“Human beings have always had a propensity toward destruction. The more we made, the more we destroyed. In making our world within the world we failed to understand what of the former was being destroyed. Once we reached sufficient numbers and gained sufficient technological muscle, destruction became devastation- which we render in both horrific material and aestheticized forms. This situation may now be called structural unsustainability.” – Fry, 2011

The above excerpt from Fry suggests that unsustainability in design exists as a fundamental part of how humans construct or design the world around them. Julier’s ‘From Design Culture to Design Activism’ identifies both the connectedness and the juxtaposition of design culture and design activism. He notes that ‘design activism has emerged as a movement, partly in response to the recent crises of neoliberalism, however it is not necessarily independent of mainstream design culture” (Julier, 2013). Design culture can be defined in relation to neoliberalism, wherein design works within and takes advantage of the economic, social and political systems of neoliberalism in order for design to function in relation to power and capital creating products and systems for profit and consumption, that eventually leads to an unsustainable design context and culture. Fry paints a bleak picture of the future and offers up a challenge for contemporary design activists, responses to the current environmental devastation is from “necessity rather than choice…the combination of the still deepening propensity toward structural unsustainability and still growing global population will certainly overwhelm current feeble efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of human actions” (Fry, 2011).

Kate Fletcher is a researcher, consultant and design activist preoccupied with the craft of use and advocating the development of an era of ‘post-growth’ fashion. The project or design initiative ‘Local Wisdom’ is a non-profit design initiative acknowledging that fashion and textiles is often preoccupied with the role of refined techniques to create quality garments, whilst the significant role and craft of use after the garment is made is undervalued or forgotten entirely. The initiative is funded by an International Network Grant from Leverhulme Trust. Fletcher engages with the idea that the lifetime of a project cannot be defined in a neoliberal sense, where client commission or “development to delivery” determines a product. The role of the design activist sees a more open-ended journey of the design of things that “goes beyond the materialization of the design” (Julier, 2013).

Image 1: Local Wisdom, a collection of photographic stories of the use of and relationship with garments from people over the world
Image 1: Local Wisdom, a collection of photographic stories of the use of and relationship with garments from people over the world

The majority of waste of a single garment comes from the use after it has been sold as a product (how it is wasted, cared for and exposed of). In order to deal with energy and resource waste, the processes of the use of the garment must be redesigned alongside the materialization and disposal of said object. Fletcher notes, “Functional innovation is concerned with delivering results with fewer resources. The core concept is that we seek the functionality or results that a product gives (clean clothes) and not the product itself (garment, detergent, washing machines etc)” (Fletcher, 2008). Fletcher’s exploration of sustainability in fashion and textiles considers design as a promoter of social, economic and political change, tackling action and change in a “complex, creative and consumer-dominated world” (Fletcher, 2008). Local wisdom as an initiative explores the ‘craft’ in using garments in resourceful and satisfying ways. Through developing connectedness with things, a sustainable way of viewing products and our relationship to products will develop and we are provided with an alternative view on provision and expression of fashion. Local wisdom through photographic stories demonstrates the life of a product or garment, the possibility of encouraging locally produced clothing, home mending skills and training of how to responsibly care for a garment. The user is thus involved with the life of the garment, the process attempts to create a shift, disconnecting fashion and textiles from neo-liberalist consumerism, reducing waste in the industry and operating as a design activist post-growth era of fashion. Through connecting fashion and craft through photographic journals or essays, the initiative is interdisciplinary merging different areas of thought to change how society consumes fashion.

  1. Julier, G. 2013 ‘From Design Culture to Design Activism’ in Design and Culture, Volume 5, Issue 2 pp215-236, Bloomsbury Publishing, viewed 27 April <;
  1. Fletcher, K 2008 Sustainable Fashion and Textiles, Design Journeys, Earthscan, UK
  1. Fry, T. 2011 ‘Introduction’ in Design as Politics, Berg Publishers
  2. Image 1: <; viewed 30th April

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