UAL Professorial Platform ‘Action and change: nature, design and fashion’: Professor Kate Fletcher

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University of the Arts London Professorial Platform 2020

Action and change: nature, design and fashion Professor Kate Fletcher

In 2006 when I started writing my first book about fashion and sustainability, I can categorically say, hand on heart, that I never thought that at some point in the future I’d be rifling through library shelves, seeking out dogeared copies of my books, tatty with use. Back then I never considered which pages were the most likely candidates for turned-over corners. I didn’t imagine the bookmarks or the scraps of wrapping paper wedged into the binding. I didn’t envisage that whole spreads might be marked up in different colours of highlighter pen nor did I consider the wobbly biro marks, added under the text at reading speed. But today, nearly fifteen years on, I trace my finger along the pen underlines in library copies. I pause where a word or phrase is circled; wondering why that word was the one picked out. Sometimes the marks make it feel possible to track a reader’s thought process as they track down the page. I count how many copies have broken spines. Which chapters are most thumbed? Which bits are most marked up? What sections do people skip? Back when I sent the book manuscript to the publisher, I packaged it up with hope, but with little understanding about what its life might be. Now I see that life is what it’s all about. It’s where all the action is. Life is where the work of change takes place. And after all, change is imperative. It is a rare gift for an author to see how and how much her books are used, to plot their impact. I live in gratitude for the technicolour life of my books, for their influence, for what they have gone on to do. I remember that the designer and critic Victor Papanek, when asked about what was the best way to make a difference,


replied: write a book. His advice has worked well for me. These publications have contributed to me being the most cited scholar in the field; to numerous PhDs having their roots in my work. Exhibitions have been made of my books. I have appeared on the radio, given a TED talk, delivered numerous keynotes in locations as varied as my village festival to parliament, from academic symposia in Delhi to the opening event of Copenhagen Fashion Week, many of which are heavily viewed online. I feature regularly in newspapers, design and fashion magazines, online and in print. I am in the process of trying to work out how to make some of my nature writing into theatre performance. Perhaps it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the fact that exercises like REF (the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions) tend to place less value on books than academic journals. This is done for scholarly reasons. However if impact and change in the real world is what counts, then in my experience, books are at the vanguard. It seems that they get the message out in ways that high ranking academic journals don’t. There is something it seems in their format, in their distribution, in the tradition of books as sources of knowledge, that seeds and cultivates the growth of a community of practice. I have seen how books can become agents of change in other’s lives. How a translated edition sparks the imagination of an entire country. How they enter the physical fabric of our lives, getting stuffed in a pocket, held onto by an enquiring hand and mind, becoming grafted into one another’s frameworks of understanding. I have seen how, for instance, things that I set out for the first time in Design Journeys (2008, 2014) like material diversity (and not just material


impact) and the use phase of garments are now the accepted tenets of the field. Ideas that I brought together in new combinations (like Donella Meadows work on Places to Intervene in a System applied in a fashion system context) are today regarded as natural bedfellows. These ideas and combinations of ideas have become the structure for conferences, the conceptual underpinning for a fashion week, they have provided the language for change. My books have both defined and challenged the field. They have been a gateway to international recognition and many rich and wonderful collaborations. These collaborations, like the books themselves, have sought to push the edges of knowledge and practice in the field. They have spanned design practice, ethnography, scientific analysis, research methods development, pedagogical practice, life writing, direct experience. They have linked three continents and they have examined design for sustainability, product lifetimes, slow culture, use practices, degrowth, localism, nature among others. But that was then, and this is now. We are living in precarious times that are characterized by a lack of ecological security and by planetary instability that threatens with danger. The climate emergency underscores the fact that every action counts. It seems unlikely that we have the luxury of sufficient time to write and read books. Instead we need to ask how do we support a process of rapid change in the sector we work in? How can we unleash a process of collective devising and engagement in a radical programme of action? What dœs it mean to uncover new knowledge at the same time as applying it; to simultaneously act and to understand, to empower and to change? 3

This is our new task. The evidence from the library shelves suggests that some people, at the very least, are already primed. There are those amongst us who have previously picked up a book and explored new knowledge, drawn out particular parts and sought to convey changed ideas to others outside of themselves, applying changed understanding to new contexts. The next step is to corral the group, to draw each of the individuals together as a network, and to activate it; to breathe life into the collective that will in turn be our best chance for change. This is what Extinction Rebellion has succeeded in doing. It is, to a great extent, what the work of the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion (of which I am a co-founder) dœs. In as little as one year, more than 500 researchers from over 50 countries signed up to a radical manifesto calling out the growth logic as the biggest impediment to change in the fashion sector. And then more latterly, a plan of action research authored by myself and Mathilda Tham has given this work a new focus and ideas. The plan, called Earth Logic, unfolds a programme of action which puts Earth first, before profit, before industry, before everything. As we say in Earth Logic, this is both simple and changes everything. It gives us a new logic to design by. A new logic to dress by. A new logic to love by. This shows us how we can change together. February 2020


Books: Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys (2008, 2014), London: Earthscan from Routledge With Lynda Grose, Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change (2012), London: Laurence King. Co-edited with Mathilda Tham, Routledge Handbook of Sustainability and Fashion (date), London: Earthscan from Routledge. Craft of Use: Post-Growth Fashion (2016), London: Routledge. Co-edited with Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Opening up the Wardrobe: A methods book, Oslo: Novus. Moda, design e sostenibilitรก (2018), Milano: Post Media Books. Wild Dress: Clothing and the Natural World (2019), Axminster: Uniform Books. Co-edited with Louise St Pierre and Mathilda Tham, Design and Nature: A Partnership (2019), London: Routledge. With Mathilda Tham, Earth Logic: Fashion Action Research Plan (2019), London: JJ Trust.

Bio: Kate Fletcher (PhD) is a Professor at Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London, UK. She is the most cited scholar in fashion and sustainability and her work, like that on post-growth fashion and fashion localism, both defines and challenges the field. She has written and/or edited nine books translated into seven languages. Kate is a co-founder of the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion. Her latest work is about design, nature and clothing. 5

Acknowledgements: For their support in putting together this publication, grateful thanks to Danai Tsouloufa, Katelyn Toth-Fejel, June Stockins and Louise St Pierre.

Front cover image: Danai Tsouloufa Design and lay out: June Stockins

University of the Arts London is Europe’s largest specialist art and design university and a vibrant world centre for innovation drawing together six distinctive and distinguished Colleges with international reputations in art, design, fashion, communications and performing arts: Camberwell College of Arts, Central Saint Martins, Chelsea College of Arts, London College of Communication, London College of Fashion, and Wimbledon College of Arts. Proudly associated with some of the most original thinkers and practitioners in the arts, the University continues to innovate, challenge convention, and nurture exceptional talents. One of our goals is to sustain and develop a world-class research culture that supports and informs the university’s academic profile. As a leader in the arts and design sector, we aim to clearly articulate the practice-based nature of much of our research, and in doing so to demonstrate the importance of the creative arts to scholarly research. The Professorial Platforms series is an opportunity for University colleagues and associates, as well as invited members of the public to learn more about the research undertaken in the University. The Platforms enable Professors to highlight their field of interest and the University, in turn, to recognise and commemorate their successes to date.

ISBN 978-1-906908-56-0 © Kate Fletcher 2020

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