“Slow the Flow…” | Fashion and design for sustainability

Fashion and design for sustainability, 27 November Amsterdam, Powered by ClickNL

The symposium “Slow the Flow…”  Fashion and design for sustainability was organized on November 27th 2019, by UAS Amsterdam following the defense of Irene Maldini of her Phd thesis (Can Design Confront Consumerism?) at VU University, the day before. International speakers gave their vision on fashion, design and sustainability. The symposium was an initiative of the Fashion & Technology research group, co-organized by AMFI and NL NextFashion & Textiles (Powered by CLICKNL).

For her Phd, Irene Maldini (research group Fashion & Technology) conducted research on how the amount of clothing that we produce and consume has grown in recent decades, with negative environmental effects. In the context of her PhD ceremony, four (inter)national Professors in fashion and design for sustainability visited the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS/HvA): Kirsi Niinimäki, Tim Cooper, Kate Fletcher and Conny Bakker.  During this symposium, they shared insights from their own research for a full house of more than 100 people, students, industry representatives,  fashion professionals, acadamics.

Host of the event was Sabine Niederer, professor of Visual Methodologies at the faculty of Digital Media and Creative Industries of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. She is also a lecturer at AMFI’s Masters Fashion Enterprise Creation.
Of course, Irene Maldini started off the symposium, talking about her recently completed PhD research, entitled “Can design confront consumerism?”, where she has critically studied growing clothing volumes and its associated environmental impacts, the design approaches that have emerged to tackle this issue, and their effects. From several design strategies personalisation was chosen as probably the most impactful. Will more personal value added to fashion lead to longer use of garments and less consumption? The answer is no, because garment consumption is not based on replacement alone. Inflow and outflow are independent because the composition of the wardrobe depends on a wide variety of factors such as function, combination, form, material, colour and wearing moments of garments. People who value their garments, might even consume more.

Kirsi Niinimäki is Associate Professor in Design, especially in Fashion research in the Department of Design at Aalto University, Finland. She told the audience about her understanding of sustainable fashion and textile fields and connections between design, manufacturing, business models and consumption. An important question is what ‘Design for lifetime’ means: Is that the time of use or the time a product really can last?
Tim Cooper, Professor of Sustainable Design and Consumption at Nottingham Trent University is specialist in product lifetimes. Tim raised questions about design, consumer behaviour, and environmental policy. Both stressed that the new materials; recycling, new design approaches and more initiatives toward a more sustainable system do that compensate the negative impact of growing volumes. Purchasing habits of consumers have not really changed yet.

Thinking about Circular economy seems to shift from closing the loop to slowing the flow; because also the whole process of recycling will take much energy and give negative environmental impact.

Only new business models will compensate for shortlived garments, like installing a low-quality hard deck, promoting repair by zero VAT on these services, and by making producers responsible for textile waste (EPR)

Kate Fletcher added that scale of consumption outweighs the efficiency gains. The net impact is still increasing. She is a Research Professor at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London and a fashion sustainability pioneer. Her most recent work is about fashion and nature. She advocates the more radical approach of research as activism and supports the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion. Economic rules of growth logic should be changed to use logic. The new fashion action research plan will be called Earth Logic.
Conny Bakker is professor of Design Methodology for Sustainability and Circular Economy at TU Delft, faculty of Industrial Design Engineering. She explores strategies such as product lifetime extension, reuse, remanufacturing and recycling, and the business models that enable these strategies. Her talk emphasised the changes big data and artificial intelligence can make to support a circular economy.

When each garment gets a digital twin on the web, transparency is secured and authentication of a product can be installed. Now waste still makes waste so we must not only slow down and close the resources loop, but also prove it by providing data. Downside is that consumers give away a lot about their identity to the brand. Big brands use RfiD and other tags for efficient supply chains but also to use data from customers to ‘customize’ all store-collections and stock management.

This also means that the amount of computing power in AI is growing exponentially and that E-waste in textiles becomes new problem in recycling.

A fishbowl discussion and a workshop organised and led by students concluded the day. Where to start was the main question here, and can you come up with an original approach to design for sustainability, the theme of the whole day.

The interest in the theme and the topics that were discussed during the symposium is clear from the highly differentiated attendance of companies, knowledge institutions and students, and the positive reactions of participants after the symposium. We therefore look back on a very successful day.

Find the link to the web lecture here, along with the link to the digital album the photographer made. The video of the afternoon program will be posted on the website of the research group later.


Further references:

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