The future of fashion

| 19th March 2019
Bukomansimbi organic tree farmers association laying bark cloth to dry
Wendyrosie Scott
Global conference on sustainable design showcased a world of radical new possibilities for the fashion industry.


'Power, Nature, Culture and Society' was a platform at a major conference on design and sustainability  held at London College of Fashion (LCF).  

Attending an intensive two-day event is a luxury to anybody who isn't a student, academic or staff journalist. But much of the conference was radical - at last!

The event proved surprisingly upbeat, and revealed a new world of possibilities and cutting edge technologies.

Sustainability activism

Attendees and presenters from as far afield as India, Japan and the United States presented alongside European institutions, also out in force. Their talks were crammed with progressive ideas, as well as  investigative research that revealed how this subject has developed as an area worthy of ecological, environmental and political significance.

Transgressive in its behemoth approach, this was a conference with a difference and an unabashed audience.

Noticeably, certain speakers from the more established and luxury brands were received with an audible gasp of exasperation and cynicism. Time to cue you know who.

An honorary of fashion sustainability and activism and a former student at  designer Katherine Hamnetts was once shunned by the greater industry, which now see her embraced as the 'High Priestess'.

Hamnetts work in this arena spans several decades, most notoriously taking centre-stage in 1984 with her anti nuclear statement T-shirts of protest, provocation and politics. Cue present-day sustainability and Hamnetts related response ''Slogans are fine but we need action now and it needs to be dramatic''.  Ever outspoken, she quickly dismissed Donatella Versace's recent sustainability award, with a hiss of caustic hilarity. 

Experimentation and cooperation 

Met with a rapturous response especially from the many students in attendance, the field of force that is

Hamnett exhaled a hurricane of cynicism throughout her interview, and stressed the persistence of many in the industry who do not want to deal with the environmental, human and animal issues relating to fashion. She was received by rapturous applause, particularly by students. 

She argued: ''There's a conspiracy to do nothing''. Perhaps then, a slogan T-shirt could read HUNG LIKE HAMNETT,  because we need more ballsy women in this challenging field.

However, activism and education and bringing change, plus there is willing from areas of the industry, particularly from some of those at the very top. Watch this space.

There needs to better dialogue, action, experimentation and cooperation, which may not necessarily come from expected sources. The conference offered a mosaic of considerations in sustainable fashion and some stand out talks.

New skin

Ever aware of alternatives to animal skin and the need to explore greater use of sustainable plant fibres, in a fascinating presentation under the 'Natures Materials' section, Istituto Marangoni's Kirsten Scott (no relation!) spoke about 'tree skin' from a holistic group study of Ugandan bark cloth that aims to uncover its full potential. 

Their work is surely 'fashion forward' in its feasibility and approach to sustainable luxury. 

In a project in Bukomansimbi, south western Uganda, ten artisans and their apprentices create traditional bark 'cloth that is also fully compostable and contains antibacterial properties. 

It is a wonder material worn by royalty whilst additionally used to wrap bodies, since it preserves decomposition. Knowledge generated through this project will be shared with the community that produces it.

Conversant clothing

With few exceptions, it's a sad truth that the notion of fashion and ageing make for an uncomfortable pairing on several levels. This project offers ingenuity and hope in an area worthy of greater attention and respect.

Japan represented some startling and heartening endeavours, exploring ways of communicating and sharing knowledge, creating  holistic environs and using manga cartoons.

Most notably the Daijiros Mizunos work which could surely be termed 'conversant clothing'. A garment with sensor pockets for cameras and collars fitted microphones that 'talk' to the wearer, intent on enhancing well-being and aiding the ageing.

The talk 'Speculative, Fashionable, Wearable, Engaging Fashion Design with Wearable Tech for the Sustainable Future' emphasised facilitation and the role emerging designers can play in promoting positive partnerships, in this case with ATAP Google Lab.

Mizuno pragmatically proclaimed, after going to Google HQ in San Francisco, that “They are the tech experts, but we are the designers who work well collaboratively”.

Sophisticated ethnography

Catherine Glover from Northumbria University produced a polished and professional presentation on the Tweed Run. A sophisticated ethnography and narrative enquiry on an annual heritage cycling event, where attendees and participants 'dress up' in period clothing.

Glover participated by wearing her husbands Grandfathers 'plus fours' (or knickerbockers). Her presentation emphasised: “Tweed is the original technical material; Thorn-proof, weatherproof and waterproof”. 

Tweed is a material making a comeback due to its endurance and efficiency, and helping heritage designers to regain a platform.

Glover regards herself as a contemporary communicator and professional marketer. Her own style and notable presentation offer progressive insight.

Fashion revolution 

Edwina Ehrman, senior curator on the Victoria & Albert museum's exhibition 'Fashioned from Nature', spoke of the importance of making their exhibition deliberately uncomfortable for people, as well as examining the many and consistent abuses toward animals for fashion.

The exhibition premièred prototypes which could revolutionise the field. Ehrmans talk was ell-received and impressed the audience, as did Orsola de Castros from 'Fashion Revolution' with an impassioned appeal for action.

'Power, Nature, Culture & Society' welcomed topics as diverse as 'Culture and Spirituality'. Noteworthy contributors such as Elsa Parente and Miguel from Portugal's 'Co-curating a Fashion System' presentation, and Sara Caravagnero from Italy's Red Cross were very well received. 

Caravagnero's remarkable work on disability - an under-represented area in the industry - was potent and pertinent. Her presentation was resolutely fuelled by optimism and opportunism as the 'take-away' elements in an arena which can at times, frustrate and deflate.  

This Author

Wendyrosie Scott is an anthropologist and journalist focusing on design and creative communities. She looks at the positive partnerships between lifestyle trends & the natural world.

Image: Bukomansimbi organic tree farmers association laying bark cloth to dry.



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