Planetary systems are under threat. Fashion and clothing products and activities contribute to the destruction of these systems. They also contribute to the increasing disconnection between humans and Earth.
We, the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion, recognise that the response of the fashion sector to the intensifying ecological crisis has been – and continues to be – over-simplified, fragmented and obstructed by the growth logic of capitalist business models as they are currently realized and practiced. Further we recognize that uncritical research findings, duplication of research, reduction and misuse of scientific and technical knowledge reinforces and speeds up this over-simplified condition in the fashion industry.
It is our view that concerned fashion and clothing researchers can no longer remain uninvolved or complacent and that as researchers, we need to conduct ourselves in new ways. We call on fashion researchers to unite for concerted action and leadership over the use of scientific and artistic knowledge that is more relevant to and commensurate with the multiple crises we face. For us this action requires both that something fundamental is disrupted and something significantly different is offered. We are committed to examining and accelerating the uptake of diverse ‘other ways’ in the fashion sector.
The Union of Concerned Researchers proposes to:
Create an ‘activist knowledge ecology’, that is, to develop a system of knowledge about fashion sustainability that is concerned with how knowledge is organised and shared as well as the data points themselves, and to direct such a system purposefully towards fostering change;
Advocate for whole systems and paradigm change, beyond current norms and business-as-usual. This includes rejecting overly-cautious economic, legislative and policy frameworks;
Diversify the voices within fashion and sustainability discourse, to reflect multiple perspectives beyond the dominant business approaches presented, including but not limited to the global south and indigenous communities;
Express our determined opposition to ill-advised and destructive fashion projects;
Formulate visions—and corresponding research practices—that allow for the possibility of enacting new relationships between humans and Earth in the context of fashion;
Take a leadership role in debating existing and new ideas and creating action around fashion-sustainability themes, especially in areas where the generation of new knowledge is of actual or potential significance;
Devise means for turning research applications towards the underlying root causes of pressing environmental and social problems, including but not limited to climate change, wealth inequality, biodiversity loss, and plastic pollution;
Organise, when determined desirable and feasible, fashion researchers to translate radical step change into effective political, and other, action;
Review and revise, when deemed necessary, this manifesto.
The Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion’s founding document is its manifesto. This, our rallying call to like-minded individuals, invites people to support the Union by putting their name to the manifesto and saying why these actions matter. Their responses speak volumes. Last year, shortly after founding the Union, we published an initial selection. Here is an inspiring selection from more recently joined members:
“My interest, passion and occupation is in sustainable fashion. I am very concerned about animal welfare, pollution of and depletion of the natural environment, human population explosion and its impact upon the Earth’s finite resources and finely balanced natural systems, and ultimately the survival of the biosphere including human and all species. To be involved in the endeavours of UCRF, even if only by way of membership would be a great honour.”
“Our relationship with clothes – their design, production, use, care and disposal – needs to change fundamentally. Sustained collaborative effort is necessary to lead the debate, provoke action and make the need for change vastly more apparent to more people more quickly. I’d like to join with others in this work.”
“First, because I agree with the principles – as a fashion teacher and researcher I work towards fairer, better, less damaging ways of producing and using clothes. Second, because I want to stand with colleagues seeking to galvanise action in this area, rather than being a researcher-bystander. Third – I am never wholly certain of the paths I take in my research and teaching, partly because all paths seem to curl back into sustaining the unsustainable. So it would be great to connect with others who may also struggle with this, even if uncertainty seems a bit of a dodgy reason for signing a manifesto.”
“I want a peaceful future for my children and many more generations to come. I am concerned for the planet and all of its inhabitants because of the impact humans have had on the environment and its change of climate. I would like to see less suffering and more equality for all who live here. Being a sustainable fashion advocate gives me purpose in my daily activities and continues to challenge me creatively and continually inspires me. My work is in fashion because I love textiles and design and the many ways we as individuals can express ourselves, sharing our ideas and stories. I believe there is no need for over-consumption and we all need to take responsibility for our actions and demand that our politicians do the same.”
“I am opposed to the never-ending quest for economic growth, and the exploitation of our earth and our people in the name of fashion (and other things). We are smart enough when we work collectively and share ideas, to come up with new models and systems to redesign how we make and use clothes so that people, communities our planet and all its ecosystems can flourish.”
“I am signing (on Black Friday, coincidentally) because consumers are both being misled by companies’ greenwashing and being manipulated into over-consumption, all of which is in effect condoned by our governments – whilst the future of planet Earth is in jeopardy. As a fashion lawyer, my fervent wish at this critical point is for stringent regulation of the fashion industry. As a consumer and brief resident of planet Earth, I want to see a radical shift in our relationship with nature and how we value our goods. I have decided to dedicate my professional life to contributing, in however small a way, to the creation of a different system where Mother Nature takes centre stage, and where decisions in the political and business spheres are made on the basis of a sound approach and actionable information – I believe this will collectively set us on a better path.”
“We need to join forces.”
“I agree with the manifesto and I think that we must act to protect life and future by showing the connections between fashion and living systems.”
“Fashion can not continue to be a cause of global pollution and human suffering. The fashion system is in dire need of reformation. If fundamental change is not instigated by the fashion industry, it has to be brought forth through the protest of professionals in the field.”
“In order to accelerate the necessary paradigm shifts in (over)production and (over)consumption of fashion, all participants in the process must change behaviours, assumptions and practices. This does not have to equate to the end of fashion, but the end of the current fashion system, and the implementation of radical ideas that can also be delightful and regenerative.”
“I am responsible for the education of young people, bring ethical and environmental issues connected to fashion production to their attention. I seek to transfer curiosity about alternative economic systems to capitalism, activism against consumption and political consciousness about the world. I work in an environment where sustainability is at the centre of our teaching, research and engagement with communities. I believe in university teachers’ ethical conduct in their daily lives and as examples for their students.”
“I want to hear garment worker voices in conversations related to responsible fashion and apparel, and I feel that this community has a responsibility to hold space for these voices. I am concerned that efforts for transparency (“seeing” and “knowing” workers) border on voyeurism and poverty porn. The lens is designed for a Western gaze, and power relations are not often considered. Research has long since told us these strategies are problematic; this is not a new take. And yet, here we are. I am therefore signing this manifesto because I am interested in research, projects, and movements, which are not afraid to confront root causes, and those which aim to include and understand garment worker voices as nuanced, distinct, and complex. We must challenge ourselves to avoid recycling problematic narratives which position Western stakeholders as saviour to the problems facing this planet, and to the challenges faced by those most impacted by them.”
“The rights of indigenous people and traditional creative communities should be part of the sustainability discourse in fashion. Identifying the limits between appreciation and appropriation requires a re-calibration of the moral compass and a detachment from the capitalist mindset that is dominating the industry. I see fashion as a form of education. Traditional garments, traditional identity designs and traditional manufacturing techniques are complex sources of knowledge and communicate values, identity and beliefs. I founded the Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative as a support platform for artisans as custodians and transmitters of traditional knowledge. Often seen as simply skilled labour force and victims of cultural design plagiarism, artisans are cultural sustainability agents. Cultural sustainability means successful transmission of traditional knowledge to future generations. Fashion is an extraordinary medium for achieving this noble goal.”
On 29th February, a UCRF Local Assembly took place in Melbourne, Australia. The group sent the following list of keywords as part of its Communiqué back to the Union at large and a summary, available to download as a pdf. Much gratitude to the Melbourne participants and to Ania and Alia for facilitating!
KEYWORDS, group 1:
End of Capitalism; Down scale/ Slow Down; De-Growth; Movement; Leadership- charisma and power; Government Policy – advocacy; Changing perceptions.
KEYWORDS, group 2:
Values; Planet and people put ahead of profit; Symbiocene; Atonement; Decolonialisation; Complete Animal Liberation; Feminisms; Mutual Responsibility.
KEYWORDS, group 3:
Localism; New roles and Practices; Disruption of current system; Multi- stakeholder participation- beyond fashion silos; Inclusivity; Food waste as innovative materials.
Some days on the digital battlefields are tougher than others. This year, the engaged contributors to the UCRF Wikipedia Editathon ran into some over-zealous encyclopedia editors in a struggle over correct citation forms and phrasing. However, as the dust settled, substantive improvements are now abundant, not least more references to peer-reviewed research and links to new sources.
As a contributor, one has to accept that Wikipedia is a work-in-progress, especially sections on rapidly evolving and controversial fields such as fashion. However, as the site is the first go-to source for people curious of topics new to them, Wikipedia remains one of the most important databases for connecting to scientific research. We would encourages members to add references and links to research articles and other sources on Wikipedia, to better help disseminate a more nuanced and science-based debate around sustainability. If you feel sources are missing on Wikipedia, please add them to help move the field forward!
To activate change, it is good to have your presence noticed in the wider community. It is also powerful to have symbols and processes for like-minded people to gather around. At UCRF, and inspired by labour and trades unions, some members at Parsons made a banner a few months ago to take on climate protests. As the photo shows, the banner of the Parsons-chapter got a rather eccentric touch.
Why not make your own banner? The UCRF Board encourages members to consider making a banner, stickers or badges. It has been our experience that the production of union insignia not merely functions as a symbolic event, but encourages a spirit of collaboration, shared reflection and community building.
As a start, we have made a simplified UCRF logo so that it can be used for embroidery, badges etc in a zipped folder HERE. Also included are the source files for the union text and logo and we encourage members to design and craft their own member insignia. It is our hope this could offer a very basic tool towards wider collaborations between union members, together with the upcoming yearly Wikipedia editathon and the production of our collaborative glossary. Note the name of the font used in the UCRF logo is “Amster.”