Fashion is a business involving long and varied supply chains of production, raw material, textile manufacture, clothing construction, shipping, retail, use and ultimately disposal of the garment. As a result, its carbon footprint is large and takes into account the pesticides used in cotton farming, the toxic dyes used in manufacturing, the great amount of waste discarded clothing creates as well as the amount of natural resources used in extraction, farming, harvesting, processing, manufacturing and shipping.
Cotton is the world's most commonly used natural fiber and is in nearly 40 percent of our clothing. While cotton, especially organic cotton, might seem like a smart choice, it can still take more than 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture just a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. It is also one of the most chemically dependent crops in the world. While only 2.4 percent of the world's cropland is planted with cotton, it consumes 10 percent of all agricultural chemicals and 25 percent of insecticides.
Made from petrochemicals, polyester and nylon are not biodegradable and thus, are unsustainable. While the manufacturing of synthetic fibers uses great amounts of energy, nylon also emits a large amount of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, during manufacturing. Recycled polyester, while requiring less than half the energy to produce and keeps plastic products out of landfills, may seem like a good alternative, there are downsides to recycled polyester. Used plastic bottles must be cleaned and the labels removed before being made into polyester fabric. The process is mostly done by hand and that means these plastic bottles are shipped to countries with low labor rates, increasing recycled polyester’s carbon footprint.
The dyeing of natural and manmade textiles is no less concerning. More than a half trillion gallons of fresh water are used in the dyeing of textiles each year. The often untreated dye wastewater is discharged into nearby rivers, where it can have detrimental effects to downstream ecosystems. The untreated wastewater often contains lead, mercury, arsenic, and other heavy metals and toxins.
While a majority of the world's apparel corporations are U.S. based, under globalization more than 60 percent of world clothing is manufactured in developing countries where labor costs are lower, and labor and environmental regulation is less stringent. Once manufactured, the garments are put in shipping containers and sent by ships, trains, and trucks to the retailer. Approximately twenty-two billion new clothing items are bought by Americans per year, with only 2 percent of those clothes being domestically manufactured. In total, some 90 percent of garments are transported by container ship each year fueled by fossil fuels.
In the first world, shopping has become a weekly pastime. Retail outlets, fashion magazines, catalogs and social media postings bombard us with ways to spend money. Feeding this consumerism is the “fast fashion" trend, in which clothing is designed to be moved as quickly as possible from catwalk to store. A fairly recent concept, fast fashion is leading the way in producing massive amounts of cheap, disposable clothes, ultimately accelerating environmental degradation, carbon emissions and global warming. In the rush from catwalk to store, if the retailer over produces or misjudges a trend, they could be left with huge amounts of unwanted garments that end up being burned or dumped in landfills.
An alternative to fast fashion, slow fashion production ensures quality and sustainable manufacturing to lengthen the life of a garment. Some of the key features of slow design are;
1. Co-creation: Bringing the designer, manufacturer, and client into the design process at the beginning to ensure that the design is correct, possible, and the process thought out before production occurs in order to reduce waste.
2. Locally sourced materials: Sourcing raw materials locally reduces shipping, supports the local economy, and gives you more control over the process.
3. Local production: Using local producers also reduces the carbon footprint of the product and employs local workers.
4. Produce on Demand: By producing the product on demand, over production, waste of raw materials, and unwanted or unsold product is reduced.
5. Natural fibers: Natural fibers, grown organically, are used which at the end of the lifespan of the garment breakdown easier or can be recycled.
Although price is sometimes a deterrent for purchasing slow fashion items, in the long run, one piece of well designed and well produced clothing will outlive cheaper pieces. Slow fashion clothing is made up of high quality materials usually with timeless or meaningful designs that can be worn year round and never go out of style. Developing a garment with a cultural and emotional connection is also pertinent to the purpose behind slow fashion: consumers will keep an article of clothing longer than one season if they feel emotionally or culturally connected to the article of clothing.
These slow design principles can also be applied to home decor and interior design. While home decor and interior design certainly follow trends, these trends do not change as quickly as fast fashion. However, home decor uses the same materials as apparel and is burdened with some of the same issues regarding pollution, waste, and the consumption of water, energy, and chemicals. A “slow home decor” trend is growing and developing items for the home with a cultural and emotional connection to the consumer is pertinent. Home decor is becoming more self-expressive and personalization is the key.
In the interior design and home decor markets, one way to meet the challenges of slow design is to create designs that speak to the client, that are personal, and exclusive to them. With such surface pattern designs included in their home decor, the client has a connection to the article, whether it be a pillow or chair with their unique design, and a willingness to keep that item longer.
An example of this concept can be shown by my West Africa inspired collection. After doing some reading on the textile traditions of this region, what really interested me was the use of symbols to represent people’s daily lives, activities, or important events. I liked that the symbols were personal, maybe indicative of an individual, family, or tribe. So I decided to create some symbols that reflect a little about my daily existence. Due to time I didn’t carve these but drew them free hand in Illustrator. I stuck to a square format in part to keep the sizes consistent and to force me to be a little less literal and more symbolic.
Below is the list of symbols and their meanings.
I then used these symbols to create the patterns. For the main pattern, shown below, I wanted to include all of the symbols and felt the best way to do this was to create a patchwork design. For the color palette, I used a fairly monochromatic scheme which I felt was true to some of the design traditions of West Africa and prevented the designs from becoming too busy.
In some cases the patterns tell a little story. For example, the pattern below tells of constantly having to apply sunscreen this summer because it kept melting off in the over 100F temperatures in Chico.
The following pattern tells of my walks in the foothills where my dog can go swimming but we have to watch out for ticks and snakes.
Finally, the pattern below represents the blistering heat we’ve had this summer in Northern California.
These designs, if incorporated into my own home decor, would certainly be unique and personal, reflecting my life. The symbols used are unique, abstract, and often with the meaning clear only to me. The fabric with these designs could be printed on demand in the quantities needed at a fairly affordable rate using services such as Spoonflower, Fabric On Demand, or local printers. The patterns, or their motifs alone, could be turned into pillows, upholstery, wall art or bedding.
True to the concept of slow design, a surface pattern designer could collaborate with the interior designer and home owner to create meaningful designs for their decor. Working with a client, symbols can be created that reflect their lives, and surface patterns created that are personal, unique and exclusive. Imagine incorporating a child's drawings into a pattern to be used in a redesign of their room. Using cutomized surface patterns, the client’s home decor is more self-expressive and personalized; their house becomes their home.
Interested in working together to create your own personalized surface pattern designs? Click on the Contact tab!