Fast-fashion clothes are like the stackable kind of potato chip: addictive, a little bit lousy, but tasty enough to keep us buying, consuming and discarding in a cycle that has us chewing them up and spitting them out with impunity.
We can swarm in shops that offer racks of the inexpensive, the polyester, the imported. We can gobble up the seasonal offerings that no one will cry over if they’re destroyed in the wash. Op shops are the graveyards of this kind of garb at the end of their brief lifespan: see, want, acquire, wear, toss.
For what does it matter?
We bought it because it was cheap and scratched an itch; we loved it, but not for very long; we chucked it out without shame for the wastage, probably with no concern for where it was made or who made it.
It was cute, it was affordable, it was on-trend and anyway, it’s time to move onto something else because we must keep up with the moods of fashion.
There’s a churn, a dizzying speed of trends accelerated by pictures travelling around the world at the click of a button on blogs after any runway show and the cool-kid tastemakers forever evolving like chameleons with plastic-flower garlanded heads or ludicrous hats.
‘‘Increasingly, there is simply no time for design.’’ These are the words of the Canberra Institute of Technology’s Kate Shaw, a fashion design co-ordinator and educator. She writes of the lack of time in the ‘‘about’’ section of the Fashionably Early exhibition she curated at the Gallery of Australian Design, which opens August 8.
Her words read like an anti-fast-fashion manifesto: there is the despair at the way fashion lays waste to the world as one of its ‘‘most environmentally and socially damaging industries’’.
There’s a call for change, for genuine innovation in the next generation of designers.
That’s where this exhibition comes in: it aims to offer rookie Australian designers – fresh graduates not far removed from their design school days – a non-commercial space to think in hopes they’ll come up with solutions, experiment, take risks and play.
It’s a multi-school exhibition – design schools around the nation were asked to put forward a student, a recent graduate.
The young designers who got the honour to put forward items for Fashion System for Tomorrow are the CIT’s Amy Taylor and Alice Sutton, Kacey Develin of the UTS, Amelia Agosta of RMIT, Lauren Boyle of Curtin University of Technology, Carla Ferrarin of RMIT Brunswick, and Mark Neighbour of Queensland University of Technology.
As Shaw puts it, for this generation of designers, sustainable design is not a choice.
‘‘They need to embrace the strategies of sustainable design … basically take the whole system that exists apart and start to reconsider pieces of it,’’ she said.
‘‘[The fashion industry] has always been built on change and seasons, it has always been built on a quest for the new. But now that that time frame is so short and we’re basically starting to produce products that are disposable, we need to stop and think about that at this time when there’s a mandate for more environmental responsibility.’’
She finds her young designers tried to keep up with the fashion cycle and found it difficult to stay on the fringes or do something different.
“Shops buy at a particular time, shops sell at a particular time, things go on sale at a particular time and if you’re not in that rhythm, then you’re out.,” she said.
‘‘Our young designers find themselves so busy in just keeping up with that cycle that they don’t have time to sit down and design things from first principles, they’re tending to kind of restyling things they’ve done last season, but if you start to change that system of production, you’re not restyling something, you’re reinventing something.’’
Shaw’s choice to draw together many tertiary institutions bore in mind that the schools likely saw each other as competitors and Canberra could be a neutral meeting place ‘‘because we’re not the fashion capital of Melbourne or the fashion capital of Sydney as they perceive themselves to be’’.
It also expressed a hope that young designers could collectively move in a new direction.
‘‘It makes a lot more sense for everyone to be doing it together rather than one person. It involves the adoption of new technologies, the design of new business models, so it makes sense for people to be coming together.’’
She expressed excitement for Develin’s approach, which was to blindfold the wearer and see how they dressed if they could only experience the tactile experience of a garment, which in her case had no fasteners, wrapped around the body and were more about the wearer’s experience than the image.
Shaw was also keen on Canberra designers Sutton and Taylor for their zero-waste pattern-making and their ideas of creating a story and sense of place in their garments to create ‘‘longevity and a connection back to the wearer’’. She was intrigued by Agosta’s strategies for mass customisation and Neighbour’s digital body scanning to produce specifically fitted multi-function garments in a ‘‘wearer-centred’’ approach to design.
Those who come to the exhibition will be able to actually wear some of the garments, albeit in a controlled manner. This is in a bid to get the exhibition-going public more involved in hopes they might think and become more informed consumers.
‘‘If we try to establish a sustainable fashion industry, it can’t just come from the designers, it also has to come from the consumers,” Shaw said.
‘‘[You must] consider what you wear, what you invest your money in. Not just ‘Do I like this?’ but ‘where was it made? Where do the fabrics come from? Are the fabrics safe in the way they’ve been designed? What’s the total life cycle of this garment? What am I going to do once it’s finished, once I’ve used it?’’’
Those who want to wear the garments will book in and will wear the pieces under the supervision of the designers who will explain their ideas and style the wearer, who will then be part of a photo shoot.
‘‘We’re hoping people will come back and feel involved, rather than feeling this is an exhibition for somebody else,” she said.
‘‘Hopefully you’ll have a broader understanding of what the issues might be that affect your choices.’’
Designer Agosta, 22, is a fabric cutter at Scanlan and Theodore who harbours dreams of working at Alexander McQueen or Versace. The show presents a bodice she made using 3D printing. She says the polyester substance used starts out like sand and laser beams create the shape.
Wearing a 3-D printed garment is ‘‘not comfortable at all’’. Its edges have to be smoothed down.
‘It’s not the best kind of thing,’’ she says.
Agosta uses it because of her concept – the contrast of craft and technology.
The craft component was in the pants she made, which used traditional tailoring, canvas and wadding, hours of hand stitching and woven materials
Three-dimensional printing, she explained, had been around for years and was used for aeronautical modelling and even in medicine to prototype things like hip replacements. In fashion, it had been used for the production of accessories and shoes, relatively small objects because of the cost associated with printing bigger ones.
‘‘My dad’s an architect,’’ she says by way of explaining her passion for the three-dimensional. ‘‘I’m from that 3D background, I create structured garments.
‘‘Craft has that element of something sentimental, hand-worked and unique as well. Working with technology, you can push the boundaries of shape.’’
She believed 3-D printing had sustainable credentials in that the materials used could be reused, but conceded plastic wasn’t unassailable in its green cred.
Designer Sutton, 22, of Chapman, alongside designer Taylor, 21, of Darwin, had adopted the sustainable way of thinking as an ethos central to her design practice. Both had their own zero-waste selvedge to selvedge pattern-making methods, both favoured the use of natural materials such as silk and wool, which could biodegrade.
‘‘In trying to create a commercial label, you don’t want to compromise design integrity and ethics,’’ Sutton says. ‘‘This exhibition has been a great way to explore those ideas: to make design the important thing as opposed to profit.’’
Sutton wants to reveal the design process to the wearer.
‘‘It’s not ‘Here’s the product, buy it.’ It’s more, ‘Be a part of it, see what happened to make this garment and how much thought went into it.’’’
One inspiration for Sutton and Taylor has been the line on a map of Australia that links Canberra to Darwin because of the challenges they face designing together from two different places.
‘‘We’re trying to ingrain a story in our garments so they’re something that always hang around in your wardrobe.’’
Fashionably Early is on at the Gallery of Australian Design at 44 Parkes Place, Parkes, from August 8 to September 15. For details, see fashionablyearly.com.au