Shaping Sustainable Fashion edited by Alison Gwilt and Timo Rissanen is published by Earthscan this month. This article looks at a case study from the book on the work of London College of Fashion lecturer and textile designer, Jennifer Shellard:
New Materials for Fashion
When a consumer determines that a garment is no longer desirable for the purpose it was acquired for, it becomes textile waste. While the price of clothing has decreased, consumer spending on clothing has increased, resulting in significant increases in textile waste streams in the West (Allwood et al, 2006). As clothes become cheaper, it may be easier for a consumer to discard a garment and replace it with little consideration. A sustainable fashion industry of the future must identify ways of producing fashion that foster deeper engagements between wearer and garment, from point of acquisition through an appropriate, low-impact use phase to the eventual end of life of the garment. This will require new, closer relationships between the industry and fashion consumers. Alongside social innovation, technological advances will continue to bring about improvements in materials production, reclamation and recycling, leading to waste reduction.
Fashion designers have been increasingly reliant on the appropriate selection of materials as an approach to sustainable fashion. Garments can be made from renewable or biodegradable fibres, reclaimed materials or materials created through new technologies. While we know that often the most significant sustainability impacts related to clothing are created through laundering and drying, materials nevertheless play a significant role in moving towards more sustainable fashion practices. The potential for new technological man-made or hybrid textile materials to provide solutions for sustainable fashion has been little explored in the fashion industry. However high performance materials can maximize garment durability, while alternatively a garment can be designed to exploit fabric ageing: these ideas and more show that through considered material selections a garment can be designed with an extended lifecycle in mind. Furthermore, fashion can be created to adapt to different environments, climates and situations, through simple or complex materials and transformable techniques.
LCF lecturer and textile designer, Jennifer Shellard explores the use of technology in conjunction with traditional craft skills in her experimental textile pieces. In the piece entitled Transitions II, Shellard directs an external computer-animated light to change and enhance a gradated coloured strip that is integrated within a hand-woven material base. The gradual colour change in the strip is slow and measured and the viewing experience is both intriguing and meditative. Shellard’s abstract approach to textiles demonstrates the convergence between craft and technology. At the same time her work opens the door to alternative conversations about materials and their appropriateness to fashion. These conceptual approaches could lead designers to think about the possibility of new textile materials for garments that engage or transform. Garments that can change, adapt or evolve may encourage a relationship between wearer and garment that is much deeper than can be achieved through typical fashion solutions. And it is this connectivity to fashion that can help in the reduction of clothing consumption.
A central problem with fashion is that often a garment is disregarded before it ceases to function. In the case of a fashion garment this can relate to meaning. A garment can be disregarded because it no longer answers a perceived ‘need’; and essentially the ‘need’ here is an emotional one. Sustaining a wearer’s interest and engagement with a garment is then the real challenge. However, if a designer can create a garment that can adapt and transform, and reflect the wearer’s invested care, then we can begin to rethink our engagement with our clothes.
Allwood, J. M., Laursen, S. E., Malvido de Rodriguez, C. and Bocken, N. M. P. (2006) Well Dressed? The Present and Future Sustainability of Clothing and Textiles in the UK. Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, Cambridge
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