Transforming Fashion Products, Systems and Design Practice for a Cleaner Future
Posted by Gayle Atkins 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.
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.
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.
Laurence King Publishing
Paperback, 150 illustrations, 192 pages
240 x 170 mm
Published April 2012