1st January 2019

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:

  1. 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;
  2. Advocate for whole systems and paradigm change, beyond current norms and business-as-usual. This includes rejecting overly-cautious economic, legislative and policy frameworks;
  3. 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;
  4. Express our determined opposition to ill-advised and destructive fashion projects;
  5. Formulate visions—and corresponding research practices—that allow for the possibility of enacting new relationships between humans and Earth in the context of fashion;
  6. 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;
  7. 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;
  8. Organise, when determined desirable and feasible, fashion researchers to translate radical step change into effective political, and other, action;
  9. Review and revise, when deemed necessary, this manifesto.

Sign the manifesto here.

UCRF “Member of the Month” – Jackie May

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Blogroll / Member of the Month

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 second participant is Jackie May.

  • How would you sum up your research / practice?  

I launched Twyg in 2018 – a not-for-profit media organisation working at the intersection of fashion and sustainable development. The platform idea developed in reaction to my last corporate job, working on a publication whose business model promoted fast fashion and excessive consumption. I realised I was more passionate about doing the opposite: persuading consumers to slow down and make better choices. Twyg publishes stories and promotes experiences that aim to inform and inspire positive consumer changes. Twyg is principally aligned with the Sustainable Development goal 12, responsible consumerism and production, however, it is committed to all the other SDGs.  

Two years ago, when Twyg was launched, South African mainstream middle-class media was not addressing the serious fast-fashion challenges of climate change or fair labour practice, and concepts like slow fashion, sustainability and eco-consciousness did not feature. Although we’ve seen amazing growth in media and consumer interest in sustainable fashion, there is still much work to be done. One area that has started to emerge in the work on the platform, is the idea of regeneration. In Twyg’s stories and in our projects, we ask how does this repair what we’ve ruined?    

  • How do you address fashion and sustainability in your work?

In South Africa we need to be very conscious of the need to create employment. We cannot think of fashion without thinking of how we can expand the clothing and textile industry, which has shrunk considerably from where it was two decades ago. How do we think about this and how do we articulate this? My work creates a platform that supports and connects designers to each other, and to producers and retailers. 

To achieve this I spend time talking to industry players to understand the role of various national stakeholders – organised labour, in particular – and to understand where the power lies and at what points we can influence the most to drive positive change.  

I started out writing stories aimed at a popular audience about sustainability, but soon decided I needed to do more. Together with the Cape Town-based African Fashion Research Institute, we are creating an evolving learning hub, with plans to develop a directory and a toolkit. In 2019, the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards were launched, which is on this year’s 100 Beautiful Things list. I am quite proud of this! 

  • What are the conflicts you have encountered around fashion and sustainability in your work? 

The key question I grapple with is: How can a fashion industry play a developmental role? This relates to the context within which I work: a developing country with a very high unemployment rate (roughly 40%).  Is there not a conflict of interest between the indisputable social need for job creation and the environmental imperative to reduce the volumes of clothing produced?  

On an business level, I have to think carefully about how I motivate for funding to promote slow fashion when many people are hungry.  Is mine an ethical pursuit? 

  • What do you consider the key sources and cases when it comes to fashion and sustainability?

The work of labour unions is key. The Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union and Asia Floor Wage Alliance have strong research departments.  Their work makes me conscious of the moral question we face in the wake of globalisation and Covid-19: “Whose livelihood is more important, a garment worker in South Africa or one in Asia?”

I’m influenced by the thinking of Dr Erica de Greef, whose work is mostly focussed on decolonising fashion in Africa. We have to dismantle centuries of oppressive and racist thinking. My work as a white woman in this space, includes being conscious of and understanding my role in oppressive systems.   

Second-hand clothes in Africa is an important issue too. The OR Foundation does critical work on this. As does Hadeel Osman who founded the Davu Studio, a Sudanese multi-disciplinary creative studio. Osman launched the #AfricaIsNotALandfill hashtag on Instagram. Through my work on the British Council project, Design Futures Africa, I am gaining an understanding of African perspectives on circularity in six countries. 

Besides these, there is the work of African creatives who are upcycling, recycling, reusing, and repairing…. showing rather than telling.  

  • Could you recommend some less known sources or cases you think should be more widely shared?

For example: 

The Rewoven Co is a textile recycling company in Cape Town, owned and managed by three young dynamic entrepreneurs. They are building a business and the technology to reduce textile waste.

Fashion Designer Katekani Moreku, inspired by his SePulana culture combined scraps of fabric and plastic material to create his Twyg Awards winning collection.

Durban-based designer Fezokuhle Dimba’s practice is similar to Katekani’s but her motivation and inspiration are different.

These are just the tip of the iceberg there are so many. We need to get these stories out. My work is to add value to their voices by spreading the stories.

UCRF “Member of the month” – Yamê Reis

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Blogroll / Member of the Month

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. First out is Yamê Reis.

Yamê Reis is a Brazilian sociologist and fashion designer. She is currently a coordinator and teacher at Istituto Europeo de Design in Rio, and is the founder of the International Forum Rio Ethical Fashion.

  • How would you sum up your research / practice?

As a fashion designer educator I see myself as a collaborator, a facilitator, and an activist for the change. Researching and practicing come together, we learn through building new products that are based in new materials, new models of production and business that promote welfare for the people and for the planet.

  • How do you address fashion and sustainability in your work?

I guess that learning about sustainability is about first of all changing mindset, and having a critical understanding about how our society benefits from inequalities and environmental damages. This has to come along with the teaching of Sustainable Fashion.

  • What are the conflicts you have encountered around fashion and sustainability in your work? 

The most difficult for the new professional generation is to change the way of life with less consumption and to build a new business circular model.

  • What do you consider the key sources and cases when it comes to fashion and sustainability?

What helps me most as sources for teaching are Fashion Revolution as an activist global movement addressing the work conditions and social justice, and also the SDGs as a framework to approach the whole picture of the economic challenges we have to face as individuals and brands.

  • Could you recommend some less known sources or cases you think should be more widely shared?

As a source I’d recommend the new report from Textile Exchange about Sustainable Materials,“ Material Change Insights Report 2019 – the state of fiber and material sourcing.” I’d suggest FARFARM as an innovative Brazilian case on Agroforestry for developing new fibers like cotton, juta, malva and others. It regenerates forests and avoids deforestation and monocultures, preserving biodiversity besides revaluing the traditional knowledge of local communities.

Thank you for your insights Yamê!

Earth Day Open Letter

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Blogroll / Open Letters

Dear friend and colleague in fashion,

Today, the 22nd of April 2020, is Earth Day. 

We, the Board of the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion (UCRF), write to you as a person, a fellow human and fashion professional and we are approaching you with an appeal to let the first step post COVID-19 to be a solid step for the Earth. We approach you directly, without the filter of a company or organisation. We appeal to you to use this moment to reimagine what life and fashion can be when we plan it to exist within the limits of the Earth and with the health of all humans and co-species as the central purpose.

The Corona pandemic has taught us with brutal honesty how fragile, unstable and unfit for purpose our social and economic systems are. It has revealed that the logic of economic growth is an ideology that is deeply flawed. What good is an economy that breaks down when we just buy the necessities for day-to-day life? Food, shelter and health are surely the foundation of any economic system. The ideology of the growth economy, configured towards profit and extraction of resources, does not sustain life on Earth. 

Today, Earth Day, 22nd April 2020 marks only a few months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet the fashion system is shattered. And yet many of us feel that this is a dress rehearsal for a still more existential threat: climate change, which the scientific community gives us less than a decade to address. 

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Submission of Written Questions to the Innovation Forum conference 2020

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Blogroll / Questions to conferences

UCRF supports the Sustainable Apparel and Textiles Conference Innovation Forum 2020 in their intent to have a ‘candid and progressive dialogue’ about sustainability in the fashion sector. 

To that end we offer the following four nuances to the published sessions of the conference: April 24-27 2020.

These questions are intended as a framework to keep the root causes of unsustainability at the forefront of discussions at the conference, so they can be acknowledged, accepted and acted upon. The questions can be downloaded as a pdf here.

We encourage UCRF members attending the conference to reference and raise these points in active sessions and industry panels.


PANEL: Circular fashionWhat does collaboration around circularity actually look like in practice? And how do you engage designers from the outset?

Neither the techniques nor the infrastructure to enable true circularity (where all outputs of the fashion industry become inputs and excess inputs are no longer generated by the system) currently exist.

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UCRF Code of Conduct

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About the Union / Blogroll

Version 1, 14th April 2020

Culture of change

The first principle of UCRF is to affect systemic change in the fashion sector, for fashion that respects Earth’s limits and the health and survival of all species. This means that we, its board and members, always have to ask – is this action likely to lead to most possible change, with priorities outlined in the UCRF manifesto. Is this the best way to spend our energy, time and resources?

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 the UCRF as a platform for financial gain.

UCRF seeks to be a leader in its culture of change as well as through its actions. To this end, we take time to reflect on our culture at each meeting and the AGM.

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