The notion of fashion appears to rely on a framework of aesthetic obsolescence that is at odds with the principles of sustainability. Designers consistently rework and update styles in order to promote fresh sales, causing older garments to become undesirable despite being perfectly fit for purpose. At the heart of the fashion industry, this unsustainable rate of growth and renewal is entirely wasteful, transient and somewhat superficial. Sustainability by contrast is based on concepts of longevity, increased usefulness and the dramatic reduction of waste. Yet if approached in right way, fashion does not need to be unsustainable.
The term fashion revolves around the notion of popularity and time; styles go in and out of fashion, trends appear and die down. Ultimately fashion is about change, which is not an inherently negative or positive concept. In fact, as Stuart Walker puts it “fashion in design fosters creativity and the exploration of new, untried solutions”and thus has great potential to adapt to sustainable principles.
Antiform, founded by Lizzie Harrison in Leeds almost 10 years ago is an excellent example of the versatility of fashion. The brand addresses many of the conflicting issues of sustainability through creative designs and an forward thinking approach to business. Using my experience as a freelance production assistant for Antiform over the last few months, I hope to convince you to buy more sustainably in the future.
The traditional role of the designer does not usually involve consideration of the waste created through the design process. Designer’s sketches are often sampled in a separate department by garment technologists employed to recreate the design to strict specifications. This method leaves little margin for increasing the efficiency of the materials used and leads to the creation of waste throughout the supply chain. In contrast, Antiform’s holistic approach to design balances stylistic elements with inventive, waste saving techniques; from zero waste pattern cutting to utilizing remnants in patchworked garments.
Locally available and reclaimed materials
Most commercial fashion companies conduct their supply chain around the most economical production route on a global scale. For commercial businesses while quality, service and reliability are important factors to consider when choosing suppliers, in this system the direct cost of production and distribution is the main motivating factor. This causes a race to the bottom effect whereby the environmental and human cost is often forgotten about or waylaid in favour of profit.
Small, local level production by contrast enables designers to directly feel and respond to the effects of their business while fostering relationships between communities and materials. Antiform works with reclaimed materials sourced from British Mills and produces each collection in Bristol. Short production runs mean the business can respond quickly to demand and even create unique made-to-order pieces via ‘Antiform x You’; an innovative, bespoke service enabling the customer to take part in the design process by supplying a personal piece of fabric or design idea.
A skilled, flexible and diverse team
For most brands success means a commercial agenda that revolves around a continual increase in production, consumption and sales. Alone commercial success in the private sector is not enough to combat the vast, multidisciplinary issues of sustainability. In order to most effectively innovate the industry designers need to diversify and take on new roles across economic sectors. Antiform is run by a team of local designers, researchers and communicators who offer research, consultancy and lecturing work as well as freelance design, sampling and ethical production services. This level of flexibility means the brand does not rely solely on selling product; Antiform has the capacity to teach, facilitate and encourage a more sustainable fashion system as a whole.
Antiform is based in a shared studio space with the Bristol Textile Quarter. The room is divided in to small individual workshops that bring together a diverse mix of local artisans and designers working in similarly ethical and environmentally conscious ways. While each business is independently run, there is a sense of the importance of collective success and wellbeing. Ideas are brought together over communal lunches and there is an open approach to the sharing of knowledge, materials, contacts and expertise. In some cases even waste is shared.
This sense of community is essential for creating a new fashion system. It is time to move away from precisely measured systems, based on self-interest and impersonal, anonymous transactions.