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  • Prof. Dilys Williams

The future is here…it’s up to us to live it

Professor Dilys Williams sitting looking animated in a series of portraits

The unexpected and for most, the unimagined is happening. A large majority of people around the world have dramatically changed how they are living by placing health and health systems front of mind. This historic change on the part of individuals, communities, governments and industries is down to a virus that is directly and indirectly causing traumatic personal loss of family, friends and livelihoods. This change is also saving lives, bonding families, recognising contributors within communities and creating the conditions for new kinds of fulfillment and ways to thrive.

We are living through a hyper version of what was already going on. William Gibson said that the future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed. Now is the time for many people to pave the paths of a new reality, as we tread them. For those of us who have been living and working with human and planetary health front of mind, and treading new paths for a while now, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to show how what we are doing offers a new imaginable world, through the examples that we can give of it already happening.

Fashion Revolution week campaigns for systemic reform of the fashion industry with a focus on the need for greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. This year, the resonation between what it does to connect communities and how it exemplifies a new imaginary was super clear. Through online mending sessions via Instagram lives, teach-ins hosted by Michelle Lowe Holder and the Question Time debate – ‘Mass consumption, the end of an era’, with CSF’s Professor Kate Fletcher, with parallel discussion around the world. We can see a future that is here: a dynamic, connected, caring, health and wellbeing first exemplar for the fashion system.

At London College of Fashion, Technician Gus Ibrahim is among many making vital supplies for health workers in the NHS. Whilst students, tutors and researchers are engaging in ‘making’ in material and conversational forms to help people and communities at this time. Such actions expand the understanding of fashion, and exemplify its creative, connected and caring forms.

At Centre for Sustainable Fashion, we teach, research, exchange knowledge with businesses large and small, and provide evidence based provocation to government. These are the ways in which we fulfil our ambition to contribute to, and shape a fashion system that recognizes our ecological context and respects the rights of all living things.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Sustainability and Ethics in fashion has been re-inaugurated in the new parliamentary session, with co-chairs Baroness Lola Young and Catherine West and with Fashion Roundtable as secretariat. Having been appointed as Special Advisor to the group, I have an incredible opportunity, in showing how a researcher and designer can influence change.

CSF, having previously acted as secretariat to this APPG, has already enabled unprecedented activities in parliament:

  • Turning one of the committee rooms into a making space, as part of I Stood Up

  • Inviting parliamentarians to discuss matters of concern with first time voters

  • Through a photoshoot with MPs and peers as part of Local Wisdom

Such activities can expand our agency as fashion designers and researchers, exemplifying what we offer to society and what creative fulfillment involves. These and many other examples show what we expect of ourselves as contributors and recipients in the fashion system. It shows an imagined world that is happening. It is new making systems – new learning systems, new structures of governance. However, meanwhile, there is a lot of grasping, holding on, looking back, fear, about this new imagining. This is understandable.Societies have been built on myths of what matters. Economic systems, social systems that do not foreground health over financial wealth, the community over the few. The fragility and vulnerability of these systems is exposed, but the emperor is still wearing his new clothes. We have a small window of opportunity to call this out. To show, through the examples above and so many others: this is fashion, this is education, this does contribute to society and to a civilisation that will go down in history as the one that drew, wrote and lived out an understanding of interdependence and evidenced what we are really capable of.


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