Quick Q&A

Alison is a senior at a high school in New York, and she got in touch with me with a few questions for a research project for her Environmental Science class. Whenever I encounter high school students asking questions about fashion and sustainability I smile with optimism; I trust the next generation will take on the formidable challenges ahead. We, the generation before, still have work to do, make no mistake about that. Here are her questions and my brief responses.

When and how did you first become aware of the deplorable standard of ethics and sustainability that occurs in some sectors of the fashion industry?

In 1996, in my first year of study at the University of Technology Sydney for a bachelor’s degree in fashion and textile design. I had a textile design teacher, Julia Raath, who would talk about the impacts of some of the chemicals used in textile dyeing and printing.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge, or the largest area for improvement, that the fashion industry faces if a change is to be made towards more sustainable production of clothes?

Consumption and growth. It’s not a challenge for fashion alone but rather for society as a whole. We need an economic system and a society that does not rely on an ever-increasing volume of consumption of goods. Unchecked economic growth would eventually result in planetary and societal collapse. This is not news – among others the book ‘The Limits to Growth‘ was published in 1972 – but it’s a conversation that many parts of society find too confronting to have, and yet it is a conversation and a task we must tackle.

What resources and technologies are available to the fashion and textile industries that will help them transition to more sustainable production methods with a limited environmental impact?

Too many to mention; different solutions are needed for different problems and contexts. For example, zero waste fashion design and whole-garment knitting are two strategies to eliminate fabric waste from garment manufacturing. Lots of work is being done to eliminate toxic chemicals from textile manufacture, for example by Clean by Design by the NRDC. The New Economics Foundation is one of many organizations looking for new economic models. Sustainable Cotton Project and organic cotton are two approaches to eliminating toxic pesticides from cotton farming. The list is almost endless. I would argue that just about every solution we need is already in existence.

Are there any unsustainable practices in the fashion industry that continue to persist due to a lack of viable alternatives?

Consumption, or the industry’s (and our society’s) reliance on it. The lack of alternatives, in my view, is primarily to do with a fear of the unknown and a lack of leadership in this area, particularly from policy makers and business leaders.

What, as consumers, are the most important decisions we can make to ensure that we are contributing to a more sustainable fashion industry?

Focus less on the clothes you want or need or think you should buy because they are ‘sustainable’, and more on who you want to be in this life and in this world. What kind of a difference do you want to make in this world? Human being is virtually unlimited in possibility. Fashion can be a vital aspect of self expression and the source of immense joy (it should be!) but that doesn’t need to mean owning a ton of stuff. Find the joy in cherishing clothes, in customizing them, in repairing them, in sharing them. Build a deep connection with the natural world and know your place in it, as an integral part of it. Grow your own herbs, compost your food scrap (I do through Grow NYC). Have an amazing life, guided by George Bernard Shaw if needed.

I do recommend reading the stories at the Local Wisdom link above, under the tab ‘Use Practices’. I also recommend books by Kate Fletcher and John Ehrenfeld.

(The orchid above was thrown out by a colleague because she thought it was dead. It nearly was. I’ve nursed it back to life and will give it back to her once it has started blooming again, probably within two weeks.)

Fashion Revolution Day 24.4.2015

Fashion_Revolution_Day_2015 Fashion_Revolution_Day_Instructions

April 24 will mark the second anniversary of Rana Plaza. Fashion Revolution Day invites you to take the following action:

1. Take a selfie that shows your garment label. Turning your clothes inside out makes more of a statement, as demonstrated by me last year:


2. Follow that brand on social media.

3. Upload your photo on social media with the following message: I want to thank the people who made my clothes, @brand, #whomademyclothes?

Levi’s and Calvin Klein, I’m still waiting. Who made my clothes?

My thanks to Orsola de Castro for leading the way.


Call for Papers: Creative Pattern Cutting 2016

I look forward to seeing you in Huddersfield in February 2016!


MLS Pajamas by Timo Rissanen, 2011. Photograph by Mariano Garcia of iloveshoot

The second international conference is designed to promote contemporary research into the art of creative pattern cutting and its significance to the fashion industry. The conference provides a platform for pattern cutters, fashion designers, students, and educators to explore the impact and direction for creative pattern cutting.

The conference aims to:

  • Encourage discussion of new methods and techniques in creative pattern cutting, inspiring technical and design innovation.
  • Develop ways in which the fashion industry promotes pattern cutting as a career, emphasizing its creative integrity and magnetism.
  • Enhance ways in which tacit knowledge and the making process are considered as legitimate forms of research enquiry.
  • Promote equity for the roles of the creative pattern cutter and the fashion designer in terms of esteem and remuneration.
  • Balance debates about the knowledge and practical experience of traditional processes in the context of technological and digital development.

We are looking for abstracts, which expand the themes above and further explore the impact and direction for creative pattern cutting.

Selected papers will be published in a special edition in The International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, Volume 6, Issue 2, published in July 2016. Guest editors: Dr. Kevin Almond and Dr Jess Power

Important dates:

  • Call sent out: 9 February 2015
  • Abstract (150 words): 1 May 2015 (Abstract and authors name, affiliation and institution should be submitted to creativecut@hud.ac.uk)
  • Notification for acceptance: 1 July 2015
  • Full paper (4000 – 5000 words) submission: 15 September 2015 (or before)
  • Reviewer’s feedback: 1 January 2016 (or before)
  • Early bird registration: 16 February – 31 October 2015
  • Registration closes: 12 February 2016
  • Symposium: 24 and 25 February 2016.

Hosting University: University of Huddersfield, UK

Organisers: Dr Kevin Almond, Stephen Wigley, Dr Jess Power

Contact: creativecut@hud.ac.uk

Website: http://hud.ac/y9

Download the call as a PDF.

Sponsored by fashion and apparel solutions specialist Lectra.

Please support Team for Kids


In 2012 I took on my health like it was a matter of life and death – it’s no exaggeration that it was. Among other things, I’d had a 21-year-old on/off relationship with cigarettes. On May 12 of that year some sort of brain fart told me that this was it, and I told my husband so as well. The exact words were, ‘I don’t think I’ll smoke again.’ I’d just smoked the last cigarette in my packet and I wasn’t going to ever buy any more, and I haven’t smoked since that day. Unlike my squillion previous attempts to quit, this was devoid of melodrama and grandiose Facebook announcements. I simply permanently altered one behaviour in my life, and more importantly, transformed a seemingly fixed view on my life and who I thought myself to be.

A week after my last cigarette I went for a run. After 15 minutes my lungs were on fire and I came back home. I didn’t, however, give up. That summer in Finland, while working on 15%, I ran three or four days a week, gradually building up my fitness and stamina. By December 2012 I felt confident enough to sign up for the 2013 Helsinki City Marathon, which I ran with Julian Roberts (or more accurately, we started together, Julian finished, and eventually I did, too). I’ve now ran three marathons, two of them this year.

For my final marathon of 2013, the TCS NYC Marathon on November 2, I am raising funds for Team for Kids. I am asking for your support in this. I promise to match every donation until I have met my fundraising goal of $2,620. There is only $1,175 to go! We will do this. Thank you for your support. YOU CAN DONATE BY CLICKING HERE.

Sustainable Fashion: New Approaches – free book!


Aalto University has published an excellent book, edited by Kirsi Niinimäki, titled Sustainable Fashion: New Approaches. Where there were really no books before 2008, there are now many, some of great value, others of less. I’ve so far read two chapters and glanced through all of them, and I think this book adds value to the conversations, through precisely focused and thoroughly researched chapters. The absolute best thing about this book? You can download it for free! Click on the box that says ‘Lataa ilmaiseksi’. Thank you to Aalto University and Niinimäki for making it freely available; I know it makes a huge difference to students around the world.

Nordes 2015: Design Ecologies



Design Ecologies

Challenging anthropocentrism in the design of sustainable futures
Konstfack – University College of Arts, Crafts and Design. Stockholm, Sweden
Sunday 7 – Wednesday 10 June 2015

Call for Submissions

Design hinges a natural-artificial continuum through humans’ natural capacity to produce what we call ‘the artificial’. At a time when human activity is threatening biodiversity and causing severe climate change, it becomes obvious that natural and artificial systems can no longer be conceived in isolation but only in relation to each other – or indeed as one. The coupling of natural and artificial systems poses challenges due to its complexity and partly reveals the anthropocentrism that has traditionally characterised design. Several questions arise in this context. How can design practices embrace pluralism by recognising, in the manifestation of design itself, biological as well as cultural diversity? In other words, how do we in design, and beyond, move from the kind of ego-system we seem to be so trapped in towards the kind of eco-system everyone and everything can gain from? How are designers, educators and researchers of design currently engaging with these challenges, and how might or should they engage with them in the near future? Designers in Scandinavia have shaped and influenced many local human societies to an important extent through a legacy of democratic and user-centred values. How can these be extended to acknowledge and celebrate humans’ cohabitation on a global scale to also include the myriad of all other existing species and systems at alternative scales in time asnd space? How can the various design practices be genuinely sensitive to ecological complexity? And how can they be understood, designed and studied in relation to each other – or indeed as a whole? Addressing these issues and many others, the Design Ecologies conference includes the following tracks:

Design and Approaches for Sustainability

Design for Sustainability as we know it and as we might imagine it. This track is for both case studies we can learn from and more speculative alternative approaches. We especially invite submissions that scrutinize the tensions, and possible bridging, between: (i) radical and more incremental solutions, (ii) local and more global approaches and (iii) a non-anthropocentric versus a more anthropocentric design approach.

Design as a Political Agent

Critical or Discursive Design as we know it and as we might imagine it. We especially encourage submissions that scrutinize the tensions, and possible bridging, between approaches that nurture a more critical versus a more constructive discourse.

Design and Sustainable Businesses

Business- and management-driven design as we know it and as we might imagine it. We especially invite submissions that address the tensions, and possible bridging, between designing for (and running a business in) a growth versus a non- or post-growth economy.

Design and Sustainable Technologies

Technology-driven design as we know it and as we might imagine it. We especially invite submissions that address the tensions, and possible bridging, between designing for a specified technology versus facilitating the design of plausible technologies for a specified goal.

Design and its Educations

Sustainability in design educations as we know it and as we might imagine it. How can design education support students to become critical and creative in the light of the challenges that un/sustainability poses? We invite submissions that engage in visionary pedagogical approaches at all levels and especially those exploring the tension between ego- versus eco-awareness and the possibilities of bridging perspectives from both the ‘Global North’ and ‘South’.

Design and its Wild Cards

What kind of hidden cards does design carry up its sleeve? This track is for all the papers that do not fit easily into the other themes. So don’t worry; we have a place for you that is more comfortable than rejection even if it might be not a perfect fit. While having very open criteria, we especially invite submissions that tackle failures, tensions and complexities with a critical and provocative but also a constructive view. To conclude, this additional track is for papers that are uncomfortable but worthy.In order to develop the theme of Design Ecologies we invite a variety of disciplines to make contributions: full papers, exploratory papers, workshops, exhibitions and a doctoral consortium. Whilst being primarily underpinned by a core of established design and design research, NORDES also welcomes all new design voices – including perspectives ranging from the humanities to physics, from ethnography to art, from engineering to marketing. Papers may cover experimental and exploratory research approaches to design and the production of knowledge. Papers may also be based on historical, biological, geographical or philosophical studies that make qualified contributions to the field in terms of insights, concepts and ideas. Submissions are subject to an anonymous peer review process. Accepted contributions will be published electronically on the conference website prior to the conference and in the conference proceedings.

All submissions should be in English. All submissions are subject to a double-blind peer review by at least two reviewers. Accepted contributions should be revised according to the review reports and the language should be checked by a native English speaker.

Invited submissions

Full papers

Full papers must be of the highest international standard and contribute significantly to research and practice within design. Nordes 2015 aims to be a multidisciplinary forum for emerging and current research areas that influence the various design disciplines. Full papers should be a maximum of ten pages including illustrations, figures and references. Papers will undergo double-blind peer reviews and accepted papers will be presented in the conference programme and published in the conference proceedings. The proceedings will be available as an open-access online database during and after the conference.

Exploratory papers

We invite the submission of exploratory papers that include design cases, position papers, work in progress, and emerging new research areas that may as yet lack solid theoretical foundations but point towards exciting new directions for design research. Exploratory papers should be a maximum of four pages including illustrations and references. Exploratory papers will undergo double-blind peer reviews and accepted papers will be published in the conference proceedings. The proceedings will be made available as an open-access online database during and after the conference.


Workshops will enjoy a central position at Nordes 2015. The ambition is to create common experiences and to provide a variety of platforms for exchanging new ideas. A workshop proposal should be a maximum of two pages and state its purpose, a tentative programme for the day (or half a day), how attendees are accepted for participating in the workshop (e.g. through artefacts or position papers or just by signing up), and the requirements for the physical setting and materials.


Through the Nordes 2015 exhibition we wish to explore ways in which the display of works of art, craft and design can become a prominent venue for exchanging ideas and understanding. Artists, designers and researchers will be able to present their work to the conference attendees in dedicated exhibition sessions. We invite submissions of artefacts, installations and performances documented via pictures, videos or links to websites. A two-page paper explaining how the exhibition artefact relates to the conference’s overall theme of experimentation should accompany each submission. Papers and visual documentation will be included in the conference proceedings and made available through an open-access online database during and after the conference.

Doctoral consortium

The doctoral consortium is an opportunity for doctoral students to receive feedback on their projects from some of the prominent researchers and fellow doctoral students within the field of design research. It is also an excellent chance to get to know others in the same situation or to meet again after last year’s NORDES summer school. The doctoral consortium will take place immediately before the formal opening of the conference. Participants will be chosen based on the quality of their submissions. Submissions should be a maximum of four pages and can be published in the proceedings if the doctoral student wishes it. The proceedings will be made available as an open-access online database during and after the conference.

Important dates

7 – 10 June, 2015: Conference (Sunday – Wednesday)

1 December, 2014: Submission system opens

7 January, 2015: Submission deadline

20 March, 2015: Author notification

20 April, 2015: Submission of final versions

We hope many of you will consider the NORDES conference
as a venue for your work and research.

Mathilda Tham (Linnaeus University, Goldsmiths)
Håkan Edeholt (Oslo School of Architecture and Design)
Martin Ávila (Konstfack),
and Bo Westerlund (Konstfack)

The image is from Fashion North, a colloquium at Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo
in October 2013. I think the amazing sandwiches were by Food Studio in Oslo. If I’m incorrect, please correct me!