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Forward Fashion: Edinburgh College of Art 'Front Row' Fashion Show 2019

Pioneers of innovation and inclusivity, this year's Edinburgh College of Art graduate students showcased their cutting-edge collections at the iconic National Museum of Scotland. In a successful attempt to deconstruct the norms of fashion hierarchy, the catwalk was designed so that every audience member would have a front row seat. This concept aimed to create a setting that was accessible to all, contributing significantly to the show’s overarching ethos of diversity, protest, inclusivity and body positivity. Yet one particular theme seemed to have been woven through the fabric of this year's collection, one that seemed particularly present against the backdrop of a site of such humbling historicism: sustainability.

With 2019 considered by many to be the year that fashion finally begins to take sustainability seriously, students took full advantage of the opportunity to incorporate concerns surrounding the climate crisis into their work. Recent contemplation of Earth Day 2019 heightened awareness of the staggering ramifications of the advance of fast fashion culture on the planet. Global textile productions emit a monumental 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases annually, more than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Consequently, the fashion industry has been forced to consider how they can integrate sustainability back into their agenda.

The fortification of fast fashion has cultivated a vicious throwaway culture where items are so cheaply produced that they have become single-use purchases. In light of awareness surrounding the impact of this on the environment, ‘circular design’ has become the new buzzword. It means consideration of the entire lifecycle of a product must originate in the design and sourcing stage. Sustainability advocate Margherita Missoni told Vogue that “circularity means not putting an end to the things you use”.

In speaking to the graduates themselves, a real sense of the innovation involved in the circular design begins to develop. Ellie Thomson, 21, spoke to us about her efforts to maintain a significant level of sustainability in both her textile production and her actual process of design. Her Spring/Summer 2020 collection promotes an ethos that is ‘sustainably-driven’ and ‘emotive’, with efforts to promote ‘longevity’ through the enhancement of emotional connection to clothing. In her textile production, Ellie utilised a diverse range of waste materials in order to create a closed-loop process that extends the life span of her materials. Initially developing samples from scraps, her final design was heavily reliant on materials made from plastic bags otherwise going to waste, as well as denim cut-offs.

Perhaps most inspiring is her consideration of enclothed cognition, a theory that suggests that the physical process of wearing clothes can stimulate psychological associations: “That’s why I incorporated yellow into my collection - to this day it is still one of my favourite colours because I was dressed in it as a child… This concept of enclothed cognition is one that enhances and promotes emotional connection to clothing, which in turn perhaps means that it won’t be disposed of so quickly.” In focusing on hand-crafted techniques like weaving, Ellie’s collection displays the amount of time and effort that goes into fabric construction in order to prevent disposability. If people recognise both the manual labour and the artistic process that goes into the making of fashion, perhaps they will develop a stronger attachment to the clothes that they wear.

This pathos is one that should be considered in the steps taken towards the future of fashion; it is one that contemplates the value of the garments in which we clothe ourselves, pioneering for a better, brighter future.

- Hannah Hummel