Be the change you want to see in the world - Gandhi

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Designer Profile: Suzanne Lee

I love this lady, a woman after my own heart. What could be more amazing than growing clothes by means of bacteria.

I posted pictures from Gary Harvey's 2007 collection and I do adore the newspaper dress but I also feel like that collection perpetuates the stereotype of what eco-fashion can look like, which is not the most fashionable clothing sometime - most of the time when it first evolved. I completely appreciate and agree with the idea of reusing clothing and re-making clothes into something new, but I do think that it should look like it has not been made from used clothing. Whenever I have designed a 're-made' piece, to me the challenge is in making it appear new; that you can never tell it's been pieced together from old clothes.

I would like to swing the pendulum to the extreme opposite and showcase Suzanne Lee who has developed Biocouture. This Central St. Martins graduate is growing clothes. Gluconacetobacter xylinus(previously known as Acetobacter xylinum), spins a cellulose material when immersed in a vat of green tea and glucose. 

The fabric takes around 2-4 weeks to grow into a thickness that is usable. At this point it is dried and either cut and sewn in a traditional methodology or can be shaped over a wooden form. Once it has dried, the material feels like either paper or vegetable leather depending on treatment methods.

The clothes are not commercially available yet, but have been on display in various galleries/museums. The process is still in development to increase its durability. Suzanne has also been experimenting with different dye methods, such as the use of fruit and vegetable dyes to keep the process as toxic free as possible. At this stage the fermentation liquid can also be partially recycled.

the designer at work

cross sectional view of cellulose growing

traditionally sewn jackets
bodices formed by placing over a bustform, pattern created by beans

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Democratization of fashion

The democratization of fashion brought us many benefits and drawbacks. The benefits were amazing; cheap and fast fashion that allowed everybody to look like they just stepped off the runway. Brands like H&M, Zara and Topshop exploded globally bringing about many great innovations in supply-chain management, distribution and of course fast fashion at prices nobody could say no to. 

This could not have been achieved without globalization. Off-shore manufacturing allowed for considerably cheaper production  of apparel goods which in the beginning was seemingly beneficial for both parties.  Fashion was the first to industry to move into developing nations to help stimulate local economies. The thing about apparel production is it cannot be mechanized, so it is constantly in need of cheap perpetual labour. 

This has its benefits and drawbacks to these developing nations. Yes it provides many woman with a skill and a paycheck but at what price? Labour laws, occupational health & safety and environmental due diligence are not a priority, in fact they barely register on the radar. We reap the rewards of cheap fast fashion and are shielded from the actual devastating effects of this industry. 

A quick rundown of the drawbacks. Dyes, special treatments (enzyme washes, acid wash, etc.), bleaching, finishes (crease resistance uses formaldehyde), scouring, spinning and printing all use harmful toxic chemicals. Chemicals that are carcinogens and can affect both the workers and us. Water use is extremely high in these processes not to mention the water we use for laundering. It is also energy intensive and uses unsustainable resources such as oil for synthetic material production. I could spend days go into the problems, but I'll pace myself here. 

"Not in my backyard!" I love this phrase because it just goes to show how entitled we feel here in developed nations. If we had to actually take these jobs and live next to the toxic rivers gleaming fluorescence in new hues daily, we might just reconsider our penchant for fast fashion. 

Devils advocate: We work hard for our money, we didn't create this industry and aren't responsible for how it evolved. We have no control over what happens half-way across the world and are helping the economies of the developing world, look at what China has achieved. It feels so good to be able to afford the latest fashions and who doesn't love fashion. It's fun and an expression of one's self. 

I don't think anybody could have anticipated that the industry would evolve the way it did, but it has and now we should deal with the consequences as if they are in our own backyard.