Published 2019-10-07

This post is also available in Swedish

New collaborations bring creative results

In the second phase of Mistra Future Fashion, research took a leap forward. With the introduction of new ways of working, high-quality cross-border collaborations arose among the various disciplines. This is one lesson from the programme, which is now ending, thinks design professor Kay Politowicz.

‘It was in the programme’s second half that real confidence and momentum arose among us, the people involved. This was partly because the way we worked changed,’ Politowicz says.

Designer Kay Politowicz, a professor at Chelsea College of Art & Design, has had a long career in the interface between art and academia. She has been involved with Mistra Future Fashion since its inception in 2010. Now that the programme is nearing its end, she summarises the research.

‘It’s been a spectacular journey, and an incredibly generous offer to be able to work on one issue for so long. Jointly with political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists — all with their own viewpoints — we’ve been looking into the same questions. How do we make the fashion industry sustainable without it becoming less profitable, how should this be done in purely practical terms, and what systemic changes are necessary and feasible?’

This prompted creative ideas, Politowicz says.

‘From the start, the approach was interdisciplinary. But it wasn’t until the programme’s second phase that the various disciplines really got together. That’s when we went from interdisciplinarity to co-production of knowledge.’

By then, the participants had got to know one another and established mutual trust. But an even more important reason, according to Politowicz, was the regrouping of teams in the programme for the second phase. This stirred things up, established new themes and compelled people to find new ways of working.

‘It was a successful move. Suddenly, collaborations of a completely different quality than before started. I sometimes sat down with chemists, sociologists and lawyers, and everyone was humble and open, and ventured to say uncomfortable things to one another. Lots of people thought that was innovative. It’s not always easy to tell a large fashion company that fast fashion, with clothes in simple materials that don’t last long but don’t cause that much environmental degradation either, isn’t a sustainable business model.’

She also learnt to see the complexity of the issues. There is a democratic aspect to fast fashion — that people with low incomes, too, should afford to dress attractively. She also saw questions about how garments should be designed. Which is most important, making them easy to recycle or hardwearing, with a long service life?

These questions became an eye-opener for a designer like Politowicz. She realised that she had to think along much longer-term lines: the garment’s whole lifetime. She also learnt the importance of measuring and counting more on the basis of the end product than she had done before.

‘Big ideas were born in these meetings and I think we’ve moved the issue far forward. It was wonderful to be joined by a major company like H&M, because if they change something it affects the whole industry. But it was just as exciting have a smaller company like Filippa K with us — that’s a small boat that can turn around and make big changes from one season to the next,’ Politowicz says.

From the researchers in the programme, she learnt the importance of formulating a hypothesis that they then tested. What she thinks the researchers learnt from her was to do more unrestricted testing.

‘Design is a speculative activity where you try out a lot of things, without always knowing whether you’re doing the right thing. I think that approach has enriched my researcher friends,’ Politowicz says.

In June, Mistra Future Fashion held its final conference in Stockholm. But Politowicz and the other contributors are already sketching out further collaboration. For example, Chelsea College of Arts, where Politowicz is active, has established a centre for circular fashion: the Centre for Circular Design.