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Transforming Fashion Products, Systems and Design Practice for a Cleaner Future

Posted by  on Feb 6, 2013

Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change is the ideal first step for any designer  –  in fact for anyone  –  who wants to find information and ideas to address one of the major issue facing fashion today: how to make the clothes we wear more friendly to the environment.

The authors of this book, Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose, are thought leaders on the subject of fashion sustainability. They have played key roles in raising awareness of the environmental cost of fashion and through their own practice, have transformed the way many think about sustainable fashion.

Kate Fletcher teaches sustainable fashion at the London College of Fashion and through her consultancy practice: Slow Fashion, advises organisations around the globe.

Lynda Grose is a designer, a consultant and assistant professor at California College of the Arts. She was the main force behind Esprit’s “ecollection”, the first line by a major brand designed to reduce environmental impact. Patagonia, Gap, Sustainable Cotton Project and UNDP are some of the organisations Lynda has advised in the past 20 years.

Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change is not an alarmist manifesto; instead its informed content stimulates thought and invites designers to renew their practice. In a clear and concise fashion the authors address broad and complex notions often presented as intricately tied. They inspire the reader to consider that even minor adjustments made on a regular basis would make the future cleaner.

Reading on, I realised that designers were also invited to release their creativity, to unbind it from the products which they designed to go further and create new industry practices, offer new fashions of consumption and invent new design practices.

This 192 pages book is organised in three parts and 18 chapters. Each chapter is bite size; the writing is accessible and packed with information.  Stimulating visuals (150) show that sustainable fashion is also beautiful. They act as welcome counterpoints to a text rich book.

The first five chapters total 64 pages and focus on Transforming Fashion Products. Here the authors look at the impact of garments through their lifecycle, considering:  Material, Processes, Distribution, Consumer Care and Disposal.  They offer a knowledge base from which designers can make informed decisions to change the qualities of their product. Similar to my own practice this section focuses on pragmatic and practical decisions about fibres, supplier factories and fabric finishes.

The section on renewable fibres is of particular interest as it unveils some harsh truths about cotton: although a natural fibre its production cost much the environment. There are, however, positive developments in the industry; Lyocell for example, a sustainable, regenerated fibre made from wood pulp is becoming a popular alternative to some of the more resource heavy fibres.

The second part (9 chapters, 81 pages) Transforming Fashion Systems broadens the issues raised in the first part, considering how garments and current commercial structures could be adapted.  For example page 92: ‘Studies conducted almost 20 years ago revealed the relative importance of laundry behaviour on garment overall sustainability profile. They showed that for frequently washed garment the impact of the so-called ‘use phase’ - wear –  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.

In each chapter the authors reflect on a central concept. Adaptability considers the garments functions and how they could be extended.  Optimized lifetimes looks into reduce waste trough increased use.

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Low-impact use investigates the impact of garment maintenance. Services and sharing scrutinises the need to own garments when we wear them so little.Local is a notion that helps not only to reduce carbon footprint but also produce better suited apparel. Biomimicry looks at nature itself for alternative approaches. Speed opposes Fast and Slow Fashion. Need questions our attitude to fashion while our need is for protection and preserving the environment. Engaged seeks to empower the consumers so they may contribute to the making.

The third part of the book is shorter with 4 chapters or 26 pages but provides many ideas to Transform Fashion Design Practice. Here the authors propose to turn the designer into a Communicator-educator, a Facilitator, an Activist and an Entrepreneur.

Textile and Fashion students training to be tomorrow’s designers must make informed decisions about the fibres and dying techniques of the fabric used for their projects. In this respect, this book is a reliable source of information. It will also help fashion students to extend their thinking to broader issues such as the purpose of the products they design and their practice. They will find it most useful to stimulate their thinking as well as dipping in and out depending on modules of study.

My next sustainable education project will be based around the idea of Up-Cycling and this book will prove a useful tool to plan it.

Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose

Laurence King Publishing

Language: English

Paperback, 150 illustrations, 192 pages

240 x 170 mm

ISBN 9781856697545

Published April 2012

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Written by Gayle Atkins

Gayle Atkins

Gayle is a fashion designer; holding an MA, she is also a lecturer who has written BA (Hons.) Level fashion design and management courses.
Gayle’s career started at the Arcadia Group, monitoring Topshop’s process of cut and production, from initial design sketches to finished products. She then moved across the industry gaining a broad range of experiences from high street to high end, from production to communication. Gayle also launched her own range of leather accessories selling highly sustainable fashion to independent fashion boutiques in London and the south of France.
In July 2012, Gayle gained a Masters in Design from Central St Martins achieving a Distinction. This course allowed her to refine her expertise in cutting and manufacturing as she developed technical ‘smart’ garments that can be worn more than one way. Rekindling an old passion for sustainable fashion she developed no waste patterns and up-cycled products to celebrate a practical design and strong fashion.
Gayle ‘frock-sac’ collection developed during her MA is now available for retail at gayle-atkins.com. The concept proposed is that of ‘slow fashion’ staple garments that can be worn more than one way. Innovative and multifunctional they are produced in sympathetic materials with a sustainable agenda.
Currently employed at Northbrook College, part of Brighton University, Gayle lectures BA students and is responsible for organising industrial placements.
Gayle also runs a BA (Hons.) Fashion Design with Business course validated by Sussex University. In this role, she is engaged in the planning, design and leadership of teaching and research activity. Identifying the provision needed improvement and re-wrote the entire course in 2011.

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