A Semester of Sustainability

After taking this course, I have learned more about sustainability than I knew there was to learn. Thanks to the class readings and discussions, LOLA shows, design slams, weekly blogs, and many other resources, I have learned how to apply the idea of sustainability to both my field and my personal life.

I would define sustainability as being mindful of the entire life cycle of a product, whether you are using the product or making it. Basically, what sustainability means to me is that all products can be returned to their natural state, be returned to the earth, or be reused or recycled – a closed loop. When I think about sustainability, I think about the different concepts we learned about through the weekly readings. The concepts that most stood out to me were

   * Empathetic Design
   * Optimized Lifetimes
   * and Cradle-to-Cradle

When designing products, these three concepts are what I now think about. Keeping in mind what the customer will like, and how to create an attachment to the product so that they keep it and use it for a long time, creating products that will last a long time, and creating products using only biological or technical nutrients, keeping each in a closed loop. When designing with these in mind, you will truly create a sustainable product.

My first major epiphany was early in the semester when I began to wonder if sustainability was truly attainable in today’s world. We had been learning about how unsustainable the fashion industry currently is, and watched the 11th Hour, which made me realize how bad the world really is right now. Then, we were learning about different approaches to sustainability, some of which confused me or seemed contradictory. We were learning about empathetic design, and all I could focus on was the fact that predicting what a customer will become attached to is  actually very unpredictable – we can’t foresee the emotional values that will become associated with products most of the time. This epiphany really scared me, because it made me question what the point of this class was, and what I could possibly gain other than fear and anger. The next week, I had another epiphany about how negatively consumerism affects us. The article “Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change” talked about how we are constantly craving items that are only creating more stresses in our lives, that the idea of the “American Dream” is only leading to negative aspects – obesity, diabetes, greed, and depression. This epiphany only made me question the attainability of sustainability in today’s world even more, and I was starting to grow frustrated with the ideas and concepts we were learning about.

Things started to turn around for me after the first LOLA show, when I saw real life examples of what products that emulated what we had learned, and I realized that sustainability is attainable, it is just only attainable at a slow and steady pace. Sustainability isn’t necessarily about changing the entire industry and outlook all at once, but by changing perspectives of people one at a time, and creating a new sustainable product, one at a time.   

I did not really have any other epiphanies, however I did get a little lost again when we cam upon the synthetic vs. natural debate. I had a hard time with this, because there are negatives and positives to both, as well as to the processes to both types of fibers. There is no right answer to this debate, because we need to utilize many different types of fibers and materials. But, somehow, the debate still continued! How can you pick just one side? You can’t! We need to take advantage of both natural and synthetic fibers, just so long as we make sure each is done in a sustainable fashion.

For our final project, my teammate and I focused on the idea of Cradle-to-Cradle for our product. By doing further research and applying it to a design concept these last two weeks, I have been able to learn more about the concept, and it really speaks to me now. When designing products, we need to really focus on keeping biological nutrients and technical nutrients separate, so that products made with biological nutrients can be composted or consumed, and products made with technical nutrients can be recycled or reused. With the idea of Cradle-to-Cradle, zero waste is created in making products. This, to me, it the ideal sustainable design concept.

The last article we read was “Transforming Fashion Design Practice” by Fletcher. In this article, Fletcher described four sectors of design – the private sector, the public sector, the non-profit sector, and the research sector. The main takeaway is that designers need to make sure they do not stay confined to one sector, but rather make sure they apply their skills across each sector in order to achieve sustainability. Fletcher also provides different roles that designers can take – communicator-educator, facilitator, activist, and entrepreneur. It is important for a designer to know these roles and know which role they should take in order to achieve sustainability in their designs.

After everything I have learned in this class, I can’t possibly imagine what else there is to learn about! I don’t think there is one particular thing I would like to learn about in the future, but rather I would like to continue expanding on everything we have learned about this semester. Mostly, I would like to continue learning about different designers that are creating sustainable products, and about different types of sustainable products that are coming to be readily available to consumers.

It has been a great semester, and I have learned more than I would have thought possible about sustainability in the apparel field.

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