Thursday, June 14, 2007

some thoughts on 'well dressed?' part 1

'Well dressed? The present and future sustainability of clothing and textiles in the United Kingdom' is an excellent report from a team at the University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing. It may be downloaded here.

p. 10: Hourly wages in the clothing industry by country, US$ per hour (from an ILO report, 2003)
Pakistan 0.23
Sri Lanka 0.57
India 0.71
China 0.86
Mexico 1.75
Hong Kong 5.13
Germany 10.03
USA 11.16

When I had my label, I paid my sample machinist $25-$30 per hour, and the production machinists $12-$15 per hour. (I didn't pay myself anything for design, patternmaking and cutting.) People always wondered why even one of my basic tees retailed for $80, when some other (larger) labels were selling theirs for half that (made offshore). Everything I did was made in Australia - Sydney, in fact. That's why. I have no regrets about it, though. I knew who was making the garments and in what conditions. There were no middlemen and the money went directly to those that did the work. I should note, though, that I really had no idea about any environmental issues at the time, or at least I didn't pay any attention to them. It was hard enough trying to break even - not that that's an excuse. But, once I was in the midst of it, there simply wasn't any time to try to educate myself. That's what I'm trying to do now.

p. 14: The four major environmental issues associated with the clothing sector are:
  • Energy use
  • Use of toxic chemicals
  • Release of chemicals in waste water
  • "Solid waste arising from yarn manufacturing of natural fibres, making up and disposal of products at the end of their life."
My research, of course, investigates one aspect (fabric waste) of the last one.

Speed-reading the report and the technical annex, it seems there is some excellent concrete information on the amount of fabric waste produced by the fashion industry - I need to return to this. Although this seems like a short post - well, this is a short post - I've been interrupted by three phone calls and have probably spent two hours on this, and am getting hungry.

Get the report and read it. Very informative. I'll attempt to return to it shortly.

(Oh, and I did get the progress report in today, officially two weeks late. That's progress.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

why not waste?

At Design Inquiries an audience member asked me why we should worry about wasting (or not) fabric? I replied that I believed fabric to be a sophisticated, precious, designed product in its own right, usually with a significant ecological footprint already attached. Since then (and even before, as my journal shows), I've thought about this more. (Of course I have; this is the rationale for my entire project.) It would seem to me that it's also about the fashion designer having a different sort of appreciation or respect for fabric. If you look at the works of Zandra Rhodes and Mark Liu, for example, both design the textiles first, then the garment. The rich thinking processes that constitute textile design, all of the problem solving, is evident to you when you've designed the fabric. Perhaps when you design the garment, the fabric is that much more precious then that it becomes that much more difficult to waste it. Rhodes actually talks about this: “The [printed] patterns lead me along and influence the way I use them [in garments]…I always consider what is left and try to make it into another part of the dress. I can’t tolerate waste and use every inch.” [In: Rhodes, Z. and A. Knight, 1984: The art of Zandra Rhodes. London, Jonathan Cape, page 56]

I don't know. It's just makes sense not to waste it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

i'm back (for now at least)

It's been more than six months since the last post. Blogging didn't feel a right fit to document the practice on the kind of basis that is necessary for the research; my research journal (a very hands-on approach that I'm familiar with) has worked much better. But, I do think this place can play its own role, too.

The six months have been hectic, as I'm currently trying to explain in my now-two-weeks overdue progress report for the semester. In late February I finished the book chapter I've worked on since August; that has now come back with comments from the publisher. It's quite exciting to see how that project has evolved. The book is planned for publication in early 2008, under the title Sustainable Fashion: Why Now? It is edited by Janet Hethorn (University of Delaware) and Connie Ulasewicz (San Francisco State University). My chapter is titled 'Jigsaw Puzzle: Creating Fashion without Creating Fabric Waste'. The other chapters (there are 15 in all!) seem very exciting; the book will be a valuable resource for various fashion-related fields.

I was accepted to present two different papers at two different conferences. The first was Dressing Rooms: Current Perspectives on Fashion and Textiles, in Oslo 14-16 May. The second was Design Inquiries, organized by Nordes in Stockholm 27-30 May. Both conferences were invaluable experiences, both as speaker and audience member. At this point I still feel the information overload, as I'm typing up my notes. If another research student somewhere reads this and thinks, wow, he's doing all that, know this: I was petrified going to both conferences, doubting everything that I was about to talk about. It's that eternal fear of being caught out. That you're a fraud. You just need to ignore that fear for the twenty minutes it takes to present a paper.

During the trip I had a chance to meet Professor Julian Roberts from the University of Hertfordshire. His approach to fashion design and pattern cutting (or what we in Australia call patternmaking - I still don't know where I sit with either term, and am not sure it matters, either) has interested me from the start of my project, and he was generous in talking about his work. Hell, he was generous just to meet me (and buy me a drink, which I had no opportunity to shout back). I still can't believe how late I was, although luckily I've since understood a few more things about reading the London Tube map.

I was also contacted by Mark Liu who I then had the pleasure of meeting. Mark is a former student who is finishing his MA in Textile Futures. His final work? A series of textiles, that are in fact garments - all of the textile is in each garment; these are zero-fabric-waste fashion! I got very excited by his initial email, and even more so when I saw the work. He's letting me include the the work in the book chapter, too.

I think that'll do for an update for now. Of course I've been busiest with making. More on that at the other one.