Kate Fletcher, a UK researcher of fashion and sustainability gave a public lecture at Emily Carr University this week. She is a proponent, and analyst, of alternative fashion systems. In particular, she advocates for something she calls “craft of use.” Fletcher believes that if we consider the properties of clothing –what we find necessary and beloved, as well as the skills that we need to make, re-make or maintain clothing, as well as the impact of our clothing decisions on others and the environment, we might be able to mitigate the fearsome global impact of the fashion industry.
Her story telling about the clothing trade in the UK (echoed around the middle class world, one assumes) is shocking. Over the last 10 years there has been a 26% reduction in the cost of clothes in the UK. This doesn’t mean that people have redirected their saved consumer dollars into other things (education, health, community development, arts & culture??) --instead, they have bought a greater quantity of –lesser quality—clothes! It is estimated that about 2 million tons of clothing are purchased annually in the UK; but only about 1 million tons are discarded. Which leads one to wonder, what kind of hoarders have people become? As one of the oldest industries, second only to food, clothing/fashion has one of the longest supply chains. The environmental and social impact of production is felt all along the way: from the production of the resources needed to make the fibers; to the transport of the materials in and out of textile and clothing processing facilities; to the garments’ appearance inside a complicated marketing system; to your closet; and eventually into your garbage bin or into yet another supply chain of clothing recycling processes (thrift stores, and eventually recycling facilities which turn the fibers into other textile products – such as shoddy). The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) estimates that in order to avoid a tripling of resource extraction by 2050, the developed world needs to cut consumption by a factor of 5 – about 80%. Fletcher made a convincing argument for the dire environmental implications of fashion and the urgent need to take on dramatic changes in how we cloth ourselves.
Unfortunately Kate Fletcher’s concept of “craft of use” is a complicated proposition that seems hard to pin down to concrete or realizable solutions. But, the outcomes of the concept can be very simple, and very beautiful. Her current research project called Local Wisdom is one such manifestation. It is a growing web archive of the experiences that people already possess for making individual pieces of clothing enduring and endearing. In this project, she asks participants to attend a photo shoot, in which they are asked to discuss and demonstrate the way their craft of use makes their objects more useable. The website is becoming populated with photos and stories that quote people who have modified out-of-shape items; or who share with other wearers wardrobe pieces that only get used ‘once in a blue moon’; or who have such commitment to a garment’s fit and function that they continually have replicas made each time the item becomes worn out.
By coincidence, the Vancouver-based performance artist, Margaret Dragu – none other than the Mending Aktion persona, just this week completed the video How To Be Old – Chapter 3: get thrifty !!! If you need a few practical “craft of use” lessons that anyone can take up, see Margaret Dragu on Vimeo.