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 seventh participant is Gitika Goyal.
>How would you sum up your practice?
I am a designer, entrepreneur and teacher.
As a designer & entrepreneur, I have practiced slow fashion from the time I started my design company in the late ‘90’s. I don’t think the term was coined then. More recently, I have introduced circular fashion in India through my domestic brand.
FIT New York set up NIFT, the first Design School dedicated to fashion in India in the late ‘80s and I was fortunate to be a part of the second batch which graduated in 1990. I have always been very good with my hands – draping, cutting and making clothes was something I naturally took to. I had found my passion and continue to be hands-on even today.
However I came of age only a few years later and my life took a turn. Sustainability and slowness in fashion became deeply integrated in my work, as a result of working in a beautiful space called Anokhi and teaching at NID. In 1998 I created my design company, CUT ONE.
These are 3 brands that I have created over the years:
1. Gitika Goyal – 1998.
Premium sustainable fashion and home decor, exported to UK & Europe and retailed through niche concept stores.
2. Gitika Goyal Home – 2011
Premium sustainable home decor, exported to the US and retailed mostly through online stores.
With both these premium brands, there has been a quietness in my ways with no frenzy of marketing – social or otherwise. For me the motivation has been to stretch my creative boundaries (as opposed to an unending pursuit of money). Business has moved through trust and recommendations at a pace that has worked out well for me.
3. GRASS by Gitika Goyal – 2017
An online brand of eclectic, easy & affordable women’s fashion. With this brand, I have introduced circular fashion in India. www.grassbygitikagoyal.com
Teaching for me, has been a way of articulating and imparting what I have learnt in my practice, getting exposure to the latest ideas & techniques developing in the world and then applying it in my practice as well. It has also allowed me to further develop my thoughts and understanding that I would otherwise not have the time to do.
I have been a faculty at these design schools:
Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology, Bangalore 2003-2005
National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Gandhinagar 1997
National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad 1993-1997
Being inducted on the UCRF board has been a huge honour and I can see the rest of my life dedicated in creating awareness, educating and working diligently towards this cause.
>How do you address fashion and sustainability in your work?
From 1998 onwards, the sustainability practices that I’ve followed consistently are – slow fashion, holding minimal inventory, very little waste & recycling, use of only natural & biodegradable cotton & wool fabric, use of hand-spun & handmade khadi fabrics and sustaining traditional practices of hand embroideries, hand quilting etc. (extending them into a modern, contemporary form). With my new domestic brand, it has also become possible for me to practice repairs & maintenance, exchanges and circularity.
>What are the conflicts you have encountered around fashion and sustainability in your work?
I wouldn’t say that I have encountered any conflict in my work, I always went ahead and did what felt right to me. However, the thing that surprises me the most is how people do not question growth as the only model to live by. When a Company goes from 30 million to 300 million to 3 billion, I wonder if it’s blindly driven or if there is a conscious questioning there. Ironically enough, Covid 19 has shown us that we need very little to actually survive.
>What do you consider the key sources and cases when it comes to fashion and sustainability?
Being born in India has been the best exposure to a way of life that is sustainable at it’s very core. Additionally being at NID and teaching there, gave me the exposure to sustainable practices applied in other design disciplines around the world. This became the source and foundation for my work in sustainability in fashion.
>Could you recommend some less known sources or cases you think should be more widely shared?
Goonj is an NGO in India which has done exemplary work in the field of Circular Economy, moving clothing from urban spaces to rural and to the poor in a beautifully synergised way.
UCRF is a platform for collective action and not for self-promotion. This also means that individuals or collectives, whether founders, board members or members, cannot use UCRF as a platform for financial gain or furthering of one’s own agenda.
Practical requirements: – The working group members are members of UCRF. If special expertise is required, a guest can be invited into an occasional meeting. – The working group is open to all UCRF members. – Working groups need to be scheduled so that they are genuinely accessible to all members (this may mean rotating meeting times), and they should use language that is accessible. – The working group shares insights with UCRF as a whole through regular reports to share as blog posts on the UCRF website.
Working groups that do not adhere to the UCRF purpose and Code of Conduct, will be asked to convene outside of UCRF.
How to start a group: Any member can propose a new working group by making a proposal to the UCRF board, info@concernedresearchers/org. This should include:
The purpose of the working group and expected benefit in terms of meeting the UCRF’s manifesto
How the working group intends to address this purpose
How long the working group will exist for (indefinite is also ok)
How the working group will track and measure how its intent/purpose is met
Which external expertise may be invited into occasional meetings, if any.
Members who wish to start a group can place a Small ad (an email to membership) to check interest with other members before making a proposal.
The UCRF board will review the proposal at its regular monthly meetings. When the board has agreed to the set up of a new working group, an invitation will be sent out to all members. A group email will also be set up as required.
“Technology involves organization, procedure, symbols, new words, equations, and most of all, it involves a mindset.” (Franklin 1999, 17)
As part of the UCRF initiative ‘Path Breakers — Path Finders’ where wecelebrate the many voices who have inspired and guided the work of change over many years, including systems change in fashion, we turn our attention to Ursula Franklin. Thank you to UCRF member Dr Mark Joseph O’Connell for nominating Professor Franklin.
University of Toronto Professor Emerita, Ursula Franklin is described as one of Canada’s “most accomplished scientists and educators and one of its most renowned feminists and peace activists”. A physicist working in metallurgy, her research on Strontium-90 in baby teeth was “instrumental in achieving a moratorium on atmospheric nuclear weapons testing” and in 1967 she became the first female professor of materials science and engineering at U of T, and in 1984 became the first woman to receive the title of University Professor which is the highest academic rank at U of T (UToronto.ca). Although always a scientist in process and methods, Franklin also brought refreshing alacrity to her observations. She referenced her children, her experience as a holocaust survivor, her spiritual faith and the anti-nuclear movement, and used examples like knitting, baking a cake, and gardening, to illustrate her highly sophisticated (and powerful) theoretical analyses. In her 1989 Massey College five-part lecture series given in Toronto (The Real world of Technology (1999)), Franklin identified and outlined many issues around technology and society with remarkable prescience. She compared technology to democracy, noting that both include “ideas and practices” as well as: “myths and various models of reality” (18). Her conclusion was that our love of new technologies bred isolation instead of connection, and that government policy was focused on supporting nascent technologies at the expense of citizens and the environment.
For me as a queer fashion sustainability scholar, her tireless social activism, the success of her grassroots work, and the persistent way she presented her ideas in a unique, individualized voice were all hugely inspirational. The latter in particular as it was exactly this perspective that she brought to her analyses that was missing from larger social directives driving the policy guiding and governing technology and society (then as now). — Dr Mark Joseph O’Connell
Franklin, Ursula. 1999. The Real world of Technology. House of Anansi
To take part in Path Breakers — Path Finders, please send: 1. the name of the path breaker-finder you would like to feature, 2. a short description of their work and its significance including to fashion and sustainability (<300 words) and 3. an appropriate image with credit to: email@example.com
Over a number of months throughout the Coronavirus lockdown, a contingent of UCRF members from/with connections to India met online to explore themes of importance to the country. The conversations were both wide-ranging and detailed and resulted in this Communique from the Indian UCRF Local Assembly which shows some of the great heritage of Indian textiles and also its diverse present.
With gratitude to all the participants in Local Assembly India for their sustained and enriching dialogue!
Yes, it is that time again! It is the Union’s yearly collaborative wikipedia edit-a-thon!
Like in the last two years, the date is 26th February. So on Friday 26th 2021 we will revisit the “sustainable fashion” page on Wikipedia to add and update its content. The page is an entry-point and resource with an average of 300-500 daily visits (depending on the seasons). Over the years, we have managed to get this page to not primarily be an archive for greenwashing brands and mixed misinformation, but now also be a resource for peer-reviewed articles and books. While there is a continuous source of edits on what brands are “good” and so, the UCRF cannot police the edits, but we try to keep the information as reliable as possible. We are happy the page can serve as a legitimate entry point for everyday users into sustainable fashion. However, of course, there is still a lot to do.
Now, on February 26th, we hope volunteers from the Union membership can yet again collectively manifest 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 good sources.
Our diversity is our unique contribution. Use your expertise and make small edits to improve the subtopic you think is in need of better articulation. The fiber section needs improvement and we also need more discussions on supply chains and regenerative agriculture.