Flourish is a festival of sustainable fashion that was put on by GreenUps and Fashion Revolution. They hosted a series of workshops and talks in a beautiful space in the Rocks to educate Sydney-siders on the issues we face and inspire us to take action.
On Tuesday night we heard from a handful of passionate designers and environmentalist, who stood up to discuss the toxics and waste generated by the fashion industry along with the innovation that is taking place to reduce the impact.
'Design got us into this mess but it can get us out too.'
Tim is an environmentalist who is passionate about the issue of plastic pollution and marine debris. Fabrics like nylon and acrylic shed micro-fibers that pollute our oceans. Studies show that almost 2000 individual fibres can be rinsed off a single synthetic garment. If you were like me and completely naive to these impacts of synthetic fashion, I suggest you do a quick google search on the great pacific garbage patch and prepared to be shocked.
Plastic doesn't biodegrade- no natural process can break it down completely! 10% the world's plastic ends up in our oceans, either joining the floating landfills or accumulating on the shores. It can break into grain-sized pieces which create 'plastic sand' that is almost impossible to clean up.
Tim also talked about the micro-beads that are being used in exfoilating cosmetics by pretty much all of the large skincare corporations. There can be 2 million beads in a single product and after we put them on our skin, they are washed down the drain, into oceans, along with the micro-fibres from our laundry.
Tim can see why synthetics are useful but the durability that makes plastic so useful also makes it harmful. He says this doesn't mean that synthetic fibres don't have a place, we just need to do things better, which requires thinking about the entire system.
'Creativity can solve problems.'
Donna is a fashion designer, lecturer at UTS and PHD student. She is fascinated by Biomimicry, which is the application of nature's designs in solving human problems. Donna has been studying this process and how it can be used in the context of fashion design.
She worked with Morphotex, a fabric which appears to hold a colour but in fact uses no pigment or dye. This fabric was created after studying the structure of butterfly wings, that create an optical illusion of colour, by the way light interacts with the intricate layering of scales.
The dying process is responsible for much of the impact created by the fashion industry and Morphotex is an example of how we can avoid it. Donna warns that Morphotex is not an ideal fabric in any way but it does challenge traditional models and helps to raise questions as how science can help come up with more sustainable solutions.
Donna believes there are tremendous benefits that can come out of the collaboration between scientists and fashion designers. She explains that science uses a problem-solution based method that fashion lacks. Fashion design is more of a creative practice but when it is approached from a scientists perspective it can have some truly innovative results.
'Designers are the mediators between the materials and the human beings.'
Clara is a textile designer, researcher and educator who is interested in the role of the designer in creating a more sustainable fashion industry. She knows that the designer is central to the cause, as 80-90 percent of a item's environmental impact is decided at the design stage. Unfortunately labels dictate most choices that designers make, they have very limited power unless they are working for themselves or a small brand. Donna has worked at TED (Textiles Environment Design) and helped develop a set of ten principles to assist designers in making more sustainable choices. The TEN has been used for consulting large brands like H&M who have thousands of designers working under their label. Donna points out the obvious contradiction with such brands who are interested in sustainability yet still want to have continuously growing profit margins.
Donna talks about being in a transitional period where sustainability is demanding that designers act different. She recognises that most designers differ from environmentalists in that they are not extreme activists, designers do not want to disrupt, they want solutions. Even though the designer is crucial in determining the impact of clothing, there is more than just a label standing in the way of sustainability. A sustainable fashion industry can only evolve when it is being tackled by every touch point in the lifecycle of clothing. This change is going to require policy researchers and writers, new business models, behavioural phycologists and material scientists, resulting in a very complex supply chain.
Donna says that a lot of material scientist are coming up with new materials but their efforts prove pointless if the designer doesn't want to use it and the consumer doesn't want to wear it. She talks about the conflicting feelings she has herself- a love for texture, colour and pattern- which require processes that her values condemn. There is an obvious challenge in being a conscious designer and remaining in the main stream market.
Donna wonders how she can get designers to care about sustainability? She has realised that these values can't just be forced externally but must be created within. She has developed a set of activities including meditation and hand-stitching that she thinks will help designers foster a sense of sustainability within themselves.