I’m really glad to have you on board. (You might not feel ‘on board’ yet, but I hope that after reading this, you will.)
It’s brilliant that you’re starting to think about sustainability. I know that the subject’s not glamorous or edgy, and you’ve got so many other things to be thinking about. But there’s an overwhelming need for us, as fashion and textile practitioners and educators, to get to grips with the harm our industry is having on the world.
So, thank you.
Perhaps you feel like you don’t know enough about sustainable fashion and textiles to really get involved. I know that sustainability is often seen within fashion and textile teaching teams as a specialism, like tailoring or weaving, and that one expert is enough. After all, one person can deliver the sustainability brief that you’ve got written into your module plan, and talk to the final year students who become suddenly impassioned about organic materials or workers’ rights or textiles in landfill.
But actually that’s part of the problem.
Sustainability can’t be addressed through a one-off brief, and it isn’t a niche interest. The challenge is so great, so over-arching, and so at odds with the current industry, that it needs to be everywhere, running through everything and everyone.
What does that mean? It means that we have to learn together, and not be scared that we don’t know enough. Sure, some people might have been having these conversations for longer, and be more familiar with the many different approaches that a sustainable fashion system will involve. Make the most of their experience, and hunt out the fantastic resources that are out there to support you. I have no doubt that you’ll discover exciting new ideas and have your assumptions challenged. But, believe me, none of us has the answers yet. And it’s definitely the case that none of us will come up with answers while working on our own.
I have to warn you: once you start to consider the full impacts of our industry, the problems can seem insurmountable. You might even feel paralysed by the scale of the task and the economic pressures of ‘business as usual’. But change is on the way. There is space for hope. And – most wonderfully – this change and hope feeds on creativity and inventiveness: the stuff that we do best.
Together, we need to draw our students into these discussions. Through them, we have an amazing influence over how fashion and textile practice develops in the future. But this can be tricky, especially when they expect us to have all the answers.
Perhaps you could show them this letter, or even write them one of your own.
We can bring about change, if we step up to the challenge and expand our ideas about what design can be, and what we can do.
A fellow traveller.
[Submitted by an anonymous group of fashion educators for the co-operative inquiry project, 2017]