Rosie Williams, GMD
As I reach the end of my placement with the eco-conscious menswear brand SIRPLUS, I have identified a stronger interest in ethical and sustainable design. I have learnt about the ethical approaches SIRPLUS takes to be a responsible fashion brand in contrast to the majority of fashion brands that are environmentally and socially harmful. It has driven me to research more about ethical design, the negative impacts of consumer culture and become a more responsible designer.
In the book Design: The Whole Story, Dan Griliopoulos highlights the rise of consumerism during the 1960’s. The ideology that anything old is undesirable was infused into society by advertisement and corporate businesses. This resulted in the constant need for new products to be produced, accelerating economic growth but having extreme negative environmental consequences. Since then the demand has continuously increased. The fashion industry and fast fashion culture fuels this ideology and is having detrimental effects on people’s human rights and our planet. According to the book Slow Fashion: aesthetics meets ethics by Safia Minney, 1.5 times the worlds resources are already being used, this is a frightening figure that can only be decreased if we reduce consumption and slow down the amount we buy. Minney also refers to the Ethical Trade Initiative study carried out in 2015 discovering that 71% of senior executives of retail and supply companies suspect that a type of modern slavery exists somewhere along the production line of their products. Learning these facts has inclined me to re-evaluate my way of living and how I can contribute to a sustainable revolution through designing with more purpose and not purely for aesthetic value.
Although the fashion industry is a big contributor to social and environmental problems, there are many ways fashion brands can be more responsible and challenge fast fashion culture. Working for SIRPLUS has taught me many of these methods. I have learnt about the extensive list of eco-friendly materials that can be used to make clothes, for example, corozo nut, milk casein and coconut shells to make buttons, recycled polyester and cotton and even recycled bottles to make fabric. Along the way, I have learnt about methods and organisations to tackle the negative impact cotton production has on the environment and the workers. For example, the farming of organic cotton uses no pestisides or harmful chemicals during process. This not only helps reduce the pollution created by the chemicals, but also ensures the workers are not being harmed by them either and at the same time they are still provided with jobs. BCI (the Better Cotton Initiative) is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to creating a fairer cotton production system for the workers and environment. Another organisation that SIRPLUS sources fabric from is Lenzing EcoVero. They create sustainable viscose from certified renewable wood sources and eco-friendly production methods. Other ethical methods SIRPLUS uses are making sure their clothes are made as locally as possible, ideally in England but also in other countries in Europe. As the name SIRPLUS suggests they also use surplus fabrics supporting the reduction of waste. They collaborate with charities and aim to help people out whenever possible. For example, they are currently using their delivery service to deliver food and essentials to people in need. With all this knowledge I have gained and ways a brand can be ethical, I am able to apply similar approaches to future jobs and projects. I can also use this knowledge to promote and educate people about these approaches through my design. It has provided me with a source of inspiration for future projects.
Visual design through media has immense power to educate and influence society positively. This power has been used unethically time and time again to manipulate people. Society has been programmed through advertisement and capitalism that you can’t be happy with what you already have. It suggests that our happiness lies within materialistic possessions. It is time for this perception to be challenged in order for rapid consumer culture to deteriorate and for a sustainable future to exist. “The real JOY of design is to deliver fresh perspectives, improved well-being and an intuitive sense of balance with the wider world”, this quote by Alistair Fuad-Luke reflects the positivity of design’s powerful ability to offer new views and harmony to our lives. Graphic design in particular, provides an accessible platform to educate people. It can also challenge negative beliefs, like the belief that we are not happy unless we have something or are a certain way. The recent campaign by studio Lennarts & De Bruijn ‘stay sane, stay safe’ is a project that I’ve been inspired by and a perfect example of how graphic design can positively impact society. The campaign encourages creatives from all over the world to design posters celebrating and thanking key workers during the coronavirus crisis and also reminding the public how they can stay safe.
My learning experience at SIRPLUS and my increased interest in sustainable design, has informed my practice. I have become a more conscious and responsible designer and the knowledge I have gained will help navigate future projects. Fuad-Luke highlights in the book Design Activism: Beautiful Strangeness for a Sustainable World, the need for more activist designers. From reading this I would like to become part of the activist design community and also encourage other designers to join in order to help design reach it’s full potential. I would like to become a part of the sustainable design revolution.
Better Cotton Initiative (2020) Who We Are. Available at: https://bettercotton.org/about-bci/who-we-are/ (Accessed: 10/05/20)
Fuad-Luke, A. (2009) Design Activism: Beautiful Strangeness for a Sustainable World. New York and Oxon: Taylor & Francis.
Griliopoulos, D. et al. (2016) Design: The Whole Story. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
Lenzing EcoVero (2020) The New Standard in Eco-Responsible Viscose. Available at: https://www.ecovero.com/b2b# (Accessed: 10/05/20)
Minney. S. (2016) Slow Fashion. Oxford: New Internationalist Publications Ltd
SIRPLUS (2020) Journal. Available at: https://sirplus.co.uk/blogs/news (Accessed: 12/05/20)
Studio Lennarts & De Bruijn (2020) Stay Sane Stay Safe Platform. Available at: https://www.lennartsendebruijn.com/projects/stay-sane-stay-safe (Accessed 10/05/20)
Williams, R. (2020) Attract positivity [Digital Typographic Poster]. (Accessed: 27/04/20)
Williams, R. (2020) SIRPLUS Sustainable Blog Banner [Digital Illustration]. (Accessed: 21/04/20)
Williams, R. (2020) Stay Safe, Use Soap [Digital Poster]. (Accessed: 23/04/20)