagine future possibilities that involve minimal financial investment in infrastructure or prototype development, and enable us to reason through a host of influences to create a platform from which we can imagine logical next steps. Given the scenarios developed in Lifetimes, it is not too far a stretch to imagine, for example, a time when everyone knows the ‘metabolism’ of their wardrobe and has the ability to adjust it. Rather than being mere receptacles periodically purged to create more space, wardrobes become places of ‘dynamic equilibrium’; clothes are reworked, shared and reused without constantly requiring a flow of new goods and resources. Here shopping is no longer at the centre of the fashion experience but is simply one among many aspects incorporating also the creative energies of individuals as they consider the optimum lifetime of each piece and refresh their wardrobes and themselves in new ways.

Opposite: current (top) and future (below) wardrobe metabolisms indicating many options for slowing personal material flows. 11

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thE lifEtimEs ProJEct:

EXPloring oPtimiZEd lifEtimEs for foUr garmEnts dancing PriVatE girls’ imPortant datE ViEW night mEEting oUt Item
EXPloring oPtimiZEd lifEtimEs for foUr garmEnts
dancing
PriVatE
girls’
imPortant
datE
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night
mEEting
oUt
Item
Use
Party top: impulse buy, fast fashion, bought for a special occasion.
Worn once or twice in its lifetime.
Material Polyester.
Washing
Life-cycle impact
Design strategy 1
never washed, since worn only a few times.
fibre and fabric production phase.
designed for short life. avoids virgin material and keeps materials
light. garment is completely biodegradable or highly recyclable
and goes into a take-back system aft er use, with a deposit paid
back to the consumer.
Design strategy 2
rentable vintage piece available for a single occasion. rental
shop is trendy and specializes in one-off s.
Item basic underwear: screens smells and bodily dirt from other garments. Use Material Washing Life-cycle impact
Item
basic underwear: screens smells and bodily dirt from other
garments.
Use
Material
Washing
Life-cycle impact
Design strategy 1
Worn daily.
cotton/rayon blend.
frequent washing aft er every use.
consumer washing/care stage.
Underwear is disposable to avoid washing. design is soft ,
delicate and laser-cut, made from non-woven cellulose
coloured with biodegradable pigments. supplied in bulk with
composting instructions.
Design strategy 2
non-disposables are designed for low-impact laundering and
come with advice on cleaning strategies that is provided on
product ribbons and labels.
mon
tUE
WEd
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sat
sUn
mon
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WEd
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fri
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Item Utility trousers: with styling as combat trousers or as denim jeans. bought new or second-hand.
Item
Utility trousers: with styling as combat trousers or as denim jeans.
bought new or second-hand.
Use
Material
Washing
Life-cycle impact
Design strategy 1
Worn frequently.
100% cotton.
Washed regularly but not aft er every use.
Washing/use phase and production of fi bre.
Who wears the trousers? made from new materials that age well
from fabric, which grows in character through increased use.
Design strategy 2
ready-worn trousers are bought second-hand from mainstream
stores, where they are intermingled with new items. stores also
off er repair and patching services.
Item Use Material Washing Life-cycle impact Design strategy 1 Plain coat: investment piece, bought aft er
Item
Use
Material
Washing
Life-cycle impact
Design strategy 1
Plain coat: investment piece, bought aft er long consideration.
functional and stylish to last several seasons.
Worn intensively in the winter, stored carefully in warm seasons.
100% wool.
rarely cleaned.
fibre and fabric production phase.
great coat. fits perfectly and is made of durable fabric that resists
wear and tear. comes with spare buttons and thread for repair,
with seasonal co-ordinating accessories off ered by the store.
Design strategy 2
meticulous maintenance instructions attached, and
well-designed labels and history of the design inspiration help
foster an emotional attachment for the wearer. storage bag and
cedar block to deter moths are also provided.

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Chapter 8: Low-impact use

Changing the way in which people wash, dry and care for their garments can significantly influence the environmental impact of any item of clothing. Studies conducted almost 20 years ago revealed the relative importance of laundry behaviour on a garment’s overall sustainability profile. They showed that for frequently washed garments the impact of the so-called ‘use phase’ of a garment’s life is between two and four times that of production, even when measured across a wide range of criteria including carbon dioxide emissions, water pollution and production of solid waste. 12 Put simply, the way in which we care for our clothes has a big effect on their potential sustainability, and focusing design attention here brings the promise of change. Yet while the cumulative impact of our clothes-care behaviours has been known for several decades, it is only much more recently, with the widespread acceptance of life-cycle thinking, that responsibility for what happens in the laundry has begun to be shouldered by designers and fashion brands and not just those of us who actually do the clothes cleaning. In life-cycle thinking, the aim is to improve the sustainability credentials of the entire product, as it is made, used and then discarded. This holistic approach has spawned a number of initiatives aimed at reducing resource-intensive laundry behaviours as a way to improve the sustainability of the overall garment. One such programme, the British government’s ‘Sustainable Clothing Roadmap’, 13 has funded specific research into laundry technologies and associated policy strategies as a way explicitly to promote enhanced sustainability of clothing.

Consumer behaviour and low-impact use

Like almost all sustainability issues in fashion, those relating to laundering are nuanced and complex; there are few one-size-fits-all solutions to the challenges faced. Perhaps the most obvious caveat is that not all garments – and not all consumers – are the same. Some garment types (underwear and T-shirts, say) are washed intensively, while others (jackets and sweaters) are rarely cleaned. For infrequently laundered items, making changes to how they are cared for is a red herring, as it will have almost no effect on their overall sustainability. Similarly, there are wide-ranging differences in the way individuals conduct their laundry practices: some carefully sort and

separate their laundry, doing a part-load as they need an item; others wash everything at the same temperature in full loads; others still use public launderettes, which wash and tumble-dry clothes in large commercial machines. Thus any approach to addressing impacts in laundering needs to be both specific and personal while at the same time able to bridge the subtleties of socio-cultural attitudes and consumer behaviour, in addition to addressing the more straightforward resource-efficiency considerations. Ultimately, the objective is to encourage more sustainable attitudes towards cleanliness and hygiene and help to modify current norms.

Design for low launder

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Perhaps the most obvious place to begin to make changes to reduce the

impact associated with laundering clothes is to work with fibres’ innate washing and drying characteristics and, for example, to specify those materials that wash well in cool temperatures and dry quickly, leading to benefits including lower energy consumption in the laundry (discussed on page 61). Yet it is not just fibre type that influences laundry behaviour; fabric construction and finishing can also lead to lower-impact washing. Novel self-cleaning coatings based on nanotechnology are currently in development. Perhaps the most well-known finishes applied to fabric to influence laundering habits are stain-repellent coatings, such as Scotchgard and Teflon®, that resist dirt; or antimicrobial finishes, from triclosan to quaternized silicones and silver, that help keep fabrics ‘fresher’ for longer. Both these groups of finishes bring the promise of lower impacts in laundering – that is, if their application actually translates into different laundering behaviour, which is far from guaranteed. What is certain, however, is that every additional finishing treatment necessitates a supplementary industrial process and brings an added environmental cost that has to be traded off against speculative laundry benefits over the long term.

Implications of coatings

A growing body of evidence now demonstrates wide-ranging human health impacts associated with perfluorinated chemicals – the base products of stain-repellent coatings. A recent study found evidence linking exposure to perfluorinates with low birth weights in children, 14 and they are now included on the ‘SIN’ (Substitute It Now) list developed by European NGOs. This list identifies 267 substances as being of very high concern, and NGOs are calling for authorities to regulate and eliminate these from products. 15 For antimicrobial coatings, concerns are on-going about bacteria becoming drug-resistant (sometimes called ‘super-bugs’) on account of their continual exposure to bacteria-killing substances including coatings. There are also worries about the wash-fastness of these chemicals and their presence in downstream watercourses. When immersed in the detail of the effects of a coating’s chemistry, it is easy to lose sight of whether such additional finishing treatments deliver actual benefits. Currently evidence proving that their application results in less frequent laundering is lacking, for ‘coatings only directly influence physical factors of laundering, not cultural or behavioural ones… (and) it is cultural or behavioural reasons that account for most of our laundry’. 16 Furthermore, a serious debate about the necessity (or not) of making our clothes free of bacteria in the first place is long overdue. While it makes sense for medical textiles such as dressings or swabs to be sterile to reduce the risk of infection, sterile garments are, for the majority of us with healthy immune systems, far from essential to our well-being.

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New solutions for low launder

Japanese brand Konaka, together with designer Kansai Yamamoto and Savile Row tailor John Pearse, has developed a ‘Shower Clean Suit’ that can be washed in a warm shower stream and dries wrinkle-free. The suit is made from a novel blend of wool and water-soluble fibres and soaked in water after construction, so that the water-soluble fibres dissolve, creating a fabric that is made of wool and an array of hollow cavities. This allows water to pass easily between the fibres, taking dirt along with it. The benefits of an easy-care suit washed in the shower are obvious: no dry- cleaning and associated solvent use; no use of white goods and detergents; and perhaps, in the case of Konaka’s suit, the need to own fewer suits because the cleaning process is so quick. According to Konaka, it takes around ten minutes to rinse the suit to remove normal stains and it drip-dries wrinkle-free in eight hours. Konaka’s innovation is marketed as part of the convenience culture and raises additional questions – such as, when a suit is easier to clean, will we simply wash it more often? And by freshening up a garment in a shower cubicle – in the same way we would our bodies – do our more general expectations of cleanliness around

clothing rise even further, leading to more laundering overall?

No Wash

Perhaps the logical conclusion of any attempt to innovate to reduce the high impact of clothes washing is to design clothes never to be washed at all. By a single stroke, around two-thirds of the total energy consumed in the life of a standard, frequently washed garment could be saved. Persuading people to defy social pressure and adopt non-laundering behaviour with their clothes may not be as challenging as we think: for a small number of people, this is already established behaviour. Recent research gathered stories and images about, among other things, clothes that are still in use and have never been washed. 17 These collated tales reveal that a key influence in determining whether a piece might never be laundered is fear that the washing process itself causes something precious to be lost: a scent, a memory, the particular way a garment fits, the quality of hand-work, and so on. This evocation of emotion as a major influence in home laundering practices stands at odds with leading industry approaches, which treat laundering as a technical and behavioural function of wash-cycle efficiency but not an emotional one.

Social norms and hygiene

As fashion historian Melissa Leventon notes: ‘We are currently in a period where we are clean and perfumed. But there have been periods where we have been clean and unperfumed, unclean and perfumed, and unclean and unperfumed. Each period reflected the social and cultural mores of the time.’ 18 The scope and potential of design to use historical knowledge as a cue to influence social and cultural behaviours is well known; but perhaps its key starting point today, in a time of peak oil and scarce water, is to

shower clean suit by Konaka.

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design pieces that encourage individuals to reflect on their current behaviour and offer visions of a future very different from the present, with the aim of fostering change towards sustainability. To a certain extent, the way in which denim is often worn in so as to allow authentic wear-marks to accumulate in a pair of jeans offers a small insight into a set of already existing alternative behaviours that consume few resources; it takes between four and nine months to wear in a pair of jeans in this way and requires that laundering is delayed a minimum of six months. The No Wash top, designed in 2002–3 by Becky Earley and Kate Fletcher as part of the 5 Ways project, was developed in response to a laundry diary documenting six months of laundry behaviour and life-cycle data that indicated the high relative impact of the consumer-care phase of the life cycle. The garment features wipe-clean surfaces in areas where stains are most likely to accumulate and extra underarm ventilation; it has been worn regularly for several years without washing. Also based on research rooted in user behaviour and cultural rituals, Energy Water Fashion has explored how design can influence the way garments are worn and used. Exhibited as part of London College of Fashion’s MA Fashion and the Environment showcase in early 2010, each item in its eight-piece collection EW8 incorporates a unique design feature, identified through empirical work, to encourage the wearer to wash the garment less often. The features, which include colour, fibre type, fit, design, openings, use of protective layers, and function, offer creative starting points to influence both design practice and the way users care for their clothes, bringing knowledge of the practices of use to bear on the design and development of garments.

Opposite: three pieces from the Energy Water fashion range of garments designed to reduce the impact of laundering through deliberate labelling (the dress); garment fit (trousers); and specifying fibre type with a low-laundering profile (knitted top).

Opposite below:

no Wash top produced as part of the 5 Ways project.

Design to stain

A variant on the no-wash theme is to use the inevitable accumulation of stains on a garment over time as a key part of its design, in effect as a sign of its loving use. Here space is left in a garment’s print or cut to record and celebrate marks of use: something that goes against our usual tactic of erasing all evidence of wear, washing out past stains and spills. Leaving such a space for the user and his or her touch links garment aesthetics to social norms and changes the role that the designer plays, away from producing complete inviolable pieces towards producing items that are finished only in collaboration with the wearer over time. The intention here is that the wearer instantly recognizes that this garment is to be treated differently. Lauren Devenney’s No Stain dress (over the page), for example, presents a new perspective on the faux pas of dirty clothing, with pieces designed to resist smell and encourage stain. Using linen and cotton jersey to allow the body and garments to breathe, and billowy silhouettes with deeply cut arms and neckline for additional circulation, the potential for perspiration and body odour is significantly reduced. Pre-stained in a semi-random splatter pattern, the items are refreshed, rather than degraded, by each further accidental spill.

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Low iron

Statistics show that when we steam-iron a garment on a hot setting, we use the same amount of energy as is consumed during washing (though it is much lower when we iron without steam). 19 Though it is easy to imagine eliminating the ironing process altogether, especially for those among us who are already iron-shy, this strategy has multifaceted implications, not least for social norms and the cultural acceptability of wearing wrinkled garments. Ironing smoothes crumpled or creased fabric and, like washing, gives an appearance of smartness, care and freshness, all of which are triggers for social messages such as success and respect. For centuries, ironing has been a key part of the laundering cycle, particularly for natural fibres such as linen, cotton and silk that crease readily. However, with the introduction of more crease-resistant synthetic fibres after World War II and growing consumer demand for convenient, easy-care fabrics, finishing treatments to increase crease-resistance for natural fibres were developed – effectively doing away with, or at least minimizing, the need for ironing. The trade-off

lauren devenney’s

dress,designed to

embrace stains.

here is whether energy-intensive ironing at home and taking time and care over a garment (which arguably connect you more with a piece) are better than increased chemical use in the industrial finishing process. Or whether both approaches can be eclipsed by other, more resource-efficient solutions – perhaps by working with ideas of social and cultural change or quite simply by designing to be creased.

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Design for wrinkles

Designing for creasing and wrinkles presents an opportunity both to meet a sustainability goal and to benefit the wearer, for in our modern and fast-paced lives, acceptable creases have the appeal of convenience. Muji’s creased and wrinkled T-shirt, for example, completely eliminates the need to iron. Packaged as a shrink-wrapped cube, the product clearly communicates the design intent at point of sale, while the blended cotton–polyester fabric retains creases through use. Printing on deliberately wrinkled cloth to create breaks in the transferred image and trompe-l’oeil effects of wrinkle stripes printed on flat fabric are treatments that have already been explored and marketed successfully on conventional garments. Such effects distract the eye away from unintentional creases, much in the way that a space-dyed yarn, once knitted, distracts the eye from irregular colour fading. These visual manipulations lend themselves well to the designer’s mind- and skill-set and when applied to sustainability issues provide an infinite number of possible solutions. A more sculptural approach to design to be creased could entail structural details such as drawstrings and gathers specifically placed to create volume and wrinkles in creatively acceptable ways, while the wrinkled version of Issey Miyake’s Pleats Please concept provides the opposite effect – constricting rather than building volume – for the same purpose. What all of these ideas have in common is that they make creases and wrinkles acceptable, even chic and desirable, and therefore hold promise for being accepted by the mainstream.

 

muji’s wrinkled t-shirt, which comes packaged as a small cube.

 

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Chapter 9: Services and sharing

The starting point for a good deal of innovation around sustainability is to try to dissociate business success from relentless expansion of material consumption, in an attempt to temper resource depletion, pollution generation and associated effects such as climate change. This of course seems a particularly Herculean task for the fashion sector, whose structure is shaped so profoundly by the expansionist model of economic growth where increasing sales of new items is the most important route to increasing profits and expanding market share. For some years now, business concepts focused on services rather than products have been put forward as offering optimal potential for sustainability improvements. Their secret is to use the pursuit of efficiency to drive resource use down and profits up. Service-oriented businesses can be formulated in many different ways, from repair and hire services to ‘open source’ design services, where garment patterns are freely shared and open for users to make at home. The challenge here is to design the business model as much as to design the garments that are traded in it; and for the requirements of each to shape the other.

Repair services

A key element of many sustainability-focused business models is the possibility of earning income by working in ways other than just selling more material units. Repair services contribute to this goal by helping people return their garments back to good condition and charging for that service. Alteration and mending services are, of course, nothing new and have been an established part of many laundering and tailoring enterprises for many years. However, in formally acknowledging the contribution and relevance of repair work to the overall sustainability profile of the fashion sector, repair is shifted from a stand-alone, ad hoc set of activities to an element that is intrinsic to the overall effectiveness of the fashion ‘system’. Impromptu organizations are already becoming established with or without official fashion industry sanction. Social Fabric Collaborative in San Francisco, for example, provides workshops where professional designers help non-professionals repair and make garments for themselves, starting with simply sewing on a button. Classes are run in collaboration with the Bike Kitchen, a DIY bicycle repair training organization. By associating with an already accepted product maintenance community, Social Fabric asks us to question why we do not also treat our clothing the way we treat our bicycles. Historical precedents are rich with insight into the possibility of repair, alteration and maintenance of clothes. Textiles – and the clothes they are made into – only became plentiful in the twentieth century. Before that, they were highly valued items that were carefully maintained because of both their cost and their scarcity. Many of the techniques that were used to keep clothes wearable for the longest possible time combined details to prevent damage with after-the-fact repair, including: patching or edging worn sections; adding tape or braid to hems, cuffs and necklines to prevent

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fraying; and building large seams or hems into garments so they could be easily altered. For most people, there are few economic savings brought by repairing garments today, mainly due to the low price of new garments relative to the high price of labour for repair. Yet the increasing scarcity and cost of natural resources such as oil and fresh water may act to shift the balance back in favour of repair, and a changing economic and natural climate may usher in a different set of social and material norms. The limitations of and possibilities for repair rarely, if ever, influence the design of a new garment.

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braided hems and patched and repaired lining in a jacket from the Victorian era.

Design for repair

Repair has traditionally been seen as an activity separate from and consecutive to design and production; those specialists altering or repairing clothes tend to do so regardless of the garment’s design, not because of it. Yet opportunities do exist for building future repair and resilience into articles of clothing. Certain sorts of garments naturally seem most suited to this approach – expensive ‘classic’ pieces, for example – yet when these innovative approaches are fused with emotional durability, design for disassembly and adaptability, their application has potential to reach far beyond this niche to many more markets and people. From his mobile ‘ice-cream cart’ equipped with an old treadle sewing machine, Michael Swaine mends people’s clothes for free on street corners in San Francisco. He hems trousers, patches jackets and sews on buttons – originally as part of an art project on generosity, but nine years later, more because of the relationships and trust he has built up with local people. Swaine claims his cart – and the act of repair – has created a community space for talking and has reconnected garments once again to the ‘thread of life’.

Leasing systems

Changing the ways in which products are organized, distributed and used offers the prospect of reducing the amount of materials we consume while still meeting people’s needs. One of the key ways in which we can do this is to move from the traditional model of ‘owning’ garments to one based on ‘leasing’. When a garment is leased, a consumer buys its utility or the results it offers (its fashionability, warmth, protection and so on), rather than the material object itself. Perhaps one of the most common examples of garment leasing is formalwear; the morning tailcoat hired, say, for a wedding. Here the wearer requires the elegance and sense of tradition signified by the coat, and not the permanent ownership of it. This small but not insignificant shift away from exclusive ownership to shared access has the potential to reduce the number of garments that are produced. Clothes hire, library or leasing systems thus work to break the predominant ‘one

michael swaine repairing clothes from his cart on the streets of san francisco.

garment to one wearer’ relationship that typifies most of our experience of using clothes. The challenge is to increase the number of wearers so that the resources that make up each garment are used as intensively as possible. Informally, many of us may have already acted in ways that change the one-to-one garment-to-wearer ratio by, for example, buying and then trading back vintage garments (a kind of covert long-term leasing) or by sharing clothes with close friends, with the main limitation being that for a garment to be easily shared, the people doing the sharing have to be a similar size to ensure the garment fits properly. UK-based knitwear company Keep and Share uses this constraint as a point of innovation, designing loose shapes with minimal fit points at particular places where body dimensions vary the least. The result is a design concept built with pieces that make sharing both more likely and more practical.

The logic of leasing

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The logic behind leasing systems borrows heavily from a set of ideas perfected in consumer economies, and particularly from the notion of efficiency. In leasing, a producer maintains ownership over a garment, rather than selling it. And because garments represent an investment, the producer continually searches for ways in which to make a profit on that investment by increasing the efficiency with which the garments are used. The incentive is to work the garments harder; to make more money, which in the case of a clothing service, is to own few, durable garments and to hire them out to as many individuals as possible for as long as possible. Online accessories company Avelle (formally Bag, Borrow or Steal) offers a rental service for high-end handbags, jewellery and sunglasses. Once a member of the leasing service (around US$5 monthly fee), a customer can rent an item for a week, a month or as long as they want, with rates varying from $15 per week for everyday bags to $150 per week for vintage. All products have been used before and customers are encouraged to take care of the pieces: ‘Think of what you borrow as being on loan from a good friend.’ Avelle actively promotes its service as a

high-status, consumer ‘nirvana’, ‘for handbag addicts it is the ultimate fantasy: an endless stream of pristine designer bags delivered straight to one’s doorstep’. 20 Yet behind this consumer-friendly front, there is a business model in place that makes money from leasing each bag as many times as possible. To encourage this to happen, Avelle uses, for example, a queuing system on its web site so that consumers can see how long they will have to wait to hire a particular piece.

Design services

Another variation on the leasing systems theme is the development of service opportunities around the design of garments. Instead of setting up services to repair or alter existing garments, or to hire garments or other textile products to users, design services themselves can be sold. By tracking back up the supply chain and isolating key functions and potential markets, a service can be developed that has the promise of sustainability benefits.

bag from online accessories rental company avelle.

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short jacket by sans, for which a downloadable pattern is available online.

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The influence of the Internet

The Internet offers new opportunities for direct contact between a pattern-cutter and a home-sewer, allowing for bespoke designs to be produced. Design services can thus work with new technology and the flows of fashion expression while at the same time nudging dominant models of clothing production in new directions. Garments can for example be designed, cut and sewn independent of commercial fashion opportunity or wholly inside it: self-assembly inspired by an image from the fashion press and facilitated by a commercially available garment kit. Other features of Web-based activity, such as open-source co-operative design initiatives, also offer opportunities for sustainability-inspired design services in fashion. Publishing designs and garment patterns under ‘copyleft’ licensing – that is, to be duplicated freely, adapted and shared again rather than protected with ‘copyright’ as is the norm – begins to subvert the hierarchical, power and commercial dynamics of fashion. The outcomes are fashion pieces with a design concept of an entire (global) community, made with the prowess of an individual, most likely from the materials they have to hand, with additional options inevitably opening up through the use of whole-garment knitting machines and the increased availability of rapid prototyping. In addition to its ready-to-wear lines, US fashion brand SANS offers downloadable patterns over the Internet. The patterns are designed to be home-printer-friendly and sections of the pattern, printed on a series of A4 sheets of paper, first have to be assembled before a garment can be cut. Its Home Made initiative started with three basic T-shirt designs, but has now grown to include pieces from the current collection, so blurring the boundaries between fashion labels as producers of finished garments and as fashion service providers and finding new ways for people to relate to their clothes. As the Home Made collection strapline states: ‘Pattern made in New York. Garment made wherever you are.’

trench coat reworked in Junky styling’s wardrobe surgery.

Other models of design services

Junky Styling has been creating new garments from waste ones – most notably from men’s suits – for well over a decade. But more recently it has set up a ‘wardrobe surgery’ at the back of its London store to overhaul, customize or simply alter old, ill-fitting or worn-out clothes. Customers are invited to be part of the design process, to discuss garment preferences and recurring problems encountered with the cut and fit of the piece as was. The garment is then redesigned and reworked and the customer invited in for fitting adjustments: thus the core business of the brand is expanded and raises revenue from remodelling existing garments.

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Chapter 10: Local

‘ A good local economy is one that is shaped from the inside’

Wendell berry

Most modern commercial artefacts are sourced internationally, based on what is the most economical production route for each processing step and material component. Though direct costs are certainly balanced with service, reliability, quality and retail timelines, economics is the logic of production and distribution. This logic makes the bottom line the most powerful factor motivating choices about where to produce garments – a factor that takes no account of the knock-on effects on environments, communities and culture; conventional economics simply counts these effects as costs ‘external’ to a corporation’s activity. For many commentators, the logic of economics-driven globalized production and distribution is at the core of unsustainability, for the large scale and innate anonymity of a globalized fashion system perpetuates our inability to understand its social and ecological impacts. Shifting to a smaller scale of activity changes the relationships between material, people, place, community and environment. When a factory opens up nearby, we know the people employed there – our neighbours – and we can detect the change in mood in a community when local businesses begin to spring up. We can also detect effects on water or air quality more readily and use community monitoring to drive up standards. And when we work directly with artisans and producer communities in developing countries in a long-term alliance, we can witness at first hand the effects (positive and negative) that our trade has on them and adjust our work appropriately.

Revising the scale and location of fashion production

Yet revising the scale of activity in the fashion industry and bringing production closer to markets (mainly in the rich North) is not without complex implications. While a move towards sourcing clothing locally would cut transportation of goods, create jobs near markets and enable closer control of environmental standards, it inevitably undermines job opportunities elsewhere. Indeed, studies indicate that moving textile production to the UK from Asia would put many people in that region out of work, with sustenance farming often the only remaining option. 21 Yet a paying job in itself is not the sole indicator of improved quality of life for overseas workers. Rather, the opportunities provided by employment promote change in other ways. Lobby groups see production in low-cost countries as a way to promote improved working and social conditions. When workers better understand their rights in an industrial system, they are more able to participate in political processes and over time build autonomy, which fundamentally changes the values in supply-chain culture and society as a whole. Besides activists working within the existing industrial supply chain to ensure protection of workers, they have also influenced alternative ways of engaging with makers. The worker-owned co-operative arrangement set

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up by eco-brand Maggie’s Organics in Honduras, for example, was built more than a decade ago with the collaboration and participation of the producer group; and the partnerships led by Alabama Chanin in Florence, Alabama, evolved from both the needs and the resources available locally. Such models emerge in collaboration with the local communities, rather than being imposed from the outside, and as such they are diverse in type and structure and offer many alternatives for manufacturing and distribution.

Local materials

Materials play a vital role in the local agenda. They tangibly link a product with a region, plant species or animal breed and begin in a small way to counteract the abstract ‘flow of goods’ that dominates globalized production systems. As in the food sector, family farmers growing fibre struggle to compete on price with large-scale agriculture. In the US, the number of cotton farms decreased from 43,000 in 1987 to 25,000 in 2002, while the average cotton farm doubled in size during the same period. 22 To counter this general tendency, some farmers have developed crop niches that command higher value in local markets: heritage, regional, organic and ‘predator- friendly’ fibres encourage diversification in farming or ranching and respect for natural ecosystems, while Fairtrade and supply-chain collaborations aid in bringing fibre to market and aim to ensure a fair price to the producer.

The challenges of working locally

In order to make available a variety of local fibres for fashion, a set of

practical and philosophical issues has first to be overcome. So as to process fibre into garments, a suitable (and preferably local) industry has to be in place, including processors able to work with small volumes (for local fibre is rarely large-scale), tracking and warehousing companies that can ensure material provenance, and facilities able to convert fibre to yarn, fabric and final garments. These present substantial challenges, since local textile infrastructure in industrialized nations has become eroded as economics have driven production away from high-cost countries; and even specialist processors now struggle to stay in business. Moreover, a supply of local fibre requires consumers who will create the demand to support its production and who are willing to tailor their fashion consumption to locally available products. In Northern Europe this would mean garments made from wool, bast fibres and recycled material processed by an increasingly small network of specialist companies with production facilities flexible enough to deal with small volumes. And in northern California it would mean a combination of wool, alpaca and some cotton, spun by hand, since there are no longer any industrial cotton spinners in the state. Garment construction in both regions would, by necessity, be simple, since labour costs are high relative to the global average. Designing locally demands creative thinking on many levels for it to work in practice. In the south-west of England, where hemp-growing and small-scale fibre-processing both exist, design duo Maca have captured the local

energy and have created a bag from UK hemp, dyed with British turmeric and waterproofed with locally grown linseed oil. 23 The product supports local growers and attests to the future of fibre grown in the immediate area.

Designing for local culture

maca’s hemp bag is dyed with local turmeric and waterproofed with british linseed oil.

Bringing a local agenda to bear on the fashion sector in order to promote

sustainability is a potentially transformatory process aimed at fostering economic resilience and also promoting cultural and aesthetic diversity. Yet the pull of globalization erodes, rather than builds, fashion’s cultural variety and the styling of garments generally reflects the same Western aesthetic, irrespective of those in the place where they are made or sold. Fashion designers are complicit in this, for we often take inspiration from one region and have it copied in another where it can be most cheaply produced. This reduces the cultural element to mere surface ornament, diminishes the viability and traditions of locality and accelerates the standardization of both markets and products. Rather than sourcing the ‘lowest possible price at all costs’ and applying exotic ornament on to the garment as a print or embellishment, designing with sensitivity to the place where products are produced or consumed demands that designers navigate a middle zone between commerce and culture. It requires developing a knowledge of local traditions, mythologies and symbolism, and understanding the meaning of colour and ornament from the local and historical perspective. This approach draws on regionally available materials and the skills of local people who contribute an innate cultural knowledge to the product itself.

Cheryl Andrews has explored the possibilities of designing for the culture local to where garments are produced. Selecting Levi Strauss as the global company and the Philippines as the region, Andrews worked within the limits of regionally available fibres, taking advantage of traditional craft skills and researching the significance of colour, pattern and silhouette particular to the region. The resulting line of designs reflects both the place of manufacture and the style of the company. Even local weather patterns inspired a rubber hem detail that resists splashing in monsoon rains. Andrews’s work starts to give visual form to how a global company could maintain a consistent image while producing regionally and culturally relevant styles. When scaled to include other regions, the concept has the potential to celebrate diversity and difference and to value people and place as well as commerce.

garments designed for a global brand (levi’s red label) for a local mar ket (the Philippines) using regional materials and styled by cheryl andrews.

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Designing with local artisans

‘ A simplistic mind is full of answers. It is also a mind that seldom realizes the simple fact that answers must be preceded by pertinent questions.’

manfred max-neef

‘ Tread carefully and break no sticks.’

Wallace stegner

Revising the scale of fashion activity based on locality is a decidedly different direction from the industrial norm. It rejects the impersonal and anonymous transactions associated with large-scale commercial trade in favour of the human touch, where knowing the effect of trade on producer, region and community is integral to decisions made in development of the products. By its nature, local design is rich and diverse, for it emerges through the skills and resources of a particular region, its histories, and the attitudes of its people, their traditions, social structures and markets that may or may not be available. Working with artisans in less industrialized countries brings all these elements to bear on the design process in an immediate and vital way. On the surface level, since many such artisans are separated from the taste of consumers in cities and industrialized nations, the trained eye of the designer can bridge cultural styles to develop products that both express the traditions of the craftsperson and fit the lifestyles of the target market. But this involves careful negotiation between the traditions and aesthetics of craft and the usual measures of commerce. For example, a knitter may reject a suggestion to knit traditional socks in different (more commercial) colours because those socks have cultural significance as they are. 24 To an artisan, art and economics often occupy different worlds and as such have different goals – one spiritual and the other mundane. 25 And it takes a particular humility in the designer to be as attuned to these sensibilities as they are to the market appeal of visual ornament and the desired project outcomes.

Aesthetics and modes of employment appropriate to place Moreover, though co-operatives are perceived by richer nations as the surest guarantee of fair wages, local groups may naturally take a variety of forms that do not follow conventional modes of employment, from family-run workshops to micro-enterprises and private companies; the most successful ventures tend always to grow organically out of the social patterns, behaviours and structures already established in the region. 26 Designers working directly with artisans in the field therefore become ‘bi-cultural’, adept at balancing considerations of ornament with the expectations, realities and potentials of the project people and organizations involved. Local artefacts developed with this bi-cultural sensibility inevitably

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display an aesthetic that itself reflects the social autonomy of the artisan group, where the local ornament, materials, techniques and skills are integral to the design. In contrast, products where the region is used primarily for labour often look like they might have been made anywhere. A product aesthetic that is introduced into a community from the outside rather than one that evolves from within creates a dependency on the designer as the ‘oracle’ of Western ideas and market needs, whereas a bi-cultural designer’s concern is always: what happens when the designer leaves and the product loses favour amid the changing whims of a marketplace with which the artisans have no familiarity and to which they have no access? 27 Yet, with all this said, an artisan’s own reasoned sentiment might be:

‘God bless America, for this order means the difference between barely surviving and earning a respectable living.’ 28 Such was the sentiment expressed in Armenia at a time when the economy had imploded, as had the economies of several other former Soviet republics; for without an export market at that time, there were no markets at all.

Challenging preconceived views

Taking these points to heart challenges some of the most well-established mantras in the fashion and sustainability movement, such as ‘consumption is bad’, ‘overseas production is bad’, and ‘working with artisans is good’. None of these is innately true. Each must be qualified against a backdrop of circumstances particular to the locale, the moment in time, the economic, political and cultural circumstances, and the local and regional potential and capabilities. Asking questions, listening and observing carefully, and finding ways to respond and take action appropriately in a local, regional and global context is key. Artisan projects, which respond to economic needs in marginal communities, comprise an elementally different way of creating. When executed at its best, this work shifts the powers and relationships of the supply chain and enriches the lives of the artisans and the designer as well as those who buy their wares; 29 it is truly a catalyst for economic and social change. The Cojolya Association is a non-profit organization established in 1983 to help preserve the tradition of Mayan backstrap loom weaving in Guatemala. In recent years, the survival of backstrap weaving has become threatened owing to Mayan youth migrating to urban centres for work. Providing income through weaving will, it is hoped, help create viable economic alternatives to migration and help preserve this traditional craft. One of the functions of the association is to steer the development of products to ensure their market appeal, while working within the capacities of the local artisans. To maintain a high standard, the centre provides the women with already warped pieces, which they then take home to complete. Working from home minimizes disruption to the women’s daily routines and allows them to maintain their family obligations. And since this region of Guatemala is still in recovery from decades of turmoil and

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trauma caused by civil war, the Cojolya Association does not require the artisans to disclose their names or to sign any documents. Women may come and go as they please, working when they choose without committing themselves. Though these arrangements are alien to the developed world’s conceptual framework for social responsibility and ‘fair trade’ in the supply chain, they function well for this small community. The project currently employs 30 women and has a core of 13 who have made weaving their career. Fashion designer Nimish Shah worked with the NGO Khamir to develop a range of organic cotton hand-woven textiles in the Kutch region of Gujarat, India. This particular NGO supports young entrepreneurs, as a means to help make sure the industry of village crafts does not disappear. Khamir recommends the weavers (who work from home), co-ordinates the initial sampling, and ensures that production, weaving and shipping run smoothly. Shah’s designs used a traditional motif and made it more suitable for a Western or westernized Indian market by colour-blocking to open up some of the dense patterning, thereby fusing the artisans’ skills with contemporary sensibilities. This hands-on experience changed Shah’s creative process profoundly; having alternative sources at the ready during initial sampling and establishing buffer lines to ensure production deliveries were as essential to the success of the project as good designs. Bringing the cloth to market also exposed Shah to the difference between businesses oriented to supporting an industry of crafts and those who use artisans merely for labour. Although the recent interest in ecologically and socially sourced materials and products has increased demand for artisan products, the dominant logic of speed to market still prevails; Shah noted how many companies and their buyers looked for documentation and paperwork, rather than taking the time truly to engage in the realities of making things happen at the artisan level. Aware of the difference between this type of work and industrialized production, he notes: ‘You can’t ignore something because it is difficult.’

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Above: artisans at cojolya association in guatemala weave contemporary fabrics on traditional backstrap looms.

Opposite: skirt by nimish shah produced in collaboration with artisan groups in india.

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Chapter 11: Biomimicry

‘ The point is not to impose a pattern of our own making and disrupt natural patterns, but to remain ever mindful that human cleverness is subordinate to nature’s wisdom.’

Wendell berry

In recent years we have come to understand that safeguarding natural systems is more than an act of altruism, for these systems ‘cradle and nourish’ 30 our societies and economy, providing for us both materially and spiritually. Janine Benyus, founder of the Biomimicry Institute, presents additional reasons for protecting the environment, for in a time of ecological crisis and shrinking resources, nature offers us a wealth of insights to apply to our own way of living. Biomimicry is the practice of emulating nature’s patterns and strategies to direct product design, processes and policies and as such draws its inspiration from the living world. 31 Benyus contrasts the rich and diverse natural world with the systematic taming and simplification of nature through human activity and the subsequent destruction of species. We understand that ‘the only way to keep learning from nature… and its wellspring of ideas… is to safeguard its naturalness’. 32 That the study of biomimicry can trigger this level of understanding in designers is in itself of great value. It draws us far beyond the limits of the narrow and intellectual habitat of industrialized design and reminds us of the dual nature of our present circumstances as designers:

how small a part we play in, and yet what enormous responsibility we have to, the ‘whole’.

Practical application of biomimicry

Being inspired and awed by nature is one thing, but practical application of its lessons is an altogether greater challenge. Stewart Brand, ecologist and founder of the Whole Earth Catalog and its descendants, critiques the practical limitations of biomimicry, noting that nature is extremely difficult to mimic in detail because natural processes are the ‘irrational product of timeless evolution, rather than design’. 33 Brand favours supplementing nature’s design with ‘as much human intervention as necessary’, in order to enable rapid implementation of ideas, and presents the aeroplane as an example, in which a bird’s flapping wings became stationary and the human invention of the propeller eventually enabled human flight. That nature’s processes are irrational and spontaneous and may take millennia to evolve can be a challenging concept for designers to grasp since we work to such short deadlines and ‘lock in’ our designs before production. But an effective visual metaphor is provided by Donella Meadows’s reference to fractal geometry. Using the example of an equilateral triangle, Meadows explains that when another such triangle is added at the centre of each side and the pattern repeated, an elaborate shape results – called a ‘Koch snowflake’ (see fig. 6). Meadows notes that

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out of a few simple rules of self-organization, enormous diversifying crystals of technology, physical structures, organizations and cultures can grow – including our own.

More than a tool for copying nature

The Koch snowflake helps us understand why mimicking the complexities of evolved nature is difficult. But it also illustrates that biomimicry is not simply a tool for copying. Rather it is understanding and applying nature’s principles – surprisingly simple at their core – that is more the point. This distinction of purpose is critical, for in our culture where the market, high speed and low cost direct design ‘innovation’, it is all too easy for designers to fall into using biomimicry to serve the status quo of manufacturing and

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FIG. 6 a Koch snowflake illustrates the delicate and intricate patterns that can develop from a simple set of organizing principles or decision rules. 34

selling novelty, and degrading the environment in the process. Benyus’s basic guidelines can provide designers with a tool to assess and evaluate their own ideas and actions, and maintain focus on ecological gains – to inspire not just the quality of things but rather to inform the ‘fitness’ of those ideas for the context in which they are placed and to direct the nature of whole systems. Nature as a model – where nature is imitated or used as a source of inspiration for designs and processes to solve human problems, e.g. a solar cell inspired by a leaf. Nature as measure – where nature is used as an ecological standard to judge the ‘rightness’ of our innovation, e.g. considering how much energy (and what type) does the solar panel use in its production and whether the energy it saves during use justifies this investment. Nature as mentor – where nature is viewed and valued in a new way. It introduces an era based not on what we can extract from the natural world, but on what we can learn from it, e.g. developing solar technology that can be installed close to point of use, rather than developing desert wilderness areas into solar panel farms. It is not only through nature as model but through nature as measure and nature as mentor that the truly transformative potential of biomimicry can be fully realized, as the above examples illustrate.

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How will we make textiles?

Biomimicry-inspired ideas for sustainability in fashion typically start as most initiatives do – centred on physical materiality: the enhancement of fabrics, or engineered fibres, surfaces and finishes. But since these developments often require highly technical physical or molecular engineering, innovations are frequently housed within the labs of technical universities or performance fabric suppliers. Fashion designers may therefore become quite frustrated at the lack of access and the lack of means they have for implementing and actualizing biomimicry innovations. These frustrations are indicators of old work habits – where designers are ensconced in studios, fulfilling industry expectations as stylists and purveyors of novelty. In this pattern of practice, designers rarely, if ever, interact with scientists and technologists; the unfamiliar and rich territories between disciplines remain unexplored, and the synergies of interdisciplinary collaborations remain unignited. Interrupting these old working patterns is cumbersome and awkward. We have become so fragmented as an industry and so isolated in our specialities that pathways between each are simply nonexistent. Yet biomimicry is as much about opening up these routes as it is about

innovating products. For designers, too, are ‘complex living organisms that evolved in and function best in a dynamic and diverse environment’. 35

Breaking out of siloed patterns of practice

Inventor and entrepreneur Nick Brown succeeded in breaking through the silos of practice out of sheer necessity. Inspired by the transpiration activity of trees, he developed and patented a technology, prototyped and tested a range of technical textiles, and approached a number of companies to manufacture them. Finding no willing par tners, he started his own company, Páramo, which now specializes in ‘smart fabrics’ (see page 77). One of the patents, the TX.10i elastomer, involved altering and strengthening the molecular structure of mineral wax, changing it from its typical brittle quality and making it elastic and resilient. Termed Nikwax, the elastomer bonds to anything that is not water-repellent, but leaves spaces between fibres open and breathable. In addition to providing water repellency, the technology traps air next to the skin, directs moisture away from the body and prevents external moisture from coming in, insulating the body in much the same way as the water-repellent fur of seals, otters and bears. What is most notable in this case is that the resulting fabrics may never have come to market were it not for the innovator’s ability to corral allies, work with people of varying backgrounds, and hone organizational skills while maintaining a tireless entrepreneurial spirit. All are crucial qualities that are enhanced by working across sectors, as natural systems do. Here we witness nature as mentor.

Collaborations across sectors

Cross-sector bridges can also be forged when the market seeks out

researchers for specific development. Such was the case with the

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cha P t E r 11: b io mimicr Y 117 Jacket by Páramo features nikwax

Jacket by Páramo features nikwax treatment and fabric technology inspired by the transpiration activity of trees.

biomimicry innovations housed in the universities of Bath and Reading in the UK. 36 Prompted by a contract with the Ministry of Defence and a brief that called for eliminating the need to carry extra clothing in desert environments, the design challenge was to develop single fabrics that would render the wearer comfortable in a wide range of desert temperatures from daytime heat to nighttime chill. Finding inspiration in the way pinecones open and close, these researchers created technical materials that adapt and flex in response both to the activity of the wearer and to the level of moisture in the air. A resulting single textile is constructed from two bonded layers. The top layer features tiny spikes of wool, each only one two- hundredth of a millimetre wide. When the wearer sweats, the tiny spikes react to the moisture and automatically open up, allowing air from the outside to pass through the material to cool the body. When the wearer stops sweating, the spikes close down again to prevent cool air from getting in. The lower, water-resistant layer blocks rain and moisture from entering whether the spikes are open or closed. Besides using nature as a model and drawing innovations for garment design from particular species engineering, biomimicry asks us to learn from the larger operating systems of nature itself and to explore opportunities in production systems and business models. A biomimicry- inspired garment, for example, may effectively deliver multiple functions (waterproofing, insulation and breathability), fulfilling the needs of military personnel in a desert environment while also reducing the number of layers in an outfit. But a mainstream wearer who seldom encounters such extreme temperature ranges may well layer the garment to create a trendy look, rendering the technical features as mere novelty and the garment overbuilt for its end use. Nature’s logic would never allow this, for it is a waste of resources and energy. Moreover, when the likely business model of the company selling the product is dependent upon more sales, there is no incentive for the company to communicate anything but the novel aspects of biomimicry to the wearer. Fabric and product development, ecology, business motivations and consumer behaviour must co-evolve to achieve optimum sustainability benefits. The true power and potential of biomimicry may be diminished if the design ideas it inspires (nature as model) are developed in a cultural vacuum where nature as measure and nature as mentor are ignored.

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How will we manufacture? Current industry transforms nature’s resources into products with little regard for social and environmental repercussions, placing emphasis on getting the product made and shipped to market as quickly and as inexpensively as possible. The underpinning economic directive of this business model is to expand and grow: to increase productivity of labour, to increase speed to market, to influence consumers to buy more to maintain and increase this flow of goods. As a result, it is estimated that only six per cent of the flow of materials into the US economy actually ends up as products. 37

Designing business and manufacturing systems to mimic nature

Janine Benyus describes stages of businesses in evolutionary terms as operating like ecosystems, providing a useful metaphor for understanding what are usually invisible company operations. In nature, the above industrial scenario could describe a ‘stage I’ immature ecosystem. Here, typically, opportunistic and colonizer species predominate. Since sunlight and soil nutrients are readily available, type I species are linear, avidly consume resources, leave waste, and move quickly to exploit new areas. They reproduce quickly and take no time to process efficiently or to cycle resources. Their waste does, however, fertilize the soil and provide opportunities for ‘succession’ species in stage II. These are largely perennial plants and berry bushes, which produce fewer seeds and build roots and sturdy stems for more rigorous growth. Finally, type III species such as trees develop. They are masters of efficiency, and take out of the ecosystem no

more than what they put into it. They generate fewer offspring, and live longer and more complex lives in elaborate synergy with the species around them; they put energy into creating and optimizing symbiotic relationships, rather than into rampant growth, and they endlessly juggle materials, with virtually no waste. 38 In a world of declining resources and limited space for the expanding human population to provide for itself, the ultimate goal of biomimicry-inspired manufacture is to build economies, businesses and manufacturing systems that operate in a dynamic equilibrium like a complex stage III ecosystem.

Cycles, loops and businesses clustered in new ways

In manufacturing, mimicking the structures of a complex ecosystem imagines a system with no landfill, no smokestacks, and no effluent pipes. Instead, industries are clustered so that the waste from one (materials, heat, water, etc.) can easily become the resource for another and where throughput is continuously cycled, with zero emissions to the surroundings. Attempts to transition to a stage III company are, however, frequently awkward, because established ‘stocks’ of information and ways of working take time to change direction and purpose. 39 Alliance-building and partnering with other companies is critical, yet it runs counter to usual fashion industry culture, and it naturally takes time to build trust and

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redefine new boundaries of business. To enable this change, a logical first step may be to set up loops and cycling systems internally, so that the benefits and challenges can be easily tested and observed and working mechanisms recalibrated as needed. Establishing an external partnership or network and working with other companies and industries then become mid- to long-range goals respectively, forming a continuum of change. Once new infrastructure and working patterns are established, benefits can be significant; the systems of product development become optimized, with increased efficiencies and innovation integral to the new mode of business. Manufacturer Pratibha Syntex, for example, is in the process of adapting its business around a number of textile-recycling initiatives at its facility in Madhya Pradesh, India. This has included designing new products and building a spinning facility to process its textile waste into recycled yarns and garments. The new product initiatives have been so successful that the company no longer generates enough of its own waste to run its recycled yarn-spinning operation at full capacity. Responding to this ‘hiccup’ in the flow of recycled materials, Pratibha has recently linked to an external source for industry-wide production waste, to supplement its own material flow and keep up with its recycled yarn sales.

Shifting mindsets to catalyse innovation

What is even more remarkable is that the success of Pratibha’s recycling programme has helped to catalyse a shift in mindset within the company; from one of maximizing product throughput, to minimizing material input and optimizing the productivity of incoming resources. Creativity is now focused on how many different ways to reduce waste and on opening up new markets to accommodate any that remains. This is spurring unexpected innovations such as designing away waste from the outset. As operations shift to accommodate recycling as well as new product development, the company will become conditioned and more adaptable to the fluctuating proportion of recycled-to-new product demand from season to season. In the meantime, testing an increased menu of products and markets benefits the company as a whole, affording increased flexibility across industry sectors and improving the long-term resilience of the business. Recycled products represent two per cent of the company’s current production, but this is expected to reach 20 per cent in the next three to five years. 40 One innovation to emerge from Pratibha Syntex’s new approach to manufacturing is a low-waste-in-pattern-cutting garment. The ‘net shape top’ is made from one tube of knitted jersey. Vertical cuts made parallel to the sides form the sleeves and body when sewn. Horizontally repeated parallel lacerations at the top and down the sleeve are then ‘picked up’ and looped through each other by hand to form a chunky- knit texture. This looping action pulls the jersey fabric inwards, to form the yoke shape and shoulder line of the garment, and the final cast-off edge forms the neckline.

‘net shape’ knitted shirt by Pratibha syntex, made from a single tube of fabric with no waste. stage i company.

LINEAR MATERIAL FLOWS FROM SOURCE TO SALES, WITh 30 pER CENT WASTE (pRATIBhA SyNTEX 2009)

LINEAR MATERIAL FLOWS FROM SOURCE TO SALES, WITh 30 pER CENT WASTE (pRATIBhA SyNTEX 2009) fabric
LINEAR MATERIAL FLOWS FROM SOURCE TO SALES, WITh 30 pER CENT WASTE (pRATIBhA SyNTEX 2009) fabric
LINEAR MATERIAL FLOWS FROM SOURCE TO SALES, WITh 30 pER CENT WASTE (pRATIBhA SyNTEX 2009) fabric
LINEAR MATERIAL FLOWS FROM SOURCE TO SALES, WITh 30 pER CENT WASTE (pRATIBhA SyNTEX 2009) fabric
  • fabric

LINEAR MATERIAL FLOWS FROM SOURCE TO SALES, WITh 30 pER CENT WASTE (pRATIBhA SyNTEX 2009) fabric
spinning Knitting Pratibha syntex Wholesale dyeing cut and sew 30% waste
spinning
Knitting
Pratibha syntex
Wholesale
dyeing
cut and sew
30% waste
  • downcycled

LINEAR MATERIAL FLOWS FROM SOURCE TO SALES, WITh 30 pER CENT WASTE (pRATIBhA SyNTEX 2009) fabric
  • sold to

rag trade

RECyCLING WASTE SLOWS RAW MATERIAL FLOWS AND OpENS Up NEW MARKETS

LINEAR MATERIAL FLOWS FROM SOURCE TO SALES, WITh 30 pER CENT WASTE (pRATIBhA SyNTEX 2009) fabric
self-generated waste industry waste Virgin fi bre Virgin yarn
self-generated
waste
industry waste
Virgin fi bre
Virgin yarn
LINEAR MATERIAL FLOWS FROM SOURCE TO SALES, WITh 30 pER CENT WASTE (pRATIBhA SyNTEX 2009) fabric
30% waste (soft waste) Wholesale spinning Knitting Pratibha syntex dyeing cut and sew design r+d
30% waste
(soft waste)
Wholesale
spinning
Knitting
Pratibha syntex
dyeing
cut and sew
design r+d

recycling

LINEAR MATERIAL FLOWS FROM SOURCE TO SALES, WITh 30 pER CENT WASTE (pRATIBhA SyNTEX 2009) fabric

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How will we conduct business?

‘ Design mentality can reshape production processes – and even the entire structure and logic of business.’

Paul hawken, amory lovins, hunter lovins

As stated earlier in these pages, the fundamental principle of a company in the growth economy is to maximize earnings. This prime motivation directs the behaviour of the organization and everyone working in it, including design. From sourcing and supply-chain operations to employee payroll and general practices, emphasis is placed on driving costs down while driving sales up. Wherever possible, the expense of conducting business is externalized and effectively passed on to the rest of society. While financial returns accumulate with the shareholders of the company, costs for restoring degraded environments and supplying unemployment benefits are borne by the government, supported by rates and taxes, the effect being that the public subsidizes the true cost of business activities. 41 The attention that the private sector pays to monetary values over all else makes capturing a range of social and environmental values in the design process difficult. For if there is no distinction between money acquired through means that enrich the environment and society and that created by means that impoverish society, 42 then the cheapest route is always the immediate choice. What seem to be the more expensive ‘sustainability’ initiatives in product development are then rejected, even if over the long term they result in savings. As difficult as it is for designers, the challenges are many times greater for any ‘responsible’ company to internalize costs when it competes in a marketplace with other companies that do not. For it is competitors who set the market price.

A broader set of values

Nevertheless, as the economy transitions towards sustainability, a broader set of values not typically captured by the private sector is being demonstrated in a growing number of ways. Collaborations among traditionally competitive companies have been formed to set industry-wide standards for a range of issues, from supply-chain terms of engagement to management of resources in textile processing. Several companies now pledge a portion of their sales revenue to NGOs, thereby redirecting wealth to support activities for the common good. In more progressive companies, social and ecological goals have been integrated into employee job descriptions and performance criteria, driving fundamental changes in corporate culture. Socially responsible shareholders and organizations such as As You Sow are influencing investors to direct company actions beyond the single goal of profit. ‘Sustainable’ product lines start to internalize some of the environmental costs of business practice and, when identified at retail, express values to the consumer beyond a monetary transaction and thereby start to influence the mainstream cultural mindset.

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fashion s Y st E m s

Influencing the fashion mainstream is one of the greatest challenges for sustainability and also one of its greatest potentials. Fashion touches the lives of almost everyone, every day, and can be an effective vehicle for changing minds, attitudes and behaviour. To this end, outdoor company Patagonia is working with retailer Walmart to provide mentorship on sustainability actions and strategies. This unlikely partnership has benefits for both. Clearly Patagonia’s experience and expertise in implementing sustainability programmes over the last 20 years speeds Walmart’s learning. And Walmart’s scale and purchasing leverage can move the industry more quickly and broadly than a smaller company ever could. Effectively, Patagonia sees its sustainability actions amplified through Walmart, and perhaps realizes indirect benefits such as greater availability of low-impact fabrics and processes industry-wide.

Different business logic

While these examples start to move existing businesses and the economy towards sustainability, altogether new models based on fundamentally different logic drive distinctly different behaviours for business. Rather than emphasizing growth for growth’s sake, and accumulating monetary wealth for a few shareholders, profits are reinvested to generate revenue with the explicit purpose of growing the benefits to an increasing number of beneficiaries. There are already several examples of businesses that build wealth or ‘increase beneficial output in the local communities they serve’, 43 evidenced in community banks, farmer–broker co-operatives, employee- owned businesses, community-supported agriculture initiatives, and so on. These provide models for application in all industries, including fashion. Just as social and environmental values are permeating the private sector, so the culture of efficiency and entrepreneurship typically attributed to business is influencing the non-profit sector. Goodwill Industries, for example, balances its core goals of social good with an opportunistic approach to new market niches. Having started as a clothing thrift-store, the organization now recycles a broad range of items, from used books to shoes and jewellery, discarded computers and electronics. Analysis of what sells best in their A, B and C stores is remarkably similar to the tracking systems of any conventional fashion business. But in addition to providing an effective resource and recovery service to the community, Goodwill’s dual competency is in providing job training and vocational employment support to individuals in the San Francisco Bay Area who would otherwise face a range of difficulties from physical disabilities and homelessness to histories of incarceration and long-term dependency upon welfare. More than 85 per cent of Goodwill’s revenue is channelled into training programmes and services, covering a variety of client needs, from transitional employment and computer literacy to truck-driving lessons and English language skills. The organization also works with fir st-time non-violent drug offenders, offering literacy skills training, apprenticeships, and legal, health and family counselling.

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cha P t E r 11: b io mimicr Y 123 a worker on goodwill san

a worker on goodwill san francisco’s training programme.

Real wealth In this business model there is no love–hate relationship or conflict of values between financial and business goals and social and environmental goals; the more the business grows, the more people and the environment are served. Moreover, as the organization grows it also expands its ability to mitigate public costs for unemployment and environmental clean-up (i.e. landfill costs). This dynamic creates what David Korten calls ‘a real wealth economy,’ 44 and illustrates nature as mentor at its best. The synthesis of business with social and environmental good is perhaps best evidenced by Goodwill’s measurements of success. In addition to the line items indicated on balance sheets and profit and loss statements, they track and measure the number of people served, the number of people placed in gainful employment, the average wage received, and the tons of goods diverted from landfill. 45

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Chapter 12: Speed

All activities have a tempo or speed to them. Some are fast and some are slow. Today’s dominant mass-market fashion business model of producing and selling cheap, homogenized clothing items in ever-increasing quantities is based on fast speed. But doing everything fast – increasing the number of stock drops into store each season, cutting lead times to supplier factories, decreasing the time to market of a design, transporting stock by road or air rather than sea – is not an inevitable feature of fashion production and consumption. Rather, it is the prevailing market and economic system, the goal of which is to grow in scale continually. Increasing the speed of operations is just one mechanism by which growth is achieved. This driving force exerts pressure on every part of the textile supply chain, drawing each into a tightening spiral of increasingly low prices and creating a negative dynamic, pitching one against another to compete for business: farmer against farmer, mill against mill, retailer against retailer. This ‘competitive economics’, as Wendell Berry names it, 46 also fuels adoption of technologies and practices that push both people and natural resources beyond tolerable thresholds. Increasing the tempo of fashion activity grows the volume of garments produced and consumed, for converting a design to market faster enables a company to steal a march on its competitors and provides more opportunities to sell. Similarly, increasing the frequency with which sales stock is refreshed in store (for example, by introducing several mini-collections in each season) exploits the consumer desire for novelty and triggers a rise in sales. While the desired economic effect of increasing speed is to grow the fashion business, the inescapable resource effect is an increase in the demand for natural materials and labour, dictated by an ever-greater throughput of physical products. The impact of this dynamic on ecosystems and workers is at the crux of the sustainability challenge for fashion. To date, those fashion companies that have chosen to deal with the sustainability impacts of production have mostly focused on increasing resource efficiency (doing more with less) and rolling out good labour practices across an ever-larger workforce as a way to mitigate the ill effects of increasingly faster business practices. Positive as these strategies may be, they are limited by the scale of efficiency gains that are actually possible and the effectiveness with which good labour practices can be introduced en masse. Against a backdrop of continual economic growth, the mechanisms that ensure sustainability gains must also increase in potency indefinitely.

Raising questions about speed means raising questions about economics

However, the tempo of the fashion sector is not fixed. There are many speeds

of fashion activity with ‘better’ resource profiles that are also possible. Yet to invoke them means that the underlying models of the fashion industry need to change; in raising questions about speed we must also raise questions about economics, for they are two sides of the same coin. There is, of course, great resistance to changing existing ways of doing things, not

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least because today’s practices often limit what we imagine might be possible tomorrow. Just as the gauge of train tracks limits ideas about the sorts of train that can run on them, existing economic models lock us in to particular ideas about the way the fashion business can operate. It is the infrastructure itself that has to be rethought.

Steady-state economics

More than 30 years ago, economist and author Herman Daly proposed a non-material-growth-based economic model, which he termed ‘steady- state economics’. 47 Here the economic priority is to maintain stocks of resources at a steady level (determined by the ability of the ecosystem to regenerate materials and process wastes) rather than to expand continually regardless of ecosystem capabilities (see figs. 7 and 8). Inevitably this model connotes activity that approaches speed in a profoundly different manner than that seen in today’s fashion sector, but what is critical to note is that this shift is not at the cost of development, for the economy will still be free to grow – not in physical, quantitative terms, but in qualitative terms. This shift in goals has the potential to transform the sustainability profile of the fashion sector at root and opens up a plethora of possibilities. In this new economic model, tempo or speed is not locked into the maximal resource-use ‘fast’ position (nor slow, for that matter), but is flexible to adapt to a variety of speeds called upon as necessary by different needs and contexts. This presents a fundamentally different starting point for change.

FIG. 7
FIG. 7

Production

Ecosystem Production raw materials consumption Waste FIG. 8
Ecosystem
Production
raw
materials
consumption
Waste
FIG. 8

fig. 7 - Ever-growing cycles of production and consumption (daly, 1992). such a view can encourage an economy that can ultimately strain the environment. fig. 8 – steady-state economics considers cycles of production and consumption that take the surrounding ecosystem into account and try to achieve equilibrium with it (daly, 1992).

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Fast

Fast speed in fashion has become synonymous with a particular type of fashion product and retail environment. This has been made possible by consumers’ seemingly insatiable appetite for material consumption and by technological advances that eat into some of the time delays that were once seen as an inevitable part of the clothing supply chain. Tracking sales with electronic tills and linking this data to supplier factories with flexible production schedules has now made it possible to restock a rail with a popular item as demand requires; and computer-aided design interfaced with just-in-time manufacturing methods has enabled a design sketch to be turned into a finished product in as little as three weeks. Doing things quickly implies that we can do more things. It also generates more impact. In fashion, as in other sectors, the cost implications of the growth model are mainly felt outside the corporation enjoying the benefits: by society at large, by workers and by the environment. Costs are experienced as increased pollution, resource depletion and climate change. They are reflected in clothing workers’ ‘poverty’ wages, temporary employment contracts and unpaid overtime, as their employers are squeezed on price and order times (cut by 30 per cent in the past five years) 48 by large retailers and global brands wielding their economic power and economies of scale. They are felt as lack of choice and variety of garments on the high street as low-cost ‘big-box’ retailers create a dynamic that prioritizes cheapness, mass availability and volume purchasing above all else, forcing smaller producers, who cannot compete on price alone, out of business. And they are felt in the fields and ranches where fibre is produced, where land becomes degraded – salinated from the overuse of synthetic fertilizers or compacted from overgrazing – and where family farmers who cannot compete on price alone are forced off the land.

Fast speed in fashion framed more deeply

A great number of newspaper column inches has been devoted to fast fashion in recent years. But rarely do these columns frame impacts within a broad and deep picture. Certainly, they portray the effects of fast fashion as undesirable, but they also tend to couch solutions as extensions and/or modifications to the status quo, and suggest, for example, that provided one fibre is replaced by a lower-impact alternative, volumes can keep increasing and current economic preferences can remain in place. While switching fibres to organic may bring immediate benefits to, say, farmers, thereby helping to alleviate some of fast fashion’s negative effects in one part of the supply chain, it fails to deal with the long-term or cumulative consequences of fast fashion across social and ecological systems as a whole. For these negative effects are endemic to the sector’s underlying economic model. The better the fashion sector performs, the worse these effects will get. They are a symptom not of its failure, but of its success. Thus to talk

about the sustainability effects of fast fashion without also critiquing business practices is to deal with it superficially or effectively not at all. By

the same token, to discuss fast fashion’s apparent antidote, slow fashion, without also framing it against a changed (sustainability-supporting) set of economic priorities and business practices, also fails to understand the nature of slow at its deeper cultural level.

Fast and slow are complementary

One of the most formative sources of inspiration for this restructuring is the natural world and its systems and processes. Speed, including fast speed, is a key feature of natural systems. A human body may end its physical cycle at 86 years, for example, but breath is cycled every few seconds. Understanding the context of speed, its mechanisms and appropriateness, offers an alternative lens through which we can explore alternative practices in fashion. The emphasis in nature on both balance and fast speeds in initial phases of development contrasts sharply with the reality of the growth model for fashion, which sees fast speed as a permanent business model option. Perhaps the most important trait of fast speed in nature is that it is used to further the goal of the entire system, not as an end or goal in itself. Here fast is combined with slow to foster short-term vitality and

long-term stability. Slow regulating systems have fast-moving parts within them. Reflecting the subtleties of designing for a nature-inspired balance of speeds and rhythms of use, One Night Stands are fully recyclable shoes intended for a single use. Made from a single piece of recyclable polypro- pylene secured with a reusable screw and six aluminium rivets, the shoes can be flat-packed and easily assembled, thus minimizing packaging and shipping and ensuring a competitive price point. They are designed to be recycled by existing facilities and, although they are ‘fast’ in terms of their use, they depend entirely on a ‘slow’ system of reclamation being in place.

the same token, to discuss fast fashion’s apparent antidote, slow fashion, without also framing it against

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stephanie sandstrom’s polypropylene shoes, one night stands, are designed to be quickly assembled and fully recyclable.

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Slow

In the food sector, homogenous, ‘quantity’ eating – epitomized by the fast-food chain McDonald’s – has come to be recognized as an indicator that certain economic priorities are impoverishing society rather than making it richer. Likewise in the fashion industry, low-cost, homogenous, ‘quantity’ dressing that has seen the UK’s budget clothing market grow by 45 per cent in five years (twice the rate of the rest of the clothing market), 49 has also raised questions about social and environmental ‘richness’. 50 Low price has ushered in a change in purchasing and wearing habits. Garments are often bought in multiples and discarded quickly since they have little perceived value. Fabric quality is poor and garment construction often fails to withstand laundering, thereby encouraging replacement. Unlimited wants, given succour by rapidly changing trends, are treated with unlimited production. Against this backdrop of growth- obsessed activity, a movement promoting slow culture and values in fashion has emerged, heavily inspired by the Slow Food movement. Slow Food was founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986 and links the pleasure of food with the awareness and responsible nature of its production. It seeks to preserve cultural and regional culinary traditions and agricultural diversity, by opposing the standardization of varieties and taste, and championing the need for consumer information. Though the Slow Food movement started as a reaction to fast-food culture, it has quickly become something much

more than merely its opposite. Similarly, the slow movement in fashion is more than just fast fashion minus the bad bits. ‘Slow’ is not a simple descriptor of speed. Rather it represents a different world view that names a coherent set of fashion activity to promote the pleasure of variety, the multiplicity and the cultural significance of fashion within biophysical limits. Slow fashion requires a changed infrastructure and a reduced throughput of goods. Categorically, slow fashion is not about business as usual and simply designing classics and planning long lead times. Slow culture is not about ‘telling Primark to put its prices up’ nor about ‘stipulating annual collections’. Slow fashion represents a blatant discontinuity with the practices of today’s sector; a break from the values and goals of fast (growth-based) fashion. It is a vision of the fashion sector built from a fundamentally different starting point.

The values and relationships of slow fashion

The slow-fashion vocabulary of small-scale production, traditional craft techniques, local materials and local markets offers one set of responses to these questions (see fig. 9). It challenges growth fashion’s obsession with mass-production and globalized style and becomes a guardian of diversity. It questions growth fashion’s emphasis on image and ‘the new’ over making and maintaining actual material garments. 51 It changes the power relations between fashion creators and consumers and forges new relationships and trust that are only possible at smaller scales. It fosters a heightened state of awareness of the design process and its impacts on resource flows, workers,

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communities and ecosystems. It prices garments to reflect true costs. It promotes the democratization of fashion, not by offering people ‘more cheap clothes that mainly look the same’, 52 but by offering them more control over institutions and technologies that impact their lives.

FIG. 9 SUMMARy OF DIFFERENT AppR OAChES TO FAST AND SLOW

fast mindsEt mass-production globalization image new dependency Unaware of impacts cost based on labour and materials large scale

sloW mindsEt diversity global-local sense of self making and maintaining mutual trust deeply connected with impacts true price incorporating ecological and social costs small to medium scale

One company that uses speed in a variety of ways to build a business model fundamentally different from the growth fashion industry is the Internet company Betabrand. Epitomizing the ‘Long Tail’ approach to business 53 – that is, a shift from a focus on a relatively small number of mainstream products and markets towards a huge number of niches – Betabrand sells only online, thereby limiting its overhead fixed expenses. It launches a new product every week, a far faster rate than any traditional ‘fast fashion’ company, but – and this is a critical point – only one product and not a collection. Meeting minimum orders of 100 pieces, the company breaks even at 25 pieces sold, and when all 100 are purchased, the style is discontinued. Fast is apparent at the market end, where a new product is introduced online every Tuesday at noon, and in style development, which is pinpointed through ‘crowdsourcing’ and rapid response to customer desires. But the volume and flow of materials into the fashion system is nonetheless slowed, by the self-imposed limit on production. As a bonus, the limited runs make the products valued, coveted and emotionally durable. Betabrand has become a San Francisco counter-culture icon. Another company that uses speed to shape its business model is UK company Keep and Share. Its design philosophy is to create quality pieces that combine the familiar and the unconventional, which gives it a springboard from which to work with customers to persuade them to buy fewer, more special pieces and to keep their items in use for longer. This principle evokes a sense of slowness, with its emphasis on relationships between friends who share the garments, and an intimate knowledge of what fits different people and why.

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Left: Keep and share’s knitted garments are created to last. Opposite: a knitted garment by marie
Left: Keep and share’s
knitted garments are
created to last.
Opposite: a knitted
garment by marie ilse
bour langes that uses
slowness to inform the
design process.

Marie Ilse Bourlanges’ project Decay provides an example of slowness as a process of designing. Eight knitted garments capture traces of past behaviour, their surface pattern conveying the findings of deep research into the natural motions of the body. An outer carbon-paper suit works as a registration device, to trace use and body movements (such as pressing, bending, rubbing, scratching and stretching) on to an inner white blouse. The transferred imprint on the blouse is then translated into a pattern, resulting in intricate collections of lines that ebb across the garment surface. The final pieces, even though they are newly made, articulate the expressions of a body over time through changes to a garment’s surface, so revealing some of the most intimate and ephemeral movements of daily life.

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Chapter 13: Needs

Conventional growth-focused economic wisdom promotes human craving for novelty and things as both natural and desirable. Yet humans’ desire for cyclical variety is easily manipulated by commerce. The cultural message of growth pervades our daily lives, clouding our perceptions, so that cutting through the sheer volume of commercial clutter to distinguish between real needs and manufactured wants is far from easy. But Manfred Max- Neef provides a view of human needs and motivations that helps us reflect deeply on the industry, design practice and ourselves. Max-Neef’s taxonomy of human needs (see fig. 10) was developed from his work with small communities in South America, to help identify their ‘wealths’ and ‘poverties’ and then to work on how these may be best maximized and minimized respectively. He identified nine fundamental human needs and myriad ‘satisfiers’ (which fall into four existential states:

being, having, doing and interacting). Max-Neef notes that one satisfier may address several needs at once and benefit the whole, while ‘destroyers’ may seem to satisfy a need but in fact inhibit several others and bring poverty to the whole.

FUNDAMENTAL

SATISFIERS

hUMAN NEEDS