Last Thursday, as a finale to all the wonderful events at RISD + Fashion Revolution week, I was invited to present along with some other amazing speakers. The presentations were organized into the Past, Present, and Future of fashion from the perspective of ethical practice and sustainability issues. Here's a recap of this inspiring event!
"Past" - presented by Joey DeFrancesco
The presentation began with Mr. DeFrancesco's discussion of how the textile industry became established here in the United States and the fact that it was largely fueled by the exploitation of its workers from day one. He quickly covered a lot of history from the vantage point of Slater Mills, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which was the first textile mill to be established in the U.S.A. By looking at the motivations and inventions that enabled the rapid growth of the textile industry here, he was able to illustrate how intimately intertwined it was with the slave trade. In fact, although slavery had been abolished in Rhode Island by the time Slater Mill was established, the textile boom resulted in an exponential increase in the use of slaves throughout the South as demand for cotton exploded.
Although slaves had not been used in Slater Mill, Mr. DeFrancesco explained quite clearly that the workers in the mill were exploited to an inhuman degree, and most of the initial workers were children. His lecture was very enlightening and brought the exploitation of workers very close to home, reminding us all why transparency is needed in any manufacturing industry and why movements such as Fashion Revolution are so important.
"Present" - presented by Janel Twogood
The second part of the presentation was given by Janel Twogood, Senior Director of Design at Samsonite. She spoke about some initiatives that companies are currently taking to improve sustainability on the environmental front. She focused the greater part of her presentation on her personal experience of establishing an program of eco-conscious product at Samsonite. The line she has created, Eco-NU, claims to use up to 58 bottles per large suitcase! Considering that planet is now said to use an astounding one million plastic bottles per minute, we are going to have to find every way possible to halt the extraneous use of these bottles and to recycle as much as we can in every way possible!
Another interesting aspect of Ms. Twogood's presentation was her perspective of how challenging yet rewarding it can be to spearhead an initiative like this at such a grand scale. It is so valuable for designers to hear that it is possible, with perseverance and our design training, to make such a significant change even at a large established company like Samsonite. In fact, since launching this new line of eco-conscious product, Samsonite has committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2030!
"Future" - presented by Thea Pérez
In presenting the FUTURE, I really wanted to make sure to convey my overall feeling of optimism. Despite all of fashion's ills, as designers, we have such cause to be excited about the future. The innovations resulting from cross-discipline collaborations are nothing short of amazing and the potential for miraculous features in fashion product are within reach. I organized this lecture into three distinct but overlapping areas: Biotech, A.I. & Algorithms, and Manufacturing Advances.
Innovations in manufacturing such as robotics may soon take the most treacherous jobs out of human hands. Optimistically the payoffs will be fewer human casualties, end of child labor, and greater productivity. BUT these advances will need to be implemented thoughtfully with a plan for how the current workforce can be trained for more sophisticated work rather than being completely supplanted by machines. The combination of automations and more sophisticated inventory control provided by algorithmic data analysis will usher in new efficiencies and less waste.
There are so many groundbreaking things happening right now at the crossroads of textile design and bio-engineering that it is possible to imagine a future where your garments will be much more than a show of style, or to cover your frame. They may have the ability to perform in ways we can't fathom at present. Also, at the manufacturing level, some of these innovations have the potential to replace more environmentally hazardous methods of production. We have written about some of these innovations more extensively in past postings, click here to read more or search our posts with #FastForwardFashion to find them all.
In the areas of A.I. and algorithms, we will soon be able to allow for a level of customization and personalization that we have not been able to achieve before outside of couture. There may be ways to create product and shopping experiences that resonate with customers on a more emotional level and therefore imbue the products they are purchasing with more personal value. This will go a long way to combating the throw-away culture fast fashion has propagated. A lofty goal for us designers will be to make sure that the products we are presenting to our customers are not just providing a fleeting rush, but are precious and less disposable.
Couldn't make the event?
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Watch the live recording below!
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Sources: Forbes | Brown University | Samsonite
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