Frantic fashion and Australia’s Invisible Designers: Conversations on sustainability in the mass market
Australia is a small player in the global fashion system. However, the volumes of product pushed through by mass market companies in Australia are still significant. Australia lags behind the EU and the US in implementing policy to tackle wasteful and unethical environmental and labour practices. Meeting the challenge of fashion sustainability within the Australian context requires conversations and action on the part of all players; from consumers to designers, manufacturers, buyers, retailers, journalists and bloggers. Specifically, this presentation will focus on the role of mass market designers and product developers.
The majority of Australians will work, sleep and die in the garments of the mass market. Yet, as Ian Griffiths has termed it, the designers of these garments are “invisible’(2000). To the general public, the values, opinions and individual design processes of these designers are as unknown as their names. However, the designer’s role is crucial in making decisions which will have impacts throughout the life of the garment. The high product volume within the mass market ensures that even a small decision in the design process to source a particular fabric, or to use a certain trim or textile finish, can have a profound environmental or social effect. While big companies in Australia have implemented some visible strategies for sustainability, it is uncertain how these may have flowed through to design practices.
To explore this question, this presentation will discuss preliminary findings from in-depth semi-structured interviews with eighteen mass market designers and product developers. The designers are employed by three Australian companies: a discount retailer, a fast fashion wholesaler and a mid-market wholesaler/retailer. Collectively, these designers develop fashion garments for over a dozen different labels. The aim of the interviews was to hear the voice of the insider to listen to mass market designers describe their design process, discuss the Australian fashion industry and its future challenges and opportunities, and to comment on what a “sustainability’ for their industry could look like.
These interviews will be discussed within the framework of design theorist Tony Fry’s writing on design redirection for sustainability. Fry (2009) positions design as a world-shaping, future-destroying or future-creating activity which requires concentrated redirection for sustainability. Fry’s view of design is poles away from the rapid, often derivative design of the mass market, in which surface styling and aesthetics are sovereign. However, Fry’s analysis highlights the profound need for designers to consider the repercussions their design decisions will continue to have over the life (and subsequent lives) of their garments. Fundamental to Fry’s notion of design redirection is the personal commitment of the designer to the project of sustainability. Interviewing designers about their design processes and their views on sustainability is a step towards gauging the potential for a redirective practice, such as Fry describes, within the Australian mass market fashion industry.