Curator José Teunissen in conversation with Claire Swift
The fashion industry represents imagination, but also power and responsibility. An increasing amount of brands show that fashion can contribute to a better world, for example through socially responsible production processes or by contributing to a better living environment and society. Is this the new luxury?
State of Fashion’s curator José Teunissen in discussion with Claire Swift, Director of Social Responsibility of the Making for Change project at the London College of Fashion (UAL). In our exhibition you found the equally interesting and heart-warming results of their unique collaboration with the Italian luxury brand Zegna.
Zegna supports the workshop programme at San Patrignano, which aims to promote textile craftsmanship, to support the community and to modernise traditional techniques.
José: Can you tell us a about Making for Change and the collaboration with Zegna?
Claire: ''Making for Change is the name of the training and manufacturing unit of London College of Fashion, based at HMP Downview women’s prison. The project aims to increase the well-being of the imprisoned woman by equipping them with professional skills and mediating with potential employers after the release of the prisoners. In 2013 we started collaborating with San Patrignano in Italy. Since 1978, San Patrignano has been a home to young people who have temporarily lost their way or who are suffering from addiction. Fondazione Zegna, an initiative by fashion label Zegna, supports the workshop programme at San Patrignano, which aims to promote textile craftsmanship, to support the community and to modernise traditional techniques.
José: what has been the impact of this project
Claire: ''We did not expect the impact of this project to be so big. Firstly, this project offered a valuable platform to bring attention to the work being done within these unique initiatives. In addition, it enabled women to develop themselves through knowledge exchange and learning new skills. This gave them the tools to develop more self-respect and self-confidence, which reduced the risk of relapse into drug use, for example. But it also had a positive effect on a personal level: the prisoners in London and the women in San Patrignano exchanged gifts and letters with each other to get in touch and communicate with each other. This is also a way to initiate change.''
Luxury is an approach, which consists of respect and recognition of the material, an appreciation for the process and an admiration of the skills of the craftsmen.
Claire: how are you contributing to change with State of Fashion?
José: ''State of Fashion is a platform for projects like yours, and shows in different ways there is so much more to fashion than just the look of the garment. The value of the process, the story and the people who make the clothing or textile also contribute to making a garment special. The exhibition Searching for the new luxury explores these new definitions of luxury as an answer to urgent ecological and social questions: less waste and less pollution, more equality, well-being and inclusiveness. It also represents a revaluation of the pleasure, fun and the craftsmanship connected to the making-process. State of Fashion sheds light on these different sides of the fashion industry to make designers, companies and consumers aware that real change is possible in the future.''
José: What is your definition of luxury in relation to fashion?
Claire: ''Luxury is an approach, which consists of respect and recognition of the material, an appreciation for the process and an admiration of the skills of the craftsmen. Luxury shows a personality and connects us to the maker, through the touch and feel of the material. It is a sensual experience that allows us to appreciate the value of the product and the invisible artists who created it.''
Conscious Contemporary Craft
Claire: A ‘new luxury’ requires a different kind of designer in the future. What could a new generation of fashion designers look like?
José: ''The most important thing is that we should stop thinking in a ‘star’ designer as a creative genius. Future designers must take a far more holistic approach where they incorporate innovation, cultural changes and the awareness for a better society and a more sustainable future. As a result they become directors of much wider interdisciplinary teams. They will be involved in collaborations with biotechnologists to develop innovative textiles and in the development of new innovative ways of garment making. The designer of the future will be much more involved with processes than only with the final product and fashion will be more about ideology than about a fashion brand image.''
José: Do you already see this type of designer in your practice? Who do you think of when you think of the fashion designer of the future?
Claire: ''Bethany Williams is a great example of a designer who wants to bring about change within the industry through a holistic approach, in which she connects social questions with environmental issues. She explores connections in order to find innovative solutions for questions of sustainability. She is associated with various communities with which she collaborates and invests in change. Bethany’s approach to design, business and sustainability defines what fashion might be in the future.''