Fast fashion is highly addictive but also highly polluting. With rapid fashion trends and a race for the lowest price, it’s no wonder that the average American household produces over 30kg of textile waste (the weight of your average ten year old!) every year.
Business models may be slow to change, but the creative scene isn’t. Innovative brands are 3D-printing shoes; vegan alternatives to leather goods are going mainstream; distributed design platforms allow consumers to make bespoke items online.
At the same time, the considerable sustainability challenges are getting more attention. Tweets from Lady Gaga and campaigns involving Summer Rayne Oakes are raising public awareness on the embedded water and carbon emissions. Tragic incidents, like the Dhaka factory collapse, have shed light on the human cost of cheap labour.
What new opportunities are emerging for fashion to be successful but also sustainable?
Forum for the Future joined forces with Elliott P. Montgomery of Parsons School of Design in New York, running a challenge to rapid prototype the future of fast fashion, for a fast-changing world.
The design sprint took place in New York, bringing 18 students together for a five-hour workshop. After a quick tour of the global trends bearing down on fast fashion, the participants had just two hours to create artefacts to inspire society and businesses to rethink fast fashion. They could work on their own or in groups, drawing on an eclectic range of provided materials, including tea strainers, a bicycle pump, rubber gloves and a cheese grater.
“The use of rapid physical representation allows students to enter the design brief with their hands as well as with their minds”, Montgomery explains. “The physical artefacts also help the students to communicate their concepts in a visible, tactile form.”
Are we likely to see these designs on the shelves?
That’s not the point, says Montgomery: “The aim of traditional prototypes is to visualize solutions, whereas these speculative prototypes are meant to serve as provocations. This workshop is a great example of how futures-research strategies and participatory design can be combined in an experimental way to gather provocative ideas.”
Alisha Bhagat of Forum for the Future, who was the futures lead for the workshop, adds: “Using design artefacts helps us bring the future to life in a way that people can instantly relate to, as they can see these objects and imagine using them. It is interesting that despite being given four different future scenarios of the world in 2025, all of the artefacts touch on similar themes of waste, sustainability, and connecting people with the garments they may produce and consume.
Our hope is that these artefacts prompt conversation and inspire action towards a more sustainable fashion industry. Many of the ideas don’t have to exist in the near future: the point is that they seem achievable today.”
Watch this space as we publish the eight ‘provocative’ designs, two each week. Tweet to tell us which you find most provocative and why: @FuturesCentre.