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.
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...)
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.)
Fast Slow Textiles
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!
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!
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?