Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ethics + Aesthetics = Sustainable Fashion, and The Sustainability Equation: Ethics and Aesthetics in Contemporary Fashion

Congratulations to Francesca Granata and Sarah Scaturro for last night's panel, The Sustainability Equation: Ethics and Aesthetics in Contemporary Fashion. The room was packed, lined with people standing, and the insights from Julie Gilhart, Senior Vice President and Fashion Director at Barneys New York, Mary Ping of Slow Steady Wins the Race and Caroline Priebe of Uluru were diverse and fascinating. As an unexpected delight, I bumped into Janet Hethorn, one of the editors of Sustainable Fashion: Why Now? It was good to see Tara St James of Study NY again; the blog post on her work is now long, long overdue. Watch this space.

My notes from the panel ramble all over the place. Furthermore, at times I was listening too intensely to take any. Both signs of an invigorating conversation, I think. Gilhart spoke about the philosophy at Barneys, and the importance of an emotional connection to clothing over product or brand. From a sustainable design perspective, she made a strong case for good design and embodied value as the most important drivers. I'd agree; we've all seen abominable things made from organic cotton, no? Thankfully it's becoming rarer but for a while there seemed to be a lot of things out there that used sustainability as some kind of apologetic excuse for sloppy design and/or crappy manufacturing. Julie mentioned how the Barneys customer is still slightly suspicious of anything labeled organic; at least in some cases the company no longer promotes garments as such, but rather, as strong statements in design. That's what attracts the customer to the clothes in the first place. Common sense, really. Apparently they are getting increasing requests for 'green' gowns for the red carpet. She recommends Isabel Toledo. Not an obvious choice to some but one that made sense to me. Toledo's work has a lovely timelessness about it, without ever appearing generic or 'classic'. Or maybe it is classic; it's just not a word I particularly like. My personal favourite statement from Gilhart, one that gives me much hope, was a quip on how at Barneys they are constantly saying how there are just "too many collections, too many clothes, too much stuff".Right on.

Caroline's notion of wanting to design things that the consumer can eventually pass on to her granddaughter sounds deceivingly simple but think about it. It's a powerful statement. Instead of maybe two, three, even five years' worth of wear, she's suggesting several decades. This stems from her having inherited her grandmother's cashmere cardigans, which she wears herself. She has also reappropriated some of her grandmother's patterns for Uluru. Caroline also talked about the need to integrate sustainability into business models from the outset, something she has done. At Fashioning Now, Rachel Bending of Bird Textile spoke along very similar lines; the audio is available on the FN website. As for the Uluru/Alabama Chanin interaction, Caroline prefers co-operation over collaboration; the former speaks of a sustained activity whilst the latter can suggest something temporary. She also noted how she seems to share everything she knows with anyone that wants to know. This is what I love about the sustainable fashion community; the secrecy and paranoia that seem to afflict the rest of industry are largely absent.

As for Mary, I think she should work with me. Why? Towards the end she spoke of having produced some leather t-shirts, and as a result she's ended up with five containers of leather scrap (size of container unclear). "It's such a waste", she said. Yes. Mind you, her team is working on designing something out of the scrap, but leather is one area I haven't delved into in my research. Mary, I'm likely to be in touch. I know I already linked to Slow and Steady Wins the Race above but because the site is such fun, here is the link again. On the whole, listening to both Caroline and Mary was a refreshing delight; reading through mainstream fashion sites it's easy to break out in hives over the banal soundbites from some fashion designers.

Onto the exhibition, which I saw over a week ago. It is open until February 20, so make sure you see it if in New York. The beautiful catalog is only $10; get it! The exhibition is beautifully designed, with large text panels supporting each of the three sections. The design is by a team of Graduate Interior Design students from Pratt, led by Professor Jon Otis. The designers are Lexie Averick, Yi-Ting (Elvie) Chang, Laura Clifford, Jenni Hellstern, Amanda Meininger, Megan Niemczyk, Alex Pethtel, Juliette Pousset, Dena Saperstein, Jeehee Son, Jinwooh Song and Jordan Wagenseller. Congratulations; the space was a delight to move through. There are three broad themes under which the designers fall; of course, most relate to all three categories, but such ordering makes the concepts easier to understand. Because I'm lazy, here are the panels for you to read, and some not-great photos; a close friend once said I destroy beautiful things with photography. My photography lecturer over ten years ago echoed those sentiments. Anyway, here you go:


Uluru with Alabama Chanin: Detail of a recycled cashmere sweater appliqued with organic cotton jersey:

Rogan, one of the Loomstate designers: detail of patchwork dress of recycled denim, courtesy of Barneys New York:


Slow and Steady Wins the Race
: detail of a shirt:

Kelly Cobb's 100-Mile Suit: feelers for some of the yarns and fabrics:


SUNO (detail of dress of vintage kanga):

Alabama Chanin
: Detail of an organic cotton jersey dress:

An organic cotton denim dress, dyed with natural indigo:

Finally, an audience member mentioned an 'eco-fashion' show taking place at NYU tonight. More details are here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reminder: Pratt Manhattan Gallery tonight

Update: Just got an email, the catalog is now available. At $10, thanks to a generous grant from The Coby Foundation, it's a no-brainer.

This is on tonight, I hope to see you there:

“The Sustainability Equation: Ethics and Aesthetics in Contemporary Fashion” 6 p.m. Tuesday, January 26 Pratt Manhattan Gallery 144 West 14th Street, 2nd Floor Regular Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

BBC article on waste

An interesting read on waste 'trends' in the UK that draws from an EFRA Committee report; kudos to the authors for referring to the 'Primark effect'. Yes, it's a good thing; the more exposure for the term, the more likely some changes are likely to begin taking place. Of course it is a worry that while the overall amount of household waste has decreased, the amount of textile waste has in fact increased. And while recycling is better than landfilling, reducing and reusing are key. Remember? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Recycling is third on the list, but seems to be the only one on most people's minds. Here's a suggestion for reducing: instead of buying five whatevers from H&M*, Primark or Zara, pool the money together and buy one good thing from a local business. To those old-fashioned folks overly concerned with economic growth, reducing doesn't necessarily have to mean a reduction in the amount of dosh making the rounds.

The full EFRA Committee report is available here

*I should disclose that I in fact own four H&M whatevers. I have a belt I bought in 2005 (I bought two at the time but the other one broke beyond repair), and three identical black v-neck t-shirts. How very Armani-on-the-cheap of me. About two months ago, a friend was about to donate them; he bought them in May, only to realize afterwards he didn't like them. I love my friend, despite the fact I don't understand the decision-making process leading up to the purchase. At $8 a pop, not much decision-making was required, of course. Anyway, I tried one on, it fit well so I got them. The hems twisted in the first wash but I can live with that. The fabric will last a year at most. This often comes as a surprise to non-Scandinavians but back in the 80s, H&M was still known for quality clothes at a reasonable price. Now... Well, Google them with The New York Times.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sample sale Friday 29 January 2010 at Tribeca Grand Hotel

[Updated Monday 25 January- see bottom of post; thank you Deanne of Dream Sequins!]

A group of fashion, jewelry and homewares designers, some of whose design practices are fundamentally informed by sustainability, is having a sample sale at the Tribeca Grand Hotel. The details are:

Date: Friday 29 January 2010
Time: 5-9pm

The designers:

Bliss Lau
H. Fredriksson
Kim Seybert
Mary Meyer
Meg Cohen
Study NY by Tara St. James

My thoughts on these things? By finding a treasure or three at sample sales such as this, you generally support small, local businesses; at any time a good thing but even more so at times like these. And treasures they often are; it's not unusual to find a sample that never made it to production - a one-off that nobody else has. Back in the day, this is how I sent my samples and excess stock out into the world. Not by incinerating, because that's, well, insane.

And here's the update, and what makes this even better than it already is: 20% of the proceeds of the sale go towards supporting APEX, a nonprofit that provides educational mentoring to inner city youth And, in case you can't make it to TriBeCa on Friday, Cutdrop is hosting an online pre-sale of select designers starting Wednesday January 27th and ending on Friday January 29th. My thanks to Dream Sequins for the update!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

for those in London: MA Fashion & the Environment at SHIFT

MA_10 /


PUBLIC VIEW / FRIDAY 17.30 – 22.30 / SATURDAY - MONDAY 12.00 – 16.00

You are invited to see, hear and participate in creative provocations by graduates of MA Fashion and the Environment.

Work offers a dialogue around the ecological, social and cultural dilemmas of fashion in our time.
This exhibition is brought to you by the Centre for Sustainable Fashion & London College of Fashion as part of SHIFT – a festival from Cape Farewell.

Included in the exhibition:
highlights from Fashioning the Future 2009, the international student awards for sustainability in fashion.
Local Wisdom by Kate Fletcher, an opportunity for you to share the story of a favourite garment.




Friday, January 15, 2010

Ethics + Aesthetics = Sustainable Fashion

Tomorrow I'm checking out Ethics + Aesthetics = Sustainable Fashion at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery at 144 West 14th Street, on the second floor. The exhibition is curated by Francesca Granata and Sarah Scaturro, and features work by Bodkin, Alabama Chanin, Susan Cianciolo, Kelly Cobb, Loomstate, Rogan, Max Osterweis/ Zoë Sheehan Saldaña, SANS, Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Uluru, and Andrea Zittel and Tiprin Follett/Smockshop. (I'm not 100% sure about the accuracy of the links; if I've made a boo-boo, do let me know.)

Related to the exhibition, at 6pm on Tuesday 26th January there is a free panel discussion moderated by the curators. Confirmed speakers include Julie Gilhart, senior vice president, fashion director of Barneys New York; Mary Ping, designer and founder of Slow and Steady Wins the Race, and Caroline Priebe, designer and founder of Uluru. I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New York Times follow-up

It turns out Jim Dwyer from the New York Times followed up his earlier story on mutilated new clothes. More on the New York City Clothing Bank on their own website. An inspiring story.

I have an exciting meeting today related to this; when the time is right, I'll post more here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

H&M shame

For most people this is old news - a week old - but I wasn't paying much attention last week, what with looking for an apartment and getting to know my way around. The New York Times published an article about the practice of companies destroying brand new, out-of-season clothes. The thinking behind the practice, I believe, is that donating unsold garments to charity, for example, would damage the brand. Apparently the best thing to do is to destroy the garments. Funny how the world sometimes works in reverse. The companies in this case were H&M and Wal-Mart but the practice is widespread and not limited to the US. Back in Sydney, more than once I heard of a facility near Tempe Tip, where brands could bury unworn, unsold stock. If you know anything about it, please email me; I've never managed to find out more about this, but have heard the rumour more than once.

H&M responded very quickly, stating this practice would stop. Shame nevertheless that it happened in the first place. This is one of the more sickening examples of waste in the society we've created. I do hope that other brands take note and likewise cease doing this, and donate the clothes to those that need them (no shortage there).

For reasons I won't say just yet, this is a topic I'll likely return to soon, so stay tuned.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Red Carpet Green Dress

The Red Carpet Green Dress only came to my attention today; moving continents tends to make one not notice stuff. If any aspiring fashion designer out there wants to enter, as long as you're 18 and have $50 to spare, you can. I love that you don't need to be enrolled in a course to enter, so often a condition in competitions, but I do not love the fee. Of course I am completely clueless as to the the financial arrangement between The King of the World and Mrs Cameron (and prefer to remain that way) but let's assume both are comfortable. Millionaire if not billionaire comfortable, at least. Of course most fashion design competitions of this kind incur a fee, part of which goes into the jurying process - convening and reimbursing the panel, that sort of thing. There is only one person on this particular jury, so I am having trouble seeing how one person choosing one dress (as opposed to an extensive panel picking over whole collections, as the case might be with Mittelmoda) requires such a sum. A more cynical person might suggest it goes towards paying for the dress itself, to be realized by Deb Scott. I would urge the organizers to perhaps explain this more on the website.

Amendment: I've just read the rules. The money will go towards MUSE Elementary. Nevertheless, I feel that this sum might deny the next Madeleine Vionnet from entering the competition merely for financial reasons. In an otherwise refreshingly democratic competition, it's the one thing that makes it not so.

When it comes to sustainability, I have no doubt the intent is 100% well-meaning but could be thought through better. After all, this is a dress that will get worn for a few hours only. It's a fair chunk of cash, time, effort and flights for one dress. (And yet I can't help hoping someone from Sri Lanka wins, as unlikely as that may be.) The more sustainable option would be to wear something one already has, or if that won't do, have something one already has altered. By Deb Scott or even a non-Academy-Award-winning designer. To most celebrities, it would seem, there is hardly anything more disposable than a red carpet dress, although I acknowledge the very well meant intent here: wider exposure of sustainable fashion design. It's just that materials choice alone doesn't make something automatically a sustainable design. What I'd love to see afterwards is an eBay auction of the dress, and using the proceeds to reimburse all the entrants their fifty bucks. The first choice of material, as reminiscent of Lizzy Gardiner's efforts as it may sound, would of course be broken Titanic DVDs. Remember Titanic? The only time I ever came out of a cinema and the seasons had changed. Thankfully modern technology can provide us with a summary version:

I realize the above comes across quite negative but I do believe lots of room for improvement in the project exists, and I hope the project runs again with some aspects considered in more depth. Most importantly, none of what I've written should take away from MUSE Elementary, a project initiated by Suzy Amis Cameron and her sister Rebecca Amis. The goodwill is definitely there. Best of luck to those entering the comp!

Saturday, January 09, 2010


So, I managed to change the profile just before I flew out of Sydney: I am indeed in New York now, and started a new job this week. I'd like to pass my heartfelt thanks to colleagues at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), for seven amazing years. I'd also like to pay tribute to Val Horridge, who left at the same time as me, after 22 years at UTS. Val taught me (and most of the Sydney fashion industry, I think) way back when, and it has been a privilege to come back and work with her. I look forward to hearing about her next adventures. Again, thank you, all the lovely people at UTS. I hope our paths continue crossing in the future.

This week I am meeting with Tara St James of Study NY and Caroline Priebe of Uluru; both are involved in 5 in 1, a design collective based in Brooklyn, not far from where I've found my first NYC home. I've been meaning to blog about Tara's work since she emailed me shortly after the last NY fashion week, but as is evident from the blog, I haven't blogged at all since the dust storm. (I clearly survived it; I wish I could say the same about my workload over the past four or five months.) Anyway, I very much look forward to meeting both. In a not-so-unexpected coincidence, Lynda Grose suggested just a few days ago that I get in touch with Caroline, only a few days after Tara had passed her details onto me.

In other news, Fashioning Now will be traveling to the Fremantle Arts Centre later this year, and Alison Gwilt and I are working hard on the book. As publication dates firm up, I'll post them (tentatively) here. If I've learned one thing about how these things work, it's that any dates regarding publication should always be treated with somewhat flexible eyes...

Finally (though there is so much I could write about after such a long break), thanks once again to the Fashion & Textiles program at UTS. My farewell present from the team was two scarves hand-woven by Liz Williamson, which I absolutely love. If you're unfamiliar with her scarves, find them and check them out. You will have them for life. I now have four. Thank you.

More soon. Thank you NYC for the warmest welcome!