What we should be talking about

Below is an edited version of my response to a recent interview request on fashion waste. I realise that my PhD on zero waste fashion design (completed in 2012 and conferred in 2013) and to some extent the 2010 New York Times article sometimes put me in a time capsule for people. It’s not a problem but this post aims to give some shape to my current thinking, in a relatively concise post. I hope it helps journalists and students who contact me, to catch up a bit.
The things that we need to talk about in relation to waste are corporate greed (much of which is individual greed) and the dominant economic system that has pursuit of growth at any cost at its core. Not addressing those and the resulting conspicuous overproduction of fashion is a bit like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. H&M overproducing billions of dollars worth of goods that don’t end up being worn and Burberry burning tens of millions dollars worth of goods are just two examples of a broken system. The root cause is economic, underpinned by greed. This article gives some sense of scale. One recent study estimates we are producing 150 billions garments annually, so a third of that would be 50 billion garments per year – manufactured and never worn. Whatever the number, safe to say it’s in the hundreds of millions at least, that greedy and wasteful mindset is what we collectively need to be talking about. No amount of blockchain or circularity or fair trade is going to address the mindset, and thus we should start there. The screenshot above is a tweet by Holly McQuillan, in a social media dialogue critiquing the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, which finished yesterday. The Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion posted a statement about the Summit, and I also recommend this interview published on Eco-Age with co-founder Kate Fletcher yesterday, further critiquing the dominant circularity discourse in fashion.
At Parsons, through 2012-14 I was part of the team that created four pathways in the BFA Fashion Design program, including a Systems & Society pathway, in which I have taught for the past four years. We situate fashion systematically and approach issues through a systems frame. I was also on the team that in 2011-13 developed Sustainable Systems, a required course for all 1,100 first year undergraduate students at Parsons each year, including Fashion Design students. Both examples were part of a massive project of rewriting all 11 undergraduate degrees at Parsons, a project that completed in 2017 with the first students graduating from the revised curricula. This spring I co-wrote and -taught a course, Waste and Justice, with Joel Towers. Parsons is part of The New School and social justice runs deep in the university mission. This course was one example of that, focusing on environmental justice.
The projects that give me hope, besides those by my students, are Greta Thunberg‘s Fridays for the Future school strikes, Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics (as a framework to tackle the problems I outline above), Transition Design (based on ideas of just transitions) and the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion, of which I’m a founding member alongside Fletcher. Please dig in.

 

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