The beauty and diversity of the botanical gardens is one way to describe the magnificence of the Universe. Walking through this true gift of nature while seeing the colors of flowers, hearing the birds sing, and seeing how the insects, worms, and birds find shelter in this amazing quiet environment made me realize how safer life could be for all of us if we learned to live in harmony with nature as other creatures did. Great thoughts and debates started to run through my mind of what I could do to have my backyard or balcony look and have this true beauty of nature close to me. The discussion we had in my learning community made me realize that people have not paid enough attention to the environment possibly because we do not know or cannot imagine how beautiful nature is as we are distant from nature and hence cannot know how to live in harmony. Yet we all need each other just the way plants provide food and shelter to insect and birds when they pollinate these flowers to bear fruit that we all enjoy.
My sustainable journey has been positively impacted by the botanical gardens trip especially with resources use, waste management and my shopping choices. I now look at trees and flowers beyond the visual pleasure of the eyes but also think of ways we can utilize this true beauty without exploitation, and look up to them in my design processes and concepts. Reflecting on the processes and materials used by the textile and fashion industry, there are many ways we can emulate plants to minimize waste while using materials efficiently. Plants are made up of roots, stems, branches, and leaves, that work interdependently. What if industries would adopt the same principle and have all the operations required to produce the final garments in one place, all employees in these industries had housing facilities at work. This would reduce the amount of resources required to move the materials and people from one workstation to another and also increase efficiency. Less fuel would be used and pollution to the environment would reduce drastically creating a cleaner and safe environment.
Recent studies have indicated that various industries, and particularly the textile and fashion industry, have come under severe criticism for their role in polluting the environment. This industry is challenged by the wide variety of synthetic materials like fibers, dyes, detergents, and other finishes needed. Nature has the potential to provide natural solutions to all these problems, for example, fibers that are low density, appropriate stiffness, optimum strength, recyclable, affordable, biodegradable, and renewable. Plants can provide natural dyes from their leaves, stems, fruits, and roots that are safe for both the consumer and the environment.
The outdoor activity to outline the functions of a tree and match them to the functions of a jacket presented the diverse usefulness of a tree and how I can relate to it in my design principles. Some of the functions included protection, as source of food, beauty, and shade. This realization enabled me to think out of the box to create a garment that can provide beyond functional needs, but also express one’s individuality, and aesthetic aspects. My learning community used this principle while solving our Design Slam problem. We were required to design a jacket for the homeless people in New York for the coming winter season. My learning community wanted to create a jacket that is fully functional, stylish, and portable to provide warmth to the wearer 24 hours a day. We looked up literature to understand how critical this problem was and ascertained that there 500,000 homeless people here in the US with 60,856 living in New York that will need this kind of jacket. We brainstormed and developed this concept: the name of our jacket is, 75° Winter Jacket, meaning that when you buy and wear this jacket you are assured to be kept warm at 75° in winter. It’s designed with two pieces with a potential to be separated, and each piece has three layers: the inner layer which is meant to provide comfort to the skin, the middle layer designed to provide warmth, and the outer layer that is water resistant. The layers are made from different fibers; cotton being a cool fiber provides comfort to the body and absorb all body moisture, wool for the middle layer to provide warmth, and abaca for the outer layer for water resistance. The jacket will entirely conceal and protect both the hands and feet while the wearer sleeps. In case of temperature rise, the wearer can remove the outer jacket and retain the cooler second piece while still keeping the body warm. The back of the outer piece has a pouch to be used for storage and jacket can also be folded and kept in that pouch that turns into a backpack. This jacket is very versatile, functional, and portable.
The best way we would show off this jacket in a store is by using a mannequin. In many fashion retail stores, mannequins have been used as a technique to entice customers yet thousands end up in the landfills. Although innovators like Judi Henderson-Town recycled 100,000 pounds of mannequins in one year, there is still need for a more sustainable solution to this problem in the fashion industry. I was impressed by the creative idea of learning community 7, a solution they called “Virtual U” This technology that will enable retail stores to exhibit clothing lines virtually to their clients without the use of any form of mannequins. Clients would be able to see how a particular garment looks on them, based on their body size virtually. The worry was how this technology would be accepted in this really competitive fashion industry but they hoped that once a big brand adopts the technology and gets positive reviews from their customers, then it will not be so long before all the other retail stores adopt it. This, in my opinion, will be a revolutionary idea in the whole fashion industry worldwide.
One of the sustainable principles calls on people to reuse items as a means of reducing waste. But what happens when I buy a cheap polyester dress that has a few holes at the garage sale because it reminds me of my grandmother’s favorite dress? Learning community 11 came up with a very creative business plan to upcycle clothes in this condition mainly because people want to stay connected to their loved ones in a way that also expresses their personality. The sustainable business plan they came up with was to design a new garment from the old polyester dress with design details that show my personality. Clients would be asked what aspects about the garment that they wanted to retain and they would also participate in the design process so that the newly designed garment is a collaborative concept and it would be more appealing. This sustainable solution to reduce waste would keep the memory of the loved one while an individual stays fashionable.
I believe that my sustainable journey only started and there is so much that I can do in my homework, and in my design and research processes to emulate nature. Not only should I take away from the environment but also learn to love and give back because the environment has been so generous to us when we least cared.