From Knitwear Technology to Lighting up Embroidery

I was very excited to see the sustainability section of Keyhouse, being that my first love has always been the Earth. On the first day of Munich Fabric Start, I had the privilege to meet Yevheniia “Jane” Luchko, a knitwear designer studying with HTW in Berlin. I had seen her designs during our preparations, and I had been waiting to see the human behind them.

Jane’s obvious passion for her knitwear dresses inspired me in less than a second, as I watched her quietly weaving on a knitting machine. I could see she was in her “flow”, as positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would say.

HTW is one of the largest universities in Berlin, with a well-attended fashion program offering bachelors and masters degrees. I reached out to Thu Thao Nguyen, a professor at the school, to learn more about what HTW offers their design students. She told me, “The combination of traditional craftsmanship and innovative technology in an interdisciplinary way is a huge benefit which our students value a lot. Further, we provide them regularly with newsletters about job offers, fashion events and fashion competitions.”

From Knitwear Tech to Embroidery

Jane’s interpretation of Marco Polo 2067: Model: Lucie Plaumann Photography: MS Designer: Yevheniia Luchko

Jane’s embroideries are an exploration of color, with her Ukrainian heritage spilling out from the details. I asked her about her design process, and what inspires her to create her knitwear by hand. Jane said she takes the approach of late designer Alexander McQueen, who famously once said, “I never look at other people’s work. My mind has to be completely focused on my own illusions.” Jane takes inspiration from within herself, and within the Earth around her. She goes hiking often and illustrates a wide range of flowers and plants in intricate detail. She then replicates the drawings into her embroidery, mimicking nature as she knits and sews.

Next, she’s looking for embroidery thread that glows. The Munich Fabric Start Keyhouse gave her the perfect place to talk with contacts from the recent collaboration between StatexMadeira, and Zsk. She plans to dabble in conductive yarns, to give light to the delicate details of her embroidered flowers and leaves.

We also spoke about the creativity found in university collaborations such as HTW and Marco Polo’s 2067, which was being displayed at Munich Fabric Start. I was captivated by the light in her eyes as she spoke about this opportunity. There is something to be said about the passion students feel when they’re surrounded by innovation and pushed to problem solve. There’s a feeling of having the world literally at your fingertips, and you feel as if your brain could open up at any moment and the entire universe could pour in.

Nguyen weighed in on this too by saying, “Young designers, although still students or already alumni, will always benefit from their very versatile education at HTW Berlin where they got the chance to gain practical and creative skills, always up-to-date. That prepares them for the fashion industry and highly increases their chances to get a job as a young designer. The positive feedback from cooperation partners and employers of the fashion industry prove that. Networking is essential to us.”

I’m excited to see what Jane’s imagination creates next using glowing or conductive yarns, with the knitwear knowledge she’s gained from HTW’s program and resources. As the space for conductive clothing grows, I’m confident her designs will continue to inspire others with the passion she’s knitting into each piece.

Connecting Innovators and Industries at Munich Fabric Start

While at Munich Fabric Start, I had the opportunity to talk with a lot of people and I noticed a common theme, the lack of communication between traditional fashion industries, and wearable technology innovators. The thing is long-standing fashion houses have yet to embrace technology implementation into their age-old designs. They typically claim that their heritage doesn’t support it. Maybe they feel adding technology to their collections would be too far outside their brand identity, and they’d lose their core clients.

Even if they do allow one or two devices within a collection, it’s never new enough for the wearable tech space to care. Likewise, wearables innovators are so far ahead of the fashion houses of the 20th century; they aren’t looking back. Doris Hofmann, a freelance designer under her brand Design Mob who I met at the Keyhouse, on her frustration with these big brands, said it best when she said, “Communication between innovators and these brands are stuck in a Snow White slumber.”

A Better Cycle for Connections

Unaffected, the sustainability, alternative materials, and technology spaces have continued to merge. Maybe mainstream fashion houses are beginning to feel guilty about the amount of environmental degradation brought on by their obsession with fast fashion, so they group these spaces and cast them off collectively. I see alternative material innovators, like MycoTex, actually being the closest replacement for fast fashion brands. The idea behind MycoTex is to replace our traditional fabrics with mycelium-based textiles, which of course do not last forever. Opposite of the slow fashion movement, the idea is to integrate more sustainable materials with fast fashion consumer behaviour, whereas most other sustainable brands are trying to change consumer behaviour. The concept of using mycelium will most likely seem absurd to many large corporations, but the actual return on investment would be very high if they could wrap their brains around the idea.

“IF A COMPANY DOESN’T HAVE A DEPARTMENT FOR INNOVATION, WHO IS IN CHARGE OF THIS TOPIC? CHANCES ARE, NOBODY!”

I don’t want to point the finger at these mega brands for their lack of trust in the startups creating new ways to think about fashion. For every successful startup, there are a thousand more that have lost their way. Investors need a great deal of return to be enticed. There must be some amount of proven results from the beginning of any partnership. So the majority of European fashion investors are not looking for wearable tech designers. But the fact is, many luxury brands are greying, and losing touch with the reality of the state of fashion.

In America, Ralph Lauren is trying to remain relevant by promoting sportswear, and relaunching their “preppy chic” look, which hasn’t changed since women started wearing pants. Their new iteration of the Ricky handbag featuring an LED light and USB cord for charging debuted in 2014. We haven’t seen much in the way of technology on the retail level since. (In fact, they still want us to rave about it nearly four years later.) However, they do supply USA’s Olympic team with some pretty cool tech-infused, overly patriotic gear, but sadly they never provide an iteration at the retail level. Hofmann also noted this point by adding, “If a company doesn’t have a department for innovation, who is in charge of this topic? Chances are, nobody!”

How to Make Change

We as innovators must take it upon ourselves to bridge the gap between the traditional fashion mindsets and alternative materials researchers. Wearables are more central between both schools of thought and have a better chance at impacting the fashion industry as a whole. More channels of communication need to be implemented between these industries for sustainability ever to become mainstream. Only through cooperation, will we be able to shift fast fashion to use alternative materials that are better for the environment. Less demonizing of fashion is necessary to do this. Of course, as a long-time promoter of sustainability and an environmentalist, it’s hard for me to write this perspective. Yet I believe it is partly the cause of the lack of connection between wearable startups and the deep pockets of the fashion industry.

When any industry is divided, it will never be as successful as it could be. For the sake of the Earth, we just don’t have the time to get stuck in the politics of these industries. Our days here are numbered. It’s up to everyone in the technology space to facilitate this communication for everyone’s success. Only with collaboration will we create lasting change, to impact generations to come.

What If We Could Trace Fibers From Roots To Retail?

In recent years, it has become more apparent how damaging the fashion industry is to the environment. Therefore discussions about textile standards, in terms of sustainable fashion, and the exploration of new technologies like the blockchain all sound very promising, but what if we could simplify the process of finding out the footprint of our garments.

Sustainable Fashion and Accountability

Some consumers may be satisfied with reading the label on their clothes. Others may look to standards organizations like GOTS or ISO, to learn more about the supply chains of their favorite brands. But we still don’t have scientific evidence to show exactly where a garment has come from. We can track its footprint from a seed to the shelf with various stages of reporting, but we do not have hard science to show for our tracking. If a technology was developed to do this, it would quickly impact the level of sustainability within the fashion industry. It could probably spread to other industries as well.
 

Imagine a Fiber Testing Kit, that any consumer could purchase, bring home to their closet, and run a quick analysis on their favourite t-shirt. Anyone with the ability to test the fiber, theoretically, could hold companies accountable for their sourcing practices. An invention like this could be highly disruptive to the fashion industry, especially pertaining to the ongoing battle between ethical apparel and fast-fashion. Having the ability to know where a piece of clothing has been throughout its lifetime could be fascinating. Where were the fibers grown? Where was the product manufactured? Whose hands created the stitches? What if we could track the DNA of fabric?

ALSO READ: 5 Sustainable Fabric Innovators to Watch Out For 

Over 40 years ago, DNA profiling was developed by British-born Sir Alec Jeffreys, a geneticist and professor at the University of Leicester. Across the pond in California, biochemist Dr Kary Mullis, learned how to link and repeat DNA (polymerase chain reaction or PCR), while trying to find the point of genetic mutations for hereditary diseases. Both extraordinary minds made incredible breakthroughs for our knowledge and understanding of the human genome. DNA testing was implemented into law enforcement’s forensic teams within two years of the discoveries and has since been used worldwide to prove criminal acts, as well as exonerate innocent suspects.Molecular Tagging

Since 1983, millions of people have benefitted from the ability to profile our DNA. Our knowledge of genetic linkages has led to countless family members being reunited, even posthumously. Millions more have been able to learn about their ethnicities, histories, and heritages through ancestry tracking. Yet often, we still think of DNA profiling most closely linked to evidence in criminal proceedings.
 
In fact, many fibers are traceable through the forensic analysis as well. Analysts determine if the thread is natural, manufactured, or mixed. They can usually identify the product it came from–A rug? A sweater? This is again often used by law enforcement and prosecutors to seek justice for crimes. Fiber forensic analysis is usually debated in court due to the mass of products created. 
 
The amount of production of a particular manufactured fiber and its end use, influence the degree of rarity of a given fiber. Unlike a fingerprint, there is no way to tell two fibers of the same origin apart. Fiber forensics can only be used as evidentiary support to corroborate other facts. Yet, why has this technology not expanded to track fibers for sustainability and ethics?
Molecular tagging of genes can identify and verify products creating a forensic proof of origin for more sustainable fashion.
What if we could trace fibers back to their origins? What if we could geographically pinpoint precisely where a thread was grown, what animals were involved, or what fertilisers were used? We could deduct which workers had a hand in the production or manufacturing process based on what specific area in the world our fibers were from. In a world of ever-growing technological advancements, this could be a logical next step in ensuring more sustainable supply chains.

Molecular Tagging to Reveal the Footprint 

Sustainable Fashion
Image Credits: Adrien Ledoux
Applied DNA Sciences has come the closest to creating this process for identifying fibers called “molecular 
tagging”. They tag fibers by matching batches to origins already known. Once a supplier is tested and proven to be sustainable, SigNature(™)T technology can then continue to tag future batches.
 

Although this gene tagging method may not be able to track individual fibers from anywhere in the world yet, many sustainable fashion organizations have mapped out the production process for consumers. MADE-BY, a non-profit organization dedicated to the fashion industry’s environmental and social conditions, has laid out a seed-to-shelf roadmap. MADE-BY works with sustainable brands to standardize the production process, highlight industry leaders, and mainstream sustainability advancements. Over 50 industry experts consulted on the typical methods, and six large fashion brands have now joined, including G-Star and Ted Baker.

Another of their worthy goals is to entice consumers to learn more about the manufacturing side of where their garments come from. This is an incredible endeavor on behalf of all the hard-working individuals who have created and advanced MADE-BY. However, the system still hinges on individuals throughout the production and manufacturing process to record a variety of their activities. It would be an incredible advancement if we could back up these activities with concrete evidence. The fiber testing system could back up these organization’s endeavors by proving their process is safe, environmental, and sustainable. The movement to create transparent supply chains would suddenly be so much easier to for companies to subscribe to.

Insights into Your Closet

Imagine walking into your closet, picking a tiny thread from your favorite shirt, and learning exactly where in the world it came from. Maybe the test shows what dye was used and geographically defines where the color came from too. Perhaps it shows specifics of which animals contributed to the process, like silkworms, sheep, goats, etc. Maybe it shows you what types of fertilizers were used in the growth process of cotton fibers. Maybe it shows that the water used in the dying process is from an entirely different part of the world than what’s found on the label.

This process could show us much more of our supply chains than we see today. Maybe we could know where all our products were originally grown or developed. The real question is, would we want to know? What if your favorite sustainable fashion brands are advertising their garments that were made in the last country the manufacturing took place in. All without accounting for the multiple countries that garment went through before reaching the final stage of the manufacturing process. If you could test the fibers at home, would you buy from this brand again? Suddenly, the power would be pushed back into the consumers’ hands, to make accurate decisions based on evidence and not just on marketing or advertising.

Theories and Predictions

Theories on Culture

Every culture has differences, as shown in Human, a film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Each individual has their own needs, goals, and hardships. Proving we all have the ability to create, to preserve, and to evolve. However, vast economic inequality creates winners and losers. For the global South, the terms of the global market are not in the interests of preservation of humanity. Instead, as Emmanuel Wallerstein suggests, nations with lower gross domestic product are economically dependent on the top producing countries.

In many instances, Neocolonialism still holds a firm grasp on development efforts in poor countries. If we focused on localization and created trade networks through social media channels, societies could have the ability to focus on preserving their heritage through economic growth. There are various factors working against heritage preservation, but with the rise of the information age, one of the biggest factors is that heritage preservation efforts have almost no way of accumulating any capital. In terms of heritage arts, they simply cannot be produced without any demand.

Max Weber’s Theories

Max Weber spent his life analyzing capitalism. As he grew out of the industrial revolution, he had witnessed the aristocracies of his time, as he watched them be replaced by the bosses of the new capitalist economic system. He believed the spirit of capitalism was a direct result of Protestantism and Calvinism. He viewed followers of these religions as bearing an immense amount of shame, assuming anxious positions to please the judging eye of a silent monolith. Weber’s writings on the Protestant Work Ethic stated that Protestants value working hard as a way to please their god. This ideology translates into Protestants working continuously; earnest to prove their holiness.

Protestantism blend in Capitalism

Unlike Catholics, Protestants believed any profession could be holy. As long as it is done “in the name of God”, and with a lot of hard work. Weber viewed these ideologies, along with the Protestant belief that there are no miracles. The perfect concoction for capitalism to take root. Through hard work, and the absence of miracles, people began to rely more heavily on science. This led to breakthroughs in technology, which furthered industrialization and the ability to make more products faster. In time, this process created consumerism in humans. As well as climate degradation on the Earth. One can see an obvious path back to Weber’s analysis.

If Weber were alive today, he would undoubtedly argue against economic foreign aid. He would argue that economic capitalist intervention will never work in societies with traditionally different societal structures and religions. Could this be true? Research suggests societies without this inherent anxiousness, one may not adapt well to capitalism. In fact, societies dictated by any strict religious principles other than Protestantism, would probably not achieve capitalism with the same amount of economic “success”. However, in order to view the U.S. version of capitalism as successful, one must disregard the countless lives lost to the industrialization of peripheral countries.

Modern Take on Capitalism

In Thomas Piketty’s, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, he states, “Modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge have made it possible to avoid the Marxist apocalypse but have not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality—or in any case not as much as one might have imagined in the optimistic decades following World War II.”

I agree with this point about the diffusion of knowledge. In fact, without the internet completely changing the landscape of the global market, one could theorize that the downfall of capitalism would have already happened. Yet it will be our adaptability, and willingness to evolve, that will save or destroy nations on the brink of change.

What’s Next

Currently, our society can easily relate to the research and predictions of Marx and Weber. Marx offered a fair prediction of consumerism and it’s hold on society. Our proof he was right lies in the countless brawls of Black Friday sales, and the “fashion hauls” of white teenage girls on Youtube.com. However, the real question remains; how does this negatively effect our human qualities? Since it is proven that some people are so poor, all they have is money, is it too late to stop consuming?

 

 

“Frugality is founded on the principal that all riches have limits.”

-Edmund Burke

Preserving Heritage Arts in a Consumer Industry

Research

Kiowa Girl, portrait by Edward S. Curtis

Identity and cultural heritage are two topics I have been intrigued to research. I’ve wondered, how can we continue preserving our heritage in an ever-changing world? Especially, when it comes to fast fashion. I realized how relevant identity is after reading the work of Karl Marx. Although, not all of his predictions have played out yet, some striking evidence of his theories proved true in the film True Cost. The film made me think of my own career goals in the fashion industry. I want to create a way to equip designers and artisans in the developing world to be able to innovate and collaborate with one another.

I aspire to build an online platform for a designer showroom. It could be my way of preserving international artisans by displaying their work. Work in this field is already being done. Organizations like Social Tailor, retailers like People Tree, and a myriad of social media activists already are doing their part.

Then I realized, if we continue down this path of constant work, Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic, is aiding emerging designers in developing countries actually helping or hindering their society? Which internal faults has our society developed due to capitalism, consumerism, and the fetishism of commodities? What affects have consumerism had on our society? If Marx was right about the consumerism, how should social entrepreneurs respond?

I love researching heritage and the preservation of indigenous designs. Many of my career goals are fashion focused, which is why cultural heritage intrigues me. Thus, researching why and how to promote preservation ideals furthers a deeper understanding of my personal goals. Historically, clothing has been worn as a symbol of identity, which is why I chose to focus my research on historic costume.

Photographer in the West

In the early 1900s, photographer Edward S. Curtis created a commercial photography project highlighting the importance on Native American heritage rituals and costume. Curtis said, “The passing of every old man or woman means the passing of some tradition, some knowledge of sacred rites possessed by no other. Consequently the information that is to be gathered, for the benefit of future generations, respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost for all time.”

Curtis was urged to capture on film the great life of Native Americans, because his research predicted their severe loss of heritage. His photographs served as a small way of preserving the Native American lifestyle. Efforts like this happen all over the world, but the driving factor in heritage preservation is the sense of loss. Humans want to remember their history because it gives them a sense of belonging. If we cannot remember our history, we risk repeating our mistakes.

Eco-Fashion Blogs

Top 5 Best Eco-Fashion Blogs of 2017

Recently, I read a post by Charlie Ross of the Offset Warehouse, focusing on eco-fashion and ethical fashion blogs. I noticed a few of my favorite fashion blogs in the list they had. Check out the following links to find ethical and sustainable fashion vibes!

  1. Ecouterre: As the world’s first ethical and sustainable fashion blog, my list couldn’t be complete without them. If you’re new to the game, and trying to learn how to embrace a slow fashion lifestyle, here’s a good place to start. Ecouterre is chic, while it covers all the bases of conscious style.

  2. Eco Warrior Princess: This neat a tidy blog is perfectly curated. It’s aimed at readers want to make conscious purchases when they can, and who believe in choosing eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyles. Eco Warrior Princess provides resources for new ethical bloggers as well.

  3. The Conscience Collective: This blog looks for the ethics in brands, as well as showcasing their uniqueness. They focus on innovative designers, and always publish new hacks for a conscious lifestyle.

  4. The Fashion Hedge: If you’re looking for strategy and brand development inspiration, this is your blog. Check out the Fashion Hedge to begin embracing an ethical lifestyle. As you change over your closet, kitchen, cleaning products, and everything else you realize can be more sustainable, this blog can serve as a guide.

  5. Green Issues by Agy: I may have saved the best for last. If you’re looking for a new project, and ready to get your hands dirty, this blog will inspire you to no end. Agy, a passionate textile artist, reminds us to come back down to Earth. Check out this blog for constant updates on upcycles. Making something new is so much better than buying something new!

 

Fashion + Function

Fashion Takes on a New Role

Fashion should have a functional twist. In China, some of the worst air pollution in the world is found surrounding cities. Chinese designers are realizing they must produce protective fashion to sustain their urban lifestyles. Beautiful new innovations of fashion with functionality are popping up every day. Fashion finally meets function, as if function is the new black. Climate change is affecting us all more and more. As our climate changes, we must protect ourselves with fashion.

 

Special Edition Masha Ma mask available on Yoox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out www.yoox.com for more fashion, art and design. Look for #consciousconsumerism at Yoox in their conscious collection page, here.

Learn more from @Liz_Flora here at Jing Daily!