This April kicked off our most recent public programme series: Progress to Process. As part of this series, we explored how we could explore and re-imagine the making process behind the world’s most polluting industries, to initiate sustainable change.
How can we break down and challenge unethical production chains, as designers, makers and companies?
The first strand of the series “Interwoven”, focused on sustainable change within the fashion industry. This intensive weekend festival included an interactive exhibition alongside workshops and talks where we explored the way sustainable textile innovation, design and technology interconnected. We brought together a range of different people, from fashion designers and makers to climate change activists to reconsider what we wear and how it was produced.
And the conversation could not have been more timely: Extinction Rebellion had only just ended their two-week occupation of Waterloo Bridge, right next door!
This series formed part of Somerset House’s Earth Day amazing programme of events around cultural responses to climate change and partnered with Fashion Revolution Week’s Fashion Open Studio programme. Created to spark a call to action after the collapse of the Rana Plaza clothes factory in Bangladesh in 2006, Fashion Revolution’s actions around sustainable change in the fashion industry encourage us to ask:
“Who Made My Clothes?”
Within our exhibition, talks and workshops we encountered many answers to this question, showcasing our residents working across textile and fashion as independent designers, makers and creative businesses. These diverse practices tied in around the idea of sustainable practice and process. How do we ensure new sustainable futures for fashion, at the intersection of tech, craft and material explorations?
Fashion brand and Makerversity members ADAY encapsulate many of these ideas through their designs and business models, showcasing their plant bae collection as part of the exhibition. Their minimalistic and season-less capsule collections encourage doing more flexible styling with less consumption, while their innovative fabric, SeaCell, provides a sustainable alternative to cotton using a blend of cellulose, modal and seaweed from Icelandic coasts. The fiber itself was discovered by MaterialDriven, formerly residents at Makerversity!
Exhibitor: Polly Redfern
Fashion’s relationship to other making disciplines and industries, related to food and agriculture, was a key issue. Designer Polly Redfern recently joined Makerversity after completing our free three-month Under 25 residency to develop her practice. Through her Food Matters project she showcased sustainable materials repurposed from maize, avocado and kombucha making visible the ways that food excess can provide additional income and support for local agricultural communities.
Collaborating with a kombucha brewery allowed Polly to repurpose its natural residue into a kombucha leather which she designed into a belt – while her avocado matter is flexible enough to be embroidered on, revealing future potential use for circular economies connecting food with fashion.
Exhibitor: Tina Gorjanc
In parallel, Makerversity member Tina Gorjanc presented Animalum, imagining “growing” in vitro leather through changes made to its texture and colour via synthetic biology. This speculative project proposes an ethical alternative to using animal skin, alongside reducing of the polluting process behind treating leather. Tina also delivered a Bio-Leather Making workshop during the weekend, a crash course introduction to sythetic biology, using alginate and silicon moulds to create their own bio-leather materials. Participants were open to many new ideas to create their own leathers, using textures like rope, leaves and brushes to create interesting skin-like textures!
This weekend’s spirit of collaboration and multidisciplinary conversations was exemplified by our co-curation of the exhibition with fashion design Eliza Collin and sustainable textile producers Doppelhaus and Bysshe Partnership. We presented a selection of the collection they had been working with, in collaboration with designers Johanna-Maria Parv, Curtis Oland and Makerversity alumni Isabel Fletcher. It drew upon Bysshe’s production of linen and hemp as well as Doppelhaus’ signature fabric Cloudwool made from British sheep’s wool – each fabric locally sourced and sustainaly produced. With many thanks to London College of Fashion, who provided mannequins via our fashion curation consultant Jenni Rossi-Camus.
Exhibitors: Eliza Collin, Johanna Maria-Parv, Curtis Oland and Isabel Fletcher
Eliza Collin’s outfit using felted Cloudwool to imitate a cow hide pattern sparked the original initiative, while Johanna Maria-Parv’s look included a skirt which could be buttoned up into a pair of cycling shorts to limit excessive clothing consumption. Isabel’s piece focused on repurposing and eliminating fabric waste by using offcuts from previous garments, whereas Curtis Oland’s drew directly upon his Canadian Lil’Wat identity and heritage by using elk hide, copper, wool and silk ethically sourced from different areas of Canada and the world.
Exhibitor: Abbie Adams
We also wanted to showcase how collaboration between fashion, textile design and making can take on many forms. Former Under 25 resident and current Makerversity member Abbie Adams had been commissioned by emerging sustainable brand CAVE Textiles Design to create design objects that could make visible the textile’s inspiration from natural rock formations and cave paintings. Doing so through digital scans and moulding that created textured objects made visible another intersection and conversation between traditional craft, tech and textile design.
How can reducing clothing waste be an inherent part of clothing design and manufacture?
The sustainable nature of fabrics can only go so far if we are still producing on a mass-market scale in an industry encouraging rapidly changing fashion seasons, discarding and consumption. This is why reducing waste through limited clothing consumption is a major conversation within the fashion industry.
Exhibitor: Shruti Grover
Makerversity resident Shruti Grover from Hetco happened to be already collaborating with Bysshe Partnership over a prototype for a two-person factory that would custom-make clothes patterns using laser cutting. This would allow consumers with a basic sewing knowledge to assemble the patterns themselves. It provided a strong testimony to the way in which we might be returning to the custom-made practice of making and tailoring clothes which was lost with the emergence of the ready to wear fast fashion market.
Exhibitor: Petit Pli
We were also delighted to showcase Makerverversity alumni Petit Pli, who had only just won the H&M Foundation’s Global Change award for their expandable childrenswear design. Their pleated design can stretch in multiple directions, meaning that the same garment could be worn by a growing child from 0 to 36 months, stretching up to 7 sizes. Their interactive stand encouraging visitors to stetch the fabric was highly approved of by their target audience – very active toddlers! Due to our personal relationship to the fabric we wear, touch and interaction were key – from feeling the softness of ADAY’s seacell to a lot of fun with stretching and “resetting” Petit Pli’s fabric. Also having a main table to showcase fabric samples visitors could engage with and documentation around different fabrics provided a strong point of anchorage for discussions and debate to take place within the exhibition.
This weekend of constant exploration, experimentation and insight highlighted the fact that sustainable fashion is far more than a passing trend. Our audience’s commitment, questions and critical comment have shown how its impact stretches far beyond a single issue. Interconnecting with concerns around globalisation, pollution, workers’ rights, overconsumption and process, sustainable fashion is now setting the tone for all future conversations around fashion. And this conversation is only just beginning – at Makerversity and beyond.
Find out more about the talks and workshops held during our Interwoven weekend here!