Precarious Design for a Precarious World

I love fashion! It is beautiful, frightening, exhilarating, confronting, elegant, communicative, intelligent, frivolous and thought provoking. However I also know that fashion is the cause of massive environmental and social injustices. When the concept of “sustainable fashion” was first touted, it was considered an oxymoron – and to me it still is. As how can an industry be considered sustainable when its primary concern is the propagation of the Next New Thing at the expense of perfectly functional existing products? Despite consumer desire for change – as shown in the worldwide awareness of sustainability and growing demand for sustainable products – the majority of the fashion industry are responding with what can be considered ‘Less Bad’ solutions – and less bad just isn’t good enough. ‘Less bad’ in the fashion world has predominantly meant using organic and recycled fibre within the current inherently wasteful clothing production and consumption model. At either extremes of the fashion system waste occurs with shocking familiarity. It is standard for garment producers to expect to waste approximately 15% of the cloth needed to produce an adult sized garment, resulting in a loss of profits for the manufacturer and landfill waste. It is also not unusual for a garment to have travelled vast distances to get from cotton field to consumer. The globalisation of the fashion industry has in some cases lead to the raw material of textiles being grown in New Zealand, woven into fabric in Italy, designed in America and manufactured in China – generating vast quantities of carbon dioxide while divorcing the consumer from the production of the clothes they wear every day. At the consumer end of the fashion industry the rapid and insatiable desire for new fashion products that drives the fashion cycle and contributes 30kg of textile waste per person in the UK every year is growing so swiftly so as to be granted the term ‘Fast Fashion’, where new styles take mere weeks from design to consumer and “affluenza” drives consumers to buy everything, now! – I wonder if we are we in the midst of a rampant clothing ‘epidemic’.

For me the conflict is triadic – I am sitting on the very pointy apex of a three sided pyramid made up of sustainable designer, educator and fashion lover, and it is getting very difficult to keep my balance. The primary contributor to my unease is the knowledge of what I should be doing and its conflict with what I am doing and encouraging. Leon Festinger – a psychologist from the ’50s – described this emotional state as Cognitive Dissonance and argued that when personal beliefs and actions do not align, one or the other will change so as to remove the source of discomfort, usually by justifying the actions rather than changing the behaviour. I have been doing a little of both and it is through this precarious balancing act I have discovered a new ease with unease – I realised that uncertainty can be a great innovator and that as long as you have a destination in mind, you don’t really need to know how you are going to get there.

Precarious Design version 1
Precarious Design v. 1 - First Son 2005

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