Techstyler X DAI: Leading a Sustainable Lifestyle, From Fashion to Food

In our ever-more hectic and multi-faceted lives, getting to grips with the most sustainable and ethical lifestyle choices from fashion to food (and beyond) can be a challenge. Sustainability and climate change are growing concerns, taking up more media column inches every day and providing a staggering amount of (sometimes conflicting) information. 

As a consequence, eco-anxiety is on the rise, as reported by the BBC and The Independent recently, resulting in a what may sometimes feel like hopelessness and defeat, when in actual fact, the effort of individuals can be a powerful tool for change. The recent Techstyler X DAI panel discussion held at the Dai Performance Space in Marylebone, London, provided insights into a number of initiatives and identified actionable changes that individuals can make to behave more sustainably and reduce their carbon emissions.

Lizzie Rivera, Founder of BICBIM (Because It’s Cool, Because It matters) – a sustainable and ethical Lifestyle Directory – explained that BICBIM had vetted hundreds fashion brands with an extensive questionnaire in order to compile a list of the most ethical and sustainable ones. Many are under the radar brands that would take considerable time for shoppers to unearth, so BICBIM is doing the legwork and asking the crucial questions so consumers don’t have to.  The content on BICBIM benefits from Lizzie’s journalistic expertise as a writer for The Independent and other publications, giving her the platform and mandate to ask the tougher questions that consumers might find uncomfortable – like “where do you source your meat from” when ordering food in a restaurant.

Jihea Kim, Founder @ecolifechoices provided snippets of real-life sustainable choices she is making ‘on the ground’ via her Instagram page. Her page presents sustainable lifestyle kits (for example low waste holiday travel kits), along with tips like joining Slow Fashion Season. As a Sustainability and Climate Change Consultant for ‘one of the big four’ accounting firms, she is privy to the research and debate around macro-forces influencing global sustainability and climate change challenges and initiatives. During our preparation call for the panel discussion she explained to me that companies in Europe may sometimes feel as though the burden of ocean plastic waste, for example, is not theirs, given that much of it originates from plastic entering the oceans off the coast of Asian countries. However a ‘bigger picture’ analysis of this situation reveals that exporting plastics from Europe to Asia (and exporting our plastic waste to Asian countries) is an irresponsible practice, given that the industry is Europe is fully aware that Asia does not have adequate facilities to safely and effectively process this plastic waste. 

Delia Gadea is an Account Manager at OLIO, which connects neighbours with each other and with local shops and cafes so that surplus food (and other items) can be shared instead of being thrown away. Gadea explained how the power of one user quickly escalates, and in the case of OLIO, it has resulted in 356 tonnes (356,000 kg) of food being saved from waste bins by individuals signing up to the app.  They now have a million users active in various countries around the world.  Gadea shared tips for how to be an ambassador for OLIO (requiring a couple of hours per week) through to sharing the OLIO story with your colleagues and family – it all helps to push the brand (which has not done any paid marketing and is not profit-making) and help as many people as possible.

David Pepper, Project Lead at Provenance, explained how they help brands and retailers build customer trust through transparency.  This, in turn, empowers shoppers to choose products carefully along ethical and sustainable lines.  Provenance use blockchain technology to securely store uneditable details about the origin, creation and impact of products and processes, which can be unlocked by consumers via NFC technology with QR codes being scanned easily and quickly.  Rather than acting as a certification, it is a platform that powers and facilitates the provision of information by brands (large and small – from Unilever to London-based Mashu, for example) to consumers.  Pepper’s work currently involves mapping global supply chains, including for coffee and tea. Provenance’s work highlights the opacity of the supply chain, and often the financial inequality that brings.  For example, in the vanilla market, farmers only receive 5-10% of the value of their crop (around 45 cents per kilo, versus the 500 euro price it can command in the global market). Provenance believe transparency is the way to achieve fairer wages and a balance of power in the supply chain.

Quick wins and takeaways from the panel were: 

 

  • Tackle one thing at a time until you’ve nailed it as a habit, then move onto the next thing (eg. switching to a reusable coffee cup);
  • Commit to free meals/meat free days;
  • Only buy second hand clothes;
  • Use a reusable water bottle;
  • Get a smart meter; 
  • Wash your clothes at 30 degrees instead of 40 (it reduces energy consumption by 40 percent).

Helpful Tips and Links:

Carbon emissions calculator: WWF Carbon footprint calculator 
Energy efficiency tools:  BulbSmart Meters and General Tips for energy saving at home
Water consumption tools: Water calculator
Fashion Rental: Front RowHURRHire Street
Second-Hand Fashion: Vestiaire CollectiveThe RealReal, EbayDepopC
Drycleaning: Blanc
Food tools: OLIOand others
Tree planting initiatives: Earth DayOne Tree PlantedLondon Tree Planting

News/Information:

Trusted Climate change news: World Economic Forum
Fashion sourcing: Common Objective
Circular Economy and Waste news: WRAPEllen Macarthur Foundation,
Carbon Footprint OffsettingTransport emissions summary

DaI X Techstyler

Techstyler X LDC – “Why The Future Of Fashion Will Be Grown, Not Sewn”

Climate change is at the forefront of our minds given the critical warnings about our dwindling resources and rising global temperatures. Halting ‘consumption’ of goods is impossible, so the focus, regardless of which part your play (creator and consumer, or just the latter) should be reducing carbon emissions. It may sound complex, but essentially it means finding alternative solutions to our most carbon-emitting problems. In fashion, this resides in materials. The emissions (or impact, for directness) is around 73% due to the materials phase of product creation. So if we address carbon emissions in this phase we are a long way towards securing life on our planet.

Where do we start on this mission? For the three designers on my recent panel ‘Why The Future Of Fashion Will Be Grown, Not Sewn’ in collaboration with Lone Design Club, the use of plant, rather than petroleum-based materials, is key. This approach brings its own set of challenges and the panellists shared the benefits, drawbacks and tales from the unchartered waters of developing and designing using grown materials.

Techstyler X LDC
Techstyler X LDC – “Why The Future Of Fashion Will Be Grown, Not Sewn”

Adam Davies, researcher and product designer, started his journey towards creating interiors materials and products by shaping seaweed into objects on a beach in Wales. Driven by a desire to make use of the abundant seaweed in an ever more plastic-ridden local beach, he put his energy into chopping, shaping and baking seaweed into lampshades. And so began the journey to eventually experimenting with mycelium. Today, his brand Ty Syml sells lampshades made from both materials, which he has developed through trial and error. His development of mycelium (a type of mushroom harvested just prior to the mushroom’s sprouting phase) started with a mycelium kit he bought online and began mixing with other substrates (base materials). Mycelium grows through a substrate, for example wood pulp. This means it provides the opportunity to combine mycelium with byproducts from other industries (as the substrate), boosting the sustainability and performance characteristics of the resulting materials.

Mycelium Light
Mycelium Light

What has been the biggest challenge so far? I asked. Creating a sterile environment in the 3D printed lampshade molds (so that mould doesn’t grow within the materials) was Adam’s response – a rather scientific problem for a designer. In fact, thinking like a designer and working like a scientist is a path he is still navigating. He admits that the next crucial step for his rapidly growing business is to hire a mycologist (a biologist specialising in funghi) as he expands his range of material composites, which currently includes mycelium and wood and mycelium and spent grain from brewing. Following a discussion with an audience member he will also be exploring a mycelium and flax composite, too. All three of these materials take on waste from other processes and put it to good use in combination with mycelium. These materials all remain 100% biodegradable and have powerful natural properties.

Ty Syml - Seaweed Lampshade
Ty Syml – Seaweed Lampshade

The mycelium composite materials are strong, light, water resistant and fire retarding, so are perfect for building interiors and construction. The natural growth of the materials and use of byproducts from other processes make this a closed-loop system, adhering to the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) design principles. Adam is an ardent believer in, and follower of, William McDonough’s C2C framework.

On the speculative side, Piero D’Angleo is working on growing couture with lichen. His MA Fashion at the Royal College of Art, where he is being taught by Helen Steiner, cofounder of Open Cell, has steered him from the study of plant-based aesthetics to plant-specific functions in his design work. In the case of lichen, its ability to absorb carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the atmosphere is a powerful concept that D’Angelo would like to harness in a fibre, then yarn form. Lichen is a unique fungus-based growth that co-exists with either a bacteria or algae, which infiltrates the fungi. The algae or bacteria performs photosynthesis (turning carbon dioxide into oxygen) within the fungi structure. The relationship of the two organisms is mutualistic, providing a perfect metaphor for how we should be living within nature to halt planetary destruction.

Piero D'Angelo - Prospective Lichen Textile
Piero D’Angelo – Prospective Lichen Textile

Having created prospective textile designs and a ‘grow your own couture’ handbook, D’Angelo is now experimenting with how plants can combine with electronics to form nature-driven automation. This is a window into D’Angelo’s belief that we have a stronger emotional connection to things that grow (as opposed to things created synthetically, like polyester, for example). He imagines a future where the power of lichen can be augmented in the way Bolt Threads have isolated spider-silk proteins and placed them in living organisms to generate synthetic silk in a lab. However, as living organisms (bacteria, for example) are producing the fibres to create these yarns, engineering them and ‘putting them to work’ begs questions about ethics that he is still grappling with, he says.

Piero D'Angelo - Prospective Lichen Garment
Piero D’Angelo – Prospective Lichen Garment

Also exploring this lab-grown material conundrum is Ioanna Topouzoglou, founder of London-based accessories brand Mashu. Topouzoglou currently uses plant-based materials (Piñatex ‘pineapple leather’ is one), as well as polyurethane (PU) synthetic leather alternatives. Here, she balances the impact of synthetic versus natural materials, which is no easy feat. The difficulty lies with balancing the non-biodegradability of the PU and recycled polyester linings in her bags, for example, with the water usage and processing impact of using a cotton, for example. On balance, recycled PET in this non-washed product has a lower impact – until end-of-life is reached. Topouzoglou is in the early stages of planning for end-of-life by dismantling and reusing or recycling the product components, but admits this is a complex service to provide to a growing global customer-base.

Mashu - Piñatex bag
Mashu – Piñatex bag

To the lab-grown materials debate she is open to using animal-origin leather if lab-grown, explaining that “as a vegan, this is not straightforward”, but if no harm (to the animals or organisms) is proven, she accepts the output as “an ethical material”. Given that she has fought hard over the past couple of years to convince manufacturers to adapt their animal-leather processes to utilise synthetic and plant-based materials and non-animal based glues instead, this is a strong commitment to using whatever materials have the least impact and help our planet – even if they do originate from animals, resulting in further adaptation to her manufacturing methods.

Mashu - PU bag
Mashu – PU bag

Of course it is impossible to create products and have absolutely “zero impact”. What this panel discussion demonstrated was that the combination of science and design presents us with better alternatives that can reduce the impact on the planet. It also demonstrates powerful natural processes that we can harness and leverage in materials. For all its challenges, it seems that plants and the rapidly evolving area of biomaterial design, holds the key to a naturally ‘smart’ and sustainable materials future.

Techstyler X BOTTLETOP: Designers Reshaping ‘Luxury’ Driven by Sustainability and Ethics

Rounding off our speaker series for 2018 was our panel discussion on the role of designers in shaping and influencing sustainable brands and changing definitions of ‘luxury’.  Much of what is discussed in the realm of sustainable fashion and lifestyle brands is in the context of materials, supply chain and waste management, but what of the impact designers have in making design  decisions that influence most aspects of the supply chain and the product life-cycle? Can brands achieve sustainability if their designers are oblivious, or have little visibility, of the impact their decisions make?

BOTLLETOP Regent Street Store.  Image: BOTTLETOP

The panel consisted of a cross-section of creatives from multiple backgrounds, spanning finance, textiles and music.  The thread linking them was a pioneering point of view and the fact that their design work and research has begun with identifying a problem to solve and harnessing design to do so.  Design as a tool for change.

Opening the conversation was Dr Kate Goldsworthy, Co-Director of the Centre for Circular Design at UAL where she oversees research and live industry projects that challenge current linear methods of design – that is where resources (including materials) are used to create objects that have a single lifecycle and are disposed of at end of life without recouping any of the resources/components of the product to re-use or recycle.  In order to challenge this linear system, designers work with all other members of the industry on projects that bring together all points of view – from retail to manufacturing to design to waste management, in order to redesign not just products in a circular manner, but the system itself. A striking example of how successful this can be was the case explained by Dr Goldsworthy where a team at Filippa K questioned the lifespan of garments and consumer appetite for longevity of garments. They hypothesised that the average white t-shirt is worn around 22 times before being thrown in landfill, a figure Kate deems generous.  

Dr Kate Goldsworthy, Cyclability Diagram

As a result, a concept for a paper t-shirt that looks and feels like a cotton one was devised.  The paper version could not be washed, but could be worn up to four times and then disposed of in household waste to decompose safely in landfill.  Analysing the total resource use and environmental impact across all areas of creation, delivery and consumption of the product, the disposable paper t-shirt had a fraction of the impact a t-shirt worn 22 times has, debunking the idea that simply wearing clothing more times reduces environmental impact.  The bigger picture here is that every action we take has an impact, including washing our clothes. Therefore a future wardrobe containing some clothing that is disposable by design may, in fact, be more sustainable.

Kresse Wesling MBE isn’t a designer.  She is the co-founder of lifestyle brand Elvis & Kresse and entered into their venture by way of a waste management consultancy career.  Reappropriating what is deemed ‘junk’ by many, Kresse and her partner Elvis set about turning waste into desirable goods by flexing their design approach and conducting ambitious research and development.  They conducted this R&D on whatever materials they could develop partnerships to rescue, diverting them from ending up in landfill. The design process, driven by Elvis, is reliant on the material inputs and strives to maintain the longest life possible of the goods by adopting modular design techniques that allow customisation and re-use of the component materials.  The most recent example of this is their partnership with the Burberry Foundation, from whom they take all of Burberry’s leather waste (which will amount to 120 tonnes over a five year period) and hand-weave it into new products, including wallets and cosmetic cases. Kresse explained that the core of their brand is the agreement to work with all stakeholders in the design, production and waste processes to ensure the work they do is beneficial to all involved, as well as the planet.

Elvis & Kresse, rescued fire hose. Image: Elvis & Kresse

Elvis & Kresse, rescued leather Image: Retail Gazette

Elvis & Kresse rescued firehose and leather products.  Images: Elvis & Kresse

This way of working started in 2005 when the discovery of the disposal of fire hose into landfill triggered their desire to make use of this beautiful material, but also to secure the waste input stream to ensure production requirements could be met. This bore an agreement for Elvis and Kresse to agree to take all the decommissioned fire hose “waste” generated by the London Fire Brigade and turn it into lifestyle products, donating 50% of profits to the Fire Fighter’s charity in the process.

Completing the panel was Oliver Wayman, Co-Director of BOTTLETOP, who unwittingly launched a sustainable brand during the promotional campaign of a record he was working on in Brazil.  The catalyst from a career in the music industry to fashion accessories and social enterprise was his mum. Visiting Oliver in Brazil, she bought a locally made bag made from disposed ring pulls, connected using a crochet technique.  To promote the record in his campaign, he had bags made using this hand craft technique, which, it turned out, generated more interest and sales than the record itself.

The original BOTTLETOP bag in collaboration with Mulberry. Image: Bukowskis

At that point, the power to harness a design technique that utilises local materials and generates income for local communities from waste was what drove Oliver to turn this process into a range of products fit for the global luxury accessories market in 2012.  BOTTLETOP now boasts a flagship store on Regent Street, London, a recent pop-up in Dallas, Texas, and has future sights on Asia.

 

The BOTTLETOP brand funds the Bottletop Foundation, which was founded by Co-Director Cameron Saul and his father Roger (Founder of British luxury fashion brand Mulberry) in 2002.  The foundation empowers young people with health education and technical skills training to enable them to make healthy choices and build their future.  It also supports musicians from around the globe to create collaborative work and showcase it through the ‘Sound Effects’ album series, poetically closing the creative loop on where it all began.

Bottletop Foundation.  Image: BOTTLETOP

In discussing the business models and design approaches of Elvis & Kresse and BOTTLETOP, alongside the design research driven by the Centre for Circular Design, new definitions of luxury emerged that encompass transparency and ethics.  The recent revelation that Burberry burnt millions of dollars worth of leather goods as a way of disposing of unsold stock caused a very public scandal, arguably threatening the image of luxury the brand aims to exude. This incineration is by no means limited to Burberry – it is common practice across the fashion industry at the value end right through to luxury.  In line with changing views of luxury from a new generation of consumers who value experiences at least as much as acquiring ‘stuff’, brands that create a community and engage in dialogue with consumers, including those on the panel, are increasingly valued and held in higher prestige than ‘faceless’, out of reach “luxury” brands, that in comparison, can feel out of step and dated.

Stay tuned for details of the next panel discussion during London Fashion Week in February, 2019.

Happy New Year!

More on Fillipa K’s sustainability efforts can be found here

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Techstyler x BOTTLETOP: 3D Digital Design Is Critical For A Sustainable Fashion Future

When discussing the future with pioneers on the edge of current industry practice an impassioned debate is inevitable.  The latest Techstyler X BOTTLETOP panel discussion ‘Sustainability Driven by New Technologies: 3D Digital Design and Virtual Reality ’ hosted three such pioneers who are reshaping the fashion landscape and meeting ethical, logistical and philosophical challenges along the way.  Their insights gave us an eye to a future fashion industry that is inherently more sustainable, and our place within it.

 

Opening the discussion, Kerry Murphy, Co-founder of the digital fashion house The Fabricant, discussed how within months of experimenting with 3D digital fashion design and animation and uploading the result on Instagram, The Fabricant was receiving interest from brands and manufacturers wanting to know more about their capabilities.  

The starting point for The Fabricant has been digital storytelling, with their recent collaboration with Soorty Enterprises, a jean manufacturer in Pakistan looking to share their Cradle to Cradle denim production and raise brand awareness in an increasingly competitive market. The manufacturers in Asia and the Far East are plagued by negative opinion and press coverage, despite many of them making significant strides in sustainable dyeing processes in addition to investing in new, cleaner technologies.  The next step will be integrating The Fabricant’s 3D design into the garment cutting and construction process, negating the manual pattern making process and reducing the need for physical samples at all. From his, and his Co-founder Amber Jae Slooten’s experience so far, this will take years rather than months.

Cameron-James Wilson is a visual artist and fashion photographer whose mission is to provide an alternative beauty and hyper-real honesty via digital models.  His debut model, Shudu, has been hailed the ‘first digital supermodel’, has 149,000 followers on Instagram and is represented by Cameron’s digital model agency, The Diigitals.  Although the inspiration and conception of Cameron’s models is rooted in fantasy and fiction, constructed from free to download software Daz 3D, his aim is to create honest representations of beauty and a more positive attitude towards diversity.  His model Brenn is curvy, with stretch marks and an undeniable allure. This kind of appreciation of what is often deemed imperfect is possible with 3D digital design, said Cameron, because it is in the hands of the artists and is a product of their ideals, not of an industry fixated on people born as genetic flukes with perfect symmetry and 34-24-34 measurements of their bust, waist and hips.  Even as I write the previous sentence I can barely believe how ludicrous a concept it is. Cameron asks why we reward genetic flukery rather than celebrating diversity.

Cameron’s visionary thinking prompted an interesting debate on human versus digital models and whether emotion could truly be experienced when presenting a digital versus human experience.  There was also a question from the audience about whether digital models could be ‘trusted’ as they are not ‘real’. To that, Cameron presented the traditional scenario of a fashion shoot, with models having toilet rolls shoved down the back of their bra to make their breasts heave.  And all know how much editing is done to digital images to sculpt and smooth, nip and tuck real life models. “The fashion industry lies to us every day” said Cameron. “It’s all a lie”. Add to this the fact that digital models cannot be exploited, do not age and can remain exclusive brand ambassadors for ‘life’ and his perspectives and insight left us questioning whether it makes sense to go forward in the fashion industry without digital models.

Amber Jae Slooten brought the rare, rounded knowledge of a fashion designer who has worked with both traditional manual and 3D digital pattern cutting and fashion design tools.  Having graduated from a fashion degree in 2014 with a fully digital collection which she presented in hologram form, she set off on a path to reimagining and redirecting the fashion industry to a more sustainable, digital future.  Unwilling to enter an industry that creates masses of waste, she was driven to adopt methods that have since unleashed her creativity and allowed her design in a more detailed, iterative, experimental and efficient way. Amber’s approach to design incorporates both the technicality of pattern cutting and garment construction and the creativity of fashion design.  She creates digital pattern pieces in Clo3d which are stitched together onto an avatar to create a 3D foundation garment and then renders on different fabrics (scanned in at such a high resolution that they are indistinguishable from the real thing) colours, textures and proportions. She is able to develop her designs and iterate quickly, reaching high levels of refinement in hours, rather than days or weeks – all the while generating zero waste.

What are the challenges and drawbacks to these new approaches?  “The (traditional) mindet”, said Amber. Currently, the industry is largely unreceptive to adopting the technical advantages offered by software like Clo3D.  Although this and other software is being used by a number of pioneering designers, brands are currently most interested in the visual output as a content tool for social media or e-commerce.  In time, the panel believes a shift towards further integration is inevitable.

To hear to the full panel discussion, head over to the podcast here.

To watch the panel discussion, keep an eye on Techstyler.fashion, where the video will be available soon. 

The next talk in the Techstyler X BOTTLETOP speaker series will be in December on the subject ‘Fashion and Accessories Designers – Their Influence and Impact on Sustainability in Fashion’.  Follow Techstyler here and on Instagram to be notified when the tickets are released.

Pioneering Collaboration Transforms Garments and Fashion Waste into Recyclable Materials

You would be hard-pressed to find a more frequently used buzz word in fashion than ‘sustainability’, right now.  Following its use, the obvious question is often, “but what do you mean by sustainable”.  Both a problem and a solution, sustainability runs a broad gamut including textile and garment manufacturing practices, to chemistry and materials science, then finally product sales, consumption and usage patterns.  Digging deeper, what underlies this urgent and growing focus on sustainability in the global fashion industry is the fact that is it the second most polluting industry in the world after oil and gas, but you probably know that by now.  Why does that suddenly matter to many fashion brands and companies?  Why are brands adopting “sustainability”.  Broadly speaking, it is because of threats to profit margins (caused by increasing cost of natural resources and materials which are in sharp decline) and potential backlash from consumers who are beginning to understand the fashion industry’s wasteful methods are damaging the planet and its people.

To understand the environmental implications of the current methods used in the fashion industry it is helpful to understand the volume of resources (including energy and water) we use to make our clothes and how much use we get out of those clothes.  Remembering that the planet’s resources are finite – we don’t have an endless supply of fossil fuels to burn to create electrical energy to power manufacturing and we don’t have endless access to clean water for growing cotton and dyeing processes), it follows that a circular way of manufacturing makes more sense than a linear one.   

To differentiate between circular and linear using the example of jeans – If it takes up to 10,000 litres of water to make a pair of jeans and we wear them for a matter of months then throw them in the bin, never to be used again, this linear process depletes resources catastrophically.  However, if those jeans could be turned into new materials (rather than thrown in the bin) that are themselves recyclable, then the resources used to manufacture those jeans provide products for a long and circular life – a perpetual one that is energy efficient and reduces the burden of future manufacturing and reduces the depletion of natural resources significantly.

This circularity was at the heart of the thinking behind the latest EU-funded project by the teams at BRIA and SABINNA, who created a fashion capsule collection of cotton and viscose garments which were then transformed into new, 100% recyclable and biodegradable materials that could be used for packaging and shop interiors.  The materials are circular in that they can then be recycled a large number of times in order to keep the core fibres of the materials ‘alive’ and in use – thereby avoiding landfill. 

BRIA x SABINNA garments, processes and new materials transformed into packaging

New materials in development in lab

New materials as garment swing tags

The processes BRIA x SABINNA used are based on simple organic chemistry – dissolving and reforming the cellulose molecules in the clothing into new 100% cellulose-based materials that were compressed into flexible sheets, in some cases like paper or a film, and in other cases like a thicker MDF-type ‘wood’ material.  The processes vary depending on the new material being created, and the initial experiments were done on a small scale in a London-lab as ‘proof-of-concept’ that it is possible to turn any clothes made of cotton or viscose into new materials using minimal chemicals (and sometimes no chemicals at all) in ways that are sustainable in terms of the amount of natural resources (energy and water) needed to perform the recycling process and also in terms of the material outcome.

BRIA x Sabinna viscose knitted jumper, cotton shirt and denim jeans – later transformed into new materials

Laminate-effect textured card created from BRIA x SABINNA viscose knitted jumper above

Processing of denim into new packaging materials

If we look at other narratives around sustainability in fashion that call for up-cycling and wearing clothes for longer, or buying less, we see a shift of responsibility for sustainability from the industry to the consumer.  Whilst this makes sense in terms of educating and informing consumers, it poses a huge problem in that it does not instigate change in the industry or challenge processes that are destroying the planet and harming people.  This is what is making the shift of focus to circularity and science and technology for the answers to our most burning questions and problems in the industry crucial.

Development of new material from denim

In my design and innovation role at BRIA, I was a member of the team that conducted this project with the support of EU-funding from WEAR Sustain.  The project was instigated following a trip to Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2017, during which my conversations with Marie-Clarie Daveu of Kering, Anna Gedda of H&M and Mira Duma of Future Tech Lab instigated a quest to understand just how big a challenge making sustainable products is for fashion brands, from the initial design process through to the end-of-life of the garment.  Could brands, small and large alike, design and produce collections in a circular manner?  What would it cost?  Would the designs be compromised?  What would the restrictions be?  During a conversation with Vanessa Friedman she told me she thought sustainability was inherent in good fashion design, rather than an ‘add-on’.  But how is it inherent?  Does choosing organic cotton make a garment ‘sustainable’.  Not if we consider circularity as the ultimate solution to the depletion and pollution caused by the fashion industry.  So it has to go further.  It has to be part of the way the collection is conceived, the materials are made, the construction methods used and the strategy for the ‘end-of-life’ of the garment – where does the garment go when it is no longer used?  These were the questions we at BRIA sought to answer along with our collaborator SABINNA. 

The result proves that any designer using 100% cotton and viscose is creating garments that are forever recyclable – any designer can use our processes to recycle their garments.  It also proves that cotton and viscose clothing can even be recovered from landfill and processed using our method in order to keep the fibres in the circular system.  One of the most exciting elements for us was to achieve new materials with garments including hand-knits, denim jeans and multi-yarn jacquard knits – showing that the thickness and form of the textile yields to the process equally well.  The chemistry checks-out, giving clean and biodegradable results every time.

BRIA x SABINNA jeans 

New materials created from 100% cotton jeans above

Bowl from recycled viscose process and swing tag and box from recycled denim process

The next step is to explore brand partnerships to allow companies to clean up their own supply chains – jeans offcuts used to make the shelving and flooring in-store?  There is no reason why not.  Branded silky cellophane-like film packaging made from recycled high-end viscose dresses?  Hell yeah!

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Ocean Waste, Spice Girls and the United Nations as Fashion Inspiration at KADK

On a recent trip to Copenhagen I paid a visit to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art (KADK), where I met a group of BA and MA fashion students working under the tutelage of Ann Merete Ohrt, Head of Programme at the Academy.

The visit resulted from an Instagram exchange between student Nina Balstrup and I, reconfirming the power of social media as a connector and entrepreneurial tool for switched-on creatives.  To the work…

Michelle Lyhne Schjerbeck dived, quite literally, into an underwater exploration of our littered oceans, recreating oil slicks and fish nets with locally sourced fabrics for her collection entitled ‘Beautiful Disaster’.  When quizzed about sourcing materials for this, her final collection before graduating, she explained  “It’s so hard for us to source sustainable fabrics”.  “In my process it has become clear how hard it is to make a difference as a fashion student and how hard it is to source materials in an eco-conscious way. Therefore, I have for now chosen to shed light on the matter of water pollution by using textiles and shapes that can represent the issue. I am however hoping that in the future I will be able to work a solution to the issue into my actual designs.”

Joining the discussion on textiles and sourcing, Nina Balstrup explains that there are only two quality fabric shops in Copenhagen, making options limited.  It strikes me that an alternative approach might be to source materials in general, rather than fabric shop textiles, and plundering neighbouring architecture and art student media might bear fruit.  In fact, Michelle has experimented with latex and mixed materials, portraying the idea of ocean waste adhering to the skin.  She did experiment originally with actual ocean waste materials, but they proved too soggy and un-salvageable for use in her collection. 

Michelle Lyhne Schjerbeck – “Beautiful Disaster” collection in progress

Morten Alberto Ishøy’s final collection ‘In desert, creatures appear telling lies’ began with an image that posed for him a philosophical question – how can something real look so manufactured – so unreal?  In the current climate of fakes (news being at the top of the list), this rumination led to an exploration of objects through a layer, or ‘filter’ – in this case, clay sculptures vacuum-packed and metamorphosed into other forms.  Morten’s design ideas are clearly driven by form, rather than textiles or materials.  The silhouettes of his collection were sketched from photographs he took of the trapped, skewed and partially melted vacuum packed clay sculptures which he had crafted.  At each step of his creative process a translation happens, making it an incremental design approach led by fine art.  

Morten elaborates on his process:  “Like in the Bible, Torah and the Quran, the prophet’s sights are that of  blurry human like figures. I have made my silhouettes for the collection by pouring sand on a human behind a plastic curtain and documenting it and then selecting the most interesting shapes.  From these I made clay figures and vacuum packed them, making them a blur once again. Out of these experiments I’ve drawn my collection – inspecting the vacuum packed clay figures closely for details that could be interpreted into garment elements such as lapels, cuffs, etc.”

Morten Alberto Ishøy’s ‘In desert, creatures appear telling lies’ 

Nina Balstrup’s work is a journey through her childhood and an exercise is search and discovery into what makes her so fond of bright colours and glitter.  She tracks back to her first toys, childhood outfits and even nursery school drawings to put together a collage of her design ideas that have been germinating since she was just a few years old.  She reads to me from her school report, which mentions early signs of creative talent and penchant for colour.

Nina’s inspiration includes her school report, childhood drawings and photos

In order to compile a final collection based on memories and nostalgia, Nina has undertaken a huge sourcing exercise, buying jars of Barbie shoes on ebay and dividing them into colour-ways for embroidery, as well as POGs for a Paco Rabanne-style sheath constructed with umpteen ‘o’ rings.  A myriad of 90’s vintage clothing and blankets are piled up on her desk, from which her four final looks for her collection will be crafted.  Her biggest challenge now, she says, is to navigate the garment construction process carefully to add refinement so that the end result is accomplished, yet youthful and fun. 

Nina ponders her journey through her BA studies, including the term she spent studying at Ravensbourne in London.  She says it opened her eyes to a fiercely competitive London scene and pushed her to her creative limits.  Access to all manner of heat transfer, prototyping and digital embroidery machinery at Ravensbourne kick-started her enthusiasm for experimental textile applications.  She hopes to intern at a fashion brand in London after graduating from her BA and before studying for her MA, which is virtually a right of passage in Denmark.  She elaborates by explaining that both BA and MA degrees are paid for by the Danish government, and students’ living expenses are also supported during their studies.  This means that the BA is taught almost as a precursor to the MA, rather than an end point leading chiefly to employment. Nina’s final collection is a bright and punchy textile, knit and embroidery adventure and I can’t wait to see where it leads.

Nina and work in progress for her final collection “REWIND”

MA student Alexander Marstrand is working on a UN-inspired brief for his final project, provoking some interesting political and social questions.  Alexander explains that from his research, he understands the UN to be, ostensibly, a unified group with equal representation and influence from all member countries – the UN flag looks down on all countries across the globe on an even plane.   However, five countries maintain the right to veto resolution votes, and communication is conducted in only six languages: Arabic, Chinese English, French, Spanish and Russian. “I see the project as a comment on the current condition of the globe as such with my personal mix of melancholy and playfulness” Alexander says, of his collection in progress, entitled “UNspiration”.

So how, fair and balanced is it?  There is a hierarchical seating structure at the UN, which he references in his visual inspiration and sparks his consideration of who truly has a voice and who does not.  He asks how the voices of those in Bangladesh, for example, are heard amongst the dominant voices of the west.  

His visual inspiration extended to Swedish artist Bo Beskow and Matisse’s cutouts, in addition to Picasso’s surrealist works, which have informed Alexander’s illustrations reinterpreting the flags and symbols of the UN countries.  The cutout theme extens to his garment silhouettes and pattern making techniques, where he has sculpted 3D shapes onto a mannequin before draping fabric on top.  He has then cut and pinned the fabric in a patchwork technique to use as pattern pieces for cutting and sewing his final garments. 

“UNspirational”, by Alexander Marstrand

Already making and selling a printed silk scarves, Alexander has a foot in commercial fashion.  He wants more platforms and opportunities, though, and explains his frustration at a lack of collaboration between music, arts and fashion in Copenhagen.  “It’s not like in London” he said.  “Fashion East (an emerging designer presentation platform during London Fashion Week) would never happen here”.  Why? I ask.  “It’s a small city” he explains, and cross-collaboration is rare and difficult.  In terms of creative scenes he says that “we don’t really have subcultures and underground movements don’t really mix.  We have been trying to create a street party with the music institute for years (he gestures out the window to a nearby building), but it hasn’t happened.”  

He also mentions what he believes to be a large gap between the fashion industry and fashion students in Denmark, seconded by Nina.  A ‘hands-off’ approach makes it difficult for students to break into the industry, and to be part of professional events, such as Copenhagen Fashion Summit.  Without a fashion week, or a platform to show their final collections (along the lines of Graduate Fashion Week in London, for example) the challenges are clear.   What these students do benefit from is immense support and work space, which is in very short supply at London-based fashion institutions, and the opportunity to study abroad, fully supported by the Danish government.  In the current climate, where creative degrees are under serious threat as tuition fees skyrocket and would-be university students feel under pressure to gain vocational degrees in order to justify fees, this freedom from financial shackles is golden.

Keep up to date with Nina, Michelle, Morten and Alexander‘s work on Instagram.

Header Image:  Nina Balstrup “REWIND” collection in progress

All images: Techstyler

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Discussing the Tensions Between Fashion, Technology and Sustainability with Vanessa Friedman

Before meeting Vanessa Friedman, I considered the perspective she could lend on the tension between designers’ ability to create freely and the need to choose sustainable materials.  Is there a conflict?  Does working with sustainable fabrics limit designers?  What new technologies excite her?  What does she think of ‘wearables’?  I posed these questions and more to her, considering her answers in the context of the the wider fashion industry.

When discussing whether she perceives sustainability being at odds with unlimited creativity in fashion design, Vanessa told me “Fashion has always had that tension – sometimes it’s about pricing, sometimes its more practical restrictions, like the need for two armholes and a place for your head… that creates discipline for designers and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.  Sustainability is part of the challenge of design”.  She believes that when you are making something that is functional, which fashion is, you have to wrestle with the egregiousness of the product you are making.  Her standpoint is one of sustainable materials posing a challenge, rather than being a problem.

Vanessa cites the possibility that aesthetics may be shaped by the advance of new materials, smart textiles and new fibre composites – cellulosic and animal fibre blends, for example – as a huge opportunity.  If such advances could result in less seams required and ultra light materials, like those used by Moncler who are “making warm coats that can by smushed into a tiny ball for carry on”, then all these advances are exciting.  “Designers should embrace these challenges and opportunities as a chance for them to think differently – It should be something they look forward to”.

I am curious to know whether (and when) Vanessa sees a future where the discussion on sustainability becomes a part of the high profile seasonal fashion discourse during fashion month, taking place in New York, Paris, London and Milan, where she sits front row in her capacity as the Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic of The New York Times.  “In my dream world, you don’t need a Copenhagen Fashion Summit that’s all about sustainability – this is not a discourse that is combined with a mainstream event because it is a mainstream event and it is part of best practice – period”.  Her take on the sustainability message is “we can talk about it or not talk about it.  You don’t want to be an eco brand, you just want to be a brand that happens to be sustainable.  It shouldn’t be the thing that sets you apart, it should be the thing that makes you part of the general conversation”. 

It’s Vanessa’s opinion that using sustainability as a sales tool and part of the brand message, has an upside and a downside.  The upside is the point of differentiation which can attract consumers, while the downside is that it puts the brand in a different niche for other consumers.  She reflects on Vogue’s former “eco or green design section of the magazine where they would feature a different designer every month… You don’t want to be there – you want to be with Gucci, you want to be with Vuitton”.  Reflecting on her comment, it seems to me that sustainability shouldn’t be a consolation or an optional brand choice – it should be quietly integrated into all fashion brands. 

Moving onto the subject of textiles and manufacturing, I asked Vanessa if she has seen any ‘game-changing’ developments emerging.  She highlights 3D printing and manufacturing to order, thereby eliminating stock and production processes (that have long and complicated supply chains) as the most exciting.  “If you can produce a garment in a very short amount of time to order for someone, you will change everything”.  Vanessa is thinking of the likes of 3D printed shoes and advances in digital knitting.  It is her opinion that the biggest change for fashion as a result of advances in technology is going to be in the production process, rather than “the accessory that tests your heart rate… To me, the really exciting opportunity is in how you manufacture”.  Evidence in the form of the Adidas Speedfactory and the mass customisation by NIKEiD support her comments, as do the advances in digital knitting that have led to a complete transformation of the entire footwear industry through the creation of Flyknit and Adidas Ultra Boost, amongst many other digitally knitted products with simplified supply chains, local manufacturing and short lead times.

Image:  Adidas Ultraboost

When I asked Vanessa which designers or brands that she feels are doing exciting things fusing tech and fashion she is of the leaning that there is a giant gap in this area.  She defines it as “A problem that no-one has quite figured out, between technology companies that can make gadgets, and they are trying to make them ‘fashiony’ – and fashion companies that make fashion and are trying to make them ‘techy’.  You need a third point of the triangle, which is someone who is going to figure out how to meaningfully combine the two”.  Enter a number of innovative cross-disciplinary labs and incubators emerging for the express purpose of making this happen, including Plug and Play and Mira Duma’s Fashion Tech Lab

On the subject of ‘wearables’, Vanessa pulls no punches: “I think ‘wearables’ is the most ridiculous word I have ever heard – everything is a ‘wearable’ – my jacket is a ‘wearable’ and it has no tech in it at all.  I don’t think ‘wearables’ has figured out what it is yet.  It’s a catch all word for techy gadgets you wear, but that’s not really a sector”.  To a degree, we may be talking semantics here, but based on the abandoned Fitbit and Google Glass, amongst others, it’s true that the gaping divide between where tech provides clever capabilities and fashion provides aesthetics and desirability to create life-enhancing products, remains wide.

Image top:  Google Glass       Image bottom: Fitbit

Reflecting further on the state of wearables, Vanessa reminisces about the iPhone and iPod “changing the way that everybody interacted with music”.  She says that in contrast, “there has been nothing like that with fashion – no wearable has achieved that”.  Considering the outcome of our discussion and my questions about sustainability playing a bigger role in fashion, it seems that to Vanessa’s mind, there is a tension between fashion and tech, but not between fashion design and sustainability.

As I wrap up this article, an invitation to the launch of Nadi X by Wearable X – the first Wearable yoga pant to ‘communicate with the user to ‘aid alignment’, hits my inbox.  Perhaps our ‘Wearable’ future is about to take a new life-enhancing turn towards the perfect fusion?  Stay tuned for the verdict.

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Copenhagen Fashion Summit’s Voices of Politics, Diversity and Change

Former Dean of Parsons School of Design, Simon Collins, served up the most pointed of all questions to New York based designer Prabal Gurung when he asked “would you dress the first lady?”  Prabal, after some consideration, gave an applause-inducing answer, explaining that his brand stands for inclusion, celebrates diversity and does not discriminate.  He stands firmly behind his brand values, saying that on that basis, he would dress the first lady.  It is no surprise that his comments echo those of another immigrant designer, Ashish Gupta, who celebrated his status and called for racial inclusion and diversity at his London Fashion Week show in September 2016. 

Reflecting on the global political and economic climate, Simon Collins commented on the political dissent in Thatcher’s 70’s and 80’s Britain that gave rise to the punk rock movement and other beautifully creative genres that still resonate in Britain today.  So out of this current political upheaval, could there be a beautiful and positive outcome?  Can current dissent mobilise creativity – even drive it?  Maxwell Osborne, of another New York based fashion brand, Public School, commented that in this time of great change in the fashion industry, new show formats are arising, the rules are changing and traditional mindsets are being altered.  Public School’s latest show was an intentional pressure cooker, with editors and buyers sat closer than convention would dictate in the aim of  ‘making them a little uncomfortable’.  Their brand of Americana sells unity, not division, and their sellout hats bearing the words ‘Make America New York’ were a hit because they took the measure of what people on the street were saying and feeling in Trump’s America.  I imagine this to be somewhat like what Londoners were saying in the wake of the Brexit vote.  Public School speak to their consumer – directly, in the same language.  That conversation is not nearly as personal or direct for big fashion and lifestyle brands, and the challenges for them in defining and delivering meaningful messages on society and politics is clear, given the recent blunder by Pepsi, and the ill-judged and since dubbed ‘Feminism Collection’ by Karl Lagerfeld’ for Chanel.

In order to reflect the repeated focus of the summit on innovation and collaboration it would be remiss of me not to mention the key input from some suppliers on the textile and fibre side, where significant technological and scientific advances have lead to circular nylon fibre production in the case of Aquafil, and cellulosic (plant based) circular production, in the case of Lenzing.  Whilst perhaps not the sexiest subject matter (unless you have a penchant for chemistry and heavy machinery) these advances are game changing – that is, providing brands purchase such circular materials in favour of linearly produced ones.  Significant limitations of circular production are complexities arising from mixed fibres – for example cotton and elastane – where separating the cotton and elastane fibres in order to reuse them in new textiles is not yet fully possible across all textile structures.  The single most important advance in making textile manufacturing circular, according to a number of industry experts I spoke to at the summit, was finding effective and efficient ways of separating out all types of fibres according to their chemical properties in order to reuse them.  Microplastics – tiny particles of plastic – are finding their way from fibres shed in the textile washing and wearing process, into water ways and causing devastating pollution.  We need to pioneer new technologies to deal with this problem at the manufacturing stage. 

Overview of the Lenzing textile process of turning wood into a textile

Materials solutions are key to solving problems arising from our demand on natural resources, and an alternative to current cotton growing methods would be a complete game changer too, saving immense amounts of water (it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to grown just 1kg of cotton).  Creating new methods of making/growing materials is an area of intense research, and something being done by the likes of Bolt Threads and other smaller, more experimental materials labs such as the one at Aalto in Helsinki.  In 2013, Kering launched their in-house Materials Innovation Lab in Italy and entrepreneur Mira Duma has just announced a 50 million dollar fund to invest in materials and technology solutions aimed at solving fashion’s biggest problems in the road to sustainability and ethical transparency.  More on Kering and Mira Duma’s initiatives to come in future posts.  

Aalto recycled cellulosic fibre research and yarn

On the subject of transparency and supply chain traceability, blockchain is providing a useful platform for consumers to follow the journey of their products from origin to the shop floor.  London-based designer Martine Jarlgaard teamed up with Provenance, A Transparent Company and Two Rivers Mill to demonstrate how her alpaca garments are made and sold in a fully transparent manner.   She presented the results at the summit’s Solutions Lab, alongside Lenzing, Aalto and a number of other brands, labs and institutions. 

Technology can also enable the capture of large data sets in order to assess large scale manufacturing processes and detect areas for improvement.  Sensors placed in factories working in partnership with Li & Fung are ushering in a phase of assessment of resource use and areas for potential improvement.  Target is working with its suppliers to pilot the use of beacons to feed data to apps to track what is happening in their factories in real time.  In this area, technology can provide hard data to support change, in place of anecdotal or subjective views on current practices.  

Stand by for my in depth interview with Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of International Institutional Affairs at Kering, Marie-Claire Daveu

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