The Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion (UCRF) was formed in 2018 by Kate Fletcher, Lynda Grose, Timo Rissanen and Mathilda Tham (in alphabetical order).
The formation of the Union was brought about by the realization that
over the last thirty years sustainability in fashion has been an industry-led
movement and as such, has been constantly framed within business, without
asking questions about the nature of business itself.
We recognized that this has severely narrowed approaches to fashion and sustainability, has widened the divide between commerce and the capacities of nature to support commercial activity and has resulted in more, not less, degradation of clothing makers and the earth.
We questioned if business was truly capable of making the changes necessary to transform the industry and saw a need to steer a smarter better debate about fashion and sustainability.
We also recognized that researchers’ tradition of: seeking out truth; critical discourse; full disclosure; ontological thought, was desperately needed, and that researchers were better equipped to hold trust for the common good and the sector more broadly (of which the industry is one part).
We aim to
provide language, action and modes of working that are precise in their
critical identification of issues and open ended in their responses,
rather than muted by corporate risk analysis and closed to all but that which
is actionable within the current sector.
UCRF is running a ‘Member of the Month’ feature on this blog, where a member, selected at random from the membership database, is sent five questions to give us all an overview of our members. Our third participant is Vinit Jain.
How would you sum up your research/practice?
I am a designer, and research has been an intrinsic part of my life. My journey as a researcher in sustainability started over a decade ago with my quest to understand and know this term and field, which led me to learn the concepts of sustainable design and Sustainable Development. This long journey continued to reinforce my understanding that fragmented views lead to contradictions and the fixed ones hinder exploration. Besides, we ought to follow the natural system as we are a part of it. My latest significant research in the field of sustainability and fashion focused on the value maximization opportunities from resources and the development of a circular business model that supports realignment of the current waste generating Apparel Consumption System (ACS) with the natural system.
How do you address fashion and sustainability in your work?
Fashion—a psychological need that has been exploited and used to accelerate consumption for economic growth which in turn has made sustainable fashion an oxymoronic phrase. I try to exercise my ability to see the things as they are, without any intrinsic or learnt biases and then connect the fragments to propose improved solutions to make sustainable fashion a reality. We all know that the fragmented solutions and quick fixes often lead to broader issues, and I try to stay away from them as much as I can while continuing to be a part of the system that is not yet regenerative.
I work in the manufacturing sector where the demands of the brands drive my work. Within those confinements, whenever I get an opportunity, I try to nudge either by doing the required or by asking the questions needed. It is indeed a slow process, but it does create ripple effects. Besides, a few years back, I started transitioning my work from physical to 3D digital design for its enormous potential to reduce the negative impacts of my work. The past six months have been excellent from the perspective of it getting wider acceptance. Besides, I finally wrote my first blog post a couple of weeks back, and I intend to continue to populate it with what I perceive.
What are the conflicts you have encountered around fashion and sustainability in your work?
There is an apparent duality in my work; hence the conflicts are bound to be there. The one that bothers me the most is the demand to create better products but at the same or lower cost. Apart from that, here are some other broader yet critical ones that I believe not only me but many of us concerned researchers encounter:
-The conflict between desire and the ability to act
-The fragmented use of SDGs for strategy development
-The conversations about consumption reduction and job protection but without considering required changes in the business model and the prevailing system
-The fragmented efforts to improve the performance of the industry but without addressing discount culture, and changing business model and the economic system
-The talks, measures, and commitments to accelerate the implementation of the circular economy but with almost negligible attention on building capacity to turn used material in new products (upcycling) before recycling it.
What do you consider the key sources and cases when it comes to fashion and sustainability?
SDGs provide a broad base to explore and begin. It is hard to point at one or a few out of so many critical seminal and academic works of literature that address different aspects of fashion and sustainability .
Could you recommend some less known sources or cases you think should be more widely shared?
I find the weekly blog posts of GOBLU a comprehensive news source to keep me updated with the efforts and happenings related to fashion and sustainability across the globe.
What do we call a word glossary with an aim to change systems?
Words. We use them so freely. We use them every day to
communicate. But words are not mere descriptors. They are part of a
journey that indicates our history and has a power to foretell our future. Language
matters. Words affect us. They empower us. They educate us. They have the
power to trigger change. We create a vocabulary with these
Since April this year, some of our members have taken
the task of compiling a living word book of terms we use in fashion every day.
Though the primary language of this compendium is English, we are delving into
the origin of such words, in different native languages used by our members
too. Do share your comments on this task.
What would we call the product of an exercise of this nature …?
UCRF Companion to Systems Change UCRF Companion of Fashion Keywords UCRF Keywords of Systems Change Clavis: UCRF Companion of Systems Change in Fashion* *Clavis – a key or glossary serving as an aid to interpretation
UCRF Board is happy to draw the UCRF membership’s attention to a recently (soon to be) launched campaign, PayUp Fashion. UCRF supports PayUp Fashion because it outlines a new roadmap for worker engagement, developed by the workers themselves.
because it outlines a new vision for the fashion industry that centers
garment worker voices, elevates worker rights as the centerpiece of fashion’s
rebuild, and lays out concrete, actionable steps for change developed by the
PayUp Fashion is the next phase of the highly successful #PayUp
campaign, which won $20 billion for garment workers from brands and retailers
who cancelled orders since March. This new phase of the campaign amplifies the
often overlooked and dismissed voices of workers and demands that brands and
retailers not just #PayUp, but also commit to living wages, transparency
binding agreements, and to ensuring that workers have a seat at the table when
supply chain issues are discussed and negotiated.
In doing so, PayUp Fashion displaces the dominance of industry-led marketing for sustainability and broadens the public’s understanding of what a transformed fashion industry could look like and how to get there.
UCRF has long questioned the capacity of brand lead
actions to truly transform the fashion sector. Who better than the
workers themselves, to develop a new roadmap for worker engagement?