Weeks 47 - 52: End to a Year of No New Clothes

The year of #nonewclothes2015 came to a rapid conclusion in a whirlwind of work/pleasure activities and a frenetic December spent with great colleagues, family and friends. With such a busy social schedule, how would I get on utilising my existing wardrobe and avoiding buying new stuff to suit the occasion? When the spotlight is fully on during the social season of Christmas and New Year, how would I manage to spruce myself up from event to event? Of course, being too busy to spend time hanging out shopping continued to be a rule of thumb.

Upcycling the Italian Way

At the end of November 2015 I packed my bags for a three day trip to Florence and Prato in Italy, for workshop #2 of the EU Trash-2-Cash project. The most interesting part of this trip was the museum tour, which highlighted the way in which Italian industry had been recycling for centuries - in particular woven woollen cloth in the Prato district - and during the war, when new fibres like cellulosics from corn starch and crab shells were invented (like the first forms of Ingeo and Chitin/Chitosan respectively). I had always thought these were invented by the industry to try to be less environmentally impactful, but it was in fact economic need that drove this innovation, in an attempt to keep Italian industry healthy during the war when the supply of other fibres were limited due to trade/transport restrictions.

T2C consortium researchers on a guided tour, Prato Textile Museum, November 2015

T2C consortium researchers on a guided tour, Prato Textile Museum, November 2015

T2C researchers split into two groups, reflecting on properties of polyester and cellulosic fibres, WS2, November 2015

T2C researchers split into two groups, reflecting on properties of polyester and cellulosic fibres, WS2, November 2015

I was very happy to dust off some old winter-wear favourites for this trip - albeit with buttons freshly replaced and moth holes darned. This coat always elicits a comment or two and I am very glad I found it at a studio sample sale for Ginka by Neisha Crosland, back in the days when she briefly did a fashion range along with the classic interiors collections. (It also came with a printed velvet weekend bag - making a totally matching look which pleases my virgo rising tendencies...)

Velvet coat by Ginka from Neisha Crosland

Velvet coat by Ginka from Neisha Crosland

Wearing the birthday cardigan from March this year whilst showing an old photogram print polyester scarf design during a conversation about the attributes of the fibre

Wearing the birthday cardigan from March this year whilst showing an old photogram print polyester scarf design during a conversation about the attributes of the fibre

Don't look too closely at this scarf - moth holes thoroughly repaired with visible mending techniques after the Tom of Holland workshop, in July 2015

Don't look too closely at this scarf - moth holes thoroughly repaired with visible mending techniques after the Tom of Holland workshop, in July 2015

The only place I shopped whilst in Italy was in pursuit of lovely lotions from Farmacia Santa Maria Novella - a place I always go when in Florence. Frankly, the poshest Boots you will ever go into! (I first visited in 1998 with Nicky Lawler, then on my first trip with husband-to-be Paul in 2003. It has been totally renovated since then, and is well worth a visit if you are ever in Florence.)

Farmacia Santa Marie Novella, Florence.

Farmacia Santa Marie Novella, Florence.

Fast Slow Textiles

Fast Slow project work by Chelsea MA student Amy Green, Fast Slow Textile project and dyeing with onion skins, November 2015

Fast Slow project work by Chelsea MA student Amy Green, Fast Slow Textile project and dyeing with onion skins, November 2015

In the Autumn term I also dreamed up a project for the MA Textile Design students at Chelsea. The second phase of the Mistra project is all about design for cyclability, and in particular understanding more about product speeds. At TED we always try to build student projects into the funded research projects, believing that they are very good 'emerging researchers' and of course constitute an excellent user group. Being involved in a live research project is interesting for them, and the projects often create new insights that they build on right through to their final show. You can see the project content and outcomes on the blog they built here, and read a review from project leader Kay Politowicz here.  

Overall, what we learnt more about was the contradictions within the common belief held by many that slow is better than fast. Our relationship to a product is complex, and often 'fast fashion' textiles give as much satisfaction, pleasure and usefulness as 'slow', or high-end goods. Fast can also be a powerful connecting force for people - empowering, even - especially where income brackets are concerned.

Labour issues in production are of course the controversial touch points around these speeds, but many industry insiders often tell me that there is very little difference between fast brands and slow brands in the factories. Of course this is something we are going to find out for ourselves over the next few years, but as a starting point it's useful to question what so many of us believe to be true. We will continue to look at this question through a lens of design, rather than labour issues, but as we move towards some innovative ideas we will be thinking about new manufacturing models and will try to design for future sustainable paradigms.

Early Christmas and then Kerala

Christmas began early in the Earley household, as the tree was up by 29th November and family celebrations began in earnest on the 6th December. We had booked a trip to India over Christmas, so began eating turkey far too soon! Going away is a good way to avoid all the mayhem and social pressures that would follow as 24/25th December arrived. It was very easy for me to wear my old party favourites and not go to the shops this month!

Pre Christmas lunch number two, 12th Dec, wearing very old Antique Batik navy sequin dress bought in Paris before I was married

Pre Christmas lunch number two, 12th Dec, wearing very old Antique Batik navy sequin dress bought in Paris before I was married

We packed super-light for India as we were moving around quite a bit. We knew that clothes would be the least of our concerns, or interests. We were going on an adventure with the kids, and it was the culture and nature that we wanted to focus on.

India was full of colour, smells, amazing people and foods beyond our imaginations. We loved seeing for ourselves the ingenuity and innovation, creativity and craftsmanship. After Fort Kochi, and then an Alleppey houseboat stay, we went in an 'eco' resort for Christmas, where we picked organic vegetables from the garden and cooked fresh five-course meals. We washed in our outdoor bathroom using locally made bark soap. We stayed all day in the hot sun and shade - defending ourselves from the huge black rooks out to steal food - and watched eagles dive into the sea at sunset, catching their fish suppers. It was a trip from heaven and we all want to go back to India as soon as we can!

Hand rolling joss sticks in Fort Kochi; fragrant powders mixed to order

Hand rolling joss sticks in Fort Kochi; fragrant powders mixed to order

The late night bike repair shop, Fort Kochi

The late night bike repair shop, Fort Kochi

Warming banana leaves to make them flame retardant; making marinaded fish parcels in our cooking class, Marikulam

Warming banana leaves to make them flame retardant; making marinaded fish parcels in our cooking class, Marikulam

I loved how using henna tubes and painting my hands, arms and feet made me feel dressed up! Low impact outfit 'change', Indian stylee...

I loved how using henna tubes and painting my hands, arms and feet made me feel dressed up! Low impact outfit 'change', Indian stylee...

Christmas Eve outfit: second hand Paul Smith silk t-shirt, fairtrade woven wrap, recycled sari clutch bag, and recycled necklace from my NYC trip in June

Christmas Eve outfit: second hand Paul Smith silk t-shirt, fairtrade woven wrap, recycled sari clutch bag, and recycled necklace from my NYC trip in June

New Year, New Jeans

Home by New Years Eve, and back to London to spend the last few days of my pledge of #nonewclothes2015 doing the laundry from our trip. So I made it to 2016 folks. But... only to 2nd January 2016! 

The fact is, I have been desperate for a new pair of jeans, and so I waited to 2016. I then took my gift vouchers and off I went to M&S. I went for the new cut that lifts the bum (it does, it really does), made from 'responsible cotton'.

Are you disappointed in me? Will I get trolled on social media, for my weakness? Maybe. The truth is, I really wanted some NEW jeans. I have second hand dungarees and hand me down boyfriend jeans. I have size 10's and 12's now too tight to breathe in. I needed some size 14's, and something flattering. I loved the fact that they were new, and mine.

There, I said it. So what now?

On Fast and Fasting

My year of #nonewclothes2015 was well worth the effort - of restraining myself, of mending, of reaching out and borrowing. Most of all, for learning more about myself and my habits and desires, and how to dress and provide for my family. As Professor of Sustainable Textile and Fashion Design, I know a fair bit about textile and clothing, but I am a consumer and a human being as well. Like all of us, I enjoy certain pleasures in life, and whilst there are a great many I think twice about now I know more about provenance and chemicals, for example, I also know that time, convenience and aesthetics are all important factors to making broad progress. My experiment was to make sure I firmly understood what options are out there, and what factors limit our choices.

I am continuing into 2016 with a #fashionfast2016 pledge. I now believe that in a similar way to food-fasting for one day a week being good for ones health, regular fasting from consuming clothes is a great way to appreciate what we have, and what we need. It's easy for us to fall into 'fast food' habits, and our health can suffer as a result. By refraining from making purchases and finding lower impact alternatives like borrowing or customising second hand clothes, we can develop habits that might ultimately support a greater range of alternatives to be on offer.

Throughout my busy year I have been dreaming of an airport service which allows you to select online clothes from the country you are about to visit, and have them waiting for you at Arrivals. You can then travel without luggage, and experience local fashion during your trip. My colleague Kay had this kind of idea years ago and it stayed with me. As the creativity of the service design sector increases, I keep thinking about it. In Paris, at EAD11 in March this year I heard a paper presented by a young researcher who had explored the idea for his MA work. In the H&M Global Change Award entries I was searching for a similar venture, but to no avail. So, anyone want to talk about it?

Weeks 28-36: Mending Me

It's been a long summer break, and I have so much to tell you about. I have been composing blog posts in my head, but have avoided the keyboard as much as I could. Now I am 'back', I will begin with the over-riding theme of my holiday season - mending and wellbeing.

By mid July, everyone working in education will recognise the feeling of feeling a wee bit 'broken'. The academic year ends then and for a lot of us, it's not a moment too soon. Meeting the demands of so many people - students, colleagues, degree show audiences, managers, funders - is completely exhausting and many are beginning to find it too much to be really fulfilling anymore. (For me, it is the constant communication that drains me. By July I need some peace, some quiet. Not talking for a while. Yet with the academic break comes the school holidays… Need I say more?) I certainly need many more strategies for keeping well, and finding that elusive 'work/life' balance.

Last year I was ill for a while and found myself at home more than I had been for years. One way to make myself 'better' during this long period of downtime and isolation was to do a mend a day. Family and work life is so busy, it seems that things break and then wait to be mended. Before you know it, you are surrounded by things with handles hanging off, holes in them, etc. I have an eye for spotting such domestic imperfections (!) but no time to sit and mend. So, last spring I began to fix things, one by one. The house began to look better. I began to feel better.

I was also doing other things to get better, and one of those things was daily meditation. For me, the connection between mending and meditation is so clear: concentrating on the action of the hands; focusing on the skillful positioning, repositioning; the use of the tool… It takes the mind away from thinking thoughts, and uses it to perform a skilled task. Afterwards, there is a palpable serotonin release as the eye is pleased by the result (hopefully, not always), and the brain thanks you for the rest from thinking. You have saved money. You have saved an object from landfill.

Anyway, back to this summer, and a year after my illness. I always try to line up a trip or workshop for the TED and TFRC researchers and students for this time of year. It's a good idea to ring fence both the time and money to spend a little creative time together, at the end of the year, and before we all go our separate ways for a few weeks. In the past we have: discussed 'slow craft' on a canal barge; taken Eurostar to Paris for a curator's tour of an exhibition; taken the train to Cambridge to visit a Bio Chemistry lab; and had two fun-filled days seeing exhibitions and workshopping with social & fibre science colleagues from across Europe.

This year, because of my pledge to buy no new clothes, the idea of mending had been very much on my mind. Bridget Harvey's PhD research has been feeding my interest in trying to understand and articulate the relationship between mending our clothes, and 'wellbeing'. I gave Bridget some funds to organise a TFRC Mending Workshop with Tom of Holland, and so we found ourselves, one sunny afternoon, being taught darning by a lovely young man - an expert knitter-turned-mending entrepreneur.

My 'beyond repair' cashmere All Saints socks, TFRC/TED Summer Workshop, July 2015

My 'beyond repair' cashmere All Saints socks, TFRC/TED Summer Workshop, July 2015

Bridget Harvey's jumper: visible mends act as a multitude of decorative medals after doing battle with consumerism and the marketing machine that fashion presents us with

Tom of Holland giving the TFRC & TED textile experts his rationale for Visible Mending.

Tom of Holland giving the TFRC & TED textile experts his rationale for Visible Mending.

Mending mushrooms and yarns galore, tactile and colorful tools to get us darning, supplied by Tom. (We supplied the moth-eaten woollens)

Mending mushrooms and yarns galore, tactile and colorful tools to get us darning, supplied by Tom. (We supplied the moth-eaten woollens)

Tom made a hole for us to mend. A small snip quickly unravels into a bigger hole on the mushroom.

Using the long needle we created the matrix - the warp structure that we then weave the weft threads through - all the time working on the reverse of the knit.

The 'right' side and my first darn ever. (I discovered I was getting quite long-sighted and may be in need of reading glasses soon. Arghhhhh!)

The day after the workshop, Bridget and I ran a stall at the CCW event, Transacting Values hosted by the Graduate School's Critical Practice group. Critical Practice is a group of artists, designers, curators and researchers based at Chelsea College of Arts. They created a pop-up market made up of over 60 'stall holders' who had been invited to creatively explore and produce alternative economies of value. Bridget and I wanted to explore an idea she had had about mending for others.

When I started this blog I had been talking to her about the fact that I found sitting down to mend my own stuff difficult, but that I was always able to find the time to organise events for other people. She suggested we tried swopping a holey garment with each other, and carried out a mend as a 'gift'. We hadn't managed to test this out by the end of the academic year, so we used the market to test it out in public. Here, our mending idea was performed for others as ‘giftivism’, a way to build or reinforce a social bond. We sat with people and mended whatever they had brought along, and talked, and 'met' each other through the act of mending. You can read more about the market here. 

For me, a chance to do something so public and creative with the kids was a real opportunity for them to understand more about me, the work I did, art college, and values other than money. In the photo Martha and me are at the CCW event - making colorful patches for 'community mends' and gifting. A lovely way to spend time together and meet people, and talk about caring for things, and for people and places. (Martha here proudly wearing a t-shirt from the Cultures of Resilience workshop I ran at LCC in March).

Bridget Harvey teaching darning at the Transacting Values event.

My visible hat repair. Traditionally the art of darning would be very much about invisibility. Now, we mend to create a badge of honour: to show that it is not need that moves us to mend, but desire to see less waste in the world.

Bridget mending my cashmere cardigan for me. Gifting her mend to me, in a moment of connecting through repair. My relationship to my cardigan is different now that I have Bridget's yellow binding stitch running through the seams, holding it together. Bridget is my PhD student - i support her - but I know she supports me too, in a different way. This evidences an exchange, a generosity, of what teaching and learning can be about.

This was pretty much the last public event at college for me for the year, and by the end of July I was finally able to escape and go on holiday. We packed up the car and headed off to Ireland for a couple of weeks. We are lucky enough to have friends and family there who let us stay in their houses by the sea. Although we have been many times before, this time I packed something that I had never travelled on holiday with before - a mending kit and a whole collection of socks to be darned.

Darning my collection of orange socks - all holey at the big toe. (Note to self: must cut big toe nails shorter…). Getting neater.

Martha having a go on holiday at darning the moth holes in my Sonia hat...

Hat mends by Martha and CCW PhD researcher Charlotte Webb

Folks, I can recommend darning with a view. On holiday in Ireland, and later in Sweden, the combination of mending and vitamin sea was just the tonic I needed. Days filled with fixing, body boarding, walking and talking with old friends. That time to reconnect with oneself, with those we love. Somehow mending just works well in this situation too. Try it. Let me know whether it works for you.

Morning rainbow over Glenbeigh in Kerry. (I kid you not, this was the view from the sofa in the borrowed house where I sat each day and darned socks… Thanks Ed & Aoife xx)

Morning rainbow over Glenbeigh in Kerry. (I kid you not, this was the view from the sofa in the borrowed house where I sat each day and darned socks… Thanks Ed & Aoife xx)

View from the bedroom in the Stockholm Archipelago, where my darning days continued into late summer...

View from the bedroom in the Stockholm Archipelago, where my darning days continued into late summer...

No new clothes 2015? Easy peasy. Although I did buy a wetsuit. (Have you ever swum in the Baltic sea?!)

 

Weeks 24-25: Mindful Living in New York and Long Life in Nottingham

Earlier this year I was invited to speak and give a workshop at Sass Brown's Summer School, at FIT, New York, and managed to take out the Textile Toolbox show too. FIT hosted a two week showcase of the work, which was a great final outcome for the Mistra Future Fashion research.

Brooklyn-based Parsons/Chelsea MA graduate Kioka helping us set up in NYC

Brooklyn-based Parsons/Chelsea MA graduate Kioka helping us set up in NYC

Set up was very quick thanks to uber-efficient TED assistant Miriam Ribul and FIT administrator Elke, and so I got Friday afternoon to Monday morning to see some sights and explore. I hadn't been to NYC since September 2012, and I was keen to find the green shoots of alternative business and lifestyle models that it's becoming famous for, particularly outside of Manhattan.

I didn't spend long at all here - Time Square - but starting in the least 'eco' place and I was able to feel and experience the differences more acutely. I really hate crowds, and this kind of city centre. Piccadilly Circus as a spectator sport - argh. Bridget and I quickly turned towards quieter streets...

The Highline at sunset. Short but sweet. A different perspective of Midtown down to the Meat Packing District.

Cooling off our feet on the Highline.

White lego play on the Highline.

White lego play on the Highline.

Thrift store purchases! I avoided buying new in New York, but Beacon's Closet was jam packed full of brilliant second hand things. I picked up some long and short denim dungarees and a navy silk playsuit. The necklace I bought at the Museum of Art & Design is by a Brooklyn maker who uses recycled objects and bamboo beads.

Lunch in the vegan restaurant, Angelica Home Kitchen, one of Bridget's favorite haunts. She also went to the Isamu Noguchi museum and reported back that it was amazing...

One of the many, many juice bars. And I didn't photograph the salad bars - but they have become super healthy, letting you walk along a very long counter and select from an incredible range of organic ingredients…

Rooftop cocktails and supper with Suzanne Lee at Soho House… Couldn't find a swimsuit in a thrift store - so bought one from a surf shop… Then found out the pool was closed. Argh!!

Rooftop cocktails and supper with Suzanne Lee at Soho House… Couldn't find a swimsuit in a thrift store - so bought one from a surf shop… Then found out the pool was closed. Argh!!

More rooftop time. Sunday with Sass Brown, talking about the emerging eco fashion scene in NYC, inspecting her organic veg / salad garden, and drinking her Prosecco ;) 

Way down in DUMBO… The ultimate green house?

Way down in DUMBO… The ultimate green house?

Sass Brown's FIT Summer School. My talk about The Textile Toolbox and using The TEN to redesign products, and also open minds...

Antony Lilore presenting his jacket concept at the end of The TEN workshop.

CEO of Sydney Brown and a fab designer from G Star Raw presenting their co-designed shoe concept.

CEO of Sydney Brown and a fab designer from G Star Raw presenting their co-designed shoe concept.

Modern Meadow - animal products without killing animals - presented by Creative Director Suzanne Lee

China Through the Looking Glass at the MET. AMAZING! I will derive years of inspiration from the photos I took there.

China Through the Looking Glass at the MET. AMAZING! I will derive years of inspiration from the photos I took there.

New Yorkers now rent extra storage space to keep their (unused) possessions… A rapidly expanding market too. Madness.

New Yorkers now rent extra storage space to keep their (unused) possessions… A rapidly expanding market too. Madness.

A chance to show, speak and workshop in NYC was a great opportunity, but all this flying around the globe is difficult to reconcile with my conscience. It tends to make my #nonewclothes2015 pledge feel a bit small. But, by being there, I am also having an impact on many companies and decision makers. I can only hope that what I inspire them to do afterwards will help offset my footprint. In Sweden I have helped companies redesign products and make Higgs Index savings of up to 41% - on a large volume product this could be quite considerable, so maybe at the FIT Summer School some of the brands will score well too when they go back and put their plans into action.

I still board an airplane thinking 'how the heck does this get off the ground?' followed quickly by 'oh yes, a lot of FUEL and EMMISSIONS'. It is the biggest climate sin, according to an article in the New York Times, which says that my flight from London to NY will have created "a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person."

The following week I took the train up to Nottingham, to take part in the PLATE conference. FIT Dean Sass Brown was there too, presenting her excellent paper about future sustainable luxury and artisnal craft in a global context. So we got to catch up after the busy Summer School the week before and make some new plans over late night noodles. We were tempted to take up the invite to go to a karaoke night with the staff at Wagamama's, but sensibly declined to attempt to recover from the jet lag instead.

I was at PLATE presenting Mistra work that Kate Goldsworthy and I had conducted around designing for short and long life cyclable textiles. 

Designing for cyclability as a proactive approach to improving the retention of material value within circular fashion systems... Designing in order to enable fully joined up cycles of material use is the ultimate aim for both approaches, but this speed of cycle creates very different challenges on which to make informed and appropriate design choices. The two approaches are deliberately extreme opposites, with short-life closed-loop garments explored as complementary to long-life user engagement strategies. Both can ultimately be argued to have an extending affect on materials in the value-chain; one by keeping products in use over multiple cycles in perpetuity, the other by extending the single use cycle of a product over time. By exploring this polarisation of speeds and needs we aim to gain insights into creating an effective circular materials economy, which acknowledges the complex nature of our current and emerging fashion system.
— (Earley & Goldsworthy, 2015)

The accompanying exhibition at PLATE was a real treat and had some great items in it - including the books below and the ultimate in transforming clothes by ex-engineer Annalisa Simmonella. It made me think about how one of her dresses would have been so very very useful on my work recent trips - transforming with delicate buttons from short to long sleeve, and from full skirt to mini skirt… and many other configurations besides. I could have reduced my packing considerably, and had fun working out what was appropriate from event to event. She could really help me out during this year of #nonewclothes2015...

Annalisa Simmonella

Annalisa Simmonella

Bridget Harvey's mended Red Blanket

Bridget Harvey's mended Red Blanket

Weeks 18-22: Springtime in Paris… Copenhagen, London, Borås and Crete

After a quiet New Year on the travel front, I have been zooming around a lot this Spring - mostly for work but a half term holiday too. So, continuing with my year of buying nothing new, I have been hunting through wardrobes for colours and cuts to help with my international 'presentations'. West London charity shops have been invaluable. I have had a few fab finds that brightened up my packing and set me on the road with something 'new' to wear for each occasion, and have shared them with you below, along with a brief synopsis of the trips.

1. Paris

I lucked out and found a gorgeous silk Rob Ryan scarf in Cancer Research in Chiswick just before my trip to Paris. In red, white and blue it made me feel very Anglais and gave me a bit of a sparkle for the paper I was giving at EAD11 - at the conference I was talking about the new skills we should provide designers with as we strive for a better industry. I didn't include developing an eagle eye in charity shops, but maybe I will add that in to the paper after my experience this spring.

Rob Ryan scarf and this blue Reiss cardigan that belonged to my partner Paul, before he shrank it in the machine ;)

Rob Ryan scarf and this blue Reiss cardigan that belonged to my partner Paul, before he shrank it in the machine ;)

2. Copenhagen

I flew in for three days to set up the Textile Toolbox pop-up show, and give workshops to Danish businesses with DAFI and their Fabric Source team, at KEA. I used TED's The TEN to help the small businesses take a garment and redesign it in stages to improve its overall environmental performance. In workshops in Sweden we have managed to improve at product by between 3% - 41% using the Higg Index to score it before and after the redesign process.

DAFI and the Fabric Source session

DAFI and the Fabric Source session

I also hosted a workshop for KEA fashion and textile staff, where we discussed the Textile Toolbox work, and The TEN, and how it can be used in their own specific context. It was a really enjoyable session - it's not always easy working with other academics in this context - but the opportunity to work with a team and support their own ambition is a valuable one. It was particularly nice to meet Kristin face-to-face, one of the Textile Toolbox bloggers we brought on board in 2012 to collaborate on the Mistra project. 

KEA staff discussion. For this trip I packed my trusted Hope suit and Luella Bartley silk shirt, and another plain black silk shirt I found in Mary's Living and Giving in Chiswick.

KEA staff discussion. For this trip I packed my trusted Hope suit and Luella Bartley silk shirt, and another plain black silk shirt I found in Mary's Living and Giving in Chiswick.

3. London

Back in London I dashed into the MA Fashion exhibition at CSM, Nude, where I found some ingenious fabric reuse concepts. When I studied on the course there was no mention of sustainability (1992-94), and I had a battle to get my ideas across, but my collection using old knitwear to airbrush and print with onto new fabric was appreciated by the end of the course ;) 

It was the first time the MA course had held a public exhibition of the catwalk work. Alistair had done an incredible design job in the gallery. I hope they do an exhibition every year - it will become a must see - and I hope the interest in 'greening' the industry continues to flourish here on this outstanding and highly influential course.

4. Borås

Next up a lightening trip out to Gothenburg and the Swedish School of Fashion and Textiles in Borås to give a keynote at an event hosted by SP, the lead organization in the Mistra project, who research new wood technologies. I took the pop up show along for the day, and we also had a chance to catwalk some of the outfits during my talk, which was really exciting and gave us some great ideas for another project...

ASAP (2014)

ASAP (2014)

Paper was the focus of the event which was titled 'The Forest on the Catwalk'. Naturally Kay and Kate's paper jacket was an appropriate centre piece (ASAP, 2014).

My favourite Top 100 shirt got another wearing for the keynote talk. It's a very ancient M&S polyester shirt that I bought in 2002 from an Oxfam shop in Cornwall, which I over printed with plant cuttings from the Eden Project. It is set to last forever - not a sign of wear after so many years, its a sobering thought when you experience first hand just how durable this material is - lasting 200 years we need to make sure polyester garments have more than one life.

 

Hermes exhibition, Saatchi Gallery

Hermes exhibition, Saatchi Gallery

5. London

Back in London I took the kids out on a few trips to make up for my neglect... We saw the South American art and the Hermes show at the Saatchi, and also climbed Monument, after a quick shop for holiday clothes in Fara kids. It was a good opportunity to talk about 'new' and luxurious; and 'old' and inexpensive. They got to understand that people and skills are needed for both kinds of products, and that materials and techniques often vary for these fast and slow commodities.

Fara kids purchases (Tru wearing his best find there, an H&M Conscious Collection sweatshirt)

Fara kids purchases (Tru wearing his best find there, an H&M Conscious Collection sweatshirt)

6. Crete

Finally, a half term break in Crete. Bliss! In packing and sorting through clothes they have grown out of, I made a list of what they needed now they are an inch bigger all around. There is no end of second hand stuff out there for the kids - I almost can't believe people ever buy new... In style terms they are getting more choosey now, but it's still so easy to find great stuff in mint condition. That goes for me too. Martha is wearing my Biba jacket here - a great find from Mary's L&G again. Tru is wearing a fab tropical fish shirt which my mum found in the charity shop Dorothy House in Melksham where she volunteers every Tuesday. Of course, Mum is a great source of clothes for the kids - she often gets first pick of the new stock - and after eleven years of volunteering she is also a firm convert to 'not buying new' as often as possible.

There are things I have missed this spring - new shoes in particular. I still haven't found any footwear on my trips around the charity shops. I think this is a tricky area and needs some research to see what is possible. I also wanted new swimwear for the holiday and again, I wasn't prepared to go second hand for it. But on the whole, this year of not buying new is not hard. And it means I am saving up money to spend on having fun with the family. There is definitely something profoundly important in this kind of pledge, #nonewclothes2015

Week 5: Repairing and Fixing

What a lovely, thoughtful week, with time spent seeing interesting things and talking about them afterwards with inspiring people – such simple pleasures, and so much better than shopping my friends! I spent this week thinking about mending – well, it’s one tiny step closer to actually attacking the huge pile of clothes in the corner of my front room. Isn’t it?

On Tuesday I attended a talk at Camberwell by London Metropolitan's Professor Daniel Charney, (he of Fixperts fame). Brave Fixed World positioned mending as a key driver for social and cultural change. Mending, he says, is a form of resistance. He argues that we should as designers look for systemic mending approaches: help one, help many. He asked us to think as makers, as designers, about ‘What is worth making? What is it we are fixing? Which side will you be on?’

It was great to also be reminded of the V&A’s Power of Making exhibition; and the ‘make space’ in the museum, with the Tinker Table by El Ultimo Grito. Listening to Daniel’s talk before we viewed the exhibition The Department of Repair put us into the mindset of repair as a physical, political and social act. It was very interesting to hear him talk about the mindset of fixers, and the maker types or tribes he has identified and mapped. The activist menders of the 70’s were different to today's menders mainly because of the technology they now utilise. It takes us to a future landscape where places for fixing can be around every corner, with designers and makers giving ‘access, engagement, experience, and confidence’ to all members of the community.

Bridget Harvey

Bridget Harvey

 

In the exhibition space we were challenged to think more about Values vs Value. The Department of Repair is co-curated by Bridget Harveyone of my Chelsea BA graduates who is now a PhD researcher with us at TED. To say I find her work inspiring is a bit of an understatement really...

Bridget occupies a fluid space between design, art and craft. She uses traditional and new techniques and work with natural and found materials. She creates contemporary craft objects in small quantities and as one-off pieces. She pushes materials, forms and joins, and is inspired by costume and narrative. Her work has been described as exploring ‘themes of carnival, folk art and tribal display with a touch of Blackpool thrown in.’

Blackpool in a profile is hard to resist, don't you think? My favorite pieces brought into the space by Bridget and her fellow curators were: the mended bike wheels by SeaBass Cycles (really - was it a repair or was it like, NEW?!); the plate fixed by boiling it in milk for an hour (Bridget Harvey); the film of the ship being taken apart, over two years (Tim Mitchell). Not to mention the darned jumper by  Tom van Deijnen (tomofholland); the work-in-progress upholstered chair (Second Sitters) and the crazy broken records (Yuri Suzuki). Too many good things - see it for yourself before 20th February 2015. 

Yuri Suzuki

Yuri Suzuki

SeaBass Cycles

SeaBass Cycles


After the Department of Repair I popped in to see The Expanded Designer at Wilson Road, another private view, this time of work exploring the future role of the graphic/communication designer. Some great publications were produced there by student teams; but the real bonus of the evening was bumping into the delicious Orsola de Castro (she of From Somewhere fame). I only ever see her at big events - London, Hong Kong, Glasgow. She is a jet-setting upcycler extraordinaire; an inspirational maker-mender if ever I met one! (Now, I wonder if I could tempt her over to W4 for some lunch and commandeer her to help with that large pile of mending in the corner of my front room…)

Ms Lovely de Castro...

Ms Lovely de Castro...

Week 3: Resistance + Resilience

Suddenly, everything I do is connected in some way to our fashion consumption habits. It was a busy week at work – very little time to think about purchasing fashion – but lots of time to think about the way things currently work in the industry. I was scheduled to run a weeklong master class for MA textile students at Cheslea, with a project called Elastic Learning Tools, part of Professor Ezio Manzini’s new project at UAL, Cultures of Resilience (CoR). I will tell you all about the MA master class in a later blog post, but for now I want to tell you about Ezio…

Ezio's new book

Anyone who has been interested in sustainable design over the last 20 years will know Ezio’s work. It’s a huge privilege to have him at UAL for two years. He basically proposes that design should be viewed inside out – that we are here as designers to make social progress, rather than ‘stuff’; that designers of the future should use their skills to enable others to make change for themselves and to be more resilient. (His new book, Design, When Everybody Designs, is out in March). At UAL he has the rather grueling task of running a cross college, cross discipline project, cajoling busy professors and readers to find the time to engage in his project. If I know my colleagues – and I think after 20 years here I do – he has a tough time even getting his emails answered let alone getting everyone together to make the project happen. But this week a few of us met on Tuesday at Chelsea to consider the idea of Resistance + Resilience, and to see a range of researchers present their own particular ideas around the theme.

I hate giving a talk after David Cross, and this time was no exception; he kicked off the event with a brilliantly insightful 8-minute diatribe about the total misuse of the term sustainability. Sometime later, with the clock ticking, I presented the work from the Mistra Project, and argued that although we knew a great deal about how to make a company design and produce products that would be less impactful to the environment - improved by up to 41%, in our most recent studies at TED - the large companies cannot implement the changes in their supply chain to carry out these improvements. The idea of resistance for me was about us as designers and consumers finding the smaller niche brands to support that would be able to bring about change more quickly.

The work we made in the Textile Toolbox exhibition last year begins to signal ideas for how consumers can make fashion for themselves; for entrepreneurial fashion libraries to offer stylish loan items; for communities of micro businesses to link up to tackle waste and create new products for high end furnishing companies; and for fast fashion to be recyclable, being made from paper-like fabrics. New models for how we create, buy, use and dispose of fashion can flourish in the entrepreneurial sector and enable us to more quickly steer our consumption habits away from the sluggish big brands who are so obliged to the shareholders…

That same day I had been invited to take part in a BBC1 roundtable discussion with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, to explore the idea of waste (a new three-parter coming soon); looking specifically in the UK’s fashion sector, asking where the greatest impacts are coming from and what the biggest challenges will be as we look ahead. As I was already double booked at Chelsea I couldn’t make it along in the end, but I heard from my good colleagues Roxy at The Right Project, and Lynn at Zero Waste Scotland that the Beeb want names. They want to expose the brands that are still dumping slashed unsold sale goods on the street. It’s a practice that seems, frankly, ridiculous. Wouldn’t the brand be better off being known for donating unsold sale goods to a charitable organization that works with social development?