During the Thursday Night on 10 March 2016 several fashion designers and entrepreneurs spoke with each other and the public about their attempts to change the fashion world. Annemieke Koster (Enschede Textielstad), Anna Telcs (Not Just A Label), fashion designers Conny Groenewegen and Barbara Langendijk, and designer Martijn van Strien each gave a presentation of their work, after which several action points were formulated by the speakers and the audience.
The evening began with a quick poll: is a €29.99 wedding dress a good idea? Is it an improvement that Burberry sells its collections fresh from the catwalk? And what did those present think about Adidas launching trainers that you can have 3D-printed on demand in the shop? The reactions from the auditorium were far from unified, which immediately made it clear just how complex these developments are. A €29.99 wedding dress is impossible – that is less than the cost price! But it means everyone can afford a beautiful dress. If you can print your own trainers, you might save up and by fewer pairs. And anyway, the 3D printing takes several hours, so it’s not that direct. And so the discussion unfurled.
There were several recurring themes in the presentations that followed: the role of design in striving for less waste and clothes that are easy to try on; the development of new (smart) materials and techniques; sustainable production of clothing and textiles; short lines between designers, manufacturers and customers; and last but not least, raising public consciousness.
Alternative construction methods
The three fashion designers, Barbara Langendijk, Conny Groenewegen and Martijn van Strien, have one thing in common: they all explore alternative construction methods. Langendijk graduated in 2013 with a collection inspired by the kimono. This traditional Japanese garment consists of rectangular panels that are joined at certain points. Langendijk designed a series of garments comprising rectangular panels that were attached to each other with a special metal accessory, like a hairpin holding the fabric in place. Rectangular panels of fabric were also the starting point for her second collection, but this time rotated and pleated and fixed with natural glue. Working with straight lengths of material means there is hardly any waste.
Instead of inserting darts in a garment to achieve specific, sculptural forms, Groenewegen constructs with textiles, with the benefit that she also produces very little waste. She creates three-dimensional volumes from fabric by exploiting the materials’ specific qualities. For example, she combines silk with wool and metal. Wool has the tendency to shrink and to felt. Placing metal at strategic places in the fabric provides weight and rigidity. By deploying and combining these various qualities, Groenewegen is able to model with textiles.
Van Strien’s latest project is Post-Couture Collective, an open-source fashion label that allows customers to order made-to-measure clothes or to make them themselves. For a small fee, they can download and print out the patterns. He works with a fabric made from recycled Sprite bottles, which have a specific light green colour so that the fabric does not need to be dyed. The fabric panels can be joined with a specially developed seam, without the use of a needle and thread. These techniques still need to be refined, he admits, because the panels come apart too easily. But he is primarily interested in quickly developing ideas, testing them, sharing them with others and moving on. He hopes that others will not only adopt his ideas but also refine and develop them further.
Sustainable fashion is impossible without sustainable textiles. But when Annemieke Koster decided to make her own clothes following the textile factory collapse in Bangladesh, she was struck by how difficult it is to obtain sustainably produced fabrics. More and more attention is paid to sustainable clothing production, but less to the sustainable production of textiles. Following extensive research, she decided to breath new life into Enschede’s textile industry.
That didn’t happed overnight: she took time to orient herself. She found two former textile workers who taught her the craft. In order truly to innovate, Koster emphasises, you have to know exactly how something is made. She acquired two looms and drummed up her first commission. She produces in response to requests from and in consultation with designers. In this way, she produces as little waste as possible. She works with recycled denim threads and with wool and is experimenting with flax, Tencel and other recycled materials. Sustainable textiles have to be of a high quality to be of any interest to buyers, she explains. And the fabric mustn’t be so expensive that the garments are unaffordable. Together with a regional training centre (ROC), she is working on a training course for weavers in Enschede. Her enterprise, Textielfabriek Enschede, thus contributes to the survival of the craft and stimulates the local economy.
Anna Telcs of designer platform Not Just A Label (NJAL) was the last to speak. NJAL offers young fashion designers a platform where they can show and sell their work. Some 20,000 fashion designers from around the globe present their designs directly to customers via the website www.notjustalabel.com. It provides an accessible way to begin small yet reach a large audience, to earn money and to make a name. NJAL takes care of publicity and organises special events at which designers can present their collections. The platform also stimulates sustainable, local production.
Shortening the production chain is an important issue in sustainable and green fashion. NJAL does this by cutting out the middleman – the wholesaler and shops. But it can also be done in the production process: Koster, for example, works with local craftspeople in her textile factory and buys wool from a local shepherd. This avoids the wasteful to-ing and fro-ing of raw materials, supplies and finished products. And the process is easier to oversee and is therefore more transparent.
The consumer as game changer
Following the presentations, action points were formulated for achieving ethically and ecologically sustainable fashion. It is clear that the consumer plays a crucial role in this respect: the role of game changer. Customers have to become more aware of their responsibilities. Designers and manufacturers can help, for example by making sustainable fashion attractive to the public. After all, fashion is seduction. In this respect, Van Strien attaches great value to sharing: it small designers can relatively easily conceive and test new strategies that can then be adopted and elaborated by the industry.
But focusing on craftsmanship and quality can also encourage people to be more attached to their clothes. Greater care equals greater value. New digital developments can bring tailor-made clothes to a large public and clothes that fit better have added value.
Groenenwegen proposes a kind of leasing contract, in which the clothing remains the property of the designer or manufacturer. It is therefore in the interests of the producer to make clothes that last longer and can easily be repaired.
The audience agreed that consumers could also change their behaviour: buying less clothing and sharing, hiring or leasing garments. Clothing could be designed and made so that it can easily be altered. Aesthetics will always change – you cannot stop that – so you must ensure that the change is part of the clothing. Terms such as cradle to cradle, multipurpose, multifunctional and modularity were mentioned.
Groenewegen also sees possibilities in producing ‘smarter’ fabrics, for example, developing textiles that filter particles from the air or incorporating solar cells to generate energy.
However, the big question remains: what can be done against the cheap brands such as H&M, Zara and Primark, which continually renew their collections? How can we get people to resist the temptation to fill their bags for very little money? It would help if these brands provided more and honest information about the clothes they sell. The discussion touched upon education and also politics: there should be more robust legislation governing the clothing industry.
Because it is clear that there is no shortage of alternative initiatives, techniques and strategies within fashion. It is possible to make fashion ‘better and greener’. Now all that is needed is to rally the troops in order to make these ‘new values’ common currency.
The well-attended evening was part of a symposium on the challenges that face the contemporary fashion industry in terms of design, production and distribution organised in partnership with the Erasmus University, the Willem de Kooning Academy, Kenniscentrum Creating 010, the ClickNL Next Fashion innovation network and Glamcult magazine.
Report by Lotte Haagsma
Better and Greener Fashion action points:
- Restrict buying behaviour
- Stimulate demand for cradle to cradle products
- Build up from the yarn
- Smart technology in clothing
- Loose seasonal dictation
- Make beautiful pictures
- Social value
- Tell stories
- Inform on production chain
- Government regulation on transparency
- Bring back craftsmanship
- Personalize the fit of clothing
- Grow hemp
- Produce locally
- New production methods
- New materials
- Grow new materials
This Thursday Night was part of the programme What's Next? The Future of the Fashion Industry which consists of a day programme and an evening programme. This event was the evening programme. Read the report of the day programme.