Sustainability is actually an issue of the human heart.
Photo by Paige Green / KateFletcher.com
Kate Fletcher – a design professor, author and activist – is a British fashion sustainability legend. She has fused a career as an academic at London College of Fashion – where she is Professor of Sustainability, Design and Fashion at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion – with public engagements across the world in a search for craft experiences and people’s craft stories.
Kate’s interest in sustainable fashion is a result of growing up in Liverpool during Margaret Thatcher’s stint as British prime minister; an era during which being Liverpudlian was synonymous with being anti-establishment. That political awareness, and what Kate calls her “deep love for the natural world and of fashion” have played a great role shaping her career.
Though it might seem complicated from afar, Kate’s approach to fashion is inspiringly uncomplicated and easy to take to heart. “I wear things that I like, which makes for fashion that is both pleasurable and politically charged,” Kate says. “Consumption becomes less persuasive when we feel at the centre of things; when our needs are met.”
Simplicity is a key theme: Kate argues that the reason many people don’t engage in fashion sustainability discussions isn’t because the subject is too complicated. “I think it more likely that people engage with garments emotionally, whereas sustainability issues are framed as rational,” Kate says. “So there are different thought processes – habits of mind – at play.” Yet sustainability, she points out, “is actually an issue of the human heart”.
Discussing the issues that are the most urgent in the fashion world at the moment, Kate lists “consumption; climate change; loss of biodiversity; apathy”. Her solution to the problems is straightforward: “Think.” And it’s something Kate does very much: her career has been shaped by her PhD studies, consultancy work and “a curious roaming tendency in both the real world and the world of ideas”. Kate’s work travels too: Craft Of Use – a project celebrating craft skills – is a partnership between a network of design schools, including Kate’s own academic institution, Parsons in New York, Kolding Design School in Denmark, and RMIT in Australia; all locations where fashion consumption is high. It goes hand-in-hand with another project – with the same partners – called Local Wisdom, which blends ethnography and fashion practices, telling craft stories from around the world to inspire the reuse of garments. Both are incredibly insightful and inspirational: earlier this year, some of the stories were gathered in The Craft of Use Book (available on Issuu). Outside her own projects, Kate is inspired by conversations, questions and journals like EcoTextile News. She also mentions Australian small-footprint-living publication Assemble Papers and east London ethical fashion studio HereTodayHereTomorrow among her favourite sustainability projects.
In true fashion, Kate’s advice for how to incorporate a greater awareness of this earth’s fragile ecology into everyday life is also straightforward. “Find a new way to connect to the world and the people around you,” she says. In all their simplicity, her words, research and projects could spark a revolution.
Words by Emma Lundin
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