Fashion Observed

Trend observations with a sociological eye from afar...

by Darryl S. Warren  

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T he world is in a fascinating place in a time period like no other. Unlike previous generations, we have a level of technology to document with great detail a major shift in our global culture, with the cumulative effects of social advancement along with its failures and consequences piling up. Most pessimists tend to see threats to social world order, upheavals suggesting global conflicts (world war fears are justifiable as of recent), division along moral lines and belief systems, and environmental catastrophes unfolding before our eyes, with each hemisphere's summer seasons revealing the kind of environmental destruction we seem unprepared to deal with despite the decades of warnings. Conversely, most optimists tend to see the amazing advancements that come up with incredible innovative solutions tapping into the kind of intellectual power that science fiction can only dream of. Advancements in AI and computing power allow for far quicker processing of information while mass data accumulation (thanks largely to a global infrastructure) has provided the kind of knowledge and manpower base to meet these challenges head on. Our interconnectedness really does reflect the awe-inspiring complexity of mankind; on one hand, we see the range of our depths and yet we see the strength of our highest resolve and collective will as we seek answers and aim for solutions.

And then...we have fashion, an industry responsible for the livelihoods of 300 million people (according to Fibre2fashion) and yet has the dubious distinction of producing between eight to ten percent of the global carbon emissions. There is such power and responsibility on an industry that balances necessity with insecurity, and now it finds itself trying to move towards the higher moral path. Recognizing its impact along psychological and environmental lines, the industry has been making strides as it addresses a range of issues from body image and diversity to its environmental impact in the face of growing criticism and, at least with regards to its environmental impact, increased urgency as science notifies us that our time is running out to make the kind of changes necessary to avoid the impending decimation of life as we know it. No pressure!

It can be labelled as something so seemingly vapid in the face of what some would say matters more regarding humanity, and yet fashion has a well-earned place that never leaves us. It is a necessary expression of culture; a mirror of our identities reflected in practical versus ornamental terms, always a part of who we are and always will be. We are a creative species and fashion is highly personal for a mere collection of manufactured inspirations and retooled coverings that we adorn ourselves with. But the details and revelations of how it is made and the impact it has on our world is something new for the general public, and the timing...the beginning of the decades that define a century on the beginning of what defines a millennium...makes these shifts as well as the collective awareness of the world behind it culturally significant. We are laying the foundation for what will be the visual code for our new world and new era, and we have technical innovations that are going to transform how we dress in ways we're just beginning to imagine.

Right now, the design process is jumping into using scraps and deadstock fabric while recycling vintage and repurposed pre-worn items. And, actually, this blog wrote about the kinds of fashion that are coming out of that approach not too long ago. Without a doubt, its only about to grow...for now. This is going to mean a rise in patchwork and colour blocked items, seam detail and continued deconstruction (90s, anyone?) that we already see in current collections, with some reworked garments finding incredible transformation into fresh incarnations, such as what has been coming from Maison Margiela for example (here). Innovative reworking will aid in exploring new shapes and aesthetic details, but we know drawing on vintage garments, scraps and older textiles as the foundation can only last for so long. In fact, that has already proven to be a new challenge for Viktor & Rolf; they disclosed recently to Vogue Runway that they had exhausted their textile remnants and cuttings and had to resort to using textile swatches for their most recent haute couture collection (example here). Also, anyone who knows a thing or two about fashion know that mankind is fickle and we have proven to bore easily; this is enhanced and capitalized on thanks to our conditioning with immediate demand satisfaction that our technology supports. and while environmentalism seeks to curb this with movements such as slow fashion and supporting buying garments that last, even the growing environmental crises that unfolded down under has yet to truly impact habits that have been long ingrained into the general public. So, although we have embraced patchworking and the coulorblocked results, it is only a matter of time before tastes and resources catch up. Eventually, it is in our nature that we will want something new and will tire of this direction, that we will have exhausted resources that force our hand, or that it will be a combination of the two. In this case it is technical creativity that has our back, both in the name of environmentalism and in meeting ingrained consumer demand.

If you weren't already aware, there have been advances in textile recycling innovations such as those by Evrnu and its recent collaboration with Stella McCartney and Adidas. Evrnu produced a new type of textile called Nucycl by shredding and liquefying old material to make new fabric. In itself, this is already amazing as the implications are huge, For one, this opens the door to a true closed loop process which allows less interference into current design processes. That is, to be environmentally friendly no longer means having to rely on accommodating the kind of restrictions in the name of environmentalism such as quilting or small segment assembly. We are back to having a wider design foundation range that allows for production while taking care of waste and contributing to a reduction in environmental carbon rather than filling the landfills and increasing the carbon footprint at current levels.

Now that your curiosity is piqued, let's factor another technological advancement path that is slowly making further inroads in design: 3D printing.

Fashion has been dabbling with this process, albeit with more creative and innovative high-minded creatives such as Danit Peleg (here), Threeasfour (here) and, in the haute couture world, Iris Van Herpen (here). The more mass-produced uses are still in infancy when looking at the industry at large and, so far, are limited to the footwear and accessory industries and have yet to reach the full potential. Also, there have been experiments with creating the type of technology to produce full-spun garments. One in particular named Electroloom held great promise but stalled out due to lack of funding and technology being in infancy to continue. But that was in 2013. Now, imagine the technological innovation of liquefied recycled textiles coupled with 3D full-spun printed garments, and imagine that we have come a long way to make more sophisticated machines thanks to the progress of technology itself, especially now that we have big data and high-powered AI to accelerate advancement. In fact, let's merge this combination with breakthroughs in digital design that transforms design modelling into viable patterns (these are already in operation). Sounds exciting, now, doesn't it?

But wait, there's more. Let's expand on this further with an introduction of another element: incorporating modular design elements (see prior article for details) within the design framework to expand wearing options and add value by providing enhanced wardrobe versatility, and let's merge this design approach with all these other elements together. Can you now imagine how amazing that entire amalgam of aspects will be in the hands of adventurous creatives?

It will only be a matter of time before these approaches collide and unleash the kind of technological marvels that are truly sustainable and create the kind of dimensional creativity that exists only in our imaginations. Imaging garments from the product of such merged technology (albeit the modular aspect wasn't included) was described years ago in this blog ("Recombinant Deconstruction Is Its Name-O", September 19, 2015 and "Fashion Future Humblebrag", Sept 11, 2017) (example here), and with the pact of innovation under pressure from environmental concerns, these are within grasp. As these would be fully recyclable, they become within the social mandate we aim for: a garment that is environmental, affordable, potentially unique personal, tailored and, above all, accessible.

That, my friends and dear readers, is our future for fashion. At least from where this blog sits.

It's going to be a wickedly astounding world to live in if we can stop being our own worst enemies by getting over our fear of each other and overcome our need of greed. There is more than enough to go around, and more than enough room to be. And that is the $90.4 trillion-dollar question that we need to figure out fast if we want to see this future unfold for all. That bring us to this: what do we do to prepare for it? Well, what a designer can do is....

Don't you love cliffhangers?

When I get enough responses and requests, the answer will be posted in the next article.

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