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.
April 24, 2022, marks nine years since the devastating Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The artwork ‘A Recipe for Disaster’ by Safa El Samad is part of Sent by Sophie Lanigan; it is also viewable here. It invites reflection on the global fashion system: what has changed since the tragedy, what remains, and in what ways must we remain vigilant?
The UCRF board thanks Sophie Lanigan and Safa El Samad for their important work and for the permission to republish ‘A Recipe for Disaster’ here.
The theme for Earth Day this year is “Invest in Our Planet”. This seems very fitting, considering how the world’s economy has shifted and changed over the course of the past couple of years. With a pandemic sweeping all nations across the globe, it is imperative to take an in-depth look at how our priorities, from a climate and human context, have witnessed massive transformations because investing is not merely monetary.
Mother Earth and her
wellbeing are slowly but surely making their way to centre stage. Although new
obstacles, in the form of greenwashing and faux transparency will continue to
emerge, we must acknowledge that these are weak attempts for distractions.
Think of it like a Band-Aid covering an open wound, works for a short amount of
time and is no way efficient. As a matter of fact, it is a momentary illusion.
Therefore, silence makes us accomplices to the atrocious greed of capitalism,
which we must move against.
In terms of making,
promoting and selling, the fashion industry business climate is undergoing a
facelift, that remains imperfect. UCRF recognises the dire need of a direct,
honest and realistic response plan from the fashion industry, to minimise the
normalised ecological damage and blatant human exploitation. Business practices
and manufacturing processes need to be questioned, debated and updated. It is
by embracing science and listening to all of the lives involved and impacted,
that the possibility of change increases.
Although we are running
out of time to stay atop of the global climate crisis, this Earth Day begs to
ask how are we willing to invest in it today. Connecting to our roots and
looking back at our ancestors, will allow us to rediscover nature from behind
the fog of capitalism, making it an effective catalyst for collective action
and redirection of funds.
A twist on the usual UCRF Local Assembly format, this themed Local Assembly concentrated on textile fibers. Points for discussion could be tabled by any UCRF member in advance or raised on the day.
Theme: Textile fibres, key themes and challenges.
20 minutes to discuss each theme. Participants: 10.
Question 1, submitted by membership: How can we, in our expert organization, act against pesticides export for global south cotton plantations?
The assembly quickly realized how little we know and understand around this issue, even if some present had delved into the theme from different vantage points. Thus, it is difficult to recommend actual interventions. Could our recommendations anyway quickly become seen as a top-down approach rather than a bottom up one? Taking the local growing systems more seriously, engaging in the power dynamics were suggested. But all in all, we wondered: How can we actually help? Suggestions welcome.
Question 2: Ease of fit made possible through adding ‘stretch’ – which inherently is a problematic fiber mix – how do we move beyond convenience?
The lack of fit for clothing is one of the three main reasons for clothes going out of use, and with the ready-made industry’s lack of good sizing, one ‘quick fix’ to alleviate the problem is adding a percentage of spandex into the material mix. This, however, decreases the possibility of recycling and shortens the life-span of clothing, as the spandex has a short life-span. In other sectors, not textiles, there is an on-going discussion how to develop waste-stream systems that capture the materials for biodegrading (outside of industrial composting), if and when one uses biodegradable alternatives. If the EU decides in PEF to add criteria for repairability, one could suggest that spandex becomes a no-go for all textiles, as it makes any material impossible to repair. The only exceptions would be products such as compression tights and sports-bras. This would force a re-think. It was discussed that obtaining “good” and comfortable fit in garments of woven textiles without 1-3% elastane requires a more detailed design, patternmaking, and sampling process at minimum, if not a thorough revision of “standard” sizing to better accommodate differences in body shape. Currently, the “give” of elastomeric fibres conveniently overcomes poor fit to the individual body, facilitating the rapid production of large volumes of identical goods for diverse populations.
Question 3: What does a future without synthetic fibers look like?
As some of the present could remember a time when synthetic fibers did not permeate our lives, it was easier to paint the picture for some than others. Make a list of what apparel we can accept the use of synthetics in – only where the properties are really needed – and also perhaps develop a strategy that identifies why choices are made: Is it because the material is cheaper? As oil and gas companies are ‘no longer drilling for energy, but for plastics’, it’s a question of keeping an eye on who stands to gain here. As the association between circularity and growth, and synthetics is so close, how can we break this ‘truth’, as synthetics in a circular system inevitably leak. So we need to say ‘no new plastics’ enter into the system, perhaps put forward Michael Braungart’s ‘from now on, only accept synthetics made from captured greenhouse gases’. This would bring the price-point up to the level of the most expensive natural raw materials and therefore ‘even the playing field’. https://www.voguebusiness.com/sustainability/can-fashion-crack-carbon-negative-fabrics There is also an emerging idea of a fiber diet (explored in https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-88300-3_7
Question 4: How can we collectively act to build more criticality into EU’s PEF?
During the morning, some of the participants had been in a workshop arranged by the European Environmental Bureau for NGOs on PEF and LCA methodology. As the critique that was raised during the workshop was not really picked up on by the moderator (who also leads the technical working group for apparel and footwear in PEF), this was a disconcerting experience that in many ways how-cases the lack of democratic process and the level of bureaucracy inherent. (The session was taped, so we can share it at a later date, but here is Veronica Bates Kassatly’s contribution https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-oLsD6X9fjo.) Putting our frustrations aside, the discussion centered on what means could be most effective in being heard and put forward the trepidations that this will be another tool for the global north to impose demands on the poor and marginalized rather than taking responsibility for a mess largely created by the global north. The Norwegians present have tried more or less everything: op eds, academic journal articles, participating in the working group, at the launch of Make the Label Count, social media, etc.; without really getting heard. All though, 65 EU politicians have signed two separate letters to the Commission and in Norway a lot of sympathy has been garnered through the one op ed: EU threatens the Norwegian bunad (national costume). The agreement was that we need to find similar locally-resounding issues that showcase what we stand to lose, perhaps in light of cultural sustainability more than anything. Again, ask the question: Who benefits and whose interests are being denied? And contingent on the answer, follow up and ask if this is what we actually want? It is clear, also that PEF is all about choosing between products on the basis of slight (according to PEF) ecological gains based on global average data, rather than actually reducing consumption and production; so not at all aligned to UCRF’s main goals. The images from Chile’s desert of wasted textiles may actually have caused a slight shift in consumer attitudes. The powerful image that shows the true consequences of our over-consumption.
Question 5: How could we learn more about how people value and use different fibers?
We have in many ways lost touch with the materiality of fibers, they have become a pawn in some sort of gaming-system instead. It’s about esthetic qualities and price, and anything else is too complex. Such surprising things as tariffs on different fibers and fiber-mixes may even come into play, more than how they feel on our skin, how they drape, etc. A study on food labelling was brought up, and how origin (or the labelling of protected origin) is one of the few relevant labelling schemes that actually makes a difference to consumers. There is also this idea that sustainability is expensive, rather than seeing other, non-purchasing alternatives. Complexity scares people. To really show design-students where the clothes they design end up, one of the participants takes her students to spend a day at the sorting-line of a thrift organization: Is this where you want ‘your’ clothes to end up? Discovering other ways to interact with clothes, in the community, sharing and taking more care of clothing – a way forward?
February 26 is soon here again, and it is time for the yearly UCRF Wikipedia edit-a-thon!
After three consecutive years of Wikipedia edit-a-thons, the UCRF will again make concerted efforts to add information and references to Wikipedia. The “sustainable fashion” page has changed drastically since we set out in 2019. Looking back across the years, the UCRF’s diverse membership has made a great impact! But, it still needs attention.
While many references and discussions are in the right place, the page still needs our love and editing. And it is awaiting links to your top reports, books, and references! Please take a minute on February 26th and make a minor edit, add to the resources, or take a stab at the pages related to your area of expertise. Wikipedia is the first station for the curious public, and making sure the sources there are as accurate and legitimate as possible can make a significant impact!
More specifically, as “circularity” has become a more current topic across sustainability, there is a need to add more sources, references, and links on this sub-topic. The fiber section needs more scientific reports and accurate data, and we also need more discussions on circularity, supply chains, and regenerative agriculture.
So, on February 26th, even on the weekend, we hope volunteers from across the Union can collectively activate an ‘activist knowledge ecology’ by editing the sustainable fashion page on Wikipedia.
Being a recurring yearly event, we hope to help Wikipedia lead curious people towards excellent and accurate sources. As mentioned before, our diversity across the Union is our unique resource. Use your expertise and make minor edits to improve the subtopic you think requires better articulation.
We also hope our globally dispersed members could update the page on the topic of sustainable fashion beyond the English version. So if you are uncertain, start by fixing the page in your native language.
Editing on Wikipedia is not tricky at all. You can just jump in and get started by clicking the “edit” tab on the page you want to edit. Work in small steps, a sentence or reference at the time.
For a more extensive dive, here’s a guide to getting started editing more seriously on Wikipedia:
1. Familiarise yourself with how to edit a Wiki page. I recommend the resources here: http://www.artandfeminism.org/editing-kit/ (these pages focus on gender, but the underlying editing issues are all relevant). There are some Wiki principles to familiarise yourself with and some basic editing tools that will help you.
3. Create a Wikipedia account if you want to. It is your choice, but it often helps when getting your edits through the process of the wikipedia editors. There is some guidance available to help you make various decisions by following the links.
4. Choose a section to edit on the Sustainable Fashion Wikipedia page. To prevent ‘conflicts’ because different people are working on the same section, consider to work with about one sentence at the time. It isn’t the end of the world if more than one person edits the same section at the same time, but it will require some manual editing afterwards which won’t be much fun…!
5. Get going editing. Wikipedia is fairly intuitive and there are lots of links to help pages. Start with a small edit and build your confidence, or add one reference or link. There are no specific UCRF guidelines about what to edit other than Principle 1 of the Union of Concerned Researchers manifesto: 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
Work to your expertise, cite peer-reviewed sources
Be prepared for some edits to be deleted by moderators. It is worthwhile to keep a record of edits separately.
What terms need adding to the page? For example, regenerative culture/agriculture?
6. When you publish you will be asked to describe your changes – mention briefly what your edit is about.
7. You can use the ‘Talk’ tab at the top of the Wiki page to discuss issues with the wider Wikipedia community that is interested in editing the Sustainable Fashion page.
Good luck! And thank you for making the sources on sustainable fashion more accessible across the Internet!
A twist on the usual UCRF Local Assembly format, this themed Local Assembly will concentrate on textile fibres. Points for discussion can be tabled by any UCRF member in advance or raised on the day.
Theme: Textile fibres, key themes and challenges
Date: 8 March 2022 Time: 8am – 9:30am local time. Light refreshments will be available. Location: OsloMet, Oslo, Norway Address: Stensberggata 26, 0170 Oslo
The Local Assembly gathering will be in-person, but the themes for discussion can be tabled by UCRF members world-wide to ensure that fibre-related concerns in all locations are present.
All participants will be invited to share their fibre knowledge, these will include UCRF members and fibre and LCA experts Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Kirsi Laitala. A summary will be circulated following the event.