In this interview Urban Times speaks with Kate Fletcher; researcher, writer and design activist. Over the past 15 years Kate has shaped the field of sustainable fashion whether this be through consulting with fashion businesses, the books she has authored and co-authored or teaching at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion. Kate gives us an insight into the current state of fashion and how far off we are from achieving our sustainability end goal.
What brought you initially to engage with sustainability in fashion?
Being raised in a family of community activists, holidays in wild places and a youth of making clothes.
As a designer, lecturer, campaigner and consultant in sustainable fashion, you wear many hats. Is there a single goal you have in mind?
To contribute to the common good and – to borrow John Ehrenfeld‘s fabulous and evocative word – flourishing.
Having recently spent quite a bit of time in the US, how is the sustainability discussion in fashion different in the US from what it is in the UK and continental Europe?
I would say it is more similar than different – in certain ways Europe steals a march on the US, particularly with the extent to which sustainability is part of discussions in mainstream brands; but in other areas the US is ahead – many of its companies are, for example, key catalysts in the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.
Recently you gave a talk on Designing for Change. Can you give us an idea about what you touched upon and the importance of mastering “the craft of use”?
The talk explored broad ranging themes around fashion and sustainability, including consumerism, and focused on some key ideas such as true materialism and ‘the craft of use’. For me, the craft of use is about the life world of all of us who use clothes, and extending the design process to engage with this in a ‘social context’, in a way which fosters sustainability pleasure, authentic experiences and sustainability values.
What are you hoping to achieve with your ongoing fashion research project, Local Wisdom?
To foster ways of stories, practices, ideas, knowledge and products which generate more satisfying use. So we can and do do more with the stuff we’ve already got.
Lecturing at the LCF, what is the most essential message that you want your students to take away with them?
About the complex, dynamic, interdependent relationships in fashion which they are intrinsically part of…
Honest By‘s concept of full transparency and traceability is quite unique and is an important step forward. How far are we in the process of maintaining such transparency within all fashion supply chains? What are the biggest hurdles?
A long way … supply chains are dominated by third and fourth tier suppliers … while many brands may know about what happens at the second tier, they are hard pushed to know about what goes on with sub-contractors.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems is scale … things are now so big that trust is eroded … and people are using transparency as a replacement for trust. Which, of course, it is not…
It is quite hard to get hold of contacts of sustainable manufacturers for smaller to medium fashion brands, while designers are reluctant to share such information with peers/competitors. Why is there not more sharing going on?
Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to look at what happens in nature … here there are competitive relationships to be sure, but there are also collaborative ones where different ‘species’ work together to the benefit of the whole. The commercial imperative tends to value only a narrow spectrum of activity – and favours that activity which can be quickly co-opted to deliver economic gain – but new and broader understandings of value need to be developed …
Looking at the bigger picture: Are we getting anywhere at all with the efforts around sustainability in the fashion industry or are we just fighting the symptoms?
I think we are beginning to imagine what a satisfying and flourishing (sustainability) future may be like… but to date most effort goes into just fighting the symptoms.
Finally, do you have 5 top tips for our Urban Times audience looking to join the slow fashion movement?
I just have one tip. It’s not necessarily about slow. But about the right speed.
With thanks to texƧture, our Eco Fashion Strategy partners. texƧture helps players in the textile, fashion and jewellery industry become successful and sustainable businesses by addressing their strategical and operational risks.
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