March 13, 2010

Techno vs. eco? Why choose?

Digital prints, from left: Alexander McQueen SS09; Mary Katrantzou FW09; Michael Angel FW10

In spite of my environmental leanings — and really, the entire philosophy underpinning my line — I'm reluctant to apply the label of eco-fashion to my work. Why? As Barneys' Julie Gilhart pointed out in the enlightening Pratt panel discussion I reviewed earlier, customers seem to associate "eco" with "homespun", and not in a good way, but in a lumpy, shoddily made way. How can it be that organic food is equated with better quality, but organic fashion is assumed to be worse?

Suzy Menkes' article in tomorrow's New York Times fashion magazine exemplifies this misunderstanding, with its title, "Techno vs. eco," suggesting that designers had to choose one direction or the other. In fact, technology has brought some incredible advances to sustainable textiles over the last few years, including the advent of fibers made from soy, thistle, and even milk protein.

Meanwhile, the latest high-tech fabric treatments include waterless dyeing and digital printing. The latter is far less wasteful than silkscreening, and allows designers to create the stunning large-scale prints that set apart the collections of Mary Katrantzou and Michael Angel, not to mention the late Alexander McQueen, who used the prints to illustrate a nature/techno theme throughout his beautiful Spring/Summer 2009 collection.

Another error in the esteemed fashion critic's understanding of sustainability is underscored by this choice comment:
Among advanced fabrics, there were knits toughened up with metal to make them seem indestructible, which seemed a long way from biodegradable fashion.
While it's true that metal-laced knits are hardly biodegradable, that doesn't mean they're not sustainable. Cradle-to-cradle philosophy acknowledges that products can be designed for short- or long-term use. For example, an H&M top, which is meant to be worn for only a few months, could be designed to be biodegradable, recyclable, or perhaps reusable as a dishrag. And instead of throwing out leftover clothes, the fast-fashion behemoth could arrange for extra wares to be given to charity.

On the other hand, some products are designed to last, and cradle-to cradle dictates that those should, preferably, last forever. Both workwear and bespoke suits, for example, will never go out of style, and therefore ought to be designed to last as long as possible. An indestructible knit might be great for work gloves, or for the elbows of sweaters. There's infinite possibility in textile technology, and there's no reason that and sustainability can't go comfortably hand-in-hand.

Photo via


ingrid said...

Very interesting!!

Sarah said...

I actually wrote an article for Fashion Theory in 2008 called Eco-Tech Fashion. In it, I try to show that successful eco-fashion really needs to embrace technology as a way to solve a lot of the issues. I can give you a pdf if you want. It's a bit dry reading though...

titania said...

Thanks! I'd love to read your article, Sarah — send it on over!