Alternative Fashion Systems by Kate Fletcher

On Thursday October 11 Dr Kate Fletcher, Reader in Sustainable Fashion at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion delivered the lecture Alternative Fashion Systems as part of the Stephan Weiss Memorial Lecture series. The series was introduced by Alison Mears, Dean of the School of Design Strategies, and Kate was introduced by Dr Hazel Clark, Research Chair of Fashion at Parsons The New School for Design. The lecture is connected to a special issue of Journal of Design Strategies edited by Otto von Busch and Pascale Gatzen.

Fletcher opened noting that our current consumer society is so dominant that we do not even notice it; we are a “consumerization”. I would add that much of the sustainability discussions that are currently taking place in fashion are merely fiddling with parts of a system that is inherently unsustainable, untenable and defuturing, to borrow from Tony Fry. According to Fletcher, “we have to brush up on our political skills.” Understanding the power structures and business models within which the dominant fashion system exists and operates, requires an understanding of politics. To critique the pursuit for unchecked growth, for example, is a political act – and Fletcher built a convincing case that critique we must.

If the first half of the lecture was stark on our current dominant reality, the second half was rich with optimism for the future. Remarkably, this optimism flowed from another current reality – something that is real and accessible right now in the present. Self-reliance, resourcefulness, cultural exchange, an ethos of care – it would be difficult to describe any of these ideas as anything other than positive and empowering. These came to life through rich stories and imagery: for four years Fletcher has worked on Local Wisdom, a research project investigating the “craft of use”, the innovative practices in the using and wearing of garments among regular people. For two years during 2012-14 with Fletcher’s lead the project expands to six partner universities alongside London College of Fashion, including Parsons The New School for Design. During this time we will conduct a design project, with the specific aim of amplifying the public’s innovative ideas about garment use uncovered through Local Wisdom. We will confirm the date of the New York Local Wisdom photo shoot very soon so please keep an eye out for it! I highly recommend Fletcher’s recent book with Lynda Grose (a collaborator on Local Wisdom), Fashion & Sustainability: Design for change. The book fleshes out the ideas Fletcher presented in the lecture, with real solutions for a future in the present.

The lecture was filmed; when the footage becomes available I will include a link within this post.