London College of Fashion Sustainability Initiatives “Fired Up” by Professor Sandy Black

Fashion’s future is about looking forward, however looking back with Sandy Black, Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology at London College of Fashion, serves up a timely lesson for right now on running a fashion business and sustainability.

Professor Black provides the privilege of reflection – of pausing and drawing on decades of analysis of craft and technology and designer fashion businesses through her academic research and practice and asking the question ‘why has so little changed for fashion designers in terms of barriers to growing a successful business’?  Many of the difficulties Professor Black, a maths graduate from UCL (more on that later), faced when running her knitwear business in the 70’s and 80’s still exist today, especially in terms of financing production whilst investing in new collections and finding manufacturers willing to work with emerging brands in a dynamic and affordable way.  The conversation and landscape is changing, though.

Professor Black completed a maths degree at UCL whilst exploring, informally, her interest in craft and knitting.  Upon graduation she became involved in an artistic knitting movement that saw an explosion of her knitwear across the globe.  Sandy Black Fashion knitwear was stocked in boutiques in the US, Japan, Australia and Europe.  Her hand and domestic machine knitted pieces were intricate and painterly, reflecting a new creative and artistic approach to knitwear that thrust itself into the fashion realm, beyond its reputation as a domestic craft.

img_2117Coat by Sandy Black  Photo: David McIntyre

“Digital knitting began in the 70’s” states Professor Black.  The current knitting technology is an extension of, rather than a re-invention of, that knitting technology.  She forged links with Stoll, a world-leading industrial knitting machine manufacturer to have a machine installed at London College of Fashion, enabling students to immerse themselves in industry techniques and adopt new technology in their practice.

The excitement in knitting arguably lies in its fusion of craft and technology and Professor Black’s publications, including Interrogating Fashion, Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox and The Sustainable Fashion Handbook explore the impact of this fusion on fashion, in terms of manufacturing, sustainability and aesthetics.  Her recent work, in collaboration with a number of London College of Fashion-based academics, is an online platform allowing the exchange of information between fashion academics and the designer fashion industry to promote insightful, sustainable and collaborative practice for better business and environmental outcomes.

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The platform, FIREup, has fuelled debate around changing business models for sustainability.  It intends to unlock the potential of industry and academic collaboration, and is designed to help designer-fashion businesses in London access knowledge based in the university’s research centres and academic staff across three prestigious colleges: Central Saint Martins, London College of Fashion and Chelsea College of Arts.  The FIREup initiative is now expanding across the UK. 

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Professor Sandy Black in discussion with Michelle Lowe-Holder, Martine Jarlgaard, Kiwy Huang and Ben Alun-Jones at the Creativeworks Festival, King’s College London – Photo: CSF

As part of the FIREup initiative, four projects were undertaken to allow designers to conduct research to inform their business decisions.  This research involved a sort of ‘forced reflection’ and contemplation.  Recent exits of high-profile designers from global fashion businesses (Raf Simons from Dior and Alber Elbaz from Lanvin) were allegedly, at least partly, the result of frustration at a lack of time and space to pause and reflect because of the relentless cycle of punishing product deadlines with no time for contemplation and development.  Although running a smaller business with fewer product categories is arguably less time-pressured, it is absolutely true that the pressures Professor Black faced whilst running her business and that often lead to added strain on small businesses have not yet been resolved.  It is the mandate of FIREup to allow designers space, time, academic support and funding to conduct reflective research and steer their business forward in a more successful and thoughtful way.  Christopher Raeburn is one such designer involved in the FireUp Catalyst Project.

Raeburn’s ‘REMADE’ products are crafted from re-appropriated military fabrics.  The jacket below was remade by deconstructing and shredding original German snow ponchos, the Schneetarn (German for ‘snow camouflage’) Parka.  A limited edition garment, it is one of a maximum of 50, proudly remade in Raeburn’s London studio.

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The women’s Ceremonial Biker Jacket is reworked from original British military ceremonial garments, traditional British military wear that have held the same design for the last century.  The jacket, typical of British cavalry, artillery and infantry, is also a limited edition piece (a maximum of 50) also remade in the Christopher Raeburn Studio.  Shop Christopher Raeburn here.

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Currently promoted on the FIREup platform, and being hosted by Professor Rebecca Earley and Dr. Kate Goldsworthy is the Mistra Fashion Future Conference on textile design and the circular economy which is part of their research aimed at creating the vision of designing for a circular future where materials are designed, produced, used and disposed of in radical new ways. “Circular Transitions will be the first global event to bring together academic and industry research concerned with designing fashion textiles for the circular economy.  The themes will explore the design of new materials for fashion with approaches ranging from emerging technology and social innovation to systems design and tools.”  For more information about the conference in London this November visit FIREup or Mistra Future Fashion.

It’s clear that Professor Black’s research and industry involvement, along with the work of her fellow academics at London College of Fashion, is helping shape the discourse around designer businesses and sustainability.  The broader discussion, encompassing the impact of our lifestyle choices (including fashion) on the environment has been explored by Professor Helen Storey in her recent Dress For Our Time project.  Developed in partnership with Holition, the dress digitally displayed data – extracted from a major study of the global risks of future shifts in ecosystems due to climate, which showed the impact of climate change on our physical world. It showed the planet as it will be, if we don’t do enough.  The film below demonstrates the shocking and compelling figures related to the refugee crises and displacement across across the globe projected onto the Dress For Our Time:

Professor Black and Professor Storey are both also instrumental team members at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) at the London College of Fashion – a Research Centre of the University of the Arts London based at London College of Fashion. Our work explores vital elements of Better Lives London College of Fashion’s commitment to using fashion to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live.  In 2014 the CSF announced a five-year partnership to work closely with Kering to support sustainable practices in education for the fashion industry. The partnership is a three-way approach to ensure new ways of thinking about sustainability in fashion: The Kering Talks, The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion and The Empowering Imagination module for MA students at LCF.  This year’s Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion will be announced on November 14th and I will be attending and writing about the finalists, so stay tuned!

To learn more about CSF initiatives, click here

To find out more about FIREup and see current opportunities here

Header Image:  Christopher Raeburn, who uses re-appropriated military materials in his collections

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Superhuman – The Ravensbourne Postgraduate Show

Off the back of a frantic London Fashion Week I attended Superhuman, an exhibition of work by the MA and MSc graduates of Ravensbourne, spanning the degrees Communication Design, Interactive Products Features, Fashion, Wearable Futures, Applied Technologies (rapid prototyping and digital technologies), Interactive Digital Media, Moving Image and Environment Design.  The titles of these degrees alone fills me with wonder and optimism and gives anecdotal support to a claim I saw in a tangential teaser video by Future Hub, claiming that ‘40% of the top jobs in 2027 have not even been invented yet’, suggesting that the old educational silos and linear career paths of the past will not fit the bill of the future.  Step up Ravensbourne…

With the work of 29 graduates presented in a compact exhibition space it was a great deal to review and as such, my overview focuses on fashion and digital technologies.

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Farid Bin Karim is the first student to graduate from the MSc Wearable Futures degree and has created a body of written work entitled “Couturier and the Art of Survival: a Technologist’s Guide”.  This work is the result of Farid’s ambitious attempt to explore the appetite within the ‘closed-shop’ of couture for current and future technologies.

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His guide looks into the hypothetical future of the aesthetic embellishments of couture and the couturier in their struggle to remain relevant in an ever-changing and digital future.  Farid seeks to explain how technology can aid in this endeavour and affect the human perception of adornment as a wearable. It is an exploration in updating crafts and disciplines to add dimensionality for wearables of the future.

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MSc Applied Technologies graduate Jason Taylor’s  project “The Bionic Toolkit” explores the idea of changing the way amputees interact with the design world by creating intuitive design tools.  It begins from the basis that the human hand has shaped the way we use traditional tools to design, meaning that such design tools are difficult to use with a prosthetic limb, as these devices are not kinematically accurate.

Taylor began by deconstructing an MRI scan of his own arm to create a 3D digital model. This model then served as a template in which myoelectric sensors, servos, and microprocessors were inserted and arranged so as to preserve kinematic function.  Using an open source robotic arm by InMoov (created by friend of Techstyler, Gael Langevin) for initial testing allowed Jason to explore how tools could be incorporated directly into the arm, reducing the need for sensors that would usually grip an existing tool.

Jason explained that “Rigorous testing has allowed me to explore the most efficient ways in which an amputee could draw, write, paint, sculpt etc… typically by attaching existing tools to each phalanx and recording the level of control, and ease of use. This allows for varying DOF’s (degree’s of freedom) depending upon the tool being used”.  “Using Ravensbourne’s state of the art prototyping facilities has allowed me to 3D print many iterations of mechanisms and prototypes, using a combination of FDM and polyjet 3D printers, laser cutters and 3D CNC machines.”

He plans to continue with the project now that he has graduated, and wishes to design more tools that amputees can attach to the Bionic Toolkit.  “The next step would be to make my project open source, so that other designers can freely edit my designs, and improve the quality of lives of others.” 

Update: 13/10/16 “The Bionic arm now allows the user to not only draw, sculpt, paint etc… but also to interact with digital environments (great for 3D modelling, VR and AR), sculpt dense materials (acting as a dremel-like tool), and 3D print direct from the ‘finger tips’.  Actions and movements can now also be recorded and repeated for iterative designs – lots of improvements since we last spoke!”

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Siyue “Lulu” Xu’s designs propose that denim’s prevalent, cheap, fast fashion reputation can be reshaped by elevating denim design through craft.  The collection challenges the perceptions of environment-friendly fashion design and aims to show that smart design can both be aesthetically sleek and pleasing and at the same time reduce the rate of pollution from industrial manufacturing in a post-humanist future.

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Lulu prints, embroiders and enhances new and second-hand denim fabrics and garments, transforming them from ubiquitous items into rare collectibles.  Her re-worked denim seeks to challenge the polluting reputation that denim carries and is inspired by rebellion and anarchy, taking its manifesto from punk and 1980’s western club culture.  For more of Lulu’s work check out her collection book and Instagram antics.

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Zoe Alexandria Paton Burt’s work in progress is “Neither/Nor” (she is due to graduate from the MA fashion degree next year) and looks into the gender divide in clothing and how it perpetuates inequality amongst different genders.  She is seeking to highlight modern day use of language that is ingrained in western society that she feels undermines individual behavioural traits, expecting men to behave in ‘masculine’ and women in a ‘feminine’ ways.

Zoe’s collection synopsis goes on to explain that “the collection will encompass the use of 3D modelling and printing, textile manipulation, embroidery, a broad range of fabrics from the traditional to the techno”. The final outcomes will be a collection, fashion film and a documentary aiming to raise awareness of the fight for equality.

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The garments presented by Zoe under the name “Alexandria Paton” contain components that have been 3D scanned and modelled using Rhino, then realised with large format 3D printing.  Zoe is also experimenting with 3D printing directly onto fabric using the Ultimaker 2 and Faberdashery PLA. She prints on to both Velvet and PolyUrethane fabrics and plans to further experiment with 3D modelling and printing, incorporating traditional textile techniques to create a new and unique amalgamations of the two.  

ZAPB PG04 DesignsZAPB PG04 Designsscreen-shot-2016-10-08-at-22-17-03screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-22-16-23screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-22-15-53Zoe Burt’s garment prototyping, MA Fashion Degree in progress

For more information on the Ravensbourne MA/MSc graduate show visit superhuman2016.uk

More information on Ravensbourne courses can be found here.

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