Disruptive Aesthetics, Fashion, Disruption
An average Swede buys 13 kilograms textile material per year, but also throws away 8 kilograms – under the influence of exponential growth, what will happen with these numbers over the years; what environmental impact and what emotional life of the consumer (citizen) is imaginable? Fashruption is a project that aims to bridge abstract concepts like exponential growth to the embodied mind, enabling reflection on complexed and sticky matters like consumption.
Konstfack Spring Exhibition, Explore Global Goals by Quantified Planet, Stockholm Act at Nordiska Museet
June 01, 2017
“The politics need active, creative and questioning citizens” is stated in a debate column (DN, 20171004), calling for a peaceful fourth industrial revolution to enable the system changes we face. The quote is aligned with what Fashruption aspire; activate citizens in creative situations to provoke reflections and form publics to challenge present systems in the politics and the political.
Fashruption produce body size data installations on the troublesome subject of fashion and consumption in relation to exponential growth. An average Swede buys 13 kilograms textile material per year, but also throws away 8 kilograms – under the influence of exponential growth, what will happen with these numbers over the years; what environmental impact and what emotional life of the consumer (citizen) is imaginable?
(1) The Exponential Wardrobe forecasts the growth of textile consumption per person based on a continuation of 3% growth (2016)
(2) The Waste Jacket is a 8 kilograms heavy jacket built up by textile.
The installations are based on disruptive aesthetics; visualizing ways of doing and behaving with fashion to an audience. With its visibility, spaces of contest may occur between what people do (consume and create identities in the political) and how they feel and are affected by doing this. The space of contest can open for renegotiations on alternative ways of doing and behaving with fashion.
This project is divided into two parts; first a problem setting design process focusing on exploring emotional logics (or illogics) that fashion is intertwined with, extracting reflections on relationships between production, consumption, creation of identities and waste. Secondly, a Fashruption is suggested by producing body size data installations on the troublesome subject of fashion and consumption in relation to exponential growth.
By activating the numbers into the physical, the body can use more senses and understand complexed relations between social, environmental and economic systems, triggering conversations and imaginations on different future scenarios – ultimately transformed into negotiations and actions towards resilient futures.
Over the years I have developed an interest in the systemic entanglement of fashion – mainly as the urgency to create systemic shifts only has increased. What mechanisms are there to find that can help the fashion industry and also the consumption of it?
I read on the web page of Mistra Future Fashion, saying it is a research program on circular economy and serves for a future positive fashion industry. What does such a statement indicate about the current industry? Fashion, as every other industry, is aligned to exponential economic growth. As far as I understand growing exponentially describes the time it takes for something to double itself. For instance, the company H&M grew with 6% 2016 (Årsrapport H&M, 2017), meaning that it will take 11,6 years for the company to double its economy (given it continues growing with 6% every year). To double the economy, will that require doubling the amount of sales too, meaning twice as many products out on the market? Fashion is also dependent on the raw material that earth provides with. Earth gives soil for cotton to be grown and oil for polyester to be extruded. But earth has limited resources; the
amount of cotton we can grow is not endless and there is only a certain amount of oil to access – why fashion ends up in conflict with the earth, as exponential growth also require exponential access to resources. Hence, the fashion industry will have to aspire something positive, or else there is simply no business left. But what are the boundaries of positive?
Continuing reading on Mistra’s web-page, they state that consumerism is driven by population growth and economic development. What is consumerism? According to Hans Rosling’s forecasts the population growth will stagnates by the end of the century (Rosling, 2014) – is that the end of consumerism? Or does the economic model then require increased consumption per capita? If consumerism, in this sentence, refers to a high level of consumption (an exponential one?), what kind of consumption should we envision and prepare for to share the resources amongst the presumed 11 billion people by the end of the year 2100?
Textiles evolved from being the valuable content of hope-chests to useless waste in hundred years. That is an extraordinary paradigm shift that replaced the mind-sets of a bride-to-be into a modernistic waste machine. Where will the next paradigm take the production and consumption of textiles and how will it interlace in our social, economic and environmental systems?
Mistra, among others, are now suggesting that a systemic shift needs to take a circular path, where the material travels in loops between the producer and consumer, rather than today’s linear idea of producer-consumer-waste going into the combustion fires or landfill. If we manage to get the material to travel in loops, will this give space for exponential growth to continue its game? Is the circular idea still asking me to buy 26 kilo textile year 2038? What would an annual purchase of 26 kilo fashion do with me?
Fig 1. A simplified map of systems that fashion plays with. The material resources travel in a linear model, ending up as waste in the combustion installations.
Fig. 2 The circular idea suggest looping the material from waste into production again. Using the term circular as an illustration can be misleading as it suggests that the loops are constant and equally big – which exponential growth is not. Would a model that aspire to indicate the doubling nature help us to understand the flows of resources?
When the waste mind-set, supported by modern life, embraced the Swedes, so did the blackouts on how to take care of our clothes. This is very unfortunate as also the user phase has impact on the environment, looking at the life cycle of a garment. To support a circular vision of fashion, by using the material as long as possible, the average Swede not only has to unlearn to throw away, but also unlearn to mistreat the textiles.
To support a circular vision of fashion, by using the material as long as possible, the average Swede not only has to unlearn to throw away, but also unlearn to
mistreat the textiles.
This collective oblivion that holds us accountable is fascinating to me; why do we throw away and mistreat? A simple answer could be that it does not pay off to take care of garments, as it is more economically viable to throw away than use services to mend, or mend yourself for that sake. But is it only a matter of calculation in money? The efficiency of present life seems governed by the urban norms of doing as little as possible by yourself, minimizing the action space for people. A pragmatist would say we are defined by what we do – why I wonder, how does an alienation to the production of our things, for the sake of efficiency, play with our emotional lives? What if the alienation gossip about a connection between how fashion is produced and distributed to how we feel and use fashion? If this has reason, perhaps there are some keys to find in the emotional lives of the consumers i.e. citizens, if a disruption to a circular, or spiral or what ever shape of economy, is to see daylight?
Fashion has several emotional levels as it adorns the body. Clothes that decorates the body and touches the skin – the largest organ of the body. The skin has many functions, among others it is a large sensory organ that keep track of cold, heat, pressure, touch and pain.
Fashion concerns more senses than the eye and highly depends on the fit, cut, fabric and seams. It also guides how the body acts within the physical exoskeleton of clothing. It affects posture and movement and physical actions.
(von Busch, 2009)
When entering into a discussion regarding fashion from a theoretic standpoint, there is often a wish to distinguish fashion from clothes and vice versa. Clothes is suggested to resist beyond fashion, as fashion has an expiration date – although it is not as obvious when it expires as the date on a cart of milk. But when fashion becomes unfashion it is still clothes, why the concepts are intertwined. Fashion thrives on that expiration, economically and socially. Bordieu suggests that fashion is the latest fashion, the latest difference (von Busch, 2009). Difference of what exactly? Otto von Busch describes it like a passion system – a fashion desiring machine that serves to make socially constructed inequalities appear natural, agreeable and also attractive (von Busch 2014). In his earlier dissertation Fashion-able, he connects fashion to Deluze’s ”ontology of becoming” – a phenomenon in constant dynamic flow of becoming. Hence, fashion is never stable in its form, but a process of becoming – of producing intensities of difference. (von Busch, 2009). But who produces them? And what frequency of change will make me become? Will the 26 kilograms help me to become or confuse me to get lost?
Fashion is never stable in its form, but a process of becoming – of producing intensities of difference.
To suggest what a Fashruption can be by exploring emotional logics that fashion plays with – hence the political in fashion systems. Spaces of contest may occur between what people do (consume and create identities in the political) and how they feel about it, and further more are affected by doing this. This space can act as a scene to suggest a renegotiation on alternative ways of doing and furthermore be part of the disruptions that will have to take place in systemic shifts of fashion (Markussen, 2013).
The geographical standpoint of the project is from Stockholm, Sweden 2016-2017. Everybody are consumers, hence understanding what group of people to focus upon is a difficult matter. Generally though, my interest lays with what mass-production does with the masses. But masses is a wide concept why the explorations produced in the travelogue, are aiming to pose generic questions on the emotional logic, or illogic, that fashion is intertwined with.
I intend to suggest what an embryo of a Fashruption could be by creating scenarios and explorations that problematize ways of doing and behaving with fashion from a consumers point of view.
Fig. 3 Illustration of what a Fashruption Machine aims to do – give space for a renegotiation on alternative ways of doing (consuming and creating identities).
EXPLORATION / 1
Keywords: Act of becoming – Production (Technology and Material)
Forming a fairytale, projecting the lives of four trousers, was done in order to humanize them asking; how would different production techniques behave if they had human qualities? The trousers were materialized in various symbolic fabrics with associated tags representing the different techniques; May fly made to die – 3D printed shape and material; Brewdog Slacks – brewed shape and material from fungus and bacteria; Statoil Foil – oil based materials; and finally Sloth for Growth – 3D scanned for customized fit.
The trousers were exhibited acting as a group on a lunch date, and the fairytale was read to the audience after they had formed a collective reflection on what the installation aimed to talk about. The audience read the installation as a critical piece, talking about consumption in relation to production. It seemed as the material was read into an hierarchy of good and bad, which suggests that the production methods could inform how we feel and use the clothes.
EXPLORATION / 2
Keywords: Act of becoming – Production (Labour, Material, Technology, Mending)
IKEA, the global company producing, distributing and selling furniture, has an innovative approach to their customer – namely transferring a part of the labour to them. Buying a piece of furniture from IKEA means that you will assemble the furniture your self. von Bush writes in his dissertation Fashion-able, that no matter how many pieces of furniture you build from IKEA, you will have a long way before becoming a carpenter. I perceive his statement critical as the instructions doesn’t reveal how the furniture really is constructed, hence you will not develop your skills of crafting. You are simply a continuation of the IKEA factory, only you are unpaid to do so, or rewarded with a cheaper price depending on how you look at it.
What if fashion would be produced in the same manner? Would a change of material make the experience of participation look differently?
The participants all imagined in their love letters that the craft they put into the garment them selves would build a stronger bond to it. Homemade tomato sauce is the best. Same goes for clothing; you get to do it your own way, add you own flavors, your own style. Another participant praised the developed skills – It’s like you’re educating the world. I mean hello!? That’s amazing!!! Craft is the long lost love to our hands. Yeah, I love you because you will bring people to peace.
But the taste of independence seemed to evaporate fast when time to write the break-up letter. These are the most cumbersome pants I’ve ever bought. I have to understand how cloth works (I don’t), I have to know how to stitch (I don’t) I have to spend time at IKEA (I hate IKEA). Some felt fooled as they discovered their knowledge to sew is limited and the result was not what they expected. Everything went wrong, ugly and skewed. The thread jammed all the time!!!
The future of leather might have an uncertainty as livestock production is heavily contributing with emissions. At the same time oil production, that gives us leather imitations and supports the shoe industry with cheap material, is not the best alternative either. But cars will probably hang around for a while, slowly changing fuel and most likely still hitting animals out there on the roads. Based on the amount of road kills from 2016, a system transforming road kills into shoes would produce, roughly calculated, about 60’000 pairs of shoes per year. Obviously, road kills alone cannot support the demand of shoes for the entire population of Sweden.
But perhaps the scenario can tell us something else about our relationship to materials in production?
The love letters were jointly praising the boots, made out of an unfortunate death. As the animal was formed into useful material, the death was not in vain. One love letter described how the individual did not know anything of her previous boots, hinting about a current alienation; Who made them, is it even real leather and why do I not know this? You lived a free life, and a happy one too I hope. You got a sudden death but that’s how we all want to die – if we can choose I mean. Yeah, I wouldn’t like to be ill for a longer time at least.
But the praise of utility was in the break-up letters transformed into bad consciousness. You never said you approved, still I have thought of it like that – indirectly thought that I would know how you think and feel. An- other one claimed she was disgusted by the fact that an animal dies due to her demand of dressing her body. The boots became an everyday reminder of death, even though it was a sad, unintended coincidence, which she could not stand – hence the break-up. Why is the killing of material causing a moral dilemma in this situation? What would the letters say to a scenario of today’s production of shoes?
EXPLORATION / 3
Keywords: Production – Consumption
Somewhere, sometime during the last century a cow gave its life and transcended into this coat – you were brought up by man, killed by man, skinned by man, tanned into leather by man, cut into pieces by man, sewn together by man, worn by man, wasted by man. And now your life is in my hands, and I cut you up yet again. It turns out that to be you, in this state, you were a result of 75 pieces and received help from 10 other material friends.
Most likely you are fifty years old or even older. What are the man-hours behind you? All the knowledge that is put into you. It took me 1 hour, 50 minutes and 26 seconds to tear you apart again. 1 hour, 50 minutes and 26 seconds of sending thoughts to you and all the people who have touched and used you until today – you have seen it all.
I almost regret that I cut you up once again. A paradox – cutting you up increased the affection, but now putting you back together again will be a complex, or even impossible, mission. You are lost goods the way you were. You can only become something else now.
I am a child of my time, disconnected from the craft that built you. Yet, I am an educated designer. Or am I? I have never seen a cow be skinned in order to be tanned, picked flowers on a cotton field or put my feet on an oil rig. Ignorance is bliss or?
EXPLORATION / 4
Keywords: Act of becoming – Consumption (Quantity)
Yuka Oyama suggested in her work Collectors (2013) that the collectors relationship to the collected objects surpassed human-human relations. She writes:
The collectors really belong to the landscape of the amassed objects and the site where the objects are stored. The common thread that runs through the person, the objects and the space seemed evident. All of the elements correlate to demonstrate a person’s inner passion and identity. (Oyama, 2017)
To suggest that each and everyone are collectors just because we have a wardrobe full of clothes is perhaps not fair to collectors that actually take their collecting very seriously. But playing with the thought, what does the collection of 240 pieces in my wardrobe say about my inner passion and identity?
Each and every piece, new and old, carries a story. I can see that now, they mark a progress, like an imprint of the evolution of myself. Aspirations and dreams, traces of family and of course failed ideas. Only understandable to myself. This is an archive more than a place filled with the charm of novelty.
The wardrobe I look into is almost like the forgotten hope-chests, only its function seems to be to preserve memories, and cause shame as I only use about 20% of its content. Will I not remember the memories they set alive without its material mark in my wardrobe?
EXPLORATION / 5
Keywords: Act of becoming – Consumption (Quantity and Quality)
The idea was not based on any suggestions that everybody should wear the same uniform. Masses in one uniform construct a unit, and it has been an effective way of holding groups and troops together throughout history. How does a uniform function in the act of becoming? How does it support or oppose me in my social life? The uniform I created followed me everywhere, moving between safe zones and the unfamiliar, yet I felt calm.
The situation that emerges every morning – deciding what to wear instantly became a distant memory. The uniform had to fit in relation to what social activities was on the agenda of the day – I took it for granted and I did not have to negotiate with my-self, spending time on self-absorbed thoughts.
If the singular offer me a less self-absorbed emotional state of mind I wonder, yet again, what will the supposed 26 kilograms do to us?
The uniform lasted only 51 days. I say only because I have no understanding of how many days a trouser should last to be ascribed as a piece of quality. Am I uninformed or could it be that expectations on durability have become an empty concept?
They were unused but second hand. New but old. And they followed me wherever I went. Fall, winter, spring – with little rest. They were exhausted and tried to keep up with me. Four years later I wore them with fear of losing them in every step. But trying to find another love turned out to be complicated. Be out on a market. Date. Match. Bearing in mind that the luck of a new pair of boots is brutally short, as they loose shape or even fall into pieces after a couple of seasons. Yes, almost like I am not worth a relation that lasts?
Is it controversial if I want a long term relationship? Hand-made shoes in Sweden cost approximately 15-25’000 SEK. I tracked down a shoemaker in Hungary and after 7500 SEK and 7 weeks of wonder, a copy of my loved ones finally arrived. A new acquaintance, yet familiar.
If I would follow the present idea on circulation of commodities and buy one new pair of boots at least every second year, my investment, in terms of cost per year, would have to last ten years (maintenance costs included). But as I am indoctrinated that things do not last – what rituals do I need to set up to make our relationship endure?
Ten years. What did I know about myself ten years ago? I was twenty years old and very affectionate about exploring ways of dressing. What can I spy about myself aesthetically, leaving my youth of explorative changes every other year – entering a middle age?
That is the color of the trousers I wear almost every day. Orange. I have four of them, and now I am recognized as her with the orange trousers. When I begun choosing more or less the same look day after another, I believe I decreased the level of self-consciousness in different social spaces. And I liked it. I was forming a trust to them. I know you so well now that I don’t have to question how you treat me. I trust you.
Four orange trousers of the same model. Like Angela Merkel in Pantone Merkel, by the Dutch graphic designer Noortje van Eekelen. Merkel has at least 80 jackets of the same cut, but in different shades of colors.
Comparing myself with Merkel might be a little bit presumptuous of me. She has her trademark to maintain and being in her position, the most powerful woman in the world, seems to require continuity – being trustworthy and reliable. If she would change her look every other season, would we be there by her side, trusting her with the future of European Union? If not, does that mean that every other person on earth, who is following the seasonal trends of commodities, are unreliable?
EXPLORATION / 6
Keywords: Act of becoming – Waste
When I recycle cans, plastic and glass etc. I always feel a great release. Not my responsibility any longer. Is it the same story with the throwing away of textiles? Returning to the current amount of textiles that the average Swede throws away every year, I picked out 8 kilograms from my wardrobe; misjudged purchases, materials that have lost shape but can still be used, things I don’t use and have little emotional connection to and so forth. I simply threw away 3 household garbage bags of textiles, into the same waste bin I throw the rest of the everyday waste I produce.
Also, I passed on 3 kilograms to a recycling centre, which is the average annual amount of textiles that a Swede puts in reuse circulation, although rough numbers. Yes, I felt released from the 8 kilograms, but also terribly ashamed as I was throwing away things that actually wasn’t damaged goods, knowing it will turn into ashes and never be used again. Yes, they now serve the purpose of becoming energy, but still, it is a violent thing to throw away so much material. What also catch my interest concerning this waste behavior is the larger effort it takes to sort out 8
kilograms. Handling this amount of clothes demands a negotiation with our selves concerning the relevance of the garments in our lives. The relevance they have in serving us to be perceived the way we want. Passing on the other 3 kilograms was, of course, easier at heart – imagining someone else dressing their lives in the clothes. Like a continuation of the stories I had with them. Only that someone else is writing them.
The waste is the visible trace left from the material withdrawal that production of fashion take from earth. If throwing away does not hurt our emotional lives, are we then allowing the material over-lift to continue indefinitely? If the waste would have an emotional burden, could that nudge systemic shifts on the user phase rippling into the production?
As fashion is, like von Busch suggested, dressing our bodies to become, it plays a part in our way of connecting with others. Like an element, together with many others, that helps us build stories with our surroundings – bonding with people. But fashion seems hidden in the idea of vanity rather than in bonding storytelling? Or is it vanity that helps us bond? But if vanity push for a reckless waste machine, then what is there left to bond with?
As a mind game I set up a ceremonial scenario; when death tears apart human-human relationships, a ceremony helps us grieve the loss – what would happen if we gave our wasted fashion a little ceremony every time we threw away a garment? How would vanity feel? What can of the waste quantities manifested in funerals give us?
The average 8-kilogram-waste-Swede would have to attend 40 funerals over a year, if the 8 kilograms would be only t-shirts. Would we do mass-funerals to endure? How would they look like?
One of my orange trousers was torn some few weeks ago. It did not really put me in sorrow as I know I have another 3 pairs. But still, preparing them for a funeral by making a sort of autopsy – cutting them into its construction pieces, had a stronger impact
on me than I thought it would have. Almost as if I had transferred a piece of myself on them? If fashion help us to become then throwing away is also throwing away a part of the becoming?
I took the bits and pieces to a fireplace and cremated them, saved the ashes in an urn and went for a funeral coffee. It felt different than the Bye bye 8 kilograms intervention. This time it felt like a tribute. Some dignity for long and faithful service. Now, this funeral was also different as the orange trousers actually were torn and loved by me, whereas the 8 kilograms were things I had little emotional engagement with. So comparing the two fires may be misleading. But still, different levels of emotional entanglement with the garments makes me treat the them and waste them differently.
Knowledge and attitudes towards environmental issues will not automatically lead to change of behaviors, but change of attitudes can create acceptability towards legislation and economic instruments towards a sustainable consumption (Environmental Protection Agency, 2016)
A campaign aiming at a larger social change can seek support in design practice, as it can be used to describe, materialize and explore ideas about the role of objects, in this case clothes, in sociomaterial realities. Malpass describes critical design practice to offer audiences communicative material that reflects and orchestrates concerns – a way to understand the relationships between users, objects and the systems in which they exist (Malpass, 2017). The imagination of possible futures relies on the materializations that are used to provoke reflection and discussion. In my travelogue the Love and Hate comics had the purpose of exactly this – to give space to reflect through a fictional design scenario. Design practice can reach beyond efficient use to embrace uncertainty, interpretation and meaning. I find it to be a productive method as it also echoes the present – the reflections produced through an imagination tells something about what we know and feel today. Although it can be ambiguous to interpret
Such design practice offers a site for users to come together around the design scenario from multiple positions, perspectives, levels of expertise and understanding. This formation of users around a design scenario could become a construction of a public.
It is through the interactions within the constructed public that debate occurs and the system that the design scenario exist in – either real or fictional – can be discussed and challenged. (Malpass, 2017)
von Busch refers to Dewey’s notion on a public to be a group of actors who are affected by human actions, but who do not have direct influence on those actions. Lacking such influence, these indirectly affected actors must get organized into public if they are to address problems ensuing from these actions (von Busch, 2006)
If the Swedish population is the target of an information campaign, aiming to prepare its citizens on some major changes in terms of legislation and economic instruments – could it also be used for public making purposes?
What kind of material could the campaign produce to spark critical reflection and form publics? Publics that can talk back to the government? The industry?
Dalai Lama appear to have said you can say the most terrible truths – but first, open the heart with humour. (Abramovic, 2016)
If curiosity is not evoked, change will be harder to provoke. The concept I will work on and give a skeleton to, will rely on this articulation:
A campaign that with designed material can envision the future fashion industry and problematize present conditions; using humorous approaches to provoke individual and collective reflection – aiming to construct publics. Within the publics controversy should be stimulated rather than consensus, as the debate has power to challenge the present consumption behaviors.
The articulation is in other words an idea of a system where mind-sets can be provoked and challenged to open up spaces for renegotiation to happen. Renegotiations on how we do (consume and create identities) and how we feel about it, and further more are affected by doing so. I think we know that what we do now is skewed and too much for our systems to handle, but we have too small action space to do differently – and this space, is what the strategy, with designed material, will enable.
Some of the important insights from the travelogue came when the understanding had travelled through the body up to the mind, for instance Cut up cow, Living in the singular and Funeral of the waste. When the whole body is engaged, the insights seems to be more profound. Therefore I have worked with a 3 step act that pushes embodied experiences. Another argument to think of a campaign in 3 steps, is that to evoke change the receiver repeatedly needs to be poked (Environmental Protection Agency, 2016). Hence, it must exist longer than a lea et or an elusive memory in an exhibition. The strategy of material I suggest is thought of a 3-step-act using different materials and channels of distribution:
Step 1 | Fashruptioneers
Live-talks and Youtube-talks inviting to a Pay it Forward challenge producing embodied experience, forming ambassadors to the campaign
Step 2 | The Fashruptionist
A work magazine, monthly editions x 12, to households of target groups, inviting to reflective and knowledge building material
Step 3 | Fashruptions
Installations in the publics with 3D material and examples from the Fashruptioneers and The Fashruptionist. A physical platform for people to meet, debate and renegotiate.
The concept that I have produced is based on my explorations, but share findings to the ongoing global movement called Fashion Revolution, started by Orsola de Castro. I recently learned that they also push the curiosity to guide the hands of the consumers to action. In April they held Fashion Revolution Week, on the anniversary of Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed 1138 people and injured many more on 24th April 2013. During this week, brands and producers are encouraged to respond with the hashtag #imadeyourclothes and to demonstrate transparency in their supply chain (Fashion Revolution, 2017). They keep a clear focus on labour to push the development of a transparency index. The strategy that I suggests focuses more on the empowerment of the consumer, bringing the potential of change to the hands of the consumer on a local level – why the campaigns can complement, support and learn from each other. A global revolution supported by a local fashruption.
By activating the numbers into the physical, the body can use more senses and understand complexed relations between social, environmental and economic systems, triggering conversations and imaginations on different future scenarios – ultimately transformed into negotiations and actions towards resilient futures.