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.
La emergencia climática es una amenaza existencial para la vida en la Tierra. En el período previo a las negociaciones sobre el cambio climático de la COP26 en Glasgow, UCRF subraya temas clave que considera críticos para que el sector de la moda avance hacia este nuevo e impredecible período:
Activar enfoques de sistemas completos
Las respuestas más poderosas son aquellas que comienzan considerando el propósito, el alcance, la gobernanza, los objetivos y las reglas del sistema de la moda. UCRF aboga porque el propósito del sistema de la moda se aleje de la lógica del crecimiento económico y se oriente hacia el servicio a la Tierra a fin de generar nuevas oportunidades para todas las especies y las generaciones futuras.
Escalar la actividad para que se ajuste a los límites de la Tierra
Dado que el propósito de un sistema modificado para la moda se establece dentro de los límites planetarios, UCRF pide un compromiso claro con la planificación de los caminos para la transición a un sector de la moda más diverso y más pequeño en un plazo de 5 a 10 años. Esto se encuentra dentro del marco de tiempo crítico de intervención propuesto por el IPCC.
Cuestionar las consecuencias imprevistas y muy reales de la “disrupción” impulsada por la tecnología
Si bien se necesitan intervenciones dentro de un statu quo insostenible, la celebración generalizada de la “disrupción” tiende a dejar sus consecuencias sin cuestionar. Hasta ahora, demasiados casos de “disrupción” impulsada por la tecnología han desplazado la acción hacia las plataformas, han invisibilizado la mano de obra y han despojado a los sindicatos de poder. Si se produce una disrupción, UCRF insiste en que se hagan preguntas más pertinentes: ¿Qué poblaciones y organizaciones asumirán los costes del cambio? ¿Quién limpiará los escombros del sistema roto?
Construir comunidades de cambio y práctica
UCRF está comprometida y con alternativas genuinas a los impulsos actuales hacia un mayor crecimiento, extracción y concentración de poder. Estas alternativas se comprometen a no dejar a nadie atrás y a compartir conocimientos sobre cómo actuar en la moda en un mundo de cambio climático. UCRF invita a otros a unirse juntos en esta tarea.
Vivir dentro de las preguntas
El trabajo de cambio es un proceso. UCRF aboga por hacer continuamente preguntas críticas sobre los sistemas, como quién saldrá ganando y quién se verá perjudicado por las políticas y decisiones, y denuncia las agendas ocultas para trabajar por un cambio estructural duradero.
Actuar y encarnar nuevas formas de ser, hacer, valorar y actuar
La amenaza existencial del cambio climático requiere que el trabajo se centre en aumentar la adopción de diversas “otras formas” en el sector de la moda que rompen las ideologías y los enfoques subyacentes. UCRF considera que esto contribuirá a cambiar lo que significa saber sobre moda y cómo actuar en tiempos de emergencia planetaria.
Llamada al coraje
El trabajo de cambiar a una economía de post crecimiento no es fácil y puede ser desafiante e inducir miedo a enfrentarse como oposición del status quo y de la ideología del crecimiento sin restricciones. UCRF se solidariza con todos aquellos que encuentran resistencia en su trabajo o que están actuando para que los sistemas cambien en circunstancias difíciles y en contra de intereses creados. En esta coyuntura crítica para la emergencia climática, UCRF pide a todos los actores que elijan coraje y acción.
Gracias a Gema Gomez por esta traducción. La versión en inglés está aquí.
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 tenth participant is Miguel Angel Gardetti.
>How would you sum up your research / practice?
Given the civilizational crisis produced by the Western system -with an anthropocentric, reductionist, modernist, colonial, capitalist and materialist logic of growth-, I have integrated into my study and research the vision of important Latin American intellectuals, thinkers and academics. For example, Arturo Escobar (Colombia), Alberto Acosta (Ecuador), Eduardo Gudynas (Uruguay), Maristella Svampa (Argentina), Enrique Dussel (Argentina), Boaventura de Sousa Santos (Brazil), Ramón Grosfoguel (Puerto Rico), among others. All of them are studied in careers related to anthropology and sociology, but not in careers related to design and fashion, which is a mistake. We are not including voices that can bring us clarity and ideas -biocentric- on the road to sustainability.
>How do you address fashion and sustainability in your work?
Many thinkers mentioned above ignore the importance of indigenous cosmovisions and the “rights of nature”- the latter having constitutional status in some Latin American countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador. At the Sustainable Textile Center, we are developing a project that incorporates and integrates these unheard indigenous voices. This goes further and deeper than simply engaging with stakeholders.
>What are the conflicts you have encountered around fashion and sustainability in your work?
The central conflict in the current integration of fashion and sustainability is that this integration is driven by economic, capitalist and consumerist ideas. This is not the way.
>What do you consider the key sources and cases when it comes to fashion and sustainability?
The Alaska local assembly took place at the Museum of Anchorage on 4th October 2021. Sixteen participants joined, including museum staff, local businesses and designers. Most participants were born in Alaska, and all participants lived in Alaska. The list of attendees was not industry specific and a range of backgrounds was represented by participants, including a nationally renowned textile artist, an Inupiat fashion designer and 5th generation skin sewer, local designers and re-designers, small scale makers, and retail entrepreneurs.
Board member Lynda Grose introduced the
UCRF manifesto and guidelines for participating with active listening.
Participants then broke into three groups of 5-6 people to discuss the UCRF manifesto
points and to identify which ones resonated the most strongly for them. Museum
staff helped capture information and
facilitate discussions. The outputs and insights are listed below.
Manifesto point #6: Take a leadership role in debunking existing ideas – Policies today offer too many outs for not making meaningful change. – Sustainability in fashion wasn’t a consideration before western industrial times. – Diversify the voices in fashion and sustainability – note who isn’t invited to bring their perspective? – Amplify and strengthen the relationship between humans and art. – Shift away from the culture of new which isn’t always better. – New standards/rubric of production.
Manifesto point #2: Advocate for whole systems change – Leverage Alaska’s unique relationships. – Disconnected (within the landscape, and from the lower 48). – Humanize the producers. – Can we imagine a future not rooted in consumption? – What is a possible future with minimum negative impact? – Full transparency and information. – Carbon footprint disclosure is a given. – Design, business models and purchasing for longevity.
Other themes to emerge:
Resources Fashion fulfils cultural and identity needs..’your pants are too white..they need to be dirty airforce one’s’’ is a real consideration. Fashion is local. There is no AK pipeline in fashion here. AK markets/infrastructure/materials for fashion are very undeveloped/limited. Fashion industry isn’t in AK..so there’s an opportunity to build something from the ground up. No wool at Joann’s Fabrics for example Iceland has wool…..AK has ? to exchange?
Funding and investment alternatives Balance/manage change. Invest now in the change. Health covered and living wage guaranteed ($16/hour). Collective bargaining. Non-profit and worker co-op structures. Set up a trust for local venture capital – to support distribution of beneficial impacts, foster business partnerships. Establish royalty-based groups. Attain finance and legal help. Affordable (shared) spaces. Develop a community dividend model (like the pipeline). Micro mills (investing business development funds into value-aligned projects/businesses. Local clothing retail (like RTR etc). Provide resources to B corporation standards.
Knowledge/Education Informal education passed on through individuals, families, groups and communities. Further develop mended/upcycled concepts specific to Alaska. There’s a cultural pride in being able to repair, especially in the interior (duck taped jackets). Make repair visible. Develop new vocabulary around repair and re-use. Kits for making and mending. Education events with making at the center. Include mending and making in school curriculum. Creating a culture of making, vintage/resale. How can we tap into people’s haptic or making experience to push making/mending? Showcase (AK specific) upcycled fashion. Including practical Alaska interior examples (Duct tape, Tyvek etc). Workforce development. Create classes and sharing of information. ‘Community college of making’ through co-operative extension. What resources (materials and skills) are here in Alaska? Build skills in landfill diversion. ‘Buy old/value add’ skills.
UCRF Board member Lynda Grose’s observations:
Alaska has: -indigenous communities, knowledge, skills, technologies and subsistence lifestyles to reference firsthand and integrated into daily life awareness. -Alaskan fashion materials may challenge pre-conceived notions of ‘sustainability’. -Access to vast landscapes and complex ecosystems are referenced first hand, integrated into daily life awareness, and are at the forefront of considerations between fashion identity and functional design. -a culture of resilience, ‘crustiness’, grit and resourcefulness, out of necessity. -a culture of taking care of each other. (historically, Alaskans leave their cabins open and well stocked in the interior, in case someone needs shelter and provisions, for example). -a population that is compelled to buy practical, well-functioning, good quality garments due to harsh weather conditions. -limited resources, due to its geographic separation and lack of a design school has constrained fashion development. This can be leveraged to build a unique approach to fashion and sustainability. -a culture of problem solving and finding multiple ways to do something, based on available (and scarce) resources. – a massive land mass, but a small population making it relatively easy to think collectively. – an open slate. Issues are on the surface. An ’it’s what we make it’ , authentic, real, attitude is prevalent. (My dad said: ‘should people not work on the pipeline?’). -unique policy histories, including the land settlement act and pipeline/oil dividend that could inform new policy models for fashion and sustainability. -a location in the circumpolar north , which is shared with Russia, Canada, Finland, Sweden which challenges preconceived notions of ‘locally available materials’.
The climate emergency is an existential threat to life on Earth. In the run-up to the COP26 climate change negotiations in Glasgow, UCRF underscores key themes that it sees as critical for the fashion sector moving forward into this new and unpredictable period:
Activate whole systems approaches The most powerful responses are those that start by considering the purpose, scope, governance, goals and rules of the fashion system. UCRF advocates that the fashion system purpose is reset away from economic growth logic and towards service of Earth in order to unleash new opportunities for all species and future generations.
Scale activity to fit within Earth’s limits As a changed system purpose for fashion is set within planetary boundaries, UCRF calls for clear commitment to planned pathways to transition to a more diverse and smaller fashion sector within 5-10 years. This is within the critical time frame of intervention proposed by the IPCC.
Question the unforeseen and very real consequences of tech-driven “disruption” While interventions into an unsustainable status quo are needed, the wholesale celebration of “disruption” has a tendency to leave its consequences unquestioned. So far, too many cases of tech-driven “disruption” have shifted agency towards platforms, made labour invisible and have stripped unions of power. If disruption is to happen, UCRF insists more pertinent questions are asked: What populations and organizations will bear the costs of the change? Who will clean up the debris of the broken system?
Build communities of change and practice UCRF is engaged in and with genuine alternatives to the current drives towards increased growth, extraction and concentration of power. These alternatives commit to leaving no one behind and sharing knowledges of how to act in fashion in a climate change world. UCRF invites others to join together in this task.
Live inside the questions The work of change is a process. UCRF advocates continuously asking critical systems questions, such as who stands to gain and who will be hurt by policies and decisions, calling out the hidden agendas in order to work for lasting structural change.
Act and embody new ways of being, doing, valuing and acting The existential threat of climate change necessitates that work is focussed on increasing the uptake of diverse ‘other ways’ in the fashion sector that break apart underlying ideologies and approaches. UCRF views that this will contribute to changing what it means to know about fashion and how to act in times of planetary emergency.
Call on courage The work of shifting to a post-growth economy is not easy and it can be challenging and fear-inducing to stand up in the face of opposition from the status quo and ideology of unrestricted growth. UCRF stands in solidarity with all those who meet resistance in their work or who are acting for systems change in difficult circumstances and against vested interests. At this critical juncture for the climate emergency, UCRF calls on all actors to choose courage and action.
In 2019-20 the Union wrote to research funding bodies around the world regarding priorities for funding fashion and sustainability research. These 31 organisations were sourced from the Union membership. The letter was signed by the full membership of the Union at the time. Initially letters were sent in June 2019, with follow up letters sent in January 2020. This initiative arose from a perceived overemphasis on research funding directed at technical solutions to fashion and sustainability, under the umbrella of circular economy. The letter called for funding priorities to be redirected towards new knowledge creation that is relevant to and commensurate with the multiple global crises we face. The letter asked for greater pluralism in funding priorities, including those which favour the long term, systems change, collaborative practice and moving beyond the growth logic.
Of the organisations, two responded, and the Union board had a productive conversation with one organisation. Four organisations responded with a form letter usually sent to funding applicants. Given the lack of response from most organisations and given that the issues raised in the letter remain, the board of UCRF is planning a follow-up to this initiative in the near future.