Article by Centre for Sustainable Fashion | Aniela Fidler-Wieruszewska | 06.15.2021

On Attitudes Towards Design

It's time to reflect on why you want to design – so you can become more aware of your power and purpose as a creator. 

Back in January 2021, we hosted our first Fashion Values Roundtable in conversation with the Fashion Values Advocates, an opportunity to get to grips with some of the current thinking on fashion and sustainability. Chaired by Nina Stevenson, Education for Sustainability Leader at Centre for Sustainable Fashion, the discussion with leading industry voices explored the theme of this year’s design brief challenge: ‘Fashion Values: Nature.’  A selection of our Fashion Values Advocates joined us for the conversation...  

  • Bel Jacobs, Founder of Fashion in Schools  

  • Caroline Rush, Chief Executive, British Fashion Council  

  • Christine Goulay, Head of Sustainable Innovation, Kering  

  • Eduardo Escobedo, Founder & Executive Director, Responsible Ecosystems Sourcing Platform  

  • Florencia Librizzi, Head of Program & Partnerships, SDG Academy Sustainable Development Solutions Network  

  • Karl Haller, IBM Consumer Center of Competency Leader   

  • Katherine Pogson, PhD Researcher, Centre for Sustainable Fashion  

  • Liz Parker, Sustainable Fashion Educator and Researcher  

  • Shailja Dubé, Programme Lead, Institute of Positive Fashion 

During the Roundtable, the below question was highlighted by Katherine Pogson, PhD researcher at Centre for Sustainable Fashion:  

“Ask yourself what I want to design. We've assumed, well, I'm a designer, I want to design things. But how can you do that in a good way and step back to the first principle: why do I want to design?”.  

Often the focus is on what you want to design – a shirt, a dress, a trend, an aesthetic  – but this can narrow the creative process to a single object or focus, and consequently limiting your positive influence. The Fashion Values Challenge is a brief with an open scope, and we encourage you to think beyond this. When you ask why you want to design, it’s an opportunity to explore your creative practice in greater depth. What will it change in the world? What and who will benefit from it? It may be that the physical object will be incidental to your design; what matters is the impact you create. 

Innovation is a long and challenging process. If you open yourself up to new ways of thinking and new questions, as above, then making mistakes is an essential part of this. Karl Haller, IBM,  notes how important it is to be agile, and to remember that there is no innovation without trial and error:  

“You can't let the analysis stop the effort. Sometimes you have to take the best bet you have, move forward and start to create the change in the right direction. If you realise you're going off course, then you have to be able to steer, or pivot, or course-correct on that.”  

Another key point that the Advocates raised was the need for open-minded, non-hierarchical and thoughtful collaboration. We may be heading towards the end of the era in which head designers are considered to be the most important person in the company – no one acts alone.  To quote Bel Jacobs, Fashion in Schools: 

“We are in this incredible time of the experiment, which also means an incredible time of mistakes… We need to take our egos out of it; the idea of the designer is king, not the designer is now part of a collaborative team working together making mistakes, falling out, coming back together again.”  

The Challenge is an opportunity to recognise and value collective effort, and to cultivate caring and trusting relationships by, for example, working towards transparency of fashion supply chain.  

Fashion is has long been a vital form of visual self-expression. What does it mean to express ourselves creatively when we move from an Age of Extraction to an Age of Regeneration? Or, as Christine Goulay, Kering, put it:  

“How can we still express ourselves creatively and use our talents and designs in the right way?”.   

This is important question and can’t be ignored. The role of the designer can and should extend beyond objects. The power of creativity can be applied to aesthetics, visual language, systems, services and beyond.  

Another approach is to think beyond your own self-expression and to centre the needs of others (both human and non-human) at the core of your design practice. Ask yourself: how can what I design benefit the wider world? Eduardo Escobedo, Responsible Ecosytems Sourcing Platform,  offered a way to approach this question: 

“Try to understand what, for instance, a tree, or an ecosystem would need vis-a-vis you as a strategist, designer, and so on. …I don't think that when we develop from a company perspective or a group company perspective, we always focus on what we believe we should be doing and giving to our culture and environment. The challenge would be really to forget that, and to try to play the role of who's on the other side.”  

His point reminds us that humans are interconnected with Nature, reliant on its health and well-being in a profound way. We invite you to explore these connections on a personal level: how does your practice impact your local environments? How does it relate to the bigger picture, on a planetary scale? As Eduardo noted, “It's really about understanding that biodiversity is not only in the Amazon Forest, but it can be in central London, it can be in New York, and it's all around us.”

So what’s the next step? Go for a walk and take the ideas above with you. Think on these provocations and ask how they could change your creative approach. We hope they offer a way to ideate or develop concepts in response to our Fashion Values brief.  

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