Words Sofie Weinell
Illustrations Ann Vilhelmsen
The initial thoughts behind this article sprang to mind on a walk through the city. The city is filled to the limit with fast-fashion stores permanently advertising the "new season" in the windows, occasionally replaced by a “sales” sign. All of them offer their version of the latest trend in your desired size and color. Besides the massive resource consumption and the catastrophic effects it has on the environment, it made me think about the role of the designer behind the creations and their endless possibilities.
In an industry where a good business can be built on copying other's designs, the designer can seem a bit redundant and in some cases, almost like a figurehead. We see too many examples of large corporations and newer fashion brands without any inventive ideas. They work with fashion, but not design! Without design, it appears meaningless in most cases to run a fashion business. One can wonder if values like presence, authenticity, and creativity are simply omitted.
Sustainability and durability appear to be the pink elephant in the room for these fast fashion companies. Sustainability is undoubtedly the future, but they continue to build their entire business around the concept of fast, cheap clothes. If they offer any sustainable solutions, it quickly comes across as a cheap marketing trick.
Nevertheless, we know we are not to compromise the environment and the resources still available, therefore, we need to consider alternatives. I believe great and innovative designs can be a solution towards creating more durable products. However, this requires letting designers actually design and allow them to do what they do best. In other words: Let's not forget what good design is and what it can do for the durability of garments.
In Scandinavia, we still produce a lot of design talent - no doubt about that. There is just zero time nor resources to make use of these talents in the industry. The design process is practically non-existent in fast fashion, resulting in endless opportunities to easily buy the same cheap trends anywhere - there is no real wow-factor left. The design process is simply too time-consuming. It seems it is too expensive to spend time on research, experiments, and deselections and that leave no room for creativity and personality.
We Scandinavians have a proud design tradition and are renowned worldwide for our great classics. These classics were made by people allowed to spend their time finding the best solutions and in general practice their profession thoroughly. Many of these designs are considered durable and useful to this day. So maybe an alternative to the fast pace fashion could very well be to work with “lost” values.
Besides, not all consumers are drawn towards what the major fast fashion chains have to offer. The value of objects with meaning slowly increases: recycling is considered "the new black" and I observe more attempts within slow fashion designing in general. As a counter reaction to the quick and cheap designs, it looks like an increasing amount of people seek the value of excellent craftsmanship, genuine design, and originality.
By putting these well-known values back into play, we can begin to look for a more durable approach to fashion and start offering a more sustainable and meaningful alternative to the constant need for buying new clothes. I believe that the work of the designer is integral in creating sustainable products that are not only sustainable for sustainability itself. Therefore, a changed approach to sustainability and durability could reassure products that last by focusing on the design processes, real craftsmanship, and overall innovation.
The design process is where ideas are tested until you are left with solutions that work, are aesthetically appealing and original. During the process, the designer can ensure that the designs form the basis for aesthetic experiences, which in my opinion must be one of the primary qualities of slow fashion. By prioritizing the design process and communicating doing it, we will be able to create an extra layer of experience. Behind a design lie hours of researching, piles of drawings and numerous experiments, that all played a role in creating the story around the design. And is that not precisely the story that makes design so fascinating?
Through a design process, expressions develop and are influenced by the personality behind the product, whereas the magic that can occur through personality and passion disappear in products based on fast trends. From the initial idea to finished product, details and connections see the light of day solely through this particular design process. It provides a unique, extra dimension that the wearer can take to heart and make her/his own.
Providing exceptional craftsmanship can very well be a way of increasing the durability seemingly lost in fast fashion. You may recognize the feeling from the embroidery on the pillow your grandmother made in her youth, which has been sitting on the couch forever. When you run your hand over the embroidery, you can feel the many hours it took to make the small bumps and irregularities, contrary to a "perfect" machine made embroidery. Those little imperfections perfectly encapsulate the human hands behind it. By making use of traditional techniques and crafts in a new and modern way, we can let the wearer know that this product was created by a skilled person, who used his or her creative abilities and craftsmanship to create an authentic expression.
The focus on originality, design process and great craftsmanship are about keeping the art of fashion alive. Not only for the purpose of less fast fashion but for the purpose of not forgetting what great design can do for the durability and why we were so fascinated by fashion in the first place.