– the fashion system of the future

Today’s fashion system has been called “complete obsolete” and “…has no reason for existing” by famous trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort. She is one of the most respected trend forecasters and her words weights greatly. I agree with many of Lidewij Edelkoort standpoints however I would like to share some perspectives on a fashion system of the future. Is it possible to revive the fashion system and have it breathe more sustainably (beyond ecological cotton)?

The fashion system, which brings consumers new styles at a very steady pace, has both huge importance in keeping the wheels running, but also many inhumane consequences. Lidewij Edelkoort points out that there is a dawning consumer driven reaction to the system as it is today. The younger generation are finding themselves more and more attracted to the thought of sharing rather than owning. From an outside view a very altruistic standpoint, but when it comes down to matter, the sharing economy is still about the desire of something new weather acquiring it by sharing or renting.

The point that the consumer of today has strong emotional preferences for new things is crucial to understanding the dynamics of our fashion system. Even though there has been a financial crisis, even though the sharing economy is on the rise and even though the western world consumer doesn’t lack anything – they (we) still desire new things.

Let me just linger a bit on the newness thing. Why is it that newness can have such a strong, attraction to us? Basically because of all the characteristics new things have. The aesthetics of new things is fundamentally appealing to us because it is shiny, clean, bright, sleek, fresh and crisp. Words loaded with positive connotations that appeal to our senses and therefore evoke positive emotions. New is nice.

The desire for new things has not disappeared with the financial crisis and climate challenges. We have just come up with new ways of acquiring them, which also appeal to our conscious and emotions. So in the future, there will be no less desire for new things nor will there be fewer consumers. So how can these two perspectives go hand in hand and not make the fashion system even more frantic than it already is?

A fashion system of the future stills needs to acknowledge that the most essential part in fashion is changing. It is the DNA and it both nurtures and fertilizes the consumers desire for new things. So how can the fashion system keep the wheels running while doing it in a more sustainable way?

It comes down to creating a more circular fashion system, where the textile fibers can be reused like the system of glass and plastic bottles very outspread here in Scandinavia.

Two projects under the innovation hub in Denmark Innonetlifestyle moves toward a more circular thought of fashion. The Textile Mill project and Design for Disassembly. The projects have respectively specific focus on developing technologies that can create the foundation for the recycling of textiles, as well as helping companies to transform themselves from linear to circular production.

The Textile Mill project aims to develop the technology necessary to turn to clothe into textile yarns ready to be made into textiles and clothing again. A circular textile production. A version of this technology has already been developed – however still in progress. In collaboration with Svenskt Konstsilke AB, Textilhögskolan Borås and Wargön Innovation Henry Norlin succeeded in 2014 to make a dress exclusively from cotton of ten pairs of jeans from the new technique: Re:newcell. The technique does not destroy the cellulose chains but resolves 95 percent of the cellulose content of cotton and viscose. The remains become new lyocell fibers, which can be made into new clothing. In the test case, one new dress came out of 10 pair of jeans.

I am intrigued by this thought because such a system can revive the fashion system and make it breathe more sustainably. It can underline the fashion DNA and keep the wheels running. The first and second part is equally important.

There are many unanswered questions to this system and anno 2015 it does sound a bit utopian. To start with there is the development of the technology, the ownership issue in a deposit system, waste economy, cultural barriers, and many other things. But with a great example from the bottle recycling system, it might be possible. The investment sure sounds more prosperous than trying to figure out how we can produce enough ecological cotton.

A revival of the fashion systems also begins with a better education. Lidewij Edelkoort sees a terrifying future for the next generation of fashion designers because they are trained to focus more on everything else but actual clothing and fabric. A development already experienced at the Cumulus design school VIA Design (formerly TEKO Design & business) in Denmark. As a countermove, the school is heavily investing in material and fabric knowledge. The students are learning about hand knitting machines, 3D printers, and laser technology in order to explore material and fabric. The upcoming students have also been assigned to make their own material and fabric database.

So several good initiatives are on the rise and these initiatives need support in order to lay the fundament for a better fashion system than we have today. A better fashion system from education and design to production and retail.