Making Sustainable Compromise/Making Compromise Sustainable

Trying to develop, create a sustainable fashion business is an often-overwhelming task, the weight of responsibility can be crippling. I have seen it in my own practice, I have been plunged into inaction by the inability to make a decision that feels like enough. I have also seen it in students as they hit a patch of inertia as they are overwhelmed by the problems they are trying to solve or make no progress as they try to solve every problem at once.

After an off the cuff rant to a colleague (I think it started with me talking about how much patternmaking paper we use in a fashion studio) it became clear to me that compromise is the key, but compromise is not an easy option either. Even beginning a discussion about compromise asks you to question, even rate, your values and for me that meant actually needing to define my values a little better. I talk about the ‘maker’ and ‘creator’ being a part of the fashion system that needs to be cherished and celebrated, but what is it I really mean by that? What do I really feel about issues that I am not naturally (or comfortably) drawn to? I feel that like most makers I focus on what comes naturally to me, my safe and happy place is indulging in the quiet task of making.

Even the word compromise doesn’t fill me with any kind of confidence that I will be doing enough. What does compromise mean, one of the meaningsI came across was “The expedient acceptance of standards that are lower than desirable” and I also saw it referred to as a “trade off”. None of these meanings/definition sound like an inviting, grand or particularly impactful way to tackle building a sustainable micro business, personal practice or even an assignment. But easy is not really an option when you are working in sustainability. Easy is keeping the status quo, easy is to keep on buying clothing thoughtlessly, easy is closing your eyes to the issues.

So how do you start to understand your values so you can begin to make choices based on compromises that do not feel like unacceptable sacrifices. I have the luxury of having a curriculum in front of me that gaveme some starting topics and I still feel overwhelmed and am worrying that the choices I make won’t be enough or will be judged by others as frippery or unimportant (possibly even indulgent).

So for me it began with list making, and quite a bit of thinking, to end up with three things that really speak to me. While my mind map most certainly addresses issues around waste, environmental impact and themany, many other issues we face, this is where I kept ending up.

·     The celebration and reverence of the skills, techniques and craft involved in making clothing

·     The negative impact the way we currently make clothing has on individuals

·     Not losing our joy in fashion and also recognising how important clothing (fashion) is to society.

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This list speaks to me of so much more than it literally says. Holding the maker and their skills in high regard is also about cherishing clothing, caring for clothing and building structures that allow people to have long and creative careers as makers … and all of that will lead to longevity being built in to clothing. I have not been buying any new clothing for over a year now and while I always thought I looked after my garments, the thought of having to make a bra has taken my clothing to a whole new level.

And, this is where compromise starts. I will never not be drawn to the thrill of seeing a beautifully made garment and the awe I feel for the skills of the maker. Things like the way calico smells when you first iron it. My decision not to buy any new clothing has made me realise just how important the memories embedded in clothing are to me, a jacket that makes me smile has become so much more satisfying than a new purchase. But through the exploration of my values, I need to make compromises even here.

Purchasing new textiles to feed my passion for making beautiful things, no longer seems OK when on my initial list I have overproduction and relentless growth as two of the issues that do not fit in my value system. To no longer use new textiles will I be compromising design? WillI not be cherishing the amazing new, innovative and beautiful textiles coming onto the market? Which compromise sits well with my value systems? Do I create waste or not support new innovation? I do buy new textiles (often sourcing deadstock) and can justify this to myself by creating very carefully designed and crafted clothing that is made to last beyond my lifetime and having access to textile recycling (a luxury not readily available to most makers and even small businesses) through my work.

Understanding compromise and how to build a personal value system is something that as part of Sustainable Fashion Education we really need to address more, and in my case sooner, with our students, as we begin to realise that creating sustainable fashion practices will require the next generation of designers, makers and business owners to question not just what is happening in the industry but also their own values. Simply teaching our students about the issues in the industry and current techniques to address these issues will not be enough to create a generation of fashion professionals that will change our system. We require a generation of professionals that are driven by personal values leading to well informed compromises (decisions) to really make impactful change.

As an individual, I feel I need to embed thoughtful compromise into my practice and realise that the values that drive those compromises are not static. I feel that compromise, values and the actions they lead to must be an ever evolving part of my practice for me to able to still find joy in my industry.


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